The College Football Playoff committee will have its first in-season meeting Sunday before releasing its first rankings. When these rankings are unveiled Tuesday night (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET), they will obliterate the polls and all other ratings systems in terms of relevance.
And that's not necessarily a good thing.
Because of that, the rest of the season will be played out in a horse race fashion. Instead of shifting the paradigm on how teams should be evaluated as the CFP so loftily promised, we're back to business as usual. Instead of the polls and the now-defunct BCS standings, we'll have a new rankings system fashioned by not hundreds, but 12 individuals.
Maybe the committee will surprise us with rankings radically different from the polls. But the hunch here is that they won't be. We will find out for sure Tuesday night.
|Likely Playoff Contenders by Conference|
|Conference||Unbeatens||Other Contenders (Losses)|
|Big Ten||None||Michigan State (1), Ohio State (1)|
|Big 12||None||TCU (1), Kansas State (1), Baylor (1)|
|Pac-12||None||Oregon (1), Arizona (1), ASU (1), Utah (1)|
|SEC||Mississippi State||Alabama (1), Auburn (1), Ole Miss (1), Georgia (1)|
|Notre Dame (independent) has 1 loss|
Teams That Moved Up
How does the No. 1-ranked team move up? Simple. At this point, we don't know who's really No. 1, at least in the eyes of the committee. The Bulldogs survived a spirited challenge by Kentucky and will be further buoyed by the loss suffered by in-state rival Ole Miss. By any reasonable measure, Mississippi State should be No. 1 in the inaugural CFP rankings.
The other MSU also had a good day, thanks to a severe beatdown it administered to the in-state rival Wolverines. Mark Dantonio scored an oh-by-the-way touchdown late in the game just to make a point (or seven) about how tired he was of the "little brother" nonsense. The Spartans are clearly the class of the Big Ten, and they're making a serious push for a playoff spot.
Will the committee remember that Oregon actually beat Michigan State by 19? We'll find out Tuesday. The Ducks have recovered from their own hiccup—a loss against then-unbeaten Arizona—and are rolling through the Pac-12, averaging nearly 49 points per game in their last three victories. They represent the conference's best shot of making the playoff, but are certainly not the only one with a chance.
If it weren't for the meltdown in the last 11 minutes of their game against Baylor, the Horned Frogs would be near the top of any rankings. As it is, TCU likely will be the top Big 12 team ranked by the committee. Since the Big 12 does not have a championship game, the Horned Frogs can claim a piece of the conference title by winning out—and they'd be best positioned to earn a playoff spot.
Teams That Moved Down
While the gut-wrenching defeat in Death Valley doesn't necessarily snuff out the Rebels' playoff chances, they'll have lots of catching up to do. The loss to LSU was just a major blown opportunity, as Ole Miss will get both Auburn and Mississippi State at home. The silver lining is that the Rebels can still take the SEC West simply by winning out.
The Pirates labored to beat a 1-6 UConn team at home in a nationally televised Thursday game, and that's not good for the optics. And their big wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina earlier in the season are losing their luster, as both teams have struggled lately and are just 4-4. ECU is still on track to win the American, but it does not have a firm grip on the Group-of-Five spot.
Florida State, as one of just two unbeaten power-five teams, is a lock for a playoff spot if it wins out. But should the Seminoles stumble anywhere the rest of the way, then it's game over for the ACC. The only other conference team with fewer than two losses is Duke, and no team other than FSU is remotely in the conversation for a playoff spot.
Good thing the ACC has a guaranteed Orange Bowl berth.
The most venerable poll in college football survived a challenge from the BCS standings; now it must contend with the committee rankings. Starting Tuesday, it will be rendered irrelevant for the rest of the season—unless it crowns a different champion from the one that wins the four-team playoff. That's happened just once in the 16-year BCS era and is highly improbable in the CFP era.
Group-of-Five Team in the Best Position
Marshall, as one of only three unbeaten FBS teams, might be edging ahead of East Carolina in the group-of-five dogfight. Although the Herd have not faced any team in the power-five conferences, their smallest margin of victory in their seven wins was by 15, in the season opener against Miami of Ohio.
The team with the best resume so far is Colorado State, with wins over Boston College and Colorado, but the Rams need help to even win their division, as their loss to Boise State now stands as the tiebreaker. The two-loss Broncos are still in the mix, as is Central Florida, which will face ECU in the regular-season finale to perhaps decide the American title.
Projected Conference Championship Matchups
ACC: Florida State vs. Duke
Big Ten: Michigan State vs. Wisconsin
Pac-12: Oregon vs. Arizona
SEC: Mississippi State vs. Georgia
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