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Re-handicapping the race of one-loss teams

horse race

The College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first set of (way too early, entirely unnecessary) Top 25 rankings on Tuesday night. With one more week of data to analyze, placing the contenders and pseudo-contenders into groups is a little bit easier.

We can assume undefeateds Mississippi State and Florida State will claim the top two spots, but how does the race for the other two spots size up? As you'll see, a full dozen teams have played themselves into position to where they feel like they have relative control of their own destiny. Obviously, there are only four golden tickets in existence, and two of them are taken at the moment. We can't wait to see how the committee ranks them on Tuesday, and how the next six weeks are going to play out.

This is going to be fun.

"Win out and you've got nothing to worry about."

Ole Miss (7-1 record, No. 3 in latest AP poll)
This week:
Lost at LSU, 10-7
The case for: The only team this season to beat Alabama, owns a solid neutral-site non-conference win over Boise State, dominant in wins over Texas A&M and Tennessee. Has a very strong case for the best defense in the country. Gets Auburn this week.
The case against: Has to turn around and play Auburn this week. Getting Tennessee and Vanderbilt from the SEC East will do them no favors. Other contenders will have better non-conference wins.

Auburn (6-1 record, No. 5 in latest AP poll)
This week:
Beat South Carolina, 42-35
The case for:
Thursday night win at Kansas State is arguably the most impressive non-conference win in the nation, and certainly in the SEC. Still has more chances to impress than anyone in college football with games against Ole Miss, Alabama and Georgia, plus South Carolina and Texas A&M.
The case against:Will fall behind Mississippi State in the event of a loss by the Bulldogs. Other than that, not much of one. Next week's game at Ole Miss is huge, obviously.

Alabama (6-1, No. 7)
This week: Won at Tennessee, 34-20
The case for: With games against No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 5 Auburn waiting (plus LSU) Alabama has more chances to impress than the rest of their competition. And both must come to Tuscaloosa, where they've racked up 1,247 yards and 101 points in their last two games. A 10-point neutral site win over West Virginia has aged like Apple stock.
The case against:A 10-point neutral-site, non-conference win over a ranked team is a win the committee will respect. Problem is, it's the Tide's only win over a ranked team so far.

Oregon (7-1, No. 6)
This week:
Beat California in Santa Clara, 59-41
The case for: Has a strong argument for best non-conference win in college football with 19-point win over otherwise-undefeated Michigan State. Blew out UCLA and Washington. When it's all said and done, Ducks could have wins over five teams that were ranked at the time. Loss to Arizona could fall under injury considerations in the eyes of the committee.
The case against: Lost at home, unlike other one-loss front-runners Ole Miss, Auburn, Alabama, and TCU.

Ohio State (6-1, No. 13)
This week:
Won at Penn State, 31-24 in double overtime
The case for:
This team looked every bit like a top four team since loss to Virginia Tech, beating likely bowl teams Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers by nearly 30 points per game, until struggling with Penn State. Still, a conference win on the road is a conference win on the road. Chance to earn impressive road win at Michigan State. Play of J.T. Barrett since Virginia Tech loss creates a discussion point for the committee.
The case against: That Virginia Tech loss has aged like a carton of milk on a Las Vegas sidewalk in the middle of July.

Notre Dame (6-1, No. 7)
This week:
The case for: Walked into the house of the defending national champions and more than held their own. Earned a hard-fought win over Stanford. Challenging remaining schedule (at No. 14 Arizona State, vs. Louisville, at No. 20 USC) leaves plenty of opportunities to impress the committee.
The case against: Best win so far is actually a loss. First-half schedule did pan out as planned with Michigan and North Carolina going belly up. Has not won a true road game this season.

Georgia (6-1, No. 9)
This week:
The case for:Odds on favorite to win SEC East, placing them 60 minutes away from an SEC championship. Win over Clemson gets more impressive by the week. Still has chance to earn major win over Auburn, and a quality win over Georgia Tech. Nov. 8 trip to Kentucky is the only true road game left on the schedule.
The case against: Win over Clemson was before Deshaun Watson took control of the Tigers' offense. Loss at South Carolina looks less forgivable now than it seemed at the time.

Michigan State (6-1, No. 8)
This week:
Beat Michigan in East Lansing, 35-11
The case for: Should earn major brownie points from the committee for traveling to Oregon. Held a two-score lead in every game this season. Gets Ohio State at home, plus possible Big Ten championship berth.
The case against: Most, and only, impressive win so far is five-point defeat of Nebraska at home. Oregon loss means only chance for impressive win in an opponent's stadium is at Maryland.

Kansas State (6-1, No. 11)
This week:
Beat Texas in Manhattan, 23-0
The case for: K-State is alone in first place in the Big 12, the only team in the conference still with a chance to run the table. The list of teams to win in Norman during the Stoops tenure is short, and Kansas State has now done it in two straight trips. Still has games with Oklahoma State, West Virginia, TCU and Baylor remaining, the latter three on the road. The loss to Auburn will play better during selection committee discussions than it would in the BCS era.
The case against: Loss to Auburn means Kansas State's only non-conference wins are Stephen F. Austin and UTEP.

TCU (6-1, No. 10)
This week:
Crushed Texas Tech in Fort Worth, 82-27
The case for: Win over Minnesota is the best non-conference win by a Big 12 team. Frogs' play against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech makes fourth quarter against Baylor look like a major aberration. Gets Kansas State at home.
The case against: Baylor loss means TCU's only chance for an impressive road victory is at West Virginia. Light closing schedule (at Kansas, at Texas, vs. Iowa State) doesn't leave opportunity to impress after mid-November. That said, I really think the committee will like this team.

Utah (6-1, No. 19)
This week:
Beat USC, 24-21
The case for: Four wins over Power Five opponents, three of which came on the road. Has games with No. 17 Arizona State, No. 9 Oregon, No. 23 Stanford and No. 16 Arizona coming consecutively, and is fresh off a win over No. 22 USC. This is a team that the committee should like, but, then again, so are all these teams.
The case against: Those three road Power Five wins are against Michigan, UCLA and Oregon State. Loss to Washington State, in which Utes held 21-0 lead and lost 28-27, won't look good in front of the committee.

Arizona State (6-1, No. 14)
The case for: Out-Stanforded Stanford in 26-10 win, giving the Sun Devils two wins over currently ranked teams. Still has home games with Utah and Notre Dame, plus trips to Arizona and a potential date with Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship. Playing much better defense over the past two weeks.
The case against: 62-27 home loss to UCLA was the very definition of ugly at the time, and looks worse now. So bad was that loss that Arizona State, playing without starting quarterback Taylor Kelly that night, can not use the injury consideration asterisk that Oregon and Ohio State will make their proverbial cases with.

"You're going to need some help."

Arizona (6-1, No. 15)
This week:
Beat Washington State in Pullman, 59-37
The case for: Beat Oregon in Eugene. Only loss came on a missed field goal in crunch time. Beat Oregon in Eugene. Still has chances for impressive wins at UCLA (although the value is falling here), vs. Washington, at Utah and vs. Arizona State. Beat Oregon in Eugene.
The case against: The non-conference slate is severely lacking compared to the rest of the Pac-12 contenders, which makes Arizona the most vulnerable to the Pac-12's cannibalistic tendencies.

Baylor (6-1, No. 12)
This week:
The case for: Improbable as it was, this is still the team that beat TCU. Still has games with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State ahead, the latter two in Waco.
The case against: Non-conference schedule of SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo is essentially begging for a slap on the wrist from the committee.

"We're glad you're here, now go ahead and take a seat at the back of the room."

Nebraska (7-1, No. 16)
This week:
Beat Rutgers in Lincoln, 42-24
The case for: Favorite for Big Ten West championship, one upset away from becoming Big Ten champion.
The case against: Loss to Michigan State means Huskers may not beat a ranked team until Big Ten championship. Best non-conference win was Miami. Needed Heisman-worthy play by Ameer Abdullah to avoid overtime with McNeese State..

Duke (6-1, unranked)
This week:
The case for: If they can win out and beat an undefeated Florida State in the ACC championship....
The case against: Will likely finish regular season with zero wins over ranked teams. Played Elon, Troy, Kansas and Tulane in non-conference. Even if they win the ACC Coastal, it's still the ACC Coastal. Is Duke.