1. Might Georgia Tech end up being the fly in the race to the inaugural College Football Playoff?
The No. 18 Yellow Jackets (9-2, 6-2 ACC) have won four games in a row, and they captured the ACC's Coastal Division after Duke lost to North Carolina 45-20 on Thursday night. Georgia Tech will play No. 3 Florida State in the ACC championship game in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Dec. 6, and might end up being the last big obstacle for the Seminoles in their quest to reach the playoff.
Before playing the Seminoles for an ACC title, the Yellow Jackets will play at No. 10 Georgia on Nov. 29. The Bulldogs are still trying to reach the SEC championship game, but need No. 20 Missouri to drop one of its two remaining SEC games (at Tennessee on Saturday or home against Arkansas on Nov. 28) to win the SEC East.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher might have been happier playing the Blue Devils for an ACC championship. The Seminoles beat Duke 45-7 in the 2013 ACC championship game, and Tech’s triple-option spread offense isn’t much fun to prepare for on short notice. FSU has already won the ACC's Atlantic Division title and hosts Boston College on Saturday and rival Florida next week.
Tech’s triple-option spread offense also can take a toll on an opponent’s defensive line because of its use of cut blocks. The Seminoles lost three defensive linemen -- Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample and reserve Justin Shanks -- after they suffered lower-leg injuries in the first half of a 37-12 win over FCS foe The Citadel on Sept. 6. The Bulldogs also run the triple-option and use cut blocks, which are designed to knock down defensive linemen by hitting them at the knees.
“Those guys that cut and chop like this, it’s crazy” Fisher said, after playing The Citadel. “I’d rather play more conventional teams. Just because of the chance of injuries that occurred.”
Of course, FSU would have about a month to recover from playing Georgia Tech before it would play in one of the two semifinal games in the playoffs.
2. FSU quarterback Jameis Winston's student conduct-code hearing is still scheduled for Dec. 2, and his attorney David Cornwell continues to plead his case on Twitter.
On Friday morning, Cornwell tweeted four times, apparently in response to the accuser’s attorney, John Clune, filing a legal brief to FSU officials. Under FSU’s student conduct code rules and procedures, Clune and Cornwell will be able to attend the hearing and counsel their clients, but won’t be allowed to speak on their clients’ behalf. Winston and the woman who accused him of sexually assaulting her in December 2012 will be required to present evidence, question witnesses and answer questions from retired Florida State Supreme Court chief justice Major Harding, who will hear the case.
Under the rules and regulations in place, Winston isn’t required to answer any or all of Harding’s questions. Winston faces four potential student conduct code violations, including two related to sexual misconduct.
On Friday morning, Cornwell tweeted:
Clune cries 4 a hearing where the students represent themselves, then submits HIS firm's legal brief 2 spin the story because .....— David Cornwell (@wmdavidcornwell) November 21, 2014
Repeats lie that Patricia Carroll did not initiate settlement discussions n demand $7million. He wasn't atty then n Carroll still in hiding— David Cornwell (@wmdavidcornwell) November 21, 2014
This lie exposes a desparate atty chasing a 33% fee. Can't sue on the present record. Lie rejected 3 times. #4thbiteattheapple— David Cornwell (@wmdavidcornwell) November 21, 2014
3. The Texas-Texas A&M rivalry was one of the biggest casualties in college football’s realignment. But now there seems to be a possibility the Longhorns and Aggies could meet in a postseason bowl game because of where they currently sit in their respective conference standings. The best possibility would seem to be them playing each other in the Dec. 29 AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl in Houston.
Earlier this week, Chip Brown of HornsDigest.com reported that the Aggies and the SEC would block a postseason matchup against the Longhorns.
But Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman said the SEC will determine the bowl lineup, and he insists the Aggies won’t try to duck the Longhorns. Under the SEC’s new bowl selection process, schools rank the available bowls and bowls rank the available teams in order of preference, and then the league slots its teams.
“Quite frankly, that’s a decision made by the conference,” Hyman told the Houston Chronicle. “The configuration is so different than it’s been in the past. They ask us to rank the bowls, and they ask the bowls to rank us. The [SEC] then ranks all the different teams from that, and that’s how the selection will be made.
“It doesn’t matter if I speculate about playing this team or that team in a bowl. It’s out of our control. … Wherever they tee us up, we’ll play.”
4. A Georgia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would make it an aggravated misdemeanor to jeopardize the eligibility of a college student-athlete by providing him or her with illegal benefits. Under the terms of the proposed law, House Bill 3, anyone who causes a student-athlete to lose his or her eligibility would face a potential $5,000 fine.
Georgia Rep. Barry Fleming told the Athens Banner-Herald that he introduced the bill for consideration next year at the request of House Speaker David Ralston. In October, University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley was suspended four games for improperly accepting $3,000 to sign autographs.
“A 20-year-old in college is not a child, but that 20-year-old is (vulnerable), particularly if they are from a humble background, if someone waves hundred-dollar bills in front of his face,” Fleming told the Athens Banner-Herald.
The bill wouldn’t take effect until next year, so the memorabilia dealers who paid Gurley couldn’t be punished if the new law is passed.
5. UCLA had to cancel a bonfire at a pep rally before Saturday’s game against USC because of a protest over proposed tuition hikes at the school. That didn’t stop Bruins coach Jim Mora from, uh, fanning the flames. (Warning: His language might not be suitable for all ages.)
Virginia Tech at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #VTvsWAKE
The Hokies can wrap up bowl eligibility with a win against Wake Forest, which given the litany of injuries Virginia Tech has suffered this season -- including tailback Marshawn Williams, who tore his ACL last week -- is probably commendable. The Hokies are coming off their second road win of the season against a top-25 foe, so the trip to Winston-Salem against a Demon Deacons team still looking for its first ACC victory shouldn’t be a huge test. Wake hasn’t been able to run the ball on anyone this season, but Virginia Tech’s defense allows 5.64 yards-per-carry on non-sack rushing attempts this season -- 104th nationally.
Boston College at No. 3 Florida State, ABC/ESPN2, #BCvsFSU
A year ago, it was the Eagles who gave FSU its toughest game of the regular season. Now, BC is the ACC’s last chance to send the Seminoles to a conference loss. The matchup isn’t ideal for an FSU defense that has been gashed by the run on a few occasions this season, and after escaping a physical matchup against Miami last week, it will be interesting to see how focused the Seminoles are for this one. But with a season of close calls already in their rearview mirror, Jimbo Fisher no doubt has emphasized the importance of a fast start this week, and for FSU, it needs to start thinking about earning some style points to impress the CFB playoff committee.
Syracuse at Pittsburgh, ESPNU, #CUSEvsPITT
Pitt has lost three straight despite 1,040 yards of offense from James Conner and Tyler Boyd. The Panthers have actually dropped six of their past seven after a 3-0 start to the season, and now they must win out to have a shot at a bowl game. Four of Pitt’s six losses have been by five points or less, however, and Conner and Boyd remain two of the most potent threats in the ACC. Whether Syracuse’s underrated defense can slow down Pitt’s stars might be paramount, but the Orange will also need to find some offense against a Panthers team that has allowed 147 points in its past three games.
No. 24 Louisville at Notre Dame, NBC
The Cardinals are back in the top 25, but they will go to battle in South Bend without starting quarterback Will Gardner. Reggie Bonnafon will take over at QB coming off his best game as a college player last week when he threw for 69 yards, ran for 76 more and scored three times against Boston College. But the real intrigue might come on the other side of the ball, where Everett Golson leads an Irish offense that leads all Power 5 teams in turnovers against Louisville’s stout defense, led by safety Gerod Holliman and his 13 interceptions.
Georgia State at No. 22 Clemson, ESPN3, #GSUvsCLEM
Since Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury last month, Clemson’s offense has more turnovers (11) than touchdowns (7), and that downward spiral hit rock bottom last week when Cole Stoudt threw three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns. But as bad as Stoudt’s performance was, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers believe he’s still a capable quarterback, and certainly the job gets a lot easier this week. The bigger question now is whether it will be Stoudt’s job in two weeks when Clemson looks to end a five-game losing streak against rival South Carolina.
Miami at Virginia, ESPN2, #MIAvsUVA
The Hurricanes are coming off a physical and emotional loss to Florida State and looking to rebound. Virginia is still clinging to bowl hopes, and might need to win out to salvage coach Mike London’s job. The key to the game might be how well the Hoos’ defense can slow Duke Johnson and the Miami running game, but as FSU found out last week, quarterback Brad Kaaya is certainly capable of doing some damage. Virginia, on the other hand, has just 59 rushing yards combined in its past two games, and it has scored on the ground just once in its past five.
The (Charleston) Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner broke down the numbers Thursday, illustrating just how well Swinney has fared before his 45th birthday.
Swinney has a career record of 58-26 during his tenure with the Tigers.
How did Nick Saban fare by the time he turned 45? 20-10-1.
Steve Spurrier? 20-13-1.
Frank Beamer? 19-30-1.
Jimbo Fisher? 5-1.
On and on it goes, a who's who of coaching legends current and past that Swinney is currently out-pacing. It really puts into perspective what he has accomplished since taking over in 2008.
Of course, he still has a ways to go when looking at a pair of his predecessors in Death Valley: Danny Ford had 96 wins before leaving Clemson at the age of 42, while Frank Howard had 72 wins by 45.
- Tyler Murphy's success at Boston College followed a long, character-building journey, our Jackie MacMullan writes.
- Our Ivan Maisel says proponents of an eight-team playoff should sell it the way John Swofford presented it.
- Vic Beasley is one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award.
- Florida State AD Stan Wilcox issued a statement following Thursday morning's tragedy.
- Lorenzo Mauldin and Pio Vatuvei are expected to play for Louisville at Notre Dame, Jeff Greer writes in the (Louisville) Courier-Journal.
- The Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter looks at storylines to watch in Miami's final games.
- Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Matt House talks Syracuse prep, Sam Werner writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- AJ Long and Mitch Kimble will both probably play, Stephen Bailey writes in the (Syracuse) Post-Standard.
The No. 4-ranked outside linebacker and the 40th-ranked prospect overall in the ESPN 300 said he felt honored to be selected to one of the top All-American games in the country.
"It’s a dream come true," Holland said. "I watched it when I was younger, and it’s always something I’ve wanted to be a part of. It’s real big to me."
Holland, at one point, had Florida and Auburn as his leaders, but with Florida head coach Will Muschamp stepping down at the end of the season, things have started to change for Holland.
"It’s kind of up in the air right now. Florida State, they're in it now. Auburn they are still in it. I haven’t talked to them in a while -- but they are still in it. I’m starting to talk to Florida State a lot, I know they are in my top five right now."
Despite being open in his recruitment, Holland said he does have a top five list of schools.
"I’d say Florida, FSU, Auburn, UCLA and probably Alabama are my top five right now," he said.
Last of three, Jeff Holland receiving his Under Armour All-America jersey. https://t.co/TyUDwWfP8s— Derek Tyson (@DerekTysonESPN) November 20, 2014
Seven questions with Jeffery Holland
Who was the best player you ever saw play in the Under Armour game?
Holland: Jamie Harper is a guy I remember playing in the game because he went here and he did a flip in the end zone after he scored. I can flip, too.
If you could start a team with any other player in your class, who would it be?
Holland: Probably CeCe Jefferson. We played on the same little league team. That’s been my boy for a long time.
If you could go one-on-one with any other player in the country, who would it be?
Holland: I’d probably want to go against Martez Ivey. I’ve never gone against him, and I’d like to go against the No. 1 tackle in the country.
If you could take on a professional athlete in their sport, who would it be and why?
Holland: I want Cam Newton. I just want to sack him. He talked too much trash at that seven-on-seven event in Bradenton.
What would you like to improve on before you get to college?
Holland: I just want to improve on my technique. I need to add more moves to my tool belt. I know I got the speed rush, but I need to add the spin move and the club.
What are you looking forward to most about going to Orlando?
Holland: Just going and hanging out with some of the top players in the country. Just having fun and having a good game.
What is something about yourself that not many people know about?
Holland: I’m a top angler. I’m a fisherman.
Kendrick Norton, Kevin Toliver II and Jeff Holland about to receive their Under Armour All-America jersey's pic.twitter.com/Vz5mwqTjJW— Derek Tyson (@DerekTysonESPN) November 20, 2014
1. Florida State hasn't played a tough schedule.
2. Florida State has struggled to win the games it has played.
Certainly there's evidence to suggest both of those statements are true and should be considered when deciding FSU's postseason fate -- both in terms of making the playoff and its seeding.
But, of course, there's more to the story, too.
Let's look at the first item. Is FSU's schedule easy?
With no opponents currently ranked in the top 20 (and likely none the rest of the way until, perhaps, the ACC championship game), the obvious answer is yes. (Of note, however: FSU has played two teams ranked in the top 25 and four in the top 40 of ESPN's FPI).
But there are a few other points worth noting, including this one from @NOTSCTheLegend.
Indeed, when Florida State takes on Boston College on Saturday, it will be the fifth time this season that an opponent had either a bye week or an FCS opponent in its previous game. Florida will be No. 6 on that list the following week. That's half of Florida State's entire schedule.
Is the same true for the other playoff contenders? Not exactly.
Here's how many similar games the others have had, with remaining games in parentheses:
(*Note, FCS opponents and season-opening games were not included.)
Ohio State, 4 (0)
Oregon, 3 (1)
Alabama, 3 (1)
TCU, 2 (1)
Baylor, 2 (0)
Mississippi State, 0 (1)
Has that made a real difference in FSU's performance? The Seminoles' first-half struggles suggest that's possible. In the four games that meet this criteria already played, FSU was outscored 78-41. In FSU's other five FBS games, it outscored its opponents 92-49.
Now, that's not entirely a fair representation because the bulk of the latter lopsided scoring came against Oklahoma State, Wake Forest and Syracuse. In games vs. Notre Dame and Virginia, the Seminoles struggled in the first halves, too, in spite of the fact that their opposition had a real opponent the previous week.
Additionally, FSU had a bye to prepare for both Clemson and Louisville, too, so any advantages should've been evened out. (And, yes, we're aware FSU had a distinct disadvantage against Clemson that had nothing to do with bye weeks, other than maybe Jameis Winston got a little bored during his.)
The point, however, is that there's more that goes into creating a tough schedule than just the teams on it.
This shows up a bit in how ESPN measures schedule strength. Based purely on the standard metric, FSU checks in at No. 38. But if we go on strength of record, which measures the odds an average Top 25 team could play the same schedule and end up with the same record, FSU ranks second -- behind Alabama. (Keep this in mind for a little later in the post.)
But let's move on to the second critique of Florida State's play -- that even though it has kept winning, it's not been dominant enough.
Again, if we look at some standard metrics, this makes sense. Here's the margin of victory for the top playoff contenders against Power 5 opponents this year:
Ohio State +17.1
Florida State +13.1
Mississippi State +8.8
The Seminoles rank near the bottom, and when you add the perception of a weak schedule to that, it makes things look even worse.
Even if we get into more advanced measures, FSU doesn't look good. ESPN's Game Control metric -- which, for the purposes of simplicity, measures how nervous a team's fans are during a game -- FSU ranks 34th. The other contenders are all in the top 10.
But there's something else to be considered here. The game control is ugly for FSU because it has had to fight back, while others have jumped out early but cruised late.
In the first half of games, FSU has a +0.7 scoring margin against Power 5 foes -- by far the worst of the playoff contenders. But in the second half of those games, its margin is +12.4 -- the best margin in the nation by any team.
That leads to an interesting question from @SwainJP
@DavidHaleESPN if FSU flipped their first and second half performances, would anyone question them being #1?— JP Swain (@SwainJP) November 16, 2014
Well, it turns out we don't need a hypothetical for this, because there's a perfect real-world example (see chart).
Alabama's margins are almost a perfect mirror image of Florida State's, and when we look back to those strength of record numbers, Alabama is also the only team that's played a schedule tougher than FSU's, so it makes some sense. Yet the narrative surrounding the Crimson Tide certainly is quite a bit different. Add in the fact that Alabama's scoring margin benefits greatly from a 59-0 win over Texas A&M, and the narrative shifts even further.
The irony to this is that usually in sports we reward the “clutch” teams that pull through in the most dramatic fashion (see 2013 Auburn for reference). For Florida State, however, the opposite seems to be true.
In truth, most statisticians would suggest “clutch” is a myth anyway. It's simply a matter of the cream rising to the top. In either case, it should burnish FSU's argument rather than damage it.
All of this isn't to say Florida State is clearly the best team in the country. That's sort of a foolish argument to begin with, since the whole reason we have a playoff now is the collective admission that we can't know who the best team is without playing the games on the field.
But what these numbers should clearly show is that the simple narrative surrounding FSU isn't the full story, and when measuring the top four teams — which is really all we need to do — the Seminoles clearly belong.
Hale: Saturday’s loss was a tough one for the Blue Devils, but it was hardly a game in which Duke was outplayed. David Cutcliffe's team has thrived all season by getting all the little things right -- but against Virginia Tech, Duke looked like a different team. So what’s more likely to happen: Duke falls apart again in a must-win game or it reverts to its status as one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the country? I’m betting on the latter, but I don’t need a leap of faith to get there. The biggest difference against the Hokies was a ferocious Virginia Tech pass rush, and UNC doesn’t bring anything close to that caliber of defense to the table. Anthony Boone will have time to throw, Jamison Crowder will find space downfield, and the Duke running game should have room to run. Duke has no choice but to get a win here, and Cutcliffe will have his team ready to get it done. Duke 31, North Carolina 27
Adelson: There is one stat that illustrates why Louisville will win: Everett Golson has 19 total turnovers in his past seven games. The Louisville defense has forced 25 turnovers this season, one of the best marks in the country. And Golson will be playing with a bum shoulder. So the focus has to be on whether Golson can finally start taking care of the football the way he did earlier in the season, something coach Brian Kelly has stated publicly for weeks now. Notre Dame is coming off an emotional overtime loss; Louisville had a bye to prepare. The Cards are not going to be intimidated, either, having played in big-time atmospheres over the past several years. Louisville 27, Notre Dame 24
Fortuna: Notre Dame was not as good as its 6-0 start indicated. But it's not as bad as this current slump indicates, either. Saturday against Northwestern was the perfect storm of miscues that left the Irish vulnerable to defeat. And while the defense remains banged up, there are some talented newcomers who have slowly grown into their roles. Golson, for all of his giveaways, remains a dynamic quarterback, one who was on the fringe of the Heisman Trophy discussion as recently as two weeks ago. If he can protect the ball -- and if the Irish can go through field goals without any pre-kick issues -- Notre Dame has enough talent to resemble the offense of a month ago and withstand the Cardinals' pressure up front. Notre Dame 31, Louisville 25
Virginia Tech at Wake Forest: The Hokies believe the upset of Duke last week will spur a late-season rally, and the good news is Wake Forest should help boost that push. Virginia Tech should become bowl eligible after this game as it is hard to see the Demon Deacons' offense doing enough to beat the Hokies. Virginia Tech 21, Wake Forest 7
Syracuse at Pittsburgh: It has been a rough few weeks for the Panthers, who are fighting to make a bowl game. The Panthers have two of the conference's best offensive players in James Conner and Tyler Boyd, and it will be tough for Syracuse and its struggling offense to match the production of those two. The Panthers defense should get a bit of a break this week after allowing 147 points in their past three games. Pitt 34, Syracuse 24
Boston College at Florida State: Boston College has the ability to annoy and potentially upset FSU because of the Eagles' ground attack and stout defense. However, Jimbo Fisher said the Seminoles are physically ready for the Eagles. It would not be a shock if this game was close -- every FSU game is -- but at this point no one has been able to beat the Noles and that should continue. Florida State 27, Boston College 17
Georgia State at Clemson: The Tigers are playing Georgia State, which is 1-9 with all nine losses coming in a row. No matter who plays quarterback for Clemson, this should be an easy win. Clemson 49, Georgia State 0
Miami at Virginia: The Canes are reeling after a devastating loss to Florida State, and there certainly could be a hangover. The loss proved how far Miami has come and how talented the Canes are, though, and they should be able to beat Virginia. But don't count out the Cavaliers. The defense is good and the offense is getting better. They also had an extra week to prepare and need a win to keep their bowl hopes alive. Miami 24, Virginia 20
All joking aside, The Clemson Insider is reporting Swinney is on the short list of Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley, although Swinney said he has not spoken to anyone at Florida.
At the very least, it certainly makes sense Swinney's name would at least be brought up, whether in the media or behind closed doors in Gainesville, Florida. He's eliminated much of the underachieving stigma at Clemson, where the fan base expects conference championships and New Year's Day bowl games. He cut his teeth as an offensive assistant and had some of the country's top offenses at Clemson. Defensively, Swinney has coached some poor units but credit him for making a great hire in Brent Venables and turning it around. Clemson ranks No. 2 nationally in total defense.
From a recruiting standpoint, there are not many better recruiters than Swinney, who is only 45. Clemson's 2015 class is ranked No. 3, and Swinney told reporters he's putting together "the best recruiting class we have ever had." That is saying something, too, considering he pulled Deshaun Watson out of the SEC's backyard last cycle and has signed a top-15 class the last four years.
Despite Clemson's campus being six hours from the Florida border, Swinney has been wildly successful recruiting the state. Four Floridians ranked in the ESPN 300 are committed to Clemson, and since 2011 he has received 15 four-star commitments from Florida prospects. Sammy Watkins was one of them.
Of course, with two games left and an Orange Bowl berth still a possibility -- the program's third in four seasons -- Swinney is not entertaining any questions about his name being linked to Florida.
"We are not even going to acknowledge that kind of stuff," he told reporters. "Ya'll know I love Clemson.
"We will see how it all pans out, but that is where our focus is -- great finish, great bowl game, great recruiting class and build Clemson into a College Football Playoff team so we can get to where we want to be."
Breathe easy, Spurrier.
- Virginia Tech receiver Willie Byrn did not catch a pass against Duke, which breaks a streak of 21 consecutive games with a reception. It's a small price to pay for an upset win, though.
- Florida State freshman Dalvin Cook is dealing with fumble issues, but playing Cook is a risk worth taking considering Cook's immense talent.
- Although Ross Martin had a rough outing against Virginia Tech, Duke holds the advantage in the kicking game. It could prove useful considering how close the Duke-UNC rivalry has been recently.
- The scoop on UNC's side of things in advance of the Duke game.
- Is the ACC's best getting the recognition it deserves this season? Lest we remind you how many postseason awards it won last winter!
- Miami defensive leader Anthony Chickillo, who has started 44 consecutive games, will be ready to play Saturday against Virginia.
- There has been Good Greyson Lambert and Not-So-Good Greyson Lambert this season, so the Cavaliers are looking for more consistency.
- DeVante Parker poses problems for any defense, and Notre Dame will not be immune. Irish coach Brian Kelly will have his DBs keep a close eye on the explosive receiver.
- We all know Randy Moss is from "Rand University," but his son could call Boston College (or NC State) home.
- Georgia Tech A-back Broderick Snoddy should recover fully from a significant leg injury last weekend against Clemson.
It’s certainly not going to make every college football fan happy, but the CFP selection committee’s decision to rank Alabama and Oregon -- both with a loss on their résumés -- ahead of Florida State shows it's willing to consider context that was often lacking in the polls used to compute the BCS.
Based solely on record, Florida State is the obvious No. 1 team in the nation by virtue of being the last undefeated Power 5 conference team. But the committee is considering the quality of wins, the toughness of schedule, the circumstances involved in each game and a host of other metrics when parsing the cases for each team. That’s progress.
Essentially the committee’s ranking boils down to a simple premise that should be applauded in this new age of college football: Oregon is a better team today than it was six weeks ago, and the best teams should be the ones playing for a championship.
Where the committee’s critics have a valid point, however, is whether that same context is applied evenly.
Florida State fans wonder why Oregon gets a pass for its short-handed loss when the Seminoles don’t appear to earn many bonus points for beating Clemson without Jameis Winston or thwarting Louisville’s staunch defense without starting center Austin Barron.
It’s a reasonable point, but if the Seminoles keep winning, they’ll be in the playoff anyway. For the folks in Columbus, Ohio, however, the future isn't nearly so certain.
The cases for both Oregon and Ohio State are similar. Both teams have Heisman candidates at quarterback. Both have prolific offenses. Both are en route to a conference title. The signature win for both teams came against Michigan State. And both have a glaring loss on their record that came, in large part, because of injuries.
The difference is that Ohio State’s stumble at home to Virginia Tech in Week 2 looms large, and is the biggest reason the Buckeyes are No. 6 in the poll.
Let’s first look at those losses. Is Arizona a better loss than Virginia Tech?
Arizona is 8-2 and ranked 15th in the committee’s latest poll. Virginia Tech is 5-5 and narrowly kept its bowl chances alive with a win over Duke last week.
Look a little deeper, though, and the differences aren't nearly so stark. Aside from the win over Oregon, Arizona hasn't beaten a Power 5 team with a winning record. Its two remaining games (at Utah and vs. Arizona State) will tell us more about the Wildcats’ true worth, but they needed a late turnover from Texas-San Antonio to win on Sept. 4, escaped Nevada by just a touchdown a week later, and toppled Cal a week after that thanks to a last-second Hail Mary. Virginia Tech has played essentially as well as Arizona, but while the Wildcats have four one-score wins, the Hokies have four one-score losses.
Again, context means a lot, and in this case, the committee doesn’t seem to be applying it evenly.
But let’s look, too, at how Ohio State lost that game. J.T. Barrett was making just his second start, stepping in for injured star Braxton Miller. The offensive line was in shambles, too, and it surrendered seven sacks. Ohio State still fought back and had a chance to win, but two late turnovers swung the game.
If anything, injuries had a bigger impact on the Buckeyes’ loss than Oregon’s.
And since that loss to Virginia Tech, Ohio State has been nearly flawless. The Buckeyes are 8-0 and have won by an average of 28 points -- the top scoring margin for any Power 5 team during that span. Its opponents’ winning percentage during that time is better than that of Oregon, Florida State, Mississippi State and TCU -- teams all ranked ahead of Ohio State. It has toppled two ranked teams in Michigan State and Minnesota. It has scored 49 points or more six times.
If the goal is to put the best teams into the playoff, Ohio State’s case is sound. In fact, there may not be a team in the country playing better football right now than the Buckeyes. Barrett has gone from a deer in headlights to a Heisman candidate. The offensive line has allowed just 10 sacks in the last eight games. The defense is light-years ahead of Oregon by virtually every metric.
But if the playoffs started tomorrow, Ohio State wouldn’t even be the first team left out, and the lackluster schedule in the Big Ten -- something completely out of the Buckeyes’ control -- won't offer many opportunities to change that perception.
Instead, it will be up to the committee to continue to re-evaluate things, to keep adding context -- because if it’s good enough for Oregon, then a few other teams surely deserve a second look, too.
Florida State Seminoles
Record: 10-0 (7-0 ACC)
Rank: No. 3
Next big obstacle: vs. Boston College on Saturday
Reason for optimism: The Seminoles sure manage to make things interesting. For the third time this season, FSU erased a two-touchdown deficit to remain undefeated in Miami. The Hurricanes figured to be FSU’s biggest remaining test -- although we’ve certainly seen that FSU can find a challenge in any game. But the remaining slate (vs. BC, vs. Florida, ACC championship game) should all be contests in which FSU is favored. Moreover, the Seminoles are now the lone undefeated team from a Power 5 conference, which virtually guarantees them a playoff spot if they win out.
Cause for concern: The early struggles are clearly a reason for concern for FSU fans, and while the Seminoles have done a commendable job of returning from the abyss, head coach Jimbo Fisher would certainly prefer a few less stressful scenarios. Perhaps as concerning, however, is the way the rest of the country is performing. FSU’s schedule now includes zero top-20 teams after Clemson dropped to No. 22 and Notre Dame fell from the rankings following Week 12 losses. With the committee giving clear indications that marquee wins are one of its top considerations, that could loom large for FSU moving forward -- particularly if the Noles were to drop a game.
Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Of the top playoff contenders, the only one likely to face any type of challenge this week is Baylor, which hosts Oklahoma State. The Bears are heavy favorites, but if Oklahoma State could pull off the upset, it would have the two-pronged impact for FSU of both knocking off another playoff contender and burnishing the Seminoles’ own resume (they beat the Cowboys in Week 1).
On the fringes: Duke’s loss to Virginia Tech cost the Blue Devils any shot at the playoff, and that already figured to be the case for Georgia Tech, too. But with the Yellow Jackets’ win over Clemson last week and a regular-season finale against SEC power Georgia, it could set up nicely for Georgia Tech if it can make it to the ACC title game and win. The Jackets would be a two-loss ACC champ, but would have wins over UGA, Clemson and FSU. Would that be enough to sway the committee? Doubtful, but if enough chaos happens around them, anything’s possible.
On Saturday, arguably the country's best player basically ended his career with a devastating ACL injury in his first game back from a four-game NCAA suspension. Sunday brought us the firing of a coach who did everything right, but win. The work week brought more attention to autograph issues with Florida State's star, and two schools are dealing with horrific allegations away from the field.
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