In general, the best advice about the weekly playoff rankings is to take a deep breath and move on.
If there’s a time before the final playoff pairings to wonder just what is going on in that committee room in Dallas and wonder if some teams were better off with the BCS, this is that time.
Again, panic is not advised, but if that's your bag, we grant you permission.
TCU and Baylor have identical records in the same conference. Baylor defeated TCU by three points on the field yet TCU is three spots ahead of Baylor in the rankings. TCU is a playoff team this week. Baylor is not.
Meanwhile, Florida State is the only undefeated team in the country, yet the Seminoles are fourth. Florida State is a playoff team this week, but next week...
The selection committee is less than a week from setting the first College Football Playoff matchups in the history of the sport, and we have more questions than answers.
Let’s start with the Big 12, where the irony of the league’s “One True Champion” slogan is not lost.
In the event that No. 6 Baylor defeats No. 9 Kansas State and No. 3 TCU defeats Iowa State in the final week, Baylor and TCU will be tied for the lead of the only Power Five conference that doesn’t have a title game.
The selection committee will not play the role of tiebreaker. Neither will the Big 12, which will declare teams co-champions in case of a tie.
“We will not determine a champion for the Big 12,” said selection committee chairman Jeff Long, the athletic director at Arkansas. “We have not had the discussions on what if there is a co-champion.”
And despite the head-to-head result in Waco, Long says the committee believes TCU to be the better team. TCU has defeated three teams with winning records (No. 20 Oklahoma, Minnesota and West Virginia) while Baylor has defeated two teams with winning records (No. 20 Oklahoma and TCU).
In essence, that makes TCU’s 30-7 win over to four-loss Minnesota one of the most important results of the season.
“I can tell you it is contributing,” Long said. “But I can’t put a value on how much that MInnesota victory is contributing to the difference between the two teams.”
And then there’s Florida State. During the BCS era, the idea of the lone undefeated power conference team slipping out of the championship picture would be unfathomable.
Yet Florida State, thanks to a series of uneven play and close games against the ACC schedule and unusually weak Florida and Notre Dame teams, has put the Seminoles at No. 4.
Long won’t entertain predicting scenarios in which an undefeated FSU fails to make the playoff, but he said the Seminoles are in a “strong position” at No. 4. Florida State plays No. 11 Georgia Tech in Charlotte in the ACC title game.
FSU may be in a strong position. Perhaps TCU is, too. But the selection committee now is facing a situation where all four teams in Week 14 could win and yet one or more could be out of the top four in Week 15. Either that, or the committee could devalue a head-to-head result in the name of “body of work.”
Or they could all hope for the right loss to keep the huffing and puffing to a minimum.
“We’re waiting for results now,” Long said. “We’re waiting for teams to complete their body of work. We work hard not to project out. With that regard, the top four teams to this point are ranked where the committee believes they should be.”
Wait and see on Ohio State
The selection committee wasn’t ready to pass judgement on the injury to quarterback J.T. Barrett just yet. The Buckeyes are ranked fifth despite a season-ending injury to their Heisman contender. Long wouldn’t call it a one-game body of work for a Cardale Jones-led Ohio State team, but it sure feels that way. The committee’s directive is to take injuries into account, and few injuries will have much of an impact as Barrett’s at this stage of the season.
“We're going to be watching how he plays and how he leads that team, and that's certainly part of the evaluation that the committee will weigh,” Long said. “But it's a team game.”
Who Should Worry:
A bit of a mea culpa: We’ve had TCU in this spot for two consecutive weeks only to watch the Horned Frogs move to No. 3. Now, Baylor may be the one in trouble. The selection committee has been consistent in ranking TCU ahead of Baylor despite the head-to-head result. Perhaps defeating Kansas State will change that, but a three-spot gulf feels awfully tough to overcome without help.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised:
In the event of chaos at the top of the rankings, perhaps no team is better positioned than Arizona at No. 7. The Wildcats moved up from No. 11 after a win over Arizona State to become the highest-ranked two-loss team. Arizona can help its case in the Pac-12 title game against No. 2 Oregon. The three other conference title game participants facing playoff contenders are ranked outside of the to 10 (No. 11 Georgia Tech, No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 16 Missouri).
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Florida State
Rose: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 TCU
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 5 Ohio State
Fiesta: No. 22 Boise State* vs. No. 7 Arizona
Orange: No. 11 Georgia Tech^ vs. No. 8 Michigan State
Peach: No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 10 Mississippi State
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl