No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Baylor, No. 7 Stanford, No. 8 Oklahoma State and No. 9 LSU all present compelling résumés to the playoff committee. Which team outside of the current top four has the best case right now? SI’s college football experts take on the role of the committee and make their picks.
Andy Staples: Oklahoma State
Yes, the Cowboys had some great fortune in wins against Texas and Kansas State, but they also absolutely destroyed TCU. That’s one of the three best wins anyone has all year. (The other two are Clemson over Notre Dame and Alabama over LSU.) If the committee were ranking strictly on résumé—which it clearly isn’t—Oklahoma State would be ranked ahead of Ohio State, Iowa, Baylor and Stanford. Those other teams obviously still have a chance to notch equally impressive wins, but they haven’t done it yet. The Cowboys have. Could Oklahoma State lose to Baylor or Oklahoma? Sure. But the committee should worry about that if it happens. If the goal is to pick the best teams based on the résumé compiled so far this season, then the Cowboys are way too low.
Pete Thamel: Stanford
The Cardinal have a set of solid league wins, and their only loss shows an intent to schedule difficult teams. They’re in great shape if they win out.
Brian Hamilton: LSU
It's the team that just exited the top four. The Tigers have wins over two teams in the playoff committee’s top 25—Florida and Mississippi State—and their opponents have combined to win 57.4% of their games. Iowa has an unblemished record and nice wins—Northwestern and Wisconsin are in the top 25, and Pitt is solid if not spectacular—but those teams aren't at the level of the teams LSU has beaten. Florida, meanwhile, suffers as the value of that Ole Miss blowout drops by the week.
Lindsay Schnell: LSU
I'd like to preface this by saying I know they played REALLY bad against Alabama, but if we're talking résumé right now, on Nov. 11, as opposed to who could have the best résumé at the end of the month ... I have to go with the Tigers. I'm shocked they dropped so far considering whom they lost to. Alabama is a) really good b) playing really well. But LSU still has Leonard Fournette, and if anyone can put teammates on his back and deliver them to the postseason, it's this guy (provided he, you know, stays eligible). What happens if LSU goes out and smashes Ole Miss, which beat Alabama? Answer: Chaos, and the Tigers possibly back in the top four.
Zac Ellis: LSU
Yes, the Tigers have a loss. Yes, five undefeated teams rank ahead of them. But LSU's one defeat came on the road against the selection committee's current No. 2 team, Alabama. Meanwhile the Bayou Bengals boast two wins over top-20 teams in No. 11 Florida and No. 17 Mississippi State. With quality victories, a good loss and a strength of schedule that ranks 19th nationally, per the Sagarin Ratings, LSU still has a playoff-caliber résumé.
Joan Niesen: LSU
At this point, I have to go with the Tiers, even though they fell all the way to No. 9 after losing at Alabama. But when your only loss is to the second-ranked team (which is looking with each passing week like it might just be the best defense, and perhaps consequently the best team, in the country), that has to count for something. I also think LSU's strength of schedule trumps those of the rest of the teams just outside the top four. I'm still at the point where a one-loss SEC team trumps undefeated Big Ten and Big 12 teams who, due to their divisions, haven't played the best teams in their respective conferences.
Colin Becht: Baylor
I understand the committee’s logic in keeping the Bears out of the top four. The criticism of Baylor’s strength of schedule to this point is valid. However, for as much as a team can look worthy of a playoff berth while playing the teams Baylor has played, Art Briles’s squad has done so. The Bears lead the country with an average scoring margin of plus-32.4 points per game. Their 57.4 points per game not only is No. 1 in the nation, but is more than 10 points better than the next closest team. So yes, it’s not as hard to go undefeated against the teams Baylor has played as it is against Iowa’s or Oklahoma State’s schedules. But few teams could win with as much dominance as the Bears have.
Luckily, where Baylor ranks now ultimately doesn’t matter much. If it goes 12–0, it’ll make the playoff. If it loses once, it won’t make the playoff, and that’ll be fair.
Chris Johnson: Iowa
This is not a simple question because the selection committee has not been consistent with its rankings—or its explanations for those rankings. Who knew that the time at which a game was played would be viewed as "significant" when evaluating a team's body of work? Paging Pac-12 athletic directors: If you want to win over the committee, make "9 a.m. Pacific Time kickoffs" a prerequisite in negotiations for all nonconference matchups.
Anyway, among the squads excluded from this week’s top four, the Hawkeyes have the best résumé. They’re undefeated and have two road wins over top-25 teams Northwestern (No. 18) and Wisconsin (No. 25). If Iowa wins out—including a victory over the Big Ten East champion in the league title game—it will make the playoff.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Iowa
Dearest me, I am actually answering Iowa. I feel the earth flipping its axes and its poles shifting. Who knows what could be next? Nuclear winter? The descent of extra-terrestrial overlords to reign over us lowly humans? The rapture?
But, seriously: It's Iowa. Northwestern, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin aren't great wins by any measure, but they're good ones. Baylor earns some credit for extinguishing most of its lowly opponents, but it's hard to reward a squad that doesn't have a victory over a team with a winning record.
If the Bears beat Oklahoma, they will slide easily into the fourth spot. But for now, we bow to the Hawkeyes and the inimitable, ageless Kirk Ferentz.
Ben Estes: Stanford
The Cardinal have the best combination of record, schedule strength and eye test. I know it might seem strange to pick them over undefeated Oklahoma State, Iowa and Baylor, but their perfect records aren’t as impressive as they seem on paper—the Cowboys and Hawkeyes have rarely looked like true national title contenders this season, and the Bears’ schedule has been woeful. Meanwhile, Stanford has looked dominant in several games and has played better more consistently since losing in Week 1. An undefeated record will carry more weight come the end of the regular season, but at this point in the year, the Cardinal’s higher level of play in more games is enough for me to rate them higher, even with a loss.