This weekend was supposed to sort everything out, but so much for that idea. It started out well, certainly. On Thursday Oregon solved one piece of the puzzle by thrashing Arizona 51-13 to avenge their only loss. It gave them hope of earning the top seed in the Playoff and eliminated the Wildcats from consideration.
Then, early on Saturday TCU seemed to punch their ticket by blasting Iowa State 55-3. Ranked #3, and winning convincingly, case closed, right? So it seemed. Alabama's 42-13 dismantling of Missouri made everything seem so easy: when your #1 team wins by 30, #2 wins by 40, and #3 wins by 50, there's normally not much doubt about next week's rankings.
Florida State, of course, had another near loss, beating Georgia Tech 37-35, but the 'Noles are now 13-0 with 12 wins over Power Five conference teams. So based on that there's not much concern about them falling out of the top four.
Baylor topped Kansas State 38-27, a decent but not spectacular enough showing by the #6 team to make any real waves. It was Ohio State that made all of this order unravel, by beating Wisconsin 59-0.
Suddently, ANYTHING seemed to be possible. Ohio State pushing out FSU? Why not, when three other 1-loss teams already passed the Seminoles. Baylor passing TCU? Why not—the Bears beat them head-to-head. The only certainties seemed Alabama and Oregon, and Oregon was making a case to push to #1.
In the end, the main area of contention seems to be TCU vs. Ohio State. Florida State probably (probably!) can't be left out as undefeated defending national champs. And Baylor was four spots behind TCU for a reason—the Committee had decided they preferred the Horned Frogs, and Saturday's action doesn't change that. So that leaves either TCU or Ohio State as the #4 team.
SportsRatings Final College Football Playoff projection (Dec. 7, 2014)
Dropped out: Marshall
We think TCU will get the call. Ohio State's margin of victory in the Wisconsin game boosts their chances, but probably not enough to pass the Horned Frogs. Margin of victory is not supposed to be considered heavily by the Committee, and it was just one game out of OSU's full season, a season that includes a home loss to 6-6 Virginia Tech. Finishing strong is good, but it's not everything.
Though TCU stays in the top four, Florida State probably moves up to #3 behind Alabama and Oregon. But pretty much all of the combinations are in play. TCU might hold the #3 spot, or fall to #5. Ohio State could jump to #3, with TCU right behind them, dropping Florida State to #5. That would be a bold move by the Committee, and establish that ease of victory (aka winning margin) matters more than the winning itself; it's hard to argue Ohio State had a tougher schedule than Florida State, and certainly not so much tougher as to excuse an actual loss. But the Committee has no exacting criteria to use; they can do whatever they want, and justify it later by means of any speck of data they so chose. Or just say "eye test"—those are the magic words.
The only two certainties are the Tide and the Ducks in the top two spots. We show Alabama and Oregon as below 100% certainty but that's formula fudge; it's useful as a measure of how close the two are, reflecting the fact that Oregon has a shot at #1 but probably falls short. There are no realistic scenarios where either team drops out of the top four.
And below Baylor, no team really has any measureable chance to make the top four; at this point the percentages given are useful only to put the rest of the top 25 into an order. The Committee has been pretty fickle with its rankings but with most of the teams idle on Saturday, there should be less wholesale change than there has been in the past.
We will know around noon what the Committee ultimately decided. It sure didn't get any easier for them. But if they stick with what they've been doing, they won't change things around too much. Unfortunately for the whole Playoff enterprise, this year didn't work out nicely for a 4-team playoff. Even an expanded 8-team Playoff would have had problems with undeserving teams getting in. If the Playoff expands and takes "conference champs" automatically, there will be a year where an 8-5 conference champ makes the Playoff. Unless they move to a flexible format—anywhere from 2 to 8 teams—there will always be too few, or too many, teams in the Playoff any given year. But such a format is not practical for planning the rest of the bowls.
In other words, the Playoff will never be perfect. But the first pass at it sure has been interesting!