The first major domino has officially fallen — Michigan took down Ohio State — and the final top 4 just took a meaningful step toward being determined. The College Football Playoff Selection Committee will release its last rankings of the year — debatably, the only edition that matters — this Sunday.
That means this Tuesday's update is the last data point we'll have before the semifinals are locked in. Since we're so close to the end and only four teams can go, there are definitely more losers than winners. But let's take a final look at how some contenders should feel about this week's playoff rankings.
No. 4 Florida State
I've criticized the committee time and time again for making terrible decisions based on finances and television ratings instead of football, but they're doing a great job with the Florida State situation right now. After bumping them out of the top 4 in favor of Washington, the committee moved the Seminoles right back in after Ohio State's loss to Michigan, showing that FSU still has a definitive path to the playoff.
I'm still concerned that FSU could get bumped again if Alabama beats Georgia. In that case, the Tide would have to be in; Texas might have to go, too, by virtue of their win over Alabama; the Pac-12 winner would have a case as well; and the committee might get shady to keep Georgia in. But for now, it's looking as if the Seminoles are at least being taken somewhat seriously, as any undefeated Power Five team should be until they lose a game — regardless of what anyone thinks their chances might be in a semifinal.
No. 6 Ohio State
Few teams moved down further than the Buckeyes, but they're still one of the biggest winners of this week because they could easily have gone down much further. Ohio State is ahead of a couple big teams: Alabama, a one-loss squad with a shot at the Southeastern Conference championship; and Texas, another team with just one loss and the opportunity to win their conference — and they're the ones who dealt the Tide their only loss.
This is such a major win for OSU because it shows that, once again, they have a chance to make the playoff without winning the Big Ten. They're just two spots away, meaning that enough chaos in the right places could see them rise back up to No. 4 and take a spot from a conference champion. For instance, if the conference winners are Michigan, Washington, Georgia, Louisville and Oklahoma State, we could see FSU and Oregon drop out from their No. 4 and No. 5 spots; and without any big winners to jump the Buckeyes, they could be right back in a semifinal.
No. 2 Michigan
How did Michigan end up in the losers' category after picking up perhaps the best win of any team this season and moving up to No. 2? Well, it's simple — because they aren't No. 1.
Georgia is clearly being afforded the chance to lose to Alabama and still make a semifinal, due in large part to their accomplishments in prior campaigns — which should not be a criterion, as the rankings, in theory, seek to determine the best performances this season.
Why was Ohio State No. 1 in the first iteration of these rankings but Michigan can't get up there after picking up a road win over Penn State and then dispatching the Buckeyes themselves? The Wolverines out-grade Georgia in just about every metric, and their best wins are better than the highlights of Georgia's resumé. This likely won't matter, as the Wolverines and Bulldogs appear to be on a collision course regardless of semifinal opponents. But if the Wolverines feel disrespected, they have a legitimate reason. It seems as if the accomplishments of their biggest rival are being regarded in a way that theirs are not, which is a curious notion given the events of this past Saturday.
No. 7 Texas
With so many teams such as Michigan and Georgia scheduling cakewalk non-conference slates, it was really refreshing to see Texas stay tenacious and play in Tuscaloosa this season. They beat Alabama, picking up what was then and still might be the best win of the season; but because of a loss of their own, to No. 12 Oklahoma, the Longhorns are currently outside of the top four and even six. They have a chance to win the Big 12, but they don't necessarily control their own destiny — the current rankings imply that Georgia, Michigan, Florida State and either potential winner of the Pac-12 would be above them.
That's all fine for the most part, especially if there really are four 13-0 teams — hard to argue with a perfect record. But the real kicker is the potential that Alabama, which sits at No. 8 but does have a game left against Georgia, could go in over Texas. If that happens, teams will be left wondering why they should even book interesting non-conference games. Texas could own a conference title and miss out to a team with the same record that the Longhorns beat on their own field. It would send a terrible message and encourage teams to take the route of scheduling the softest slate possible in order to give themselves the best chance to go 13-0.
No. 14 Louisville
After taking a second defeat and falling below three-loss LSU, the message is clear: Louisville has no chance to make the playoff, and they're probably out of the New Year's Six altogether with a loss this weekend. A win over Florida State would, of course, give them an automatic bid to the biggest weekend of college football. But this team is probably one of the 12 most-deserving squads regardless, and it stands a real chance of being left out.
The loss to Kentucky was a tough pill to swallow, and it was a real punishment for a lapse in attention after the Cardinals clinched their first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference title game bid. That being said, a one-score rivalry loss and another fluky defeat in sloppy weather conditions aren't exactly damning blemishes on a resumé, and they shouldn't outweigh a domination of Notre Dame, a shutout of Duke or a road triumph over Miami.
SMU and Toledo
Yes, this spot is held by two teams, but they have the same gripe: How are they not ranked? For Group of Five schools — especially ones that still have a shot at their conference title — this can be a major distinction. One of those five conference champions will make a New Year's Six bowl game — whichever one the committee ranks the highest on Sunday.
SMU, which will fight for the AAC title this weekend, is unranked at 10-2 despite ranking eighth in the country in EPA (expected points added) per play, sixth in net yards per play, seventh in available-yards percentage, and 11th in success rate. Tulane, their opponent in that matchup that is currently ranked No. 22, is 49th, 44th, 45th and 50th in those categories, respectively. The Green Wave is also arguably being disrespected — their lone loss was against No. 11 Ole Miss, with starting quarterback Michael Pratt out. But other than an FSU-like situation in which SMU quarterback Preston Stone is out, it's hard to understand why the Mustangs aren't at least in the top 25 if their opponents are.
Then there's Toledo, fighting the never-ending and never-successful battle for respect as a Mid-American Conference squad. They're 10th in the country in EPA per play, compared with 15th for Liberty, which is ranked 24th by virtue of its undefeated record. Going 12-0 is a great accomplishment for the Flames, but they haven't really played anyone — while Toledo's lone loss was on opening day at Illinois, by just two points. They're 11-0 since then and have a chance to earn a conference title this weekend. They should at least be in play for a New Year's Six spot, but it doesn't appear that such an opportunity will be in their future, even with a second win over Miami (Ohio).
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