Griffith’s Got Stats: Looking at the College Football Playoff Picture
The college football playoff picture is slowly starting to take shape and some familiar faces are in the driver’s seat. With the season half over, teams are slowly starting to show if they have what it takes to win a national championship, or if the preseason hype was unfounded.
Starting with the Southeastern Conference, it’s Alabama’s world and everyone else is just living in it. With its 39-10 win over the University of Missouri on Saturday, the top-ranked University of Alabama is now the only undefeated team in the SEC and looks like the best team in the country. The Crimson Tide have looked dominant throughout this season and have solidified their spot at the top after the other undefeated school, the No. 2 University of Georgia, was beaten by No. 13 Louisiana State University on Saturday 36-16. Both of those teams now have one loss; the latter lost to the University of Florida earlier in the year. Alabama’s toughest test will be a visit to LSU, who is riding high after its win against Georgia. The winner of that game will most likely represent the SEC West in the SEC Championship game. As of right now, it looks like the Crimson Tide will appear in the college football playoff for the fifth straight year. However, the team will have to monitor the health of quaterback Tua Tagovailoa, who left Saturday’s game with a knee injury.
The team with the next best shot to make the playoff at this moment are the Clemson University Tigers out of the Atlantic Coast Conference. I say that in part because unlike in the SEC, there aren’t that many contenders other than the Tigers. Other than Clemson and the undefeated North Carolina State University Wolfpack, every other team in the ACC has at least two losses. The University of Miami was ranked 16th before Saturday with their only loss against LSU, but after losing to the unranked University of Virginia 13-16 this past Saturday, the Hurricanes are most likely out of the playoff. NC State can make a case for the playoff if it beats Clemson next week, although the Wolfpack’s resume is somewhat lacking. This is in part due to a cancellation of their match against the University of West Virginia because of Hurricane Florence; the team’s best win is against Boston College. If Clemson can beat NC State and avoid any upsets they’ll be a lock for the tournament.
In the Big Ten, the Ohio State University Buckeyes are undefeated and coming off a 30-14 win against the University of Minnesota that was closer than the score indicated. Ohio State fared better than some may have expected after head coach Urban Meyer was suspended for the first three games of the season, winning those three games. The Big Ten title race is most likely going to come down to The Game against the University of Michigan, which is 6-1 on the season and coming off a big home win against the 15th-ranked University of Wisconsin. One team to keep an eye on is Michigan State University. The Spartans beat Pennsylvania State University 21-17, handing the Nittany Lions their second loss and essentially knocking them out of the playoff race. The win also put the two-loss Spartans in contention for the Big Ten East title. Michigan State still has to face Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten East, and the team is likely to play spoiler for either of these two teams if they have aspirations for the playoff.
The other two power conferences don’t have as much hope after last weekend. The preseason favorites for the Pacific-12 title, the University of Washington and Stanford University, both have two losses. The team that just beat Washington, the 17th-ranked University of Oregon, has a nonconference resume that ranks last in the FBS, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (wins over Bowling Green State University, Portland State University and San Jose State University). Even if the Ducks win the Pac-12, the team will have hard time convincing the selection committee to include them. The University of Colorado was also undefeated going into Saturday, but lost to the University of Southern California and aren’t leading their division anymore.
The Big 12 is in a similar situation. The last undefeated team in that conference was the University of West Virginia, but they were just upset by Iowa State University 14-30, ensuring that the Big 12 Championship winner will have at least one loss. If the other power conference favorites — Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State — remain undefeated, it’d be difficult for the selection committee to find reasons to put either the Pac-12 or Big 12 champion in the playoff.
That leaves the FBS independent schools. The University of Notre Dame is another option to turn to. Notre Dame is undefeated and has left the difficult part of its schedule behind. The team has wins over Stanford and Virginia Tech College of Engineering, and the toughest test ahead of them is arguably Syracuse University at a neutral site in Yankee Stadium. Notre Dame seems like a lock if they win out and go undefeated, but the team struggled in a win against the University of Pittsburgh on Saturday. Notre Dame was held to only 80 rushing yards in the team’s 19-14 win. Quarterback Ian Book also threw two picks in this game, but he was efficient, completing 81 percent of his passes. Head coach Brian Kelly said of his team after the game, “We obviously can’t play like this week-in and week-out and feel like we’re going to win every game we play. But you’re going to have some of these, and you’ve got to — you’ve got to grow from them, and I really like our football team. They will grow from this. They will learn from it and we’ll be better because of it.” If Notre Dame makes the playoff, it will be their first time, and the first time an independent school has accomplished that feat.