#20 Oklahoma State: Rank = 21st, SOR = 20th, Power Ranking 5.6521
#19 Michigan: Rank = 20h, SOR = 19th, Power Ranking 5.7722
#18 Washington State: Rank = 19th, SOR = 18th, Power Ranking 6.0783
#17 Memphis: Rank = 13th, SOR = 17th, Power Ranking 6.5895
#16 Miami (FL) Hurricanes, 10-1 (7-1 ACC)
Rank = 9th, SOR = 16th, Power Ranking 6.9653
Miami, just a few weeks removed from being the darling of the college football world, slips far down the RT16 totem pole following a loss to lowly Pittsburgh. Strength of Record simply does not like the Hurricanes and who can blame our mathematical metric? “The U” plays in the atrocious ACC Coastal which made a run at the SEC East and Big Ten West for poorest divisions in the Power 5 (FYI, the coastal ended up dead last in terms of average power ranking and second in average subjective ranking ahead of the SEC East). Outside of Miami (16) and Virginia Tech (24), no other Coastal team finished inside the Top 60 in power ranking this season (Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Duke all finished in the 60’s). The average power ranking of the seven teams was 58th and the average subjective rank was 62nd. Miami also played Florida State and Syracuse in its cross-divisional games (finished 6th and 7th respectively in the division). Simply put, Miami’s schedule did them no favors as its third best win came against MAC West winner Toledo. Miami finished with the 16th worst SOS in the Power Five (AFTER TAKING INTO ACCOUNT THE ADDITION OF CLEMSON!)…just one spot ahead of Alabama. Without Clemson on the schedule, Miami had the absolute worst SOS at season’s end (yes, even worse than Wisconsin). One last tidbit, all SOS measurements take into account the scheduling of Arkansas State despite the Hurricanes not playing them (and therefore notching a 0.000 addition to SOR).
#15 Michigan State Spartans, 9-3 (7-2, Big Ten)
Rank = 17th, SOR = 14th, Power Ranking 7.2596
On the other hand, Michigan State’s SOS is just fine. Sparty wrapped up the regular season by destroying Rutgers (back into the Bottom 90 for the Scarlet Knights) and reversed a 3-9 record back to the norm of 9-3. Mark Dantonio and company can put a bow on a sixth 10-win season since he arrived to East Lansing from the University of Cincinnati prior to the 2007 season. Successful for many programs across the country, Michigan State’s rebound is another signature moment for Dantonio and proof he derves to be mentioned among the best 10 coaches in college football, especially when you consider the talent and tradition at his disposal at Michigan State compared to other teams across the country (including the three he has in his own division).
#14 Washington Huskies, 10-2 (7-2, Pac-12)
Rank = 14th, SOR = 15th, Power Ranking 7.3230
Washington won yet another Apple Cup and were able to sow more seeds of disappointment on the fields of Pullman following a 41-14 destruction of its in-state rival. The Huskies will not be totally happy finishing at #14 in these rankings (and will likely end up in a similar position in the CFP rankings released Tuesday night (which it might be passed Tuesday night when this is posted, but isn’t as I write now)), but no one can say a 10-win season is anything but successful. After last season’s playoff appearance, the Huskies can bask in the accomplishment and relish that they are likely on the college football map of relevance for the foreseeable future so long as Chris Peterson remains in Seattle. Next season, Washington will have an opportunity they have been criticized for in the last two seasons: a marquee non-conference win. Washington travels to Atlanta to play Auburn in a “neutral site game” for its first contest of 2018.
#13 Stanford Cardinal, 9-3 (7-2, Pac-12)
Rank = 15th, SOR = 13th, Power Ranking 7.4248
Stanford sneaked its way into the Pac-12 Championship Game after being left on the side of the road in a pool of its own blood and feces following its third loss of the season on the road against Washington State. The Cardinal downed Washington and Notre Dame following the loss and are now sitting pretty with the nation’s highest SOS (including its upcoming neutral site game against Southern California). Stanford’s struggles on the road have been well documented and it has appeared like a different roster of players when they line-up in Palo Alto. Which team, home-Stanford or road-Stanford, shows up for the Pac-12 Championship Game? It’s anyone’s guess, but the trend of this season spells upset and trouble for the Trojans in Santa Clara.
#12 Southern California Trojans, 10-2 (8-1, Pac-12)
Rank = 11th, SOR = 12th, Power Ranking 7.8024
Speak of the devil…Southern California is the highest ranked Pac-12 team (again) this week, watched itself begin to tumble down the rankings (again), and was unceremoniously tossed from the playoff discussion (again). Much like Miami, Southern Cal was stuck in the weaker division of its conference, but did have two marquee games in the cross-divisional setup; however, they lost one (Washington State) and the other was to atrocious Oregon State. Would it surprise you that of the two-loss teams playing on championship Saturday, USC has the weakest strength of schedule? In order, SOS for those teams goes: Ohio State, Auburn, Texas Christian, and then USC. The Trojans obviously are hurt by playing the lowest ranked team of the bunch, but the once heralded Pac-12 schedule was ripped to pieces by itself as the season rolled along. USC is still playing for a New Year’s Six appearance, but needs to beat Stanford to achieve it.
#11 Texas Christian Horned Frogs, 10-2 (7-2, Big 12)
Rank = 12th, SOR = 11th, Power Ranking 7.8288
Texas Christian, like USC, seems to be playing mostly for the honor of appearing in the New Year’s Six. In our simulations ran, Texas Christian could never jump higher than fifth in the polls (a result which needs UCF to lose). TCU could not leap over the champs of the ACC, Big Ten, SEC, or Alabama even with a victory over Oklahoma. TCU, regrettably, will be staring up at even the Golden Knights should UCF triumph over Memphis in the American Conference Championship Game (which already has the a largest spread of any contest happening this Saturday). Gary Patterson and his Frogs dominating might be able to shift that perception (can they climb to the Top 4 in the subjective rankings?), but would need a complete performance against Oklahoma to do so.
#10 Central Florida Golden Knights, 11-0 (8-0, American)
Rank = 8th, SOR = 10th, Power Ranking 8.0265
As teased just one paragraph ago, a situation more than exists for UCF to make the playoff on this publication. A win over Memphis would give the Golden Knights just enough of a SOR boost to leapfrog Alabama IF Georgia beats Auburn (a loss which would negatively affect Bama’s SOR). UCF also needs TCU to beat Oklahoma (allowing the Knights to leapfrog the Sooners. UCF would then enter the playoff with Clemson, SEC champ Georgia, and the Big Ten champion (either one). If Auburn wins AND TCU wins, UCF will be staring up at the Tide who will enter the Top 4 despite not playing in the SEC Championship Game. In other words, UCF needs just two things to go right and we would have them playing in the college football playoff.
#9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 9-3 (Independent)
Rank = 16th, SOR = 4th, Power Ranking 8.2279
The loss to rival Stanford knocked Notre Dame out of sight and out of mind for the Top 4, but the Irish should be content with a 9-3 regular season after a year of disappointment just a season ago. They established an identity and showed promise for the future despite playing one of the tougher schedules in America (SOS #3 at season’s end without the championship games included). This felt like Notre Dame’s first season of relevance since Manti Te’o and the BCS Debacle against Alabama (although we know they were a pass interference call against Clemson from being in the playoff hunt two seasons ago). The Irish will likely miss out on the New Year’s Six when all is finished; the Pac-12 Champ will jump the Irish and leave them outside the Top 9 with an automatic berth given to the Group of Five (Note: if UCF beats Memphis they will also jump Notre Dame making their place in the Group of 5 irrelevant). Yes, the decimation by Miami is going to be sore through the summer months, but there’s always next season.
#8 Penn State Nittany Lions, 10-2 (7-2, Big Ten)
Rank = 10th, SOR = 9th, Power Ranking 8.2740
Penn State will be hoping and praying for two things: 1) an Ohio State victory in the Big Ten Championship Game (making their loss seem a little better) and 2) Stanford beating Southern California in the Pac-12 Championship Game. If Southern California wins, it might boost Notre Dame’s Strength of Record just enough to inch the Irish over the Nittany Lions in the final RT16. The silly little kicker which could change all of that? Akron plays Toledo in the MAC Championship and the Nittany Lions have a win over Akron. If the Zips win, they’ll likely climb from current #73 into the top 60, a higher climb than USC could ever hope to make. There’s no easy way to say this, 2017 ended as a disappointment for Penn State whose National Championship aspirations might take a turn for the worse with Saquon Barkley’s departure and the unending gauntlet known as the Big Ten East. Penn State plays Appalachian State as what might end up as its best non-conference game of 2018 (sorry Pittsburgh), but will once again make its money in a Big Ten schedule featuring Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
#7 Ohio State Buckeyes, 10-2 (8-1, Big Ten)
Rank = 7th, SOR = 7th, Power Ranking 8.4413
Ohio State survived and impressively rallied with back-up Quarterback Dwayne Haskins entering for JT Barrett with the Buckeyes still losing to rival Michigan on the road in the Big House on Saturday. The College Football Playoff Committee should have been watching and might be back-pedaling slightly on the pass it has given Clemson for the Syracuse loss after watching Ohio State yet again dispatch its rival with a backup at the helm. The future looks bright with Haskins, but question marks now surround JT Barrett and whether his health will allow him to play against Wisconsin. Already Columbus is swirling with memories of JT Barrett injuries, Big Ten Championship Games against Wisconsin, and National Championships. For now, the Buckeyes need to realize their climb into the Top 4 is far from certain; however, our simulations have the Buckeyes easily climbing into the Top 4 with a win; futhermore, the Buckeyes could reach as high as second with wins by TCU and Miami in their own conference championship games. The RT16 does not decide the playoff (unfortunately), so Ohio State in reality might need something resembling 59-0 (or 48-3) to convince the real College Football Playoff Committee that taking the Buckeyes (again) is the right decision.
#6 Alabama Crimson Tide, 11-1 (7-1, SEX-iest)
Rank = 5th, SOR = 6th, Power Ranking 8.4818
Alabama sits idle knowing that its only chance to reach the RT16 Top 4 is if Oklahoma loses AND Auburn wins. Are those two outcomes impossible? Absolutely not, but the Tide simply do not have the metrics to matchup with the rest of the teams ranked at the top. As stated, Alabama has the fifteenth worst SOS in the Power Five (that means they are 50th of 64 teams (obviously with the caveat that the Tide do not have the luxury of playing itself). Alabama has the 53 toughest schedule in the nation, but losing only on the road to Auburn has allowed the Tide to accumulate the nation’s sixth best SOR. The most vocal debate between playoff contenders is revolving around 11-1 Alabama and 11-2, Big Ten Champion Ohio State, but our metrics have the Buckeyes just tiptoes behind Buhmuh at 10-2 without their championship buttress (see current Power Ranking Score). All the arguments in favor of Alabama are “eye test”, but what eye test? A team which cannot throw the ball effectively? A team which has looked to be at its worst in its last six games? Alabama dominated Vanderbilt and Ole Miss (11-13 combined), but the Tide hobbled against an LSU team which lost to Troy, a Texas A&M team which went 7-5, and a Mississippi State team whose defense allowed 31 points to Ole Miss (which would not be affected by a QB’s injury). “Ignore everything we did against over .500 opponents and focus on that one team playing really, really shitty one week against Iowa” is not a playoff contender argument. I’m sorry, but style points over Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and Tennessee are worth about as much as style points over UNLV, Maryland, Rutgers, and Nebraska (their records are even similar). Toss in Ohio State dominating Michigan State, beating Penn State, beating Michigan on the road with a backup QB, AND the win over Wisconsin (remember, the debate is a Big Ten champ Ohio State) and I honestly am losing interest. It feels like pot-sitrring at this point. You’ll likely ask, “Do you honestly believe Ohio State is a better team than Alabama?” and I’d answer “YES!” Why wouldn’t I? Because the Tide smacked Fresno State, Colorado State, and Mercer at home? Because Ohio State played poorly one week on the road after playing the most electrifying regular season game of the college football season? Are we giving a pass to Alabama for looking pretty average since beating Tennessee? I understand, Alabama is Alabama and being Alabama means Alabama should always get in the playoff…but why? Because Florida State was ranked #2 at the beginning of the season but ended up being pretty mediocre? “THEY LOST THEIR STARTING QUARTERBACK!” you scream…but how does that explain losing six games? Ohio State won the National Title with a second and third string quarterback. Isn’t that something college coaches should have a contingency plan for? Are Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney allowed to both have a stupid name contest AND not prepare for an injury to the starting quarterback? Alabama’s best win was at home against Louisiana State and Ohio State has three wins scored higher than that BEFORE they even have to play Wisconsin. If Wisconsin is going to get knocked for how terrible the Big Ten West is, then Alabama should also be knocked for the SEC under-performing. You don’t think running the football and playing defense is enough to win the championship? Well then don’t look at the Tide. Alabama’s offense flopped against both LSU and Auburn when they needed to throw the football. I’d argue that Alex Hornibrook is a BETTER passing QB than Jalen Hurts. Any argument used in favor of Alabama can be used in favor of Wisconsin, except that Wisconsin is not named Alabama. A very fair and very logical argument could be made that one loss Wisconsin and not one loss Alabama should be next team up for the playoff. I’ll pause here and take your questions.
#5 Georgia Bulldogs, 11-1 (7-1, SEX-iest)
Rank = 6th, SOR = 5th, Power Ranking 8.5952
The SEX-iest Conference in America gets the title game it wanted all season when a one-loss Georgia team takes on a two-loss Auburn team because Jarrett Stidham finally wanted to prove he was the most valuable quarterback in the conference. For Georgia, revenge is on its mind, but it faces the challenge of stopping the most explosive, two-dimensional offense in the SEC. Does that sound familiar? The Bulldogs recovered and rolled to 11-1 after being embarrassed in Jordan-Hare; moreover, they get to stay home and play in Atlanta against an Auburn team fresh off an emotional and physical victory over rival Alabama. Many people are not even giving Georgia a shot in this game, but if flow can go a little differently and the Dawgs can use play-action passing and their powerful run game to keep pressure off of Jake Fromm than expect a much closer contest than what we watched three weekends ago.
#4 Auburn Tigers, 10-2 (7-1, SEX-iest)
Rank = 3rd, SOR = 8th, Power Ranking 8.6388
Auburn completed its miraculous climb up the ranks of college football with a victory over rival Alabama just five days after an Auburn fan was shot for a bitter disagreement with a Tide fan that he ended up being right about, but unfortunately he is still shot. The Tigers, as mentioned, have the SEC’s best two-dimensional offense thanks to Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham who has stabilized in recent weeks and downed team-after-team. A victory over Georgia and Auburn would have a case for the #1 overall seed in the college football playoff, but they won’t be jumping Clemson, Wisconsin, or Oklahoma if all those teams win this weekend. The Tigers still control their fate, but need a victory over Georgia to put the exclamation point on a season-ending run for the ages as the hottest team in America.
#3 Oklahoma Sooners, 11-1 (8-1, Big 12)
Rank = 1st, SOR = 3rd, Power Ranking 9.1595
Oklahoma, like already spoken for Auburn and soon-to-be spoken for Wisconsin and Clemson is just boring. The “control your own destiny” teams are just that and there’s very little else to say about games to be played, so instead let’s focus on the hilarity that was Oklahoma’s captains carrying Baker Mayfield’s jersey out to the coin flip against West Virginia. I wish someone could have captured Lincoln Riley’s reaction…but what if the first-year head coach, who was attempting to send the most inconsequential of messages to his Heisman-favorite QB, offered permission for them to let the jersey make its way out to the toss? Suddenly Baker Mayfield was transformed into some infallible, crotch-grabbing, curse-hurling martyr. His teammates honored and included if Mayfield had recently sustained a career-threatening injury one week prior rather than made a complete ass of himself and the rest of his team.
#2 Wisconsin Badgers, 12-0 (9-0, Big Ten)
Rank = 4th, SOR = 2nd, Power Ranking 9.1652
Wisconsin remained unbeaten against rival Minnesota and is one of only TWO UNBEATEN TEAMS LEFT IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL! The other is already mentioned Central Florida whose strength of schedule, once higher than the Badgers, will almost certainly keep UCF from sneaking its way into the Top-6 (much less the Top 4). We already laid out the Golden Knights scenario to make the playoff, but Wisconsin’s is, as you would guess, much simpler. Even with the thirteenth data point, Wisconsin only has the 24th best SOS in the country, but going 13-0 with such a poor schedule while other teams are counting up the losses (Washington actually finished behind both 2-loss Penn State, 2-loss Michigan, and 1-loss Oklahoma last season) will mean Wisconsin can make the playoff without a sweat.
#1 Clemson Tigers, 11-1 (8-1, ACC)
Rank = 2nd, SOR = 1st, Power Ranking 9.4954
Clemson remains a steady #1 team with its collection of very okay wins against a more than mediocre ACC Atlantic division, a defeat of upstart Auburn, and beating rival South Carolina on Saturday. Clemson has planted itself in the #1 slot on this publication AND we could not sort a scenario where Clemson does not make the college football playoff, that is to say, Southern California, Central Florida, Alabama…none of those teams can dislodge the Tigers from the playoff here. Clemson, mathematically, is all but in the CFP; however, the real life college football playoff committee might have a different formula than the simple and logical one we use here. The Tigers meet Miami n the ACC title game and should be prepared to accept the title of #1 seed in the playoff should they beat the Canes by any score in Charlottle.