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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

College Football Top 4 Rankings - Playoff Rankings and Explanations

College Football Top 4 Rankings

by:  Ted Miller

Alabama is the undisputed top dog, but the Big Ten is the Big Show in the third College Football Playoff rankings, which followed a stunning weekend of losing among highly ranked teams.
Ohio State climbed from No. 5 to No. 2, while Michigan stayed put at No. 3 after losing to unranked Iowa. Of course, those two play on Nov. 26, with the stakes being both huge and curious.
Along with No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 8 Penn State, the Big Ten leads all conferences with four teams in the top eight. It also leads all conferences with intrigue.
If Ohio State beats Michigan State and Michigan, and Penn State also wins out, the Nittany Lions capture the Big Ten East crown by virtue of handing the Buckeyes their only loss and they would play for the Big Ten title, most likely against Wisconsin. That either sets the stage for two Big Ten teams in the playoff, or the committee leaving out Ohio State because it didn't win its conference title. Or the committee could dump Penn State, which lost by 39 at Michigan, or Wisconsin, and go with the Buckeyes.
Yeah, it's complicated. But what could anyone expect after three of the top four and six of the top 14 teams lost in a single weekend?
There's obviously a lot of critical games ahead, and the only seemingly safe team is No. 1 Alabama, the only remaining unbeaten Power 5 squad, which has almost certainly earned a mulligan after dominating a tough schedule.
Two weekends remain in the regular season, including many rivalry showdowns, and then conference championship games. No. 9 Oklahoma plays two ranked teams to conclude the season, No. 14 West Virginia and No. 11 Oklahoma State, while No. 6 Washington can reverse its downward course against Arizona State, No. 22 Washington State and against a highly ranked team in the Pac-12 title game (No. 13 USC, No. 10 Colorado or No. 12 Utah)
More good news for Washington, which owns the weakest schedule among the contenders: Stanford re-entered the rankings at No. 24, meaning the Huskies now have two wins over ranked teams.
Ohio State is back at No. 2 due to a strong overall résumé, with three top-20 wins (Wisconsin, Oklahoma and No. 18 Nebraska). The Buckeyes could add Michigan to that list, but they also could end up sitting out the Big Ten title game.
While No. 4 Clemson is no longer unbeaten, it also has quality wins over No. 15 Auburn, No. 5 Louisville and No. 17 Florida State.
Louisville owns a five-game winning streak and its lone loss was a nail-biter at Clemson. On the other hand, its only quality win came against three-loss Florida State. The Cardinals play unranked Houston on Thursday and conclude their regular season against Kentucky.
Wisconsin's only losses came in consecutive games with Michigan and Ohio State, while it owns quality wins over No. 16 LSU and Nebraska. The Badgers are at Purdue this weekend and conclude their season at home against Minnesota.
In other words, there are a lot of present and future data points that the committee will be considering over the final three weekends. In fact, myriad seemingly off-the-radar games could play roles in how things play out, such as Florida State-Florida and Nebraska-Iowa.
Or what about more upsets? Is South Carolina a potentially tricky matchup for Clemson? Or might Michigan State catch the Buckeyes looking ahead?
There's a lot of football left, and last weekend taught us that believing that clarity might be on hand was a foolish conclusion.

College Football Playoff chair explains why Ohio State earned itself the No. 2 spot

The College Football Playoff Selection Committee gave the strongest hint yet Tuesday that Ohio State can make the playoff without playing for the Big Ten title. Let the screaming begin.
The Buckeyes at No. 2 wasn't a surprise, but the ranking still potentially sets up for a fascinating finish. Would Ohio State drop out of the top four in the final rankings like TCU did in 2014, when it was a confusing Big 12 co-champion with a head-to-head loss to Baylor and both stayed home in favor of the Buckeyes? Not likely. Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt cited Ohio State's three wins over CFP top-25 teams and its recent blowouts over Nebraska and Maryland.
Still, if Penn State wins the Big Ten championship, could the committee leave the Nittany Lions out as the two-loss league champion with wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State? Michigan, of course, still controls its playoff hopes. Wisconsin is in the mix, too.
Bottom line: It's good to be the Big Ten, which placed half of the top eight teams in this week's rankings. The Big Ten has completely reversed the script with the SEC, whose second-highest ranked team is No. 15 Auburn.
Since Ohio State was expected to be No. 2, the most relevant news is the committee keeping No. 6 Washington ahead of No. 7 Wisconsin after the Huskies' fairly convincing 26-13 loss at home to USC. That must be a temporary sigh of relief for the Pac-12. Come Dec. 4, we could be debating between one-loss Pac-12 champion Washington vs. two-loss Big Ten champion Wisconsin for the fourth spot.
Sagarin currently ranks Wisconsin's strength of schedule 11th and Washington's 63rd. The Badgers have two top-25 wins (No. 16 LSU and No. 18 Nebraska) and two tight losses to No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan. The Huskies added another top-25 win when Stanford moved into the rankings this week at No. 24. That's in addition to Washington's win over No. 12 Utah.
Washington could have been penalized more by the loss to USC given its strength of schedule. But Hocutt stressed how impressed the committee is with the No. 13 Trojans, who are 7-3 and ranked one spot ahead of West Virginia.
"Honestly, when you talk to the coaches that are in the selection committee room, I don't think any of them, if they were coaching today, would want to play that Southern California team right now," Hocutt said.
Some more observations from Tuesdays with Kirby ...
No. 4 Clemson vs. No. 5 LouisvilleBased on how the committee has shown it evaluates teams, this really isn't a debate right now. Hocutt pointed out that the Tigers have three top-25 wins and a head-to-head win over Louisville, which has only one top-25 win (that came in early September against Florida State).
Louisville is a fine team. It's quite possible if the Cardinals played the Tigers again right now on a neutral field, Louisville would win. But if we've learned anything about the CFP in three years, it's that the committee wants proof a team is capable of beating quality teams. Louisville falls short of that now compared to Clemson.
Now, Clemson has struggled several times this year. Clearly, the Tigers have warts. But it's not like Louisville is a world-beater every week. In the past three weeks, the Cardinals barely beat Virginia, blew out Boston College and trailed Wake Forest at home entering the fourth quarter before dominating the finish for a rout.

West Virginia lacks a quality win: That's the message Hocutt sent when the Mountaineers got jumped by USC. At No. 14, West Virginia is the lowest-ranked, one-loss Power Five team -- and it speaks volumes about why I've said for weeks the Big 12 is dead for the playoff.
Hocutt noted that West Virginia has played only one game against a current top-25 team -- a 37-20 loss to No. 11 Oklahoma State. So why is two-loss Oklahoma at No. 9 without a victory over a top-25 team?
"Oklahoma is a team that has a tremendous offense," Hocutt said. "They continue to bounce back from two early-season losses. They're on a seven-game winning streak. The committee believes that Oklahoma is deserving of that nine spot and looking at West Virginia to get a quality win."
Presumably, Oklahoma's quality win in the eyes of the committee was against Baylor (6-3), which is reeling with three straight losses. Perhaps the Sooners are better than West Virginia. We'll know this week. But Hocutt's answer on Oklahoma was one of those uncomfortable replies associated with weekly rankings, when any question may get fired at you.
Boise State jumps Western MichiganThese teams flipped spots this week with one-loss Boise State at No. 20 and undefeated Western Michigan at 21. It's not significant -- at the moment -- because Boise State still isn't a lock to even play for the Mountain West championship. The New Year's Six bowl goes to the highest-ranked Group of Five champion.
But the committee did lay the groundwork for how Boise State could go to the Cotton Bowl instead of Western Michigan. "It was debated," Hocutt said. "It went back and forth in the room."
Hocutt cited Western Michigan having only one win against an FBS team with a winning record (6-4 Eastern Michigan) plus Boise State's early-season win over Washington State, which "continues to improve week to week."

How does the committee measure an FCS loss? Speaking of Washington State, the Cougars are red-hot with eight straight wins since starting 0-2. The Cougars are at No. 22, stuck behind Boise State because of that loss and also still impacted by losing to Eastern Washington, which is 9-1 and ranked No. 3 in the FCS.
"We view it as a loss to an FCS team," Hocutt said. "Obviously we're aware of the successful season that particular program is having, but it is a loss to an FCS team."
Washington State will have room to climb the next two weeks against No. 10 Colorado and No. 6 Washington. But that FCS loss will linger, even though Eastern Washington could probably beat many FBS teams.

Tennessee is No. 19: My favorite ranking of the week is the curious selection of the Vols at No. 19 after previously being unranked. What changed? Tennessee beat a 5-5 Kentucky team 49-36 last week, its loss to Texas A&M got worse when the Aggies fell to Ole Miss, its win over Virginia Tech got worse when the Hokies lost to Georgia Tech, and its win over Georgia got better because the Bulldogs beat Auburn. Hocutt cited Tennessee's "very strong" strength of schedule.
"They have five wins against teams that have a winning record, including a very talented Florida team," Hocutt said. "Tennessee is a team that's done a remarkable job this football season of navigating through a string of injuries."
This is true about the injuries. But I would have liked to have seen a team like Pitt (6-4), which has top-10 wins over Penn State and Clemson and three tight losses to Oklahoma State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, get rewarded over Tennessee.
Keep an eye on this ranking for the Vols, who now could be positioned to reach the Sugar Bowl if LSU loses a game and assuming Auburn falls to Alabama. The Vols' Sugar Bowl hopes would probably be helped if they don'twin the SEC East and have to play Alabama again.

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