A week without major upsets to factor into the College Football Playoff rankings led to a Tuesday with no movement among the top seven teams seeking to land a spot in the four-team bracket.
No. 5 TCU (9-1) and No. 7 Baylor (9-1), the two playoff hopefuls from the Big 12, joined other members of the Magnificent Seven in maintaining last week’s spots for a second consecutive week after deliberations by selection committee members in Grapevine.
With no movers or shakers at the top of the bracket, that forced observers to read between the lines and monitor moves made by lower-ranked teams to gauge the latest messages sent by Jeff Long, the CFP selection committee chairman, and his cohorts. Among the knee-jerk conclusions:
Buckeyes a threat
No. 6 Ohio State (10-1) remains a huge threat to pass TCU in the final rankings. During Tuesday’s teleconference, Long disputed a reporter’s assertion that the Buckeyes’ 14-point home loss to Virginia Tech (5-6) was not a “bad loss,” as the questioner suggested.
Also, the fact No. 18 Minnesota (8-3) climbed seven spots in Tuesday’s rankings (most of any team) and passed No. 20 Oklahoma (8-3) suggests the Big Ten is getting a pound of credit for every ounce it deserves.
At the risk of looking at facts rather than television ratings, here is something committee members should consider: The Big Ten has the worst record of any Power 5 conference in head-to-head matchups with opponents from other Power 5 leagues this season (6-11, .353 winning percentage).
Ohio State is part of that because of its loss to a Virginia Tech team that lost last week to Wake Forest (3-8).
Not sold on FSU
Committee members are less than sold on No. 3 Florida State (11-0) despite the Seminoles’ undefeated record.
Long cited a lively debate between the 11 members who took part in Tuesday’s session (Mike Tranghese was absent because of illness). It centered on Florida State’s penchant for squeaking out narrow wins against unranked teams, the latest being last week’s 20-17 escape from Boston College (6-5).
Long said: “Some in the group think that’s a flaw ... a possible negative. Others believe a win is a win. There is debate about that.”
Baylor seems to be gaining steam with committee members, although its rank did not change Tuesday.
Two ESPN analysts, Kirk Herbstreit and Joey Galloway, predicted that Baylor will pass TCU in the final rankings on Dec. 7 if both teams finish 11-1 and share the Big 12 title because of the Bears’ 61-58 triumph in the head-to-head meeting.
Nothing Long said Tuesday tipped his hand on that topic. Under Big 12 bylaws, both teams will be viewed as co-champions for CFP purposes and both schools will receive trophies if they share the crown. But league tiebreakers would send Baylor to the bowl reserved for the Big 12 champion if neither team makes the CFP field.
Long noted that No. 4 Mississippi State continues to “hold strong” in its current spot, one place ahead of TCU, despite having only one victory over a team currently ranked in the CFP’s Top 25 (No. 15 Auburn).
TCU has victories over three teams in the current rankings (No. 12 Kansas State, No. 18 Minnesota, No. 20 Oklahoma). Long explained that by citing Bulldogs’ victories over “previous Top 25 teams” like Texas A&M and LSU.
TCU could make the same point about victories over Oklahoma State and West Virginia, which fell out of the rankings following losses to the Horned Frogs.
So how much are victories over “previous Top 25 teams” considered when making these rankings?
“It’s just something the committee discusses,” Long said. “We know if a team was previously ranked 14, 15, 16. It’s not a criteria, but we certainly discuss and know when a team was previously ranked.”
Long also credited No. 8 UCLA (9-2) for having a pair of “quality losses” to Utah and No. 2 Oregon. That raised the counterpoint of “bad losses,” which Long acknowledged as a consideration.
“We certainly talk about what we consider bad losses,” Long said.
Asked about two high-profile losses by teams in Tuesday’s rankings, including the Ohio State-Virginia Tech game, Long responded: “I’m not sure I would agree with the ones that you listed there. But certainly, we look at teams with sub-.500 records and if a team has lost to them, we certainly note that.”
Uhh, Jeff. Virginia Tech (5-6) is one of those sub-.500 teams. That loss by Ohio State is far and away the worst by any team among the top seven playoff hopefuls with one or fewer losses.
If that’s not a playoff disqualifier, it certainly borders on one. When push comes to shove, what happens on the field (good and bad) should count more in efforts to identify the nation’s top four football teams than calculating which school will bring the bigger TV ratings to the table.