Thursday, October 30, 2014

NCAA Football Weekend Primer: The First College Football Playoff Rankings

Despite a disappointing finish in Death Valley last week, quarterback Bo Wallace and Ole Miss are still right where they want to be.
 By Andy Dougherty (@AndyDougherty10)

Since the 1930s, fans of college football have relied on the AP Poll to assess the best football teams in the country. This week, the AP Poll gained a new rival.

College Football Playoff Rankings

On Tuesday, October 28th, a selection committee released the first ever College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings. The same committee will release its final rankings on Sunday, December 7th, and the top 4 teams in those rankings will qualify for the College Football Playoff. Mississippi State holds the distinction of being the first No. 1 ranked team under the current system. Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss round out the top 4.

Undefeated powerhouses Mississippi State and Florida State are the consensus picks as the nation’s top 2 teams. The CFP and AP rankings both place Auburn in the top 4. But after those initial similarities, the two rankings start to diverge quite a bit. 

The AP ranks Alabama 3rd and Ole Miss 7th while the CFP rankings place Ole Miss 4th and Alabama 6th. Ole Miss handed Alabama its only loss earlier in October. The CFP selection committee seems to place more weight on that game than the upset loss Ole Miss suffered to No. 24 LSU on Saturday.

According to the two rankings, the other consensus Top-10 teams are Oregon, TCU, Michigan State, and Notre Dame. Of these teams, the only real surprise in the CFP rankings is Notre Dame down at No. 10. Notre Dame - ranked 6th in the latest AP Poll - is 6-1, with its only loss coming at Florida State. That game that came down to the last play after a controversial call took Notre Dame’s would-be game winning touchdown off the board.

Notre Dame isn’t the only team that must feel snubbed by the committee. Besides Mississippi State and Florida State, Marshall is the only other undefeated FBS team remaining. Marshall hired a PR firm to support the team’s case for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Ranked 23rd in the AP Poll, the Thundering Herd is nowhere to be found in the CFP rankings. Marshall has five remaining games, and all of them are against unranked teams. Earlier this year, Mississippi State became the only team in history to jump from unranked to #1 in five weeks, but the Bulldogs accomplished the feat by beating some of the nation’s top ranked teams. Marshall’s schedule does not provide the same opportunity, so it appears that the university is wasting its money by hiring the firm. 

Marshall ought to halt the campaign and use the extra money to land some bigger matchups on next year’s schedule.

The current rankings are far from perfect. Hopefully upcoming games will sort things out, but they’ll probably just make the discussion even more complicated. Recent history has shown that hardly any team is safe at the top. Upsets will happen and dark horse teams will make names for themselves. Leading contenders Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama, and Auburn all hail from the SEC West. 

These teams will have all faced off against one another by the end of the season. For each team, surviving the SEC West with one loss would be a mighty feat, and emerging unscathed would be a monumental accomplishment for Mississippi State. Meanwhile, 15 teams ranked 5-25 have one loss; after a big win or two, they could find themselves in championship consideration. Anything can happen, and that’s why they play the games.

Game of the Week

Ole Miss can prove right away that it merits a top 4 ranking by defeating Auburn this coming Saturday in the nation’s game of the week. The winner will be in the driver’s seat in the CFP discussion, while the loser will almost certainly be on the outside looking in. Ole Miss has played incredibly strong defense this year, allowing a mere 10.5 points per game, which is the best mark in the FBS by a fairly wide margin. The Rebels actually lowered that average in their loss to LSU, but they punted for more yards than they gained in total offense, which is never a good sign.

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace will have to rebound this week to give his team a chance. Fortunately, he faces an Auburn defense that just allowed 416 yards and 5 touchdowns through the air against unranked South Carolina. Wallace could also use some help on the ground, considering he led the team with 40 rushing yards last Saturday. Nick Marshall, who quarterbacked the Tigers to the national championship game a year ago, has followed up that showing in 2014. 

The Tigers have been especially strong in the running game, where they will surely look to do some damage this week. LSU managed to rush for 264 yards against the vaunted Ole Miss defense, and Auburn has rushed for the 9th most yards per game (281) in the FBS.

Other Matchups to Watch

Alabama also has the chance to prove its worth on Saturday when it travels to face the LSU team that just took down Ole Miss. Florida State travels to Louisville to take on the Cardinals, who earned the final spot in the CFP top 25 over Marshall. This should be one of the toughest remaining tests for Florida State in their relatively easy path to the Playoff. The other matchups between ranked teams are TCU at West Virginia, Arizona at UCLA, and Utah at Arizona State. Stanford has struggled this year, but its matchup with Oregon in Eugene will still be one of the bigger Pac-12 games of the year.


But first, here is your Stone Cold video of the week.

Notre Dame (+15.5) over NAVY

The Fighting Irish have plenty of motivation this week. A win at Florida State just slipped from their fingertips, and then they had a bye week to dwell on that loss. This is their first chance since then to prove they belong in national championship consideration rather than accepting their current place as a fringe Top-10 team. 

Navy’s FBS leading rushing attack will put up some points, but look for a big game from Heisman hopeful Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson. The Irish will try to make as much of a statement as they can against an unranked team, but at the very least, that should amount to a 16-point win.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Notre Dame was robbed, and they would be top 4 if they had gotten the Florida State win. And if they weren't robbed, and the rule was properly interpreted, they need to change the rule.