The last time I updated my playoff projection came on the day the College Football Playoff selection committee released its first batch of rankings. Since then we have watched the committee go to work while raising more questions than it seemed to answer at times. With the final week of the season here, I think I have seen enough to guess how this committee might work, and I finally felt a need to update my playoff projection with new seeds and teams in the final playoff field.
From the start of the season, I have felt confident about Alabama, Oregon and Florida State making the playoff. With one week left, that still looks to be a somewhat safe bet. Wins this weekend would lock each into the playoff. The other spot remains up for grabs, but TCU looks to have played into a favorable position with time running out. The committee ranked TCU third in this week’s playoff ranking, just ahead of 12-0 Florida State. Ohio State is on the doorstep without J.T. Barrett to ring the doorbell, and Baylor continues to trail the pack despite owning a head-to-head win against TCU.
As a result of how this committee has worked, and based on my predicted outcome for this weekend’s games, I now feel the time is right to change my final four prediction. The time has also come to mix up the playoff seeding as well. Here is how I think this plays out on Sunday. I am including most recent McGuire Metric numbers as well as previous projected seeding.
1. Alabama (McGuire Metric: 48.5 points)
Previously: No. 2 seed
For the third straight week, the playoff committee ranked Alabama atop their rankings. This week the Crimson Tide go for the SEC championship against Missouri in Atlanta, and I believe Alabama will win the game to lock in a spot to the College Football Playoff. Sitting on top of the ranking might give Alabama some slight margin of error if other top candidates, but I do not believe any team that loses this weekend will reach the playoff without a lot of help.
I think it is fair to debate whether or not Alabama is deserving of the top seed, although I am not sure it ultimately makes much of a difference. If you put Oregon at number one, Alabama would still get to play in the Sugar Bowl as the two-seed. If you ranked Alabama third and Florida State second, the Tide still go to the Sugar Bowl to face the Seminoles.
2. Oregon (McGuire Metric: 40.5 points)
Previously: No. 3 seed
I would strongly consider ranking Oregon first overall, but I think the committee will stick with keeping the Ducks second in the rankings behind Alabama. Assuming Oregon wins this weekend would be unwise. Oregon will face the only team to defeat them this season, Arizona, in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Arizona is dangerous, but I’m calling for Oregon to get their revenge to add to one of the more impressive overall profiles among playoff candidates. Remember that Oregon will have a win over a top-10 Michigan State as well as a top 25 UCLA and Utah. Throw in a win against top-10 Arizona, and Oregon’s case for number one is very respectable.
3. Florida State (McGuire Metric: 37.5 points)
Previously: No. 1 seed
Florida State has avoided landmines all season long, and the defending BCS national champions are probably due for a loss. I can understand various arguments for suggesting even an undefeated Florida State team is not one of the two best teams in the country, but if Florida State gets by a rising Georgia Tech team this weekend, I can see the Seminoles moving up a spot in the final ranking with a 13-0 record. Ranking Florida State anything lower than third just seems silly to me, unless the goal is to organize a Sugar Bowl dream match-up of Alabama and Florida State. If that is the case, then selection committee is raising a problem worth further examination.
4. TCU (McGuire Metric: 55.0 points)
Previously: On the radar
With the respect the committee has given to TCU, bumping the Horned Frogs up to number three this week and providing more of a buffer between them and one-loss Ohio State and one-loss Baylor, I think TCU is in the most favorable spot this week. TCU plays Iowa State and should manage to win comfortably, although Iowa State has a knack for rising up to throw a wrench into the national title picture. Just ask Oklahoma State. Even if TCU wins ugly this week, I think the committee has spoken on TCU’s profile. They love TCU, and that likely means any win will get TCU in the playoff.
I should note TCU has put together the highest McGuire Metric ranking this season.
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. TCU
Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Florida State
With Alabama getting the top seed, the Crimson Tide will play in the Sugar Bowl. TCU will be the opponent, and the Horned Frogs will be a very dangerous match-up. Seeing Alabama win a shootout against Auburn in the Iron Bowl though should provide some more confidence Alabama can win any type of game they play in.
Oregon will get the home-region advantage by playing in the Rose Bowl out west. They would also face a team that must travel across the country for the game, Florida State. I am not sure how I would feel about this one just yet, but I will worry about that later.
Others To Watch
Ohio State: I have been projecting the Buckeyes in the playoff from before the start of the season, and I still believe they would have a very strong case to be made to enter the playoff if they can get by Wisconsin and Heisman Trophy candidate running back Melvin Gordon. The loss of J.T. Barrett is significant and is reason enough to keep Ohio State on the waiting list for now. A one-loss Big Ten champion being left out of the playoff seems unfathomable to me. But I’m picking Wisconsin this week, which is more the reason I’m removing the Buckeyes from my playoff field.
Baylor: I think Baylor has a good argument to be made if they win this weekend against Kansas State. Baylor needs to put Kansas State away comfortably though in order to make up ground on TCU. I think that head-to-head win has to mean something, but for whatever reason the committee needs more reason to believe Baylor is worthy. If the decision were left in my hands, I’m giving Baylor the nod over TCU, but I’m seeing the committee handle this differently.
Arizona: If any two-loss team is going to make the College Football Playoff, it is not Alabama or Oregon or TCU or Ohio State or Baylor. It will be Arizona. The Wildcats are ranked seventh in the latest playoff ranking, and with a Pac-12 Championship Game match-up with No. 2 Oregon, the Wildcats look to be in a strong position if they knock out the Ducks. Arizona probably needs a little bit of help, but a second win against Oregon could move Arizona ahead of Baylor and Ohio State. The committee loves the Pac-12 South, and Arizona came out of that division in first place. That will carry some weight if they can beat Oregon for a second time.