With the recent release of the first ever College Football Playoff rankings, two things stood out: The first is a serious lack of diversity, which is no surprise in light of recent years. The second is the amount of teams in the top 10 that are likely to fall during the remainder of the regular season.
While taking a gander at the top ranked teams in the country, as well as their upcoming schedules and possible defeats, Notre Dame has a great chance to be part of the initial four-team battle royale for the 2014 national title.
The Irish are No. 10 in the first poll. However, several of their counterparts will lose at least once – many twice – over the rest of the season. Here is a breakdown of the rest of the teams:
Florida State: The ‘Noles have no overly imposing games the rest of the season and will very likely win out. After the scare at Louisville Thursday night, the record of the remaining regular season victims on the Florida State schedule is 17-13, and only one game is away from Doak Campbell. They will be the top seed entering the tournament and are the favorite to host the Irish in a 1-versus-4 game. Record the rest of the way (pre-bowl game/playoff): 5-0.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs barely escaped Kentucky two weeks ago and Arkansas last weekend, in a pair of tough battles against lesser competition with Dak Prescott hobbled. The remaining schedule for Mississippi State includes games at Alabama and at Ole Miss in the finale. Between the two road games, it seems to be highly probable that the Bulldogs will fall in at least one, if not both. With their pass defense becoming a liability, I expect the Bulldogs to fall in both road contests. If they are able to survive the gauntlet, they will complete with Georgia or Missouri in the SEC title game. However, it seems highly unlikely they will get to Atlanta for that opportunity. MSU’s projected record the rest of the way: 2-2.
Alabama: The Tide have a slightly easier run to complete their season than everyone else in the SEC West except Ole Miss. They have two bye weeks with Tennessee and Western Carolina. Outside of the matchup with Mississippi State, they travel to Rebel-beater LSU on Saturday and close with the Iron Bowl. Thanks to the Ole Miss loss last weekend, Alabama is now my favorite to win the SEC and make the four-team playoff tournament. Projected record the rest of the way: 5-0.
Ole Miss: Coming off back-to-back losses at LSU and then the heartbreak against Auburn, the Rebels have their backs against the wall and look to play spoiler when they host Mississippi State to wrap up the season. With the game being played in Oxford, matched with the Ole Miss defense, I like the Rebels to defeat the Bulldogs. Projected record the rest of the way: 4-0.
Auburn: I look for Auburn to fall at least one more time, and possibly two more. The Tigers have the toughest remaining schedule of the contending SEC West squads. They travel to Georgia in Todd Gurley’s comeback game and to Alabama for the Iron Bowl in the final weekend. Georgia will be playing for its life. This stretch makes a repeat of last year seem even more difficult. I like Auburn to beat Georgia and fall to Alabama. Projected record the rest of the way: 3-1.
Oregon: If the Ducks win out, they have to be a favorite for a spot, with a previous win over Michigan State. Oregon only has legitimate battles against Utah and in the Pac-12 title game. With this, the Ducks have already gotten their annual “Oregoning” out of the way with their loss to Arizona. Projected record the rest of the way: 4-0.
Michigan State: The Spartans appear to be the heavy favorite to win a significantly down Big Ten. The only particularly imposing game Michigan State has left is when it hosts an improved, but maybe not as much as we all think, Ohio State squad this Saturday. The loss against Oregon, combined with the existence of a weak Big Ten, seems to possibly point to “first team out” status for the Spartans. Projected record the rest of the way: 5-0.
Georgia/Missouri: Despite the strong advantage of playing in an extremely weak SEC East, the only way that Georgia or Missouri plays in the playoff is to beat the winner out of the West in the SEC title game. That still may be a long shot with the bad losses these teams have – Georgia getting blown out by Florida and Missouri falling at home to Indiana. This would successfully put a wrench in my formula and would be the only way that two SEC teams could be allowed in the tournament, but I still don’t see it happening.
Big 12 winner: In the contest involving Baylor, Kansas State, and TCU, the Bears will be the eventual champion. TCU will battle Kansas State Saturday after surviving West Virginia this weekend. Kansas State still has games at TCU and Baylor, which should both be losses. Already boasting a victory over TCU, Baylor controls its own destiny. With Baylor ranked three spots behind Notre Dame in the first playoff poll, it would be difficult for the Bears to leapfrog them. I look for Baylor to be the sixth-ranked team at the regular season’s end.
With this in mind, each of the SEC powers could very well have two-losses each. In addition, another reason favoring Notre Dame is that the powers that be do not want to see two teams from the same conference battling in the final four. They clearly want to show that this system is better than the flawed BCS. One major flaw with the system was the opportunity for the SEC-bias to take a strong-hold. This means that three teams – Michigan State, Baylor/Big 12 winner, and Notre Dame – will be competing for the final spot.
Also, with the SEC contenders knocking off each other, Notre Dame has a manageable schedule the rest of the way — not automatic wins, but games in which the Irish should be a pick ’em at worst and will probably prevail. The Irish’s three remaining competitive games are at Arizona State, Louisville, and USC at home in the finale. They also do not have a conference championship game against another top contender. The Irish will win out and when the ‘Noles do as well, the four-point loss to Florida State will look even better. Additionally, the Irish’s schedule does not have any serious non-FBS cupcakes. As much as I enjoy seeing the SEC schedule Coastal Carolina and the Art Vandalay School for Aspiring Architects in November, it just doesn’t compare to playing legitimate FBS competition.
With the Florida State loss, the Irish also had their loss come earlier in the season. As we all know, it’s not always how or who that you lose to, but when you do it that can also play a factor in the rankings and where you fall. Michigan State will likely be the exception, as the Oregon loss came about as early as possible.
There is also the charm that Notre Dame brings to anything that it touches and the money that it brings in. Anyone who thinks those factors do not play a role in this kind of decision, likely also actually thought Kim and Kris Humphries were going to pan out. While the first playoff will not need the boost Notre Dame can offer, it never hurts getting that extra added fan-base revenue.
My teams in the tournament are 1) Florida State, 2) Alabama, 3) Oregon, and 4) Notre Dame.