I'm roughly following committee logic, with a little bit of my own subjective evaluations thrown in where I think it makes sense. The first set of committee rankings for this season will come out tomorrow, announced live on ESPN at 7:00 PM ET.
A refresher on what we believe is committee logic based on reverse-engineering last year's official rankings:
- Number of losses is the heaviest-weighted factor.
- Quality wins is the next (wins over ranked teams, with a non-linear increase in importance as the opponent gets better).
- Margin of victory isn't officially a metric, but it seems like at least quality of play is somehow - which is why FSU was the only undefeated team in the playoff last year but ranked only #3.
- Strength of schedule is significant in that a really bad metric here can ding you significantly (see: 2014 Marshall, before their first loss).
- If you have one loss, you're better off with it being early against weak competition, which makes it easier to explain as a fluke. Losses against good teams are very difficult to overcome as they appear to be seen almost as elimination games. If you have two losses, you're probably not in the conversation anyway so you won't have to worry about it.
- One of the trickier points is that while the committee says a loss is a loss is a loss, it appears they do judge losses a little differently. That's why, for example, Notre Dame was the highest-ranked one-loss team through eight weeks last year despite not having a quality win, and why TCU was ranked ahead of Baylor despite identical records and Baylor's controversial head-to-head win. I'm actually OK with this - it means they're willing to let the eyeball test overrule in extenuating circumstances.
As a tiebreaker, I use a completely subjective "who would win on a neutral field" test. I have no idea how the committee breaks a tie, but the way they vote (it's complicated) probably makes a tie extremely unlikely anyway.
Our Playoff Teams
- LSU - 7-0 - Off this past weekend; no doubt they were gearing up for their fork-in-the-road game with Alabama this week. Clemson's best win is better, but the Bayou Tigers get a bump from a much better strength of schedule rating. Quality wins: Florida. FEI SOS: 22nd.
- Clemson - 8-0 - Pulled away from NC State in the second half, but the defense showed some vulnerability. The biggest threat to them down the stretch is up next in Florida State. Quality wins: Notre Dame. FEI SOS: 85th.
- TCU - 8-0 - They've played some close ones with West Virginia in recent years. This time around, well, not so much. Gary Patterson's probable best-ever coaching job rolls on, but they face their biggest test yet this week at undefeated Oklahoma State. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 50th.
- Michigan State - 8-0 - Yet another team that was off, which is really good for them since they've been pretty banged up. They're headed to Nebraska this week. Quality wins: Michigan. FEI SOS: 47th.
Our Near-Future Playoff Teams
Because, let's be honest, we all know this thing is going to eight teams sooner rather than later.
- Baylor - 7-0 - Off this past weekend, they'll begin life without quarterback Seth Russell in earnest this week when they travel to Kansas State. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 61st.
- Ohio State - 8-0 - Also off this past weekend; they'll host Minnesota this week, who was inches away from upsetting Michigan. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 63rd.
- Notre Dame - 7-1 - The Irish won a tense strength-on-strength match-up on the road against Temple, which believe it or not counts as their best win this season. Strength of schedule also helps quite a bit. Quality wins: Temple, USC. FEI SOS: 1st. (Yes, you read that right.)
- Alabama - 7-1 - The Tide also were off; as noted above, they have a season-defining game coming up against LSU. Quality wins: Texas A&M. FEI SOS: 27th.
The Best of The Rest
- Stanford - 7-1 - Washington State missed a field goal as time expired, and Stanford survived another week. That's the first real sign of weakness they've shown since their loss to Northwestern in the season opener. Quality wins: USC. FEI SOS: 41st.
- Florida - 7-1 - Did the Gators just hit the lights on the way out of the Mark Richt era at Georgia? Quite possibly. They'll host Vandy this week, who just got skunked by Houston. Quality wins: Ole Miss. FEI SOS: 46th.
- Memphis - 8-0 - Crushed Tulane. They have a string of huge games over the next few weeks, as they'll be playing each of their AAC co-leaders: Navy, Houston, and Temple, in that order. Notre Dame fans should be pulling for the Middies or Owls to win the conference, of course. Quality wins: Ole Miss, which overcomes their SOS deficit versus Oklahoma State. FEI SOS: 84th.
- Oklahoma State - 8-0 - Hopefully you played the over for Okie State's 70-53 win over Texas Tech, or really for any other Big 12 game this year. They host TCU in a game with massive Big 12 title race implications. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 65th.
- Iowa - 8-0 - Knocked off Maryland; they'll travel to pesky Indiana this week. Exciting times in the Big Ten. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 97th, which is why they're behind four one-loss teams.
- Utah - 7-1 - After taking care of business against bottom-dwelling Oregon State, they'll travel to Washington. Quality wins: Michigan. FEI SOS: 51st.
- Oklahoma - 7-1 - After dispatching Kansas 62-7, the Sooners have now outscored their last three opponents 180-34 (all were conference wins). Not a misprint. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 37th.
- Florida State - 7-1 - No Everett Golson (concussion), no Dalvin Cook (ankle), no problem as the Noles dispatched Syracuse with ease. In fact, it was so easy, and Sean Maguire looked so effective, that Jimbo might have a quarterback controversy on his hands soon. They'll play their first ranked opponent this week in Death Valley. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 14th, which puzzles me a bit - 4-4 Louisville is the best team they've faced. It might speak more to how weak the average schedule is than how strong theirs is, that a collection of non-doormats gives them the 14th-toughest schedule in the country.
- Houston - 8-0 - Knocked off Vandy 34-0 for their second Power 5 win this year, which is more than a number of Power 5 teams can say. They host Cincinnati this week. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 108th.
- Ole Miss - 7-2 - Handed Auburn their fourth conference loss, and will try to give Arkansas their fifth this week. Quality wins: Alabama. FEI SOS: 4th.
- Temple - 7-1 - Gave #8 Notre Dame everything they could handle. Sure, Notre Dame left some opportunities on the field, but not all those errors were unforced - the Owls are for real. I was especially impressed with their defense; their athletes aren't at the level of Clemson's, but that was probably the best fundamentals the Irish have seen in an opponent all year. They have a very winnable game at Southern Methodist on Friday. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 82nd.
- UCLA - 6-2 - Needed a fourth-quarter score to squeak past woeful Colorado, but we're not ones to spit on survival. They're in Corvallis this week to take on the Beavers. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 19th.
- Michigan - 5-2 - Whoa, Nellie... An inspired Minnesota team, playing hard for coach Jerry Kill after his announcement of an early, health-induced retirement, eschewed a game-tying field goal with two seconds left and was stopped inches from the upset. Michigan hosts Rutgers this week. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 52nd.
- North Carolina - 7-1 - Knocked off Pitt on the road to take control of the ACC Atlantic division. They'll host Duke this week. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 98th. Oof.
- Texas A&M - 6-2 - Got off the schneid with a win over South Carolina; they should continue their winning ways next week when they host Auburn. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 25th.
- Toledo - 7-0 - The Rockets were off this past weekend; they'll play tomorrow night against Northern Illinois. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 112th
- USC - 5-3 - Went on the road to beat a better-than-usual Cal team that had just left the top 25. They'll host Arizona this week. Sure, they have three losses, but two of them were to #7 and #9 and they actually have one of the better wins of the season. Quality wins: Utah. FEI SOS: 15th.
The Walk of Shame
Pitt. The Panthers did not handle prosperity well, sneaking into our Top 25 last week and immediately exiting off Thursday's home loss to North Carolina. Oops. Of course, they'll probably play like a mix of the 2007 Patriots and 1985 Bears against us this week.
Poll voters. I mean, try harder, folks. Why is Mississippi State ranked? And not just ranked, but 24th in the AP - right ahead of Texas A&M, WHO BEAT THEM - and 25th in the coaches', but well out of the "others receiving votes" bucket. Their six wins this season have come against Southern Mississippi, Northwestern State, 4-4 Auburn, Troy, Louisiana Tech, and Kentucky. They've played two decent teams, LSU and A&M, and lost to both. But, you know, SEC, which probably also explains how Alabama got one first-place vote in the AP poll, but I digress.
If you're wondering about Mississippi State's strength of schedule, it's 33rd according to FEI, which is why USC is in here ahead of them. Utah is better than all but one team that Mississippi State has played, and even Cal is better than all of Mississippi State's fallen opponents other than, arguably, Auburn.
ACC refs. They've been a frequent target of Irish fans' ire; after the end of the Duke-Miami game, those Irish fans might feel better knowing that it's incompetence, not bias, that plagues the ACC officiating crews. A whopping nine-minute review of the eight-lateral kick return to end the game - over one minute of review per lateral - somehow completely failed to note an obvious forward lateral and an obvious knee down. Adding insult to injury, during the review, the officials also for some reason picked up a flag for an equally obvious block in the back on the return.
The ACC has suspended the on-field and booth officials for two games for a "series of errors" on the final play. Small consolation to Duke, who picked up their second loss of the season under extremely questionable circumstances.