By: Nate Gatter, KCOU Sports
Why does the committee hate Florida State? I’m not sure anybody likes the Seminoles anymore, but they simply won’t stop winning. The Seminoles have won 28 consecutive games dating back to last season and are the only remaining undefeated FBS team. Yet, somehow, they are ranked fourth in the latest College Football Playoff committee’s rankings.
I will quickly concede that both No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon have played tougher schedules than FSU, but the difference in difficulty between the schedules is found in conference play, a portion of the schedule the Seminoles do not control. Does the committee expect Florida State to switch conferences every year in order to ensure its schedule remains adequately challenging? The power distribution within the Power Five conferences in college football is cyclical, and the Southeastern Conference has controlled the FBS for the past seven years. That does not mean, however, that Florida State can be held below Alabama simply by virtue of playing a weaker schedule. In actuality, FSU made a greater effort to play a difficult schedule; its non-conference opponents (Oklahoma State, Citadel, Notre Dame, and Florida) combine to look much more formidable than Alabama’s (West Virginia, Florida Atlantic, Southern Mississippi, Western Carolina) or Oregon’s (South Dakota, Michigan State, Wyoming).
The 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference football schedule has been set for years; Florida State should not be victimized by its conference’s inability to produce quality football teams. All teams, however, can be held accountable for the quality of their non-conference slates, of which FSU boasts the strongest of the playoff contenders.
Now for the most important piece of Florida State’s argument: it has not lost. 12-0. All wins. How many other FBS teams have done that this season? You guessed it: zero. Credit to Alabama and Oregon for having “good losses,” but Florida State doesn’t have any. That would seem of greater importance. If the committee wants to continue ranking FSU below its one-loss competitors, if should be forced to produce an explanation of what the Seminoles’ could have done differently, short of joining the SEC, to adequately enhance the difficulty of its schedule. They couldn’t have done much more.
And that’s just the first team the committee has wronged.
Why does the committee hate Baylor? The Bears are ranked sixth in the latest CFP rankings while TCU, Baylor’s primary competitor for a spot in the playoff, is ranked third. Since both teams come from the ten-team Big 12 (more great college football logic), they played virtually identical nine-game conference schedules (opponents, but not necessarily locations, were the same). TCU’s three-game non-conference schedule (Samford, Minnesota, SMU) was slightly tougher than Baylor’s (Northwestern State, SMU, Buffalo), but Baylor defeated the Horned Frogs 61-58 in Waco on Oct. 11.
With one conference game remaining, Baylor takes on No. 9 Kansas State while TCU battles Iowa State. Based on the current construction of the rankings, wins for each of the top four teams would presumably result in those four teams receiving playoff berths. If both Baylor and TCU win on Saturday and TCU goes to the playoff, the committee will be plainly stating it values the difference in TCU’s non-conference schedule (essentially the difference between Minnesota and Buffalo) over Baylor having beaten TCU head-to-head.
The minutia of CFP rankings are many, but this committee is turning a blind eye to common sense by overanalyzing lesser elements of the selection process. Keep it simple. The committee should not be selecting the best four teams in college football; it should be selecting the best four resumes. With a win over Kansas State, Baylor’s resume trumps TCU’s, plain and simple. And Florida State is undefeated; that’s pretty simple. It’s time for the committee to show some common sense.
While the committee works on that, it’s time for us to get down to this week’s matchups. Here we go.
What To Watch
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP: (16) Missouri vs. (1) Alabama
The David and Goliath story of the conference championship weekend, SEC East champion Missouri travels to Atlanta for the second straight season and, this time around, will be met by the Alabama Crimson Tide. Both teams are riding waves of momentum, Missouri having won six straight games and Alabama coming off of an impressive Iron Bowl victory. This week, the Missouri defense has been statistically compared to LSU’s as Mizzou fans attempt to convince themselves that the Tigers have a chance in the Georgia Dome on Saturday. One crucial difference in those statistics: LSU’s defense was facing the SEC West; Missouri’s defense faced the SEC East. The Mizzou secondary is pedestrian, at best, and wide receiver Amari Cooper is playing the best football of his already incredible Alabama career. The Tide roll over Missouri.
Predicted Final: Alabama 41, Missouri 20
ACC CHAMPIONSHIP: (11) Georgia Tech vs. (4) Florida State
Is there any doubt this game will be close? Florida State has been forced to grind out victories this season, and a ground-heavy Georgia Tech offense will be content to make them grind out another. The key is FSU quarterback Jameis Winston’s interception total. Florida State quarterbacks (including Sean Maguire’s stints in Winston’s absence) have thrown 19 interceptions this season, the fourth-highest total of any FBS team. Georgia Tech’s defense ranks ninth among FBS teams with 17 interceptions and leads the FBS with five defensive touchdowns. Georgia Tech’s option attack will control the time of possession, meaning that even one defensive touchdown could provide the advantage needed for the Yellow Jackets to pull off the upset. But Florida State has shown resilience in difficult situations all season, and its toughness and grit drives the Seminoles to victory.
Predicted Final: Florida State: 23, Georgia Tech 21
PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP: (7) Arizona vs. (2) Oregon
The Pac-12 championship game may be the closest to a de facto “CFP quarterfinal” game that exists this weekend. A win for Oregon obviously clinches its spot in the playoff while an Arizona victory could push it into the top four, especially if Ohio State or Baylor were to lose. The Wildcats’ season has been an enigma, with three-point and four-point wins over Texas-San Antonio and California, respectively, before beating Oregon by seven in Autzen Stadium. The key to the game is Arizona’s pass rush against the Oregon offensive line and quarterback Marcus Mariota. Arizona’s pass rush ranks 12th in the nation with 37 sacks on the season and Oregon has allowed 29 sacks for the year, the 31st-highest total in the nation. In reality, Oregon’s offensive line is even worse than the statistics suggest; they are often bailed out by Mariota’s ability to escape the pocket. If the Wildcats are able to exploit their advantage in the trenches without giving Mariota the opportunity to scramble, they give themselves a chance to win. But the ability of Mariota and the Oregon playmakers will be too much for the Wildcats secondary. Expect the Ducks to avenge their earlier defeat to Arizona and make their first appearance in the playoff in search of their first national championship.
Predicted Final: Oregon 38, Arizona 30
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP: (13) Wisconsin vs. (5) Ohio State
Last week’s injury to OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett put a serious damper on the Buckeyes’ once-high playoff hopes. Ohio State sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones steps in to replace Barrett. Yes, this Cardale Jones. We know how he feels about “playing school,” but we’re going to find out if he can play any football. Wisconsin brings one of the nation’s best rushing attacks and running backs, Heisman contender Melvin Gordon, into Lucas Oil Stadium for the Big Ten championship game. Ohio State’s defense ranks 14th in the country in fewest rushing yards allowed per game at 116.1, but it hasn’t faced Gordon or his offensive line. A convincing Bucks win could propel them into the playoff with a loss from any of the top four teams. Unfortunately for OSU, the Buckeyes won’t be winning this year’s Big Ten title.
Predicted Final: Wisconsin 35, Ohio State 27
(9) Kansas State @ (6) Baylor
Unfortunately for Baylor, as I detailed above, it appears even a Bears victory won’t convince the committee to jump BU over Texas Christian. Unrest will abound in Waco if the Bears were to win, with BU fans making the case for Baylor to gain a spot in the playoff, but it would be left to hope for mistakes from the teams currently occupying playoff spots. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty overcame a mediocre start to the season and has been on a tear of late. Expect Petty to have a big game on Senior Day and propel the Bears to victory through the air. If the Baylor defense can force a few turnovers, this one could get ugly. As terrific as Bill Snyder’s gameplans always are, Baylor’s perimeter playmakers paired with Petty’s right arm will be too much for the Wildcats on Saturday night.
Predicted Final: Baylor 42, Kansas State 28
After 14 weeks, your Heisman Trophy recipient is…
Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, Alabama
Cooper’s massive game in the Iron Bowl (13 receptions, 224 yards, three touchdowns) only added to his already explosive season (103 receptions, 1,573 yards, 14 touchdowns). Cooper may be the greatest collegiate wide receiver since Larry Fitzgerald at Pittsburgh or Michael Crabtree at Texas Tech, and he’s put up elite numbers with a first-year starting quarterback under center in the SEC West. If that’s not enough for a Heisman, I don’t know what is.
Also making the trip to New York…
Marcus Mariota, Quarterback, Oregon
This is a close decision. Very, very close. Many favor Mariota to win college football’s must prestigious honor this season and he is certainly a deserving candidate, but his performance has often slipped in Oregon’s biggest game’s while Cooper’s reached new heights. Granted, his “off” games are still well above average, but when it comes to Heisman voting, it is imperative to be picky. Mariota did not play up to his high standard in the Ducks’ only loss to Arizona; his performance in the Pac-12 championship rematch with the Wildcats might determine his Heisman fate.
Melvin Gordon, Running Back, Wisconsin
The only running back making the trip, Gordon’s numbers are eye-popping (283 carries, 2,260 yards, 26 touchdowns). He also briefly held the record for FBS rushing yards in a single game, only to have his record broken the very next week. Similarly to Mariota, the conference championship game will be Gordon’s last chance to make a pitch to the Heisman voters. A big game against the best team in the Big Ten this season could give Gordon chance to win the Trophy, although the odds are certainly stacked against him. If nothing else, the Badgers’ star will be welcomed into the elite company of Heisman ceremony invitees.
We Made It
One more week, this is what it’s all about. Don’t miss a moment of this historic season. First times only happen once; this is your chance to watch the first four-team College Football Playoff fall into place.