Breaking Down the CFP Rankings – Week 10

If you’re like me, your team’s season is already too damaged to dream of a shot at the playoff. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the late season tradition of watching most of the other teams’ seasons also crash and burn in the last 4+ weeks of the year.

Let’s go over the first edition of CFP rankings and what the teams at the top are looking at to get to (or stay in) the top 4.

CFP Top 25, Week 10:

1. Georgia (8-0)
2. Alabama (8-0)
3. Notre Dame (7-1)
4. Clemson (7-1)
5. Oklahoma (7-1)
6. Ohio State (7-1)
7. Penn State (7-1)
8. TCU (7-1)
9. Wisconsin (8-0)
10. Miami (FL) (7-0)
11. Oklahoma St (7-1)
12. Washington (7-1)
13. Virginia Tech (7-1)
14. Auburn (6-2)
15. Iowa State (6-2)
16. Miss State (6-2)
17. USC (7-2)
18. UCF (7-0)
19. LSU (6-2)
20. NC State (6-2)
21. Stanford (6-2)
22. Arizona (6-2)
23. Memphis (7-1)
24. Michigan State (6-2)
25. Washington State (7-2)

I’m only going to review #1-13 because those are the only teams left that matter (sorry UCF). Before I get into the top 13, there a couple things to note based on the other 12 teams that can give us some insight into how the committee is thinking.

Auburn coming in one spot above Iowa State may not mean a whole lot as far as the contenders go, but it can tell us a bit about what the committee values. Auburn’s best wins are against #16 Miss State and unranked Arkansas and Ole Miss. They’ve lost to #4 Clemson and #19 LSU. Iowa State, on the other hand, has taken down #6 Oklahoma on the road, and #8 TCU. However, they lost to unranked Iowa and Texas, both at home.

Clearly the committee is more concerned than years past when it comes to strength of losses. ISU has stronger key wins, but Auburn hasn’t had a “bad loss” yet. It might not mean all that much since they’re only one spot apart… Hell, it could just be the SEC bias (here’s to you, ESPN). Regardless, it’s something to keep in mind as the season inevitably comes down to the wire.

Aside from that, the committee has reaffirmed what we already knew – group of 5 teams need to go undefeated at least two years in a row to have a shot. Unfortunately, Boise State isn’t good anymore and I doubt we’ll ever see a group of 5 team in the playoff as long as a 4 team system is in play.

So let’s get into it, breaking down the remaining contenders and what they have left (I’m doing reverse order so you bums don’t stop after #6).

#13 Virginia Tech (7-1)

How they got here: VT’s entire resume is based on their week 1 win at home against West Virginia. Their only other game of value was a loss to Clemson at home. However, they’ve handled their business throughout the rest of their games outscoring opponents 235-37, with their closest game being a 13-point win against Boston College.

What they have left: The rest of their season will show the true colors of this team, beginning this weekend with a trip to #10 Miami on the road. The next week they’ll remain on the road, having to go down to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech. If they manage to get through Miami and handle GT’s option offense, they should take care of business at home against Pitt and finish the year on the road at Virginia.

If they win out: They’ll sit atop the ACC Coastal division with a ticket to the ACC championship game. Win that, and they’ll have a backdoor shot at the playoff, but they’ll be looking for a lot of help.

Prediction: 9-3 – Back to back losses to Miami and Georgia Tech leave the Hokies wondering if they ever really were a contender.

#12 Washington (7-1)

How they got here: Washington’s season has been what you’d expect from a team who made the playoff just last year, with one glaring exception – a loss to Arizona State on the road, 13-7. They’ve outscored the rest of their opponents 302-84 behind a high-powered offense and stout defense. The problem – none of those teams are noteworthy, with their best win being either UCLA, Cal, or Colorado, none of whom turn any heads.

What they have left: The remainder of Washington’s schedule will be significantly more challenging than anything they’ve seen thus far. A home game against Oregon should prep them for their trip to #21 Stanford, before finishing the season with home games against Utah and #25 Washington St. They could prove to be a real team who had an off night, or they could just be a good-not-great team who hasn’t realized yet that you have to play good non-conference games to put yourself in the mix (no, Rutgers doesn’t really count as a win over a Big Ten team).

If they win out: They’ll be looking at a PAC 12 North title and a trip to the PAC 12 championship against either USC, Arizona, or an unlikely rematch with Arizona State.

Prediction: 12-1 – Washington will win out, including their conference championship. That being said, they still might not have a win over a top 20 team, and with a loss to ASU, they’ll be left out of the playoff.

#11 Oklahoma State (7-1)

How they got here: The Cowboys are another team who haven’t really won a big game yet. They lost to TCU at home, and their best win came last week against an inconsistent West Virginia. Just like any Big 12 team, their offense has shown the ability to play with anyone, but they still haven’t embraced the value of a strong defense.

What they have left: Oklahoma State just entered the gauntlet of their season. Following their win on the road above West Virginia, they’ll host an all important matchup in the Bedlam Series against #5 Oklahoma. Get through that, and they’re on to a date with the upset machine from Ames. Their last two games are much less daunting, as they coast through meaningless record boosters against Kansas State and Kansas.

If they win out: The only team that could finish above an OKST team that wins out is TCU, holding the head to head tiebreaker. Luckily for the Cowboys, the Big 12 finally decided that having a champion is important. They would get to the Big 12 championship with a huge opportunity to polish their resume.

Prediction: 10-2 – The Cowboys will take down rival Oklahoma, only to fall to the Cyclones in Ames a week later, effectively leaving the Big 12’s playoff hopes on the shoulders of TCU.

#10 Miami (FL) (7-0)

How they got here: This team reminds of a team I once knew. Back in 2015, my Michigan State Spartans inched out win after win on their way to a CFP appearance. Miami has been anything but impressive, with the exception of their record. They’ve only won 1 conference game by more than one possession and have yet to play a currently ranked team. That being said, they’re still undefeated, which counts for something.

What they have left: Miami’s playoff hopes reside in their next two games. Lucky for them, they won’t have to do any traveling. They’ll host their only relevant ACC matchup against #13 Virginia Tech, followed by a huge matchup against the Catholics, #3 Notre Dame. Their final two games include a pallet cleanser at home against Virginia and a late season trap game up in Pittsburgh.

If they win out: They’ll be sitting atop the ACC Coastal division with an unblemished record and a shot at the conference championship, most likely facing the winner of this weekend’s NC State – Clemson matchup.

Prediction: 11-2 – The ‘Canes will find a way in primetime against Virginia Tech, leaving their last big test against ND, where they will suffer their first loss. This loss won’t eliminate them from the playoff, considering a loss to ND isn’t a bad loss, but an eventual second loss in the ACC Championship will knock them out.

#9 Wisconsin (8-0)

How they got here: The Badgers are this year’s fraud. Their non-conference slate lacked substance, with their only decent game on the road against BYU. They’ve taken care of business in conference, but their best B1G win is probably the 5-3 Wildcats of Northwestern.

What they have left: The remainder of Wisconsin’s schedule is only marginally more difficult than the first two thirds. They’ll travel to Bloomington to play an angry Hoosiers team that hasn’t lived up to expectations, before hosting Iowa and Michigan. Their final game features a trip to rival Minnesota to see a PJ Fleck team that hasn’t shown much thus far.

If they win out: Wisconsin will travel to the Big Ten Championship to face Ohio State, Penn State, or a possible rematch of the inaugural B1G Championship Game against Michigan State.

Prediction: 11-2 – I’m not going to try to guess which one, but Wisconsin will lose one of their final four games. They’ll still travel to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship, but the only team they might face that they could contend with is Michigan State. Regardless, their schedule lacking a backbone and their inability to schedule big games will keep them from the playoff.

#8 TCU (7-1)

How they got here: TCU was so close. They just needed one more touchdown to force OT against Iowa State, but couldn’t get it done. A season that once showed hope is now on the brink of destruction. They’ve taken down #11 OKST and then-ranked WVU in conference, and have a solid non-conference win against a much-improved Arkansas team. We’ll see how much that ISU loss comes back to bite them.

What they have left: TCU hosts an always dangerous Texas team, before their last big matchup on the road against #5 Oklahoma. Their last test will be on the road against a high-powered Texas Tech team, before extinguishing the dumpster fire that is Baylor football.

If they win out: They’ll be in the first ever Big 12 Championship game, in what will surely be the football equivalent of the “spray and pray” gaming strategy. Win and they’ll be in the conversation for the CFP.

Prediction: 12-1 – TCU will take down the rest of their opponents, including #5 Oklahoma and whomever they face in their conference championship. They’ll have a fairly strong argument for the Playoff committee, but this years field will prove too strong and they’ll just miss the top 4.

#7 Penn State (7-1)

How they got here: Penn State was looking destined for the playoff until halfway through their game in Columbus. The Nittany Lions had handled everyone with the exception of a scare on the road in Iowa, and were looking very strong on both sides of the ball. They came out swinging against Ohio State, but lost focus and failed to finish in their biggest test this season.

What they have left: Penn State has one final test this weekend against #24 Michigan State in what promises to be a bruising matchup between two angry Big Ten foes. Following their trip to East Lansing, they’ll have a three week tropical vacation with games against Rutgers, Nebraska, and Maryland.

If they win out: The Nittany Lions will be looking for help. They’ll need OSU to lose one more to get the Big Ten East title and a ticket to Indianapolis to face Wisconsin.

Prediction: 11-1 – Penn State will get through MSU and coast to an 11-1 season, but just miss the B1G Championship. Hoping to follow in Ohio State’s footsteps a year before, they’ll be looking for a backdoor bid into the playoff, but there just won’t be space for a Power-5 team without a conference championship.

#6 Ohio State (7-1)

How they got here: If only they could have another shot at Oklahoma. Early season issues held the Buckeyes from winning their early season showdown with the Sooners, but they have since dominated. In the 5 games between the Oklahoma loss and their win against Penn State, they outscored opponents 305-56. In a game to remember, they came back an 18 point deficit to take down Penn State at home.

What they have left: OSU will travel to Iowa to face a stingy Hawkeyes team before coming back home for a test against Michigan State. They’ll get a senior day feast against Illinois before traveling to the Big House for another edition of the always entertaining Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.

Assuming they win out: The Buckeyes will travel to Indianapolis with a Big Ten East title to face the unproven Badgers. Win, and they’ll be looking good for the playoff.

Prediction: 12-1 – The Buckeyes will take care of business in their remaining regular season games, before exposing the Badgers and winning another Big Ten title. They’ll most likely squeeze into the Playoff as a 3 or 4 seed.

#5 Oklahoma (7-1)

How they got here: The Sooners have looked great at times, and they’ve looked shaky at times. They took down Ohio State in an early season bloodbath, but their defense has shown gaps. They only beat an absolutely terrible Baylor team by one possession, before falling to the Cyclones of Iowa State. They added to Texas’ streak of close losses, beating the Longhorns by 5, and only beat Kansas State by a touchdown.

What they have left: Oklahoma will face #11 OKST on the road, before coming home for another showdown against the #8 Horned Frogs of TCU. They finish the season with a late season walkthrough against Kansas and a senior day matchup against West Virginia.

Assuming they win out: If the Sooners were to win out, they’d be sitting on big wins over OKST and TCU, and they’d find themselves near the top of the Conference, with a shot at the Big 12 title. Should they get through that, they’ll be on the cusp of the playoff.

Prediction: 9-3 – The Sooners’ shaky defense will be exposed against OKST and TCU, leading to their second and third losses and solidifying them outside the conference championship picture and the playoff.

#4 Clemson (7-1)

How they got here: Of all the one-loss teams we’ve talked about thus far, Clemson probably has the worst loss. Their loss on the road to Syracuse was equally ugly and surprising. However, the committee showed mercy given that their starting QB was out most of the game. Other than that loss, Clemson has looking good with wins above Louisville, Auburn and Virginia Tech.

What they have left: The Tigers have their final regular season test this weekend, facing off with NC State in a game that will solidify one of them at the top of the ACC Atlantic division. They’ll follow that up with an always entertaining matchup at home against Florida State, before getting healthy and polishing their game against The Citadel. For their last game, they’ll travel to South Carolina to face a Gamecocks team that’s slightly improved from years past.

Assuming they win out: Clemson will find themselves in the ACC Championship game against Miami or Virginia Tech. With a win there, they’ll be one of the conference champions bidding for a bottom half Playoff position.

Prediction: 12-1 – The Tigers will get through a scare on the road against NC State, before coasting to another ACC Championship. They’ll be comparing themselves to fellow conference champions Ohio State, TCU, and Washington.

#3 Notre Dame (7-1)

How they got here: Finally, we get to the kink in the chain. The Fighting Irish suffered a heartbreaking one-point home loss to the Bulldogs of Georgia in week 2. Since then, they’ve been knocking out everyone they play, including big wins against Michigan State, USC, and NC State.

What they have left: The Fighting Irish are able to take a breath this weekend against Wake Forest, before they travel to Miami to renew a long lost rivalry of the ages. Following their trip to south Florida, they’ll host Navy and finish the year with a road trip to Palo Alto to face the Stanford Cardinal.

Assuming they win out: Notre Dame watch comfortably as the rest of the conferences battle in their conference championships. They would secure a 2 or 3 seed in the Playoff.

Prediction: 11-1 – The Fighting Irish will rely on their running game to put teams away and secure the first non-power 5 bid into the Playoff.

#2 Alabama (8-0)

How they got here: Alabama has done what they do. They’ve won every game so far, with the only close game being an 8 point win on the road against Texas A&M that wasn’t nearly as close as the score looks. That being said, none of their previous opponents are currently ranked. They’ve looking as great as usual, but they remain relatively untested thus far.

What they have left: The Crimson Tide will not remain untested for long. They host #19 LSU this weekend in a matchup that is has proven to be must-see-TV for years, before traveling to face an under-the-radar #16 Miss St team. As is tradition, they’ll play a tune up game at home against Mercer before their final showdown on the road against #14 Auburn.

Assuming they win out: Alabama will find themselves in a matchup for the ages against Georgia in the SEC Championship, where they’ll find themselves playing for the top spot in the playoff.

Prediction: Alabama will not make the playoff. Bold? Maybe. Wrong? Maybe. But this team is completely untested and will fall in one of their final ranked games. Lose to the wrong team and they could miss the SEC Championship all together. If they make the SEC Championship, they’ll lose to Georgia. If they don’t, they could find themselves in the mix for the fourth playoff spot, but I wouldn’t count on it.

#1 Georgia (8-0)

How they got here: Georgia has shown few weaknesses so far this year. They got through an early season road matchup against Notre Dame and took care of the only other ranked team on their schedule in Miss St.

What they have left: The Bulldogs have two tests remaining. Most notably, in two weeks they’ll travel to Auburn for a matchup with the #14 Tigers. They’ll finish the year on the road against a tricky Georgia Tech team.

Assuming they win out: Georgia will find themselves in the SEC Championship game, playing for a 1 seed in the Playoff.

Prediction: Georgia will win out, win the SEC Championship, and sit on the throne heading into the Playoff.

So what would these predictions mean for potential playoff spots? Lets recap:

The top spot would be reserved for an SEC champion Georgia or Alabama team.

The 2 seed would most likely be Notre Dame.

The 3 and 4 seed would be left up to the committee. They’d be comparing conference champions OSU, TCU, Washington, and Clemson, with the loser of the SEC championship also in the mix.

Let the madness begin.

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