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College Football Playoff Rankings Analysis: Week 14

Dan Mullen

Dan Mullen

If the weekly exercise of explaining the College Football Playoff rankings has taught us anything, it’s that coming up with perfect answers is impossible.

A week after “game control” became the talking point of the week, selection committee chair Jeff Long indicated previous rankings remain in the back of the minds of the committee members’ minds even on Nov. 25.

That’s partly why Mississippi State remains at No. 4 and in the playoff with only one win against a team in the current top 25.

The Bulldogs have wins over three teams that were at some point in the playoff rankings that started since Week 10 — Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M. Only No. 15 Auburn remains and that’s a long way from the top three where the Tigers started.

“It’s just something the committee discusses,” Long said. “We know if we team was ranked 14-15-16 and teams play differently at different parts of the year. A team that may have been playing very well early in the season whether through injuries or level of competition, they’re not playing as well (now).

“It’s not a criteria but we certainly discuss or know when a team was previously ranked in the top 25.”

Long clarified he means the playoff’s top 25 and not the polls, but the distinction may be lost on fans who want to know why those games and rankings still count up to five weeks later.

Let’s attempt to translate just a bit: Teams previously ranked in the top 25 are probably in the top 30 or 40 now, even if the committee doesn’t go that deep into the rankings. The committee knows LSU is not Tulane. Texas A&M is not Texas State. And West Virginia is not Washington State.

In trying to explain something that already makes sense to the common fan, the weekly rankings release force the committee to dress up the movements in a way that seems smarter and more ironclad than it actually is.

So before you start sifting through old polls and top 25s, take a deep breath and wait until next week. Surely, we'll have somethign new to discuss then.

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

Notables:

The Group of Five makes an appearance

Boise State and Marshall are your official leaders for a spot in the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange or Peach bowls. Boise State (9-2) checked in at No. 23, and Marshall (11-0) at No. 24. Those rankings carry important distinctions: First, Boise State is head of Mountain West foe Colorado State. Boise defeated Colorado State 37-24 in Week 2, but the Rams have two wins over Power 5 teams (Colorado on a neutral field and Boston College on the road). Marshall is one of two undefeated teams, but the Thundering Herd have the 136th-ranked schedule in the Sagarin ratings.

Rivalry games will be noted

This will be of note this week: Long said the unexpected nature of rivalry games may be a topic among the committee. “We certainly discuss if it’s a rivalry game, and we do know that (there are) a number of unanticipated outcomes in rivalry games,” Long said. That may be good news for teams like Ohio State and Florida State that face rivals that they should defeat comfortably on paper.

Division on Florida State

Is Florida State a good team because it finds a way to win each week or should the Seminoles be downgraded for letting lesser teams hang around? The committee is as divided as anyone. “There are some who believe a team coming from behind and winning is a sign of a strong team,” Long said. “There are others who believe that they are a good enough team and they should have been in front or in control of the game. It’s a debate in the room.”

The committee was down to 11

Archie Manning hasn’t participated all year as he recovered from knee replacement surgery, but the committee was down a second member in Mike Tranghese. The former Big East commissioner was ill but is expected back next week.

Who Should Worry:

TCU

The Horned Frogs still have a nice ace in the hole when it comes to its non-conference schedule compared to Mississippi State, Baylor and Ohio State. The Frogs defeated No. 18 Minnesota 30-7 in September when the Bulldogs and Bears were playing lackluster non-conference schedules and the Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech. TCU has a road game Thursday against an improving Texas, but Baylor (No. 12 Kansas State),  Mississippi State (No. 19 Ole Miss) and Ohio State (either No. 14 Wisconsin or No. 18 Minnesota) all finish their seasons with tougher games. TCU is already out of the top four with few ways to make up ground without help.

Marshall

The Thundering Herd entered the top 25, but Marshall shouldn’t get too excited. Marshall is behind Boise, a team Long said was ahead because its strength of schedule is “far and away” better. If both continue to win, that leaves little room even for an undefeated Marshall to move up. The Herd face Western Kentucky (6-5) and either Louisiana Tech and Rice (7-4) in the league title game. Even if Boise State loses to Utah State (9-3) and falls out of Mountain West contention, one-loss Colorado State would swoop in for the MWC championship game.

Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised:

Ohio State

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The Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia Tech may not be as damming as we think. The Hokies are 5-6 after a 6-3 double-overtime loss to Wake Forest on Saturday and haven’t come close to duplicating their high-water mark of defeating Ohio State 35-21 in Columbus in Week 2. In response to a question about losses to teams whose stature as fallen regarding Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss and Ohio State’s loss to Virginia Tech, Long said: “We certainly talk about bad losses, but I’m not sure I would agree with the ones you listed there.”

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. 5 TCU vs. No. 11 Arizona

Fiesta: No. 23 Boise State* vs. No. 6 Ohio State

Orange: No. 16 Georgia Tech^ vs. No. 10 Michigan State

Peach: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Georgia

*automatic Group of 5 bid

^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl