I'm roughly following committee logic, with a little bit of my own subjective evaluations thrown in where I think it makes sense. The FEI strength of schedule ratings here lag a week behind, as they're updated on Tuesdays.
A refresher on what we believe is committee logic based on reverse-engineering the 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. Or anybody in the Big 12 in 2015.
- 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, and late losses are never good. 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
- Clemson - 12-0 - Held off a moribund South Carolina squad to close out their regular season and hold on to the #1 ranking. Up next is the ACC title game against North Carolina, who has played an exceedingly weak schedule but nonetheless will come into the game on a roll. Quality wins: Notre Dame, Florida State.
- Alabama - 11-1 - Knocked off Auburn, who looked like they couldn't pass their way out of a wet paper bag, in a rather uninspiring Iron Bowl. They'll take on Florida, who could actually provide slightly less resistance, in the SEC championship game. In the "can you believe that" category, Tide running back Derrick Henry had 46 carries. That's right, recruits, come to Bama and be ground to dust in honor of the Machine! Quality wins: LSU, Wisconsin.
- Oklahoma - 11-1 - Obliterated Oklahoma State to put an exclamation point on their run to the Big 12 title. The Texas loss was bad, and they nearly lost to TCU when Baker Mayfield got knocked out of the game, but few teams have been hotter than Oklahoma over the last several weeks. The Sooners will sit tight while they wait for the playoffs to start. Quality wins: Oklahoma State, Baylor, TCU.
- Iowa - 12-0 - Just did skim past Nebraska, which did nothing to convince anyone that they're not just a paper tiger. So why are they here? They're one of two Power 5 undefeated teams. And the question will be moot (I get the car, if you're wondering) after the Big Ten title game anyway - they'll either prove they belong with a win over Michigan State, or they'll be out of the picture. Quality wins: Northwestern.
Our Near-Future Playoff Teams
Because, let's be honest, we all know this thing is going to eight teams sooner rather than later.
- Michigan State - 11-1 - Briefly looked to be in danger against Penn State, but then hit the accelerator and never let up. They'll face Iowa in the Big Ten title game next. Quality wins: Ohio State, Oregon, Michigan.
- Stanford - 10-2 - Knocked off Notre Dame at the gun to keep their slim playoff hopes alive - their most likely path is a Florida upset of Alabama, which is improbable but not impossible. Quality wins: Notre Dame, USC.
- Ohio State - 11-1 - Much like the Spartans, they looked like they were in trouble early against Michigan and then they just ran wild. Unlike the Spartans, they faced a talented and well-coached team. Heh. Anyway, reports of their demise have apparently been greatly exaggerated. They're done until bowl season, which will likely be the Rose Bowl when the loser of the Big Ten title game falls behind them. Quality wins: Michigan.
- Notre Dame - 10-2 - Just a brutal loss. Ironically, Lucy pulled the football away this time by not pulling the football away on Stanford's last-second field goal. I don't have the heart to rehash all of it here, so I'll condense it to this: It might well be the most frustrating Irish loss I've ever watched. The funny thing is that with Oklahoma destroying Oklahoma State, the outcome of this game likely had no effect whatsoever on our postseason destination. But still, a 10-2 season in which the two losses are each by two points, on the road, to #1 and #6, is tough to swallow. We're now idle until our bowl game. Quality wins: Temple, Navy, USC.
The Best of The Rest
- Florida State - 10-2 - Lowered the boom that had seemingly been hanging over the Gators for weeks with a decisive 27-2 win in the Swamp. They'll await the assignment of a premier bowl game - perhaps against the Irish. You want to see hype? Quality wins: Florida.
- North Carolina - 11-1 - Held off North Carolina State to secure their place in the ACC championship game, where they'll take on #1 Clemson. Quality wins: None.
- TCU - 10-2 - Knocked off Baylor to conclude their regular season. There's a decent chance they'll end up in the Sugar Bowl again, possibly against Florida. Quality wins: Baylor.
- Baylor - 9-2 - This may sound repetitive, but they lost to TCU... In a scheduling quirk, they'll meet Texas next week in the last remaining game in the Big 12 season. It has no bearing on the conference title. Quality wins: Oklahoma State.
- Oklahoma State - 10-2 - Destroyed by Oklahoma, and fortunate that a bunch of other teams lost too or they'd be lower. They could be headed for a Sugar Bowl match-up with Florida. Whee! Quality wins: TCU.
- Ole Miss - 9-3 - Won the Egg Bowl in too-easy fashion - up 21-0 after the first quarter and 28-3 at the half, they put it in cruise control the rest of the way. Quality wins: Alabama.
- Michigan - 9-3 - Harbaugh's first regular season in Michigan ended on a bit of a sour note as the Wolverines got pounded in their rivalry game against the Buckeyes. Oops. Still, they did 1-2 wins better than I thought they would, so good job, Jim. Quality wins: Northwestern.
- Northwestern - 10-2 - Knocked off Illinois and will await their bowl destination. Quality wins: Stanford.
- Oregon - 9-3 - Held off Oregon State to conclude their regular season. Their early-season struggles were substantial, but I don't think there are many teams out there that would look forward to facing the Ducks right now. Quality wins: Stanford.
- Florida - 10-2 - Yes, they beat Ole Miss, who is above them here. But they have looked awful too much lately to keep them higher in the rankings - a 2-point win over Vandy, an overtime win over Florida Atlantic, and a thumping at the hands of a good-not-great Florida State team will do that. Still, they're on track for the SEC title game, where they'll probably get thumped again by Alabama. Quality wins: Ole Miss.
- Houston - 11-1 - Embarrassed Navy to clinch the AAC West and will move on to face Temple for the conference championship. Quality wins: Navy.
- Utah - 9-3 - Beat Colorado, which, yay, I guess, but... The main reason they're here is Red-Dawn-level carnage in the bottom of the rankings. Their regular season is done and they'll await their bowl assignment. Quality wins: Oregon, Michigan.
- Temple - 10-2 - Took care of business to lock in their spot in the AAC title game against Houston. The winner will likely be the automatic Group of 5 participant in the New Year's Eve/Day games. Quality wins: None.
- Navy - 10-2 - Remember that highest ranking since 19-whatever? Yeah. Not so much. They'll have a couple of weeks to think about it until the Army game. Quality wins: None.
- USC - 8-4 - Clobbered UCLA to move back into the rankings - and also to clinch the Pac 12 South. They'll head to the conference title game for a rematch with Stanford. Quality wins: Utah.
- LSU - 8-3 - Les Miles isn't leaving. That's pretty much the highlight (lowlight?) of the proceedings this past weekend, as nothing really notable transpired. They're also done and will await their bowl game assignment. Quality wins: Florida.
- Wisconsin - 9-3 - Making another appearance in here - Wisconsin is the team we feel shouldn't be here, but carnage around them keeps putting them back in the rankings. Quality wins: None.