Brad Edwards of ESPN Insider gives Georgia Tech the eighth-best chance of reaching the four-team College Football Playoff. That’s not to say that the Jackets will be ranked No. 8 when the CFP committee reveals its penultimate set of ratings tonight. (They probably won’t be; they were No. 16 last week. I’d guess they’ll do well to reach No. 10.) But let’s go back to being No. 8 for a minute, even if it’s not an official No. 8.
For a No. 8 team to reach the Final Four, the quickest way would be for half of those ranked ahead to lose. Tech can beat one itself — Florida State, which is No. 3 per Edwards. (All these cited numbers are from Edwards’ top 10.) Either No. 2 Oregon or No. 7 Arizona will lose; they face one another in Friday’s Pac-12 title game. That’s two.
Ohio State plays for the Big Ten championship without quarterback J. T. Barrett, who himself replaced the injured Braxton Miller in preseason. The Buckeyes could well lose to No. 10 Wisconsin or, failing that, could look shaky enough in winning that the committee might not regard them as one of the four strongest teams. That’d be three.
No. 1 Alabama could lose to No. 9 Missouri but probably won’t, so let’s assume the Tide and the Pac-12 winner will comprise two of the Final Four. A Big 12 team — Baylor is No. 4; TCU No. 7 — is positioned to make it, but the Bears face a difficult final game against Kansas State even with quarterback Bryce Petty, who suffered a concussion Saturday against Texas Tech, insisting he’ll be available.
If Baylor loses to Kansas State, that’s the fourth team to fall. But what if it wins?
Assuming TCU disposes of Iowa State, a Baylor win would leave the Big 12 with a first-place tie. (Baylor beat TCU, for the record.) That’s according to commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who said Monday that the conference would submit both teams as champions. But nothing says the CFP committee must honor such a declaration. In a way, it would be unfair. Because the Big 12 is no longer big enough to stage a championship game, it gets two official champs as opposed to one each for the SEC, the Pac-12, the Big Ten and the ACC?
Edwards notes that the committee’s guidelines allow for “enough flexibility and discretion to select a non-champion or independent under circumstances where that particular non-champion or independent is unequivocally one of the four best teams in the country.” But let’s say the committee decides that Baylor, owing to its head-to-head victory, is the True Champ of the Big 12 and that TCU isn’t. Would the one-loss Horned Frogs make the Final Four over a two-loss Georgia Tech that just won the ACC?
Probably. The difference between one and two losses is huge. But that’s just a guess. Anything you read — here, there and everywhere — is a guess.
As much as I’ve been intrigued by the efforts to predict what this committee will do — and I credit Edwards for showing the keenest insight — can we predict that which is by definition without precedent? It wouldn’t surprise me to see a shock when the field is set Sunday. The committee could choose to wad up this week’s rankings and start from scratch on the only set that matters.
As for the Jackets: Far be it from me to quibble with Nate (The Great) Silver, whose FiveThirtyEight gives the Jackets a 1.1 percent chance of cracking the Final Four and assigns a higher probability to Mississippi State, which can’t be the champ of anything. But would a two-loss Mississippi State, which lost two of its final three games, merit a spot over a two-loss Georgia Tech that finished with victories over Clemson, Georgia and Florida State?
I don’t think so. But again, that’s just me — making a big fat guess.