I'm roughly following committee logic, with a little bit of my own subjective evaluations thrown in where I think it makes sense.
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). Note: After the initial 2015 rankings came out last week, it seems that the committee is placing a lot more weight on SOS this year. Fine by us.
- 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 - 9-0 - Were in serious jeopardy for most of the game against Florida State, but iced it late and removed their biggest obstacle to an undefeated regular season. They also clinched a spot in the ACC title game. They travel to Syracuse this week. Quality wins: Notre Dame, Florida State. FEI SOS: 68th.
- Ohio State - 9-0 - Dodged another bullet when they escaped a feisty Minnesota squad, who came surprisingly close to knocking off Michigan and Ohio State in consecutive weeks. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 50th.
- Alabama - 8-1 - Threw down an impressively dominating performance against LSU; particularly remarkable was their derailment of the Leonard Fournette Heisman Express. They head to Starkville this weekend. Quality wins: LSU. FEI SOS: 16th.
- Notre Dame - 8-1 - Manhandled a decent Pitt team in a game that was not as close as the 42-30 final indicates. The Irish are in excellent shape now, with two very winnable games at home against Wake Forest and at Boston College, before playing a likely playoff quarterfinal game against Stanford in Palo Alto. Hold onto your hats, folks. Quality wins: Temple, USC, Navy. FEI SOS: 3rd.
Our Near-Future Playoff Teams
Because, let's be honest, we all know this thing is going to eight teams sooner rather than later.
- Oklahoma State - 8-0 - Absolutely obliterated TCU in their first real test of the season. Wow. I'd say they've answered the bell. They'll head to Ames this week to play perennial doormat Iowa State. Quality wins: TCU. FEI SOS: 18th.
- Baylor - 8-0 - Held off a late surge by Kansas State to stay unbeaten, barely. How long can it last? Maybe not past this week, when they host Oklahoma, who has easily the best defense they'll have seen up to that point. Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 38th.
- Stanford - 8-1 - Took care of business against Colorado, smacking them around as a top team should. Quality wins: UCLA, USC. FEI SOS: 14th.
- Iowa - 9-0 - Last week we described Indiana as "pesky"; fast-forward to this week, and they lived up to the moniker. Iowa had to fight for this one, and they did get it, but it's not the kind of game result that gives you much confidence in the Hawkeyes' ability to run the remainder of the 2015 table.
The Best of The Rest
- LSU - 7-1 - It was close at halftime before Alabama pulled away in the second half; the story really was how easy the yards were for Derrick Henry, and how impossible the yards were for Leonard Fournette. The Tigers get to stay this high because so many other team lost. Quality wins: Florida, Ole Miss FEI SOS: 11th.
Florida - 8-1 - Extremely fortunate to escape Vandy in what ended up being a 9-6 pillow fight. They'll head to South Carolina this week to take on the Gamecocks. Quality wins: Ole Miss. FEI SOS: 59th.
Unless there's something really compelling, I'm going to get away from commenting on every single matchup outside the top 10.
- Michigan State - 8-1 - Quality wins: Michigan. FEI SOS: 52nd.
- Oklahoma - 8-1 - Quailty wins: None. FEI SOS: 37th.
- Houston - 9-0 - Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 70th.
- Utah - 8-1 - Quality wins: Michigan. FEI SOS: 46th.
- TCU - 8-1 - Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 43rd
- Temple - 8-1 - Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 61st.
- Florida State - 7-2 - Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 11th.
- UCLA - 7-2 - Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 20th.
- Michigan - 6-2 - Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 42nd.
- Navy - 7-1 - Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 58th.
- North Carolina - 8-1 - Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 91st.
- Ole Miss - 7-3 - Quality wins: Alabama. FEI SOS: 4th.
- Mississippi State - 7-2 - Quality wins: None. FEI SOS: 17th.
- USC - 6-3 - Quality wins: FEI SOS: 26th.
- Northwestern - Quality wins: Stanford. FEI SOS: 47th.