Mississippi State entered last weekend ranked No. 1. The Bulldogs suffered a non-damning loss, by a narrow score on the road at Alabama. When the committee descends from its ivory tower this evening, it’s probable the Bulldogs will still be in the top four. The only important question, though, is whether an 11-1 Mississippi State would still qualify for playoff ranking. That, after last weekend’s results, is far from certain.
The Bulldogs rose to No. 1 by beating three straight Top 10 opponents: LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. All three lost last weekend. Georgia crushed Auburn 34-7. Arkansas shut out LSU 17-0. Missouri dropped Texas A&M 34-27 in College Station. All three losses were outside the SEC Top 5 and affect the division’s domineering narrative.
LSU and Texas A&M are 7-4 and play each other. One will finish 7-5, the other 8-4. Auburn should be 8-3 after beating Samford, but a loss to Alabama would drop them to 8-4. Those teams should get some bump from playing in the SEC West. But, last week’s losses mean one of the three will be outside the Top 25. The other two will likely be outside the Top 15.
Mississippi State still plays the Egg Bowl. The Rebels at 9-2 falling to 9-3 would be the Bulldogs’ best win. But, we can’t pencil in any team winning at Arkansas at this stage. Ole Miss could be 8-3 falling to 8-4 as well. The SEC West may have two top five teams. That won’t help Mississippi State, who lost to Alabama and won’t face themselves.
That could make the committee’s decision very interesting. Alabama winning the SEC would be into the playoff. For the hypothetical’s sake, we can presume Florida State will win out and be in the playoff. If Oregon finishes 12-1, the committee is deciding between Mississippi State, Baylor and Ohio State for the final spot. Let’s look at those schools’ potential best wins.
Mississippi State: at Ole Miss (9-3), Auburn (8-4), LSU (8-4)
Baylor: TCU (11-1), Kansas State (9-3), at Oklahoma (9-3)
Ohio State: at MSU (10-2), N – Wisconsin (10-3), at Maryland (8-4)
If Auburn and LSU are 9-3, there may not be a debate. If those teams are both 8-4, it still is. Baylor (over TCU) and Ohio State (over Michigan State) would have at least one higher ranked win than Mississippi State. Does the back end of the schedule help the Bulldogs out? Their cross-division opponents were Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Their non-conference slate was Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama and UT-Martin. Ohio State barely beat Minnesota, you say? Well, Mississippi State barely beat Arkansas and Kentucky.
Baylor and Ohio State would be conference champions. Both would have big games to make an impression the final weekend, while Mississippi State sat at home. Could Baylor or Ohio State jump them?
An interesting parallel could be 2006 Michigan. The Wolverines were 11-1 and lost a narrow game at No. 1 Ohio State. They had beaten an 11-1 Wisconsin and a 10-2 Notre Dame team. They entered the final weekend at home No. 2. Florida beat 10-2 Arkansas to finish 12-1 to win the SEC and, with Urban Meyer campaigning, jumped from No. 4 to No. 2 to reach the BCS title game.
We don’t know how the committee will react vs. poll voters. But, traditionally, W-L record overrides all other factors and the end of the season has more influence than the beginning. Mississippi State may have the tougher schedule strength statistically, but the committee will be looking at win percentages and eye-balling it. Logical and fair, you ask? When has college football ever been either?
Mississippi State, at 11-1 with a reasonable loss to Bama, appeared to be a slam dunk heading into last weekend. But, that was before LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn lost.
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