Published 7:02 AM EST Nov 7, 2018
That No. 7 LSU remains ahead of No. 8 Washington State in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings is the latest referendum on the SEC’s hopes of again placing two teams in the national semifinals.
Washington State is the lone challenger from the Pac-12, which is otherwise a trash heap of would-be contenders, while two-loss LSU is the third SEC team in the ranking’s top seven, two spots behind No. 5 Georgia. LSU has no chance to win its own division, let alone securing a spot in a semifinal; still, the committee has reinforced its affection for the SEC by not strongly docking the Tigers for last weekend’s 29-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama.
It’s a statement about how the committee views the SEC – as not just the best conference in the country but the best conference by a wide swatch of space over its closest rival, whether that’s the Big Ten or the Big 12.
But it’s not the only example. Kentucky is down just two spots, to No. 11, after being revealed as a championship pretender in a loss to Georgia. Florida stuck in the top 15 despite an ugly loss Missouri, which was previously winless in SEC play.
This week’s rankings even saw the return of Auburn, which slotted in at No. 24 after a nice win against Texas A&M. The three-loss Tigers don’t have the résumé for a spot in the top 25.
You can see it in the rankings: Once again, the committee believes the SEC has earned the benefit of the doubt. With chaos almost inevitably on the horizon, the league has positioned itself to take advantage.
Here’s what the committee got right and wrong in this week’s rankings:
– No. 3 Notre Dame stayed of No. 4 Michigan. You’d think this would be a no-brainer, since the Irish topped the Wolverines in the season opener and have remained unbeaten. There was still some thought that the committee could value Michigan’s otherwise strong record and recent play to move ahead of the Irish and claim third in this week’s rankings.
That didn’t happen, which provides two takeaways. One, this should solidify the belief that Notre Dame is in if undefeated; that’s an absolute given. From Michigan’s perspective, however, staying a spot ahead of Georgia despite the Bulldogs’ win against Kentucky supports the idea that Michigan is in the field if 12-1 and owners of wins against Ohio State and in the Big Ten title game.
– There was some respect for the ACC. This league has been an afterthought on a national level due to Clemson’s dominance. But the ACC is a pretty good conference, believe it or not, and the committee recognized that fact by placing another three teams in the top 20.
No. 13 Syracuse has a major date coming up against Notre Dame, with a win likely sending the Orange to a New Year’s Six bowl. Having North Carolina State at No. 14 might be a stretch – the Wolfpack should be swapped with No. 17 Boston College, which should give Clemson a game in Saturday’s key ACC matchup.
– Central Florida shouldn’t be behind two-loss SEC teams. Not both of them, at least. LSU probably has a case to stay ahead of the No. 12 Knights thanks to what is still a nice list of wins – particularly given how the committee feels about teams such as Mississippi State and Auburn. That UCF remained behind Kentucky is a little harder to understand.
It’s not the Wildcats don’t have strong wins: Mississippi State’s a good one, and topping Florida is still noteworthy despite the Gators’ recent nosedive. It’s that the Wildcats haven’t looked the part for the better part of a month, a stretch that includes the 17-point loss to the Bulldogs and ugly wins against Vanderbilt and Missouri. There might be enough there to justify being ahead of undefeated UCF.
But not in the eyes of the selection committee, which was clearly unimpressed by the Knights’ 52-40 shootout win against Temple.
“When you watched their game last week you could see the defense struggle,” said selection committee chairman Rob Mullens. That is a piece of it. Strong offense, struggling on defense.”
– These teams should’ve been in. Instead of Washington or Auburn, the committee should’ve looked at Utah State, Army and even Oregon. The Ducks beat the Huskies, which should matter, and outside of last month’s loss to Arizona have looked the part of a top 25 team. Army doesn’t have great wins, but seven wins and a very competitive loss to Oklahoma provides a strong résumé.
And Utah State has absolutely every reason to be ahead of those two teams from the Power Five. The Aggies lost in the opener, by a touchdown to No. 18 Michigan State, and has since rolled off eight wins in a row with seven coming by at least two possessions. USU should join No. 23 Fresno State in giving the Mountain West two teams in the rankings.