5 winners and 3 losers from the updated Playoff rankings
The Playoff committee releases its second top 25 of 2018, with a new team in the top four and jockeying below. With no movement at the very top of the rankings, the biggest questions about the new College Football Playoff rankings centered around spots No. 4 through 11 or so. (After that, it’s a complete crapshoot.) It’s still pretty early, and these will fluctuate quite a bit before Selection Sunday. Explanations on some things about this week and the general process are below these rankings. Alabama, 9-0 Clemson, 9-0 Notre Dame, 9-0 (last week: 4) Michigan, 8-1 (5) Georgia, 8-1 (6) Oklahoma, 8-1 (7) LSU, 7-2 (3) Washington State, 8-1 West Virginia, 7-1 (13) Ohio State, 8-1 Kentucky, 7-2 (9) UCF, 8-0 Syracuse, 7-2 (19) NC State, 6-2 (21) Florida, 6-3 (11) Mississippi State, 6-3 (18) Boston College, 7-2 (22) Michigan State, 6-3 (NR) Texas, 6-3 (17) Penn State, 6-3 (14) Iowa, 6-3 (16) Iowa State, 5-3 (24) Fresno State, 8-1 Auburn, 6-3 (NR) Washington, 7-3 (NR) Winners Michigan State: The Spartans soar into the top 20 on the strength of a win over ... Maryland? And a degrading win over Penn State? Maybe it was that win over unranked Utah State? A boost for the conspiracy theory about the committee intentionally putting nice rankings next to the names of teams who are about to play other ranked teams, because MSU-Ohio State is this Saturday. The SEC: LSU stayed a spot or two higher than I expected in Monday’s predictions post, and Kentucky only falls as far as expected. The LSU part shows how highly the committee thinks of Bama. This is also good news for Georgia, in the event the SEC tries to sneak two teams into the Playoff again. Is this circular logic that always seems to pay off for the SEC? Well, kind of. Is it backed up by the numbers? In most years, but this year, S&P+ has LSU down at No. 22 in predicted team quality going forward. Clemson: Have you heard Clemson has a weak schedule (it doesn’t)? There’s a chance the committee will end up giving the Tigers three top-20 wins within their own division. A 12-1 Clemson making the Playoff looks better by the week. The ACC: It bears repeating that three other ACC Atlantic teams are in the top 18. A conference we all laughed at because its second-tier teams aren’t named Florida State or Miami really can nab a second New Year’s Six bid. (Also, what’s with all three of those teams making huge leaps? The best team beaten by Cuse, NC State, or BC in Week 10 was ... Wake?) Washington State: The Cougs hold despite an ugly win against Cal and two of their best wins (Stanford and Utah) losing in Week 10. Also, Washington’s No. 25 now — it’s good to know WSU should have at least one ranked opponent. Losers The Big 12: West Virginia is couple spots lower than I expected. These rankings make it clearer that a 12-1 Big 12 champ would need a little help. The Mountain West: A No. 12 spot is still pretty good for 2018’s UCF. The non-power the committee’s actually selling short is Fresno State and/or Utah State. S&P+ considers Fresno better than UCF, and both S&P+ and the AP have USU at No. 14. I think the committee should show a path for the MWC champ to challenge the AAC champ for the New Year’s Six spot, regardless of what the loss column says. Purdue: I still think Purdue should be ranked right now. The struggle continues. Remember: don’t panic yet. In 2014, Mississippi State was still No. 1 at this point, seven spots ahead of eventual national champ Ohio State. 2015’s Michigan State jumped all the way from No. 13 at this point to make the field. 2016 Washington and 2017 Alabama were yet to lose, and they’d still make it in after that. So who controls their own destiny? The top two are about as entrenched as can be. S&P+ would favor Clemson on the road against any team in the country not named Alabama. The title game is probably a foregone conclusion, but let’s live it up anyway. After them: Notre Dame is win-and-in, whether anyone likes it or not. Michigan and Ohio State probably are too. That means Oklahoma and West Virginia probably aren’t. Washington State would need some help. And what if a one-loss Georgia wins the SEC? Bama probably makes it anyway, right? Looking ahead ... ... I think it’ll be Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Michigan. Here are the rest of this week’s bowl projections with four Saturdays to go. In case you need to refresh on how this all works: The top four teams on Selection Sunday in December make the Playoff. The committee’s rankings then help decide the four other New Year’s Six games. With a few exceptions, grouping Power 5 teams by loss totals is a pretty predictive starting point for what the committee will do. (After that, pretend non-Power 5 teams have a loss or two more than they really have.) Here’s how to make the Playoff, based on some metrics (such as they are) the committee’s cited in public: Reach Selection Sunday with one or fewer losses (100 percent of Playoff teams have done this). Beat at least three teams in the committee’s Selection Sunday top 25 (93 percent, excluding 2017 Alabama, which means facing a weak schedule is better than losing two games). Win at least six games against FBS teams that have .500-plus records on Selection Sunday (100 percent). Win a Power 5 conference (88 percent). The exceptions were pitted against two-loss champs. Beyond that, the committee pretty much just ranks teams by how good it thinks they are, then applies light reasoning to it if specifically asked during a 90-second window on ESPN. This is the stuff the committee rep (now Oregon AD Rob Mullens) will get made fun of for trying to explain. Game control! Body clocks! Balance! Injury mulligans! OK, let’s do this all again next week.