Sunday November 30th, 2014

Last week the College Football Playoff picture maintained the status quo following a sleepy week of games. But rivalry week shook up the landscape, with one contender tumbling out of the top four.

Here are three thoughts on the playoff race after Week 14:

1. The race for the No. 4 spot remains up in the air

The top three spots in the playoff rankings aren’t likely to change after rivalry week, but the race for No. 4 got a whole lot more interesting on Saturday. No. 4 Mississippi State dropped its second game of the season with a 31-17 loss to No. 19 Ole Miss. Many questioned the Bulldogs’ position at No. 4 before the game, but their shot at a top-four finish is effectively over after the Egg Bowl. The question now: Which team takes Mississippi State’s place?

The primary contenders are No. 5 TCU, No. 6 Ohio State and No 7 Baylor. The Horned Frogs seem like the best bet, as they’re fresh off a dominant 48-10 win at Texas on Thanksgiving. The Frogs also have a solid nonconference victory over Minnesota. Currently, that might be the best available résumé for No. 4.

But that could all change next week. If No. 7 Baylor -- which already beat TCU 61-58 earlier this fall -- defeats No. 12 Kansas State, or if No. 6 Ohio State downs No. 14 Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, TCU’s body of work might not stack up. Its season finale against a hapless Iowa State won’t turn many heads, so this week was likely its final shot at impressing the committee.

rank team opponent result
1 Alabama Auburn W, 55-44
2 Oregon Oregon State W, 47-19
3 Florida State Florida W, 24-19
4 Miss. State Ole Miss L, 31-17
5 TCU Texas W, 48-10
6 Ohio State Michigan W, 42-28
7 Baylor Texas Tech W, 42-28
8 UCLA Stanford L, 31-10
9 Georgia Georgia Tech L, 30-24
10 Mich. State Penn State W, 34-10

2. The SEC avoided its nightmare scenario -- for now

That sigh of relief you heard on Saturday night came from the SEC headquarters in Birmingham, Ala. It didn’t come until late in the fourth quarter of the Iron Bowl, when Alabama finally took control of its matchup with Auburn. The Crimson Tide used a 28-0 run to beat their in-state rival 55-44. The SEC (at least temporarily) staved off a scenario in which it’d be on the outside looking in at the first playoff.

Mississippi State’s loss to Ole Miss killed the Bulldogs’ shot at a top-four finish earlier in the day. A subsequent Alabama loss to Auburn would’ve been a serious blow to the league’s hopes. Even if Bama bounced back to sink Missouri and win the SEC title, its body of work -- two Top 25 wins (Mississippi State and Missouri) along with two losses -- might not have convinced the committee of its merit.

However, it’s possible this week presents another dangerous scenario for the SEC. Suppose Alabama loses the SEC Championship Game to a Missouri team that lost to Georgia and Indiana, both at home. How would the committee view the Crimson Tide then? Maybe the SEC office should hold its breath a little longer.

3. Ohio State might have run out of luck

The Buckeyes did what they were supposed to in beating rival Michigan 42-28. The victory came at a huge cost, though: Ohio State lost quarterback J.T. Barrett for the rest of the season to a fractured ankle. Barrett will miss next week’s Big Ten title game against Wisconsin. Backup Cardale Jones will start in his place.

No one knows how Ohio State will perform with Jones under center, but for the moment the program remains in the playoff hunt. The only problem? The Buckeyes with Jones at quarterback may not be viewed the same way. We’ve yet to see how the selection committee will evaluate a roster hit with a significant injury. Even if Ohio State sneaks by Wisconsin, is it the same team that was previously in contention for a semifinal spot? It will be interesting to see how the committee values the Buckeyes without their leader moving forward.

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