Coming into Saturday, it looked like the biggest argument we would have to untangle would be whether Baylor or TCU was deserving or would get one of the four playoff spots that the selection committee will announce on Sunday. But that was before Ohio State annihilated Wisconsin, 59-0, recency bias kicked into overdrive and everyone forgot that Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech. With the committee having already basically announced that it doesn't necessarily see Virginia Tech as a bad loss -- because, something goes here -- it's likely that the Buckeyes will get the same enthusiastic reception from the committee that they got from
business partner news organization ESPN.
I don't know that Ohio State deserves that reception, but I think it will be there. Which of the Big 12 teams deserves to go into the playoffs. Here's a chart I put together with common opponents, counting as a tie any game where the teams' respective margins of victory were within 14 points of each other.
So the choice between the Big 12 teams boils down to three questions: How much do style points matter? How much does Baylor's win in the head-to-head matter? And how much credit do you give TCU for playing Minnesota? Earlier in the season, I gave the edge to Baylor without thinking too much about it. I still think that might be the right answer, but it's very, very close. And ultimately irrelevant, because I think the committee will dodge the whole issue by moving Ohio State ahead of both.
After the results of the day, I think the final playoff rankings for the Top 10 might look something like this:
1. Alabama (12-1)
2. Oregon (12-1)
3. Florida State (13-0)
4. Ohio State (12-1)
5. TCU (11-1)
6. Baylor (11-1)
7. Michigan State (10-2)
8. Mississippi State (10-2)
9. Arizona (10-3)
10. Ole Miss (9-3)
11. Kansas State (9-3)
12. Georgia Tech (10-3)
That might be off a few spots here or there, but I think that's generally going to be the lay of the land. Ole Miss will likely get into the Top 10 -- where it has to be to avoid getting bumped -- but it could be close. Georgia Tech could end up just dropping one spot after being the only truly competitive championship game challenger all day. Don't discount the possibility of Kansas State dropping below Georgia Tech because the Wildcats don't have the extra game.
But there's also a tantalizing chance here to make the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl happy without really affecting much. Sure, the committee said they wouldn't do this -- but if you follow the outcry of Friday night and move Oregon up to No. 1 and Alabama down to No. 2, you could get really good games for bowl ticket sales. Oregon would still get to host a game in Pasadena and Alabama would still get to play in the Sugar Bowl -- but the Rose Bowl would get its traditional match-up, and a team much closer to New Orleans would be playing the Tide. So there's two ways I can see the bowls being seeded -- by "merit," or by how "happy" the lineups would make the selection committee's various partners.
|Semifinal 1||(1) Alabama vs. (4) Ohio State||(1) Oregon vs. (4) Ohio State|
|Semifinal 2||(2) Oregon vs. (3) Florida State||(2) Alabama vs. (3) Florida State|
|Peach||Mississippi State vs. Baylor|
|Cotton||Ole Miss vs. TCU|
|Orange||Michigan State vs. Georgia Tech|
|Fiesta||Arizona vs. Boise State|
That leaves us with nine more SEC teams to place, and nine more SEC bowls -- which is a nice coincidence. I'd be remiss if I didn't note here that I consulted, but did not copy, the bowl projections done by ESPN and Jerry Palm; all eventual mistakes were my fault and mine alone.
Citrus: Missouri vs. Clemson
Outback: Auburn vs. Nebraska
TaxSlayer: LSU vs. Minnesota
Music City: Georgia vs. North Carolina
Texas: Texas A&M vs. Texas
Belk: South Carolina vs. N.C. State
Liberty: Tennessee vs. West Virginia
Birmingham: Florida vs. Cincinnati
Independence: Arkansas vs. Miami (FL)
The Citrus is basically locked down at this point, and won't be changed by the lopsided game in Atlanta. The reason: The only other team the Citrus could pick that wouldn't cause a confrontation with the SEC office is probably Georgia, and no one wants a rematch of a game that was just played at the beginning of the year. So Missouri will travel to Orlando to take on a different brand of Tigers in the newly-renovated Citrus Bowl (which reportedly looks much nicer than it once did).
This switches us to the Outback Bowl. A lot of commentators have picked Georgia vs. Wisconsin for the Outback Bowl, which makes a great deal of sense. Georgia has no interest in going to Jacksonville and no interest in a rematch with Nebraska, but is interested in a trip to Tampa. Wisconsin is a logical choice out of the B1G for the Outback Bowl -- which is why I'm virtually certain that Wisconsin will not be selected. Instead, the Outback will embrace its inner crazy and select Nebraska, leaving the SEC scrambling to fix things. (Papers in the Midwest seem divided on this -- some see Nebraska going to the Outback, others don't.)
Auburn will be shipped to Tampa, while LSU goes to Jacksonville to keep Georgia from going there. The Dawgs instead end up in the Music City Bowl to take on North Carolina. I still think that the Texas Bowl goes with Texas A&M vs. Texas, because it makes too much sense not to. The Liberty Bowl is essentially publicly pleading with Mike Slive to send Tennessee to Memphis, and they will probably get their wish, with West Virginia the likely opponent out of the Big 12.
The Belk gets South Carolina for a match-up with N.C. State, in part because a match-up against UNC in the Music City Bowl is not attractive. (The Gamecocks and the Tar Heels played each other last year and will play again in 2015.) That appears to be one of the picks for South Carolina with the most momentum, both in terms of destination and opponents. My previous ACC pick for the Belk -- Louisville -- looks like it's instead heading to the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Florida falls to the Birmingham, which picks Cincinnati to set up a rematch of the 2010 Sugar Bowl with teams that are a shadow of what they once were. Miami is seen as something approaching a mortal lock for the Independence Bowl, which gets Arkansas as the last remaining SEC bowl team.
If Ole Miss doesn't get into the Top 10, the selections I've predicted here likely get blown up, and Florida or Arkansas are probably headed to the Armed Forces Bowl to take on Houston. But that's an issue we hopefully get to avoid.