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College Football Playoff Rankings Analysis: Week 13

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The college football playoff selection committee gave us a new catch phrase Tuesday: Game control

That’s why Alabama moved to No. 1 from No. 5. That’s why undefeated Florida State is No. 3. And that’s why TCU won a game and fell from in the bracket to out.

“Game control” is taking the place of what we once would have called style points or margin of victory.

Let committee chair Jeff Long explain:

"It might be considered somewhat subjective," he said. "The committee looks at the game, how the game was played, how close the game was played, whether there were lead changes back and forth, or whether a team was in control from the opening kickoff, or whether they gained control say in the second half and finished out the game.

"It's an evaluation of how the game was played between two teams."

Perhaps this phrase should lend credibility to the selection process even if it can be too much in the eye of the beholder and selectively applied.

Margin of victory can be deceiving. Alabama beat Mississippi State by five Saturday but led 19-0 in the second quarter and by 12 until the final 15 seconds.

Florida State is No. 3 in part because, presumably, it lacks game control. The Seminoles trailed Miami 23-10 at halftime, the fifth time this season FSU needed a second-half comeback to win this season.

TCU, also, lacked game control in a 34-30 win over a three-win Kansas team. The Horned Frogs trailed until late in the third quarter.

In a 12- or 13-game schedule, how a team asserts its dominance matters. Slip ups in what should be easy wins matter.

Yet here’s the problem with a subjective measure described on a weekly basis: While we learned about the concept of game control, Long also cited Mississippi State’s close loss to Alabama and never being out of the game as to why the Bulldogs fell to No. 4 and knocking TCU out of a playoff scenario.

Of course, Week 12 of the season didn’t occur in a vacuum. Mississippi State controlled enough games to be ranked No. 1 last week, and TCU lost game control in the fourth quarter against Baylor for its only loss of the season.

Alabama’s game control for most of the season — save for a 14-13 win over Arkansas and the loss to Ole Miss — is why the Crimson Tide are No. 1. 

“While we would say that Alabama controlled that game, it did end up a 5-point game,” selection committe chari Jeff Long said during the ESPN broadcast. “While Alabama controlled it, Mississippi State was in striking distance.”

Despite its close games, Florida State has a flawless record of game control. Couldn’t Ohio State claim game control as it has defeated nearly every Big Ten team on its schedule comfortably? What about Baylor, which exhibited the most game control of any opponent this season against Oklahoma and snatched it away from TCU? 

The selection committee is not supposed to reward running up a score, notable because TCU started taking knees on first down from the Kansas 12 rather than adding a second score to a four-point game against a three-win team.

"We don't think controlling the game means adding touchdowns," Long said.

While the idea of game control may make sense on a small scale, the selection committee has stumbled into an area it may have difficulty explaining by the first week of December.

Here’s how the second top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.

Notables:

Alabama moves from No. 5 to No. 1

The Crimson Tide made quite the leap from outside of a potential bracket to the top seed. Long said Alabama was the most complete team on offense, defense and special teams and cracked the top four after “what we consider to be a decisive win over Mississippi State.” The metrics must be especially impressive to the committee: With LSU falling out of the rankings with a loss to Arkansas, Alabama has only one top 25 win (Mississippi State).

Ohio State over Baylor

Ohio State defeated Minnesota 31-24 on the road to move from No. 8 to No. 6 (the Gophers remained at No. 25). Can Ohio State get into the playoff? That remains to be seen. The Buckeyes face Indiana and Michigan and would draw no better than Wisconsin, ranked 16th this week, in the Big Ten title game. What’s notable is Ohio State’s move ahead of stationary No. 7 Baylor.

Who Should Worry:

TCU

Long described the margin between Nos. 4-7 (Mississippi State, TCU, Ohio State and Baylor) as “narrow, very narrow.” That’s not great news for the only team in that group without a ranked opponent left on it schedule, assuming Ohio State faces Wisconsin. Baylor, the only team to beat TCU this season, also has played one fewer game than the Horned Frogs.

Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised:

Mississippi State

The Bulldogs’ loss to Alabama, game control or not, wasn’t the end of the Mississippi State. The optimist for Mississippi State is that if the Bulldogs beat No. 8 Ole Miss, they stay in the playoff even if Alabama goes to the SEC title game. Yet the committee has repeatedly indicated that conference championships would play a role. That gives hope to the Big Ten and Big 12 teams on the outside looking in.

If the Season Ended Today:

National Semifinals:

Sugar: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State

Rose: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

Other bowls (projected)

Cotton: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Ole Miss

Fiesta: No. 9 UCLA vs. No. 11 Michigan State

Orange: No. 18 Georgia Tech^ vs. No. 6 Ohio State 

Peach: Marshall* vs. No. 10 Georgia

*automatic Group of 5 bid

^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl