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The inaugural College Football Playoff (CFP) will kick off on New Years Day, with two semifinals featuring the top four teams in college football. While the field for this historic playoff (that finally signals death to the rightfully vilified BCS) will be set on Tuesday, December 9th, there is much football to be played between now and then—which means there is much discussion and debate to be had, as well.
During my time at the University of Arizona, scientific skills and analysis earned me the nickname, “Stat. Boy.” Over the past few weeks, I used these skills to figure out the scenario by which U of A could reach the PAC-12 Title Game—two weeks before the Thanksgiving slate of games—and to show why Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III deserves an invite to this year’s Heisman ceremony in New York*. I am now turning my attention to the College Football Playoff, with the bold assertion that the University of Arizona will make the field of four without help from any other team(s) if they beat Oregon in the PAC-12 Title Game. Consider this your College Football Playoff primer.
To quote a beer company that will remain unnamed until they decide to sponsor this blog: “Here We Go!”
The latest CFP rankings came out as follows:
1. Alabama (11-1 Record, SEC)
2. Oregon (11-1 Record, PAC-12)
3. TCU (10-1 Record, Big 12)
4. Florida State (12-0 Record, ACC)
5. Ohio State (11-1 Record, Big 10)
6. Baylor (11-1 Record, Big 12)
7. University of Arizona (10-2 Record, PAC-12)
The top four teams in the field face each other in two national semifinals on New Years Day. #1 will face #4 in the Sugar Bowl, while #2 will face #3 in the Rose Bowl. The winners of each semifinal will face off in the National Championship game in the House That Jerry Built in Arlington, Texas on January 12th.
Predictions & Projections (Team Rankings in Parentheses)
(1) Alabama faces (16) Missouri in the SEC Title Game. Alabama should have no problem keeping its number one slot in the CFP rankings.
(2) Oregon faces (7) Arizona in the PAC-12 Title Game. This should be a great game between two high-powered offenses and hard-hitting defenses. It features Heisman leader Marcus Mariota running the offense for the Ducks, and Heisman contender Scooby Wright III leading the defense for the Wildcats. Oregon opened up as more than a two-touchdown favorite, and understandably so: it will be extremely tough for Arizona to win this game. Oregon is one of the top teams in the nation. It is also extremely difficult for any team to beat an opponent twice in one season—regardless of how good the opponent is. Oregon will be ready for this game, and it will be ready to exact revenge on the Wildcats for its lone loss of the season, suffered at home in Eugene on October 2nd. Having said all of this—unbiased by my Arizona Fandom and Fanhood—I am going to go with the Wildcats winning this matchup, for the simple reason that this article would be pointless—and will be rendered useless aside from featuring aesthetically pleasing writing—if the Wildcats lose. U of A completes the season sweep and rides the victory into the CFP.
(3) TCU faces lowly Iowa State—with its 2-9 record—in a “gimme game.” TCU should win and win big.
(4) Florida State—which has won its last three games (all against) unranked opponents by a combined 12 points—faces (11) Georgia Tech and the swarming defense that would have any offense in the nation scared right now. Florida State doesn’t win this game playing the way it has played since the beginning of October. Look for the upset to finally end FSU’s tumultuous and barely undefeated season, once and for all.
(5) Ohio St. faces (13) Wisconsin in the Big 10 Title Game. Both teams have been overrated for most of the season, but they have both (somehow) managed to get to the Title Game. Ohio State did it behind its phenomenal redshirt freshman quarterback JT Barrett, despite its porous run defense. Wisconsin did it on the strength of its fabulous running back Melvin Gordon. On paper I would have liked Wisconsin anyway, but Barrett unfortunately suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Ohio State’s win over Michigan last week, like dashing all hopes for Ohio State. Struggling on offense and keeping a defense that is weak at stopping the run on the field against one of the top running backs in the nation is a recipe for disaster for Ohio State, and a recipe for success for Wisconsin. Look for the Badgers to win this one.
(6) Baylor hosts (9) Kansas St. in a game with potentially big playoff implications. If Baylor wins, it will make its case for the final playoff spot if Florida State goes down. If Baylor loses, it will open the doors for a lot of other teams, depending on who else goes down. Baylor barely beat Texas Tech last weekend in a game Texas Tech’s coaching staff probably gave away by going for a two-point conversion with eight minutes remaining in the contest. This forced them to go for two after they scored their final touchdown. They were unable to convert, and Baylor escaped with a 48-46 win. Baylor’s star quarterback Bryce Petty also went down with a concussion in that game. While Baylor is 10-1, Kansas State is 9-2, with its only two losses coming to (3) TCU and (19) Auburn. Baylor should win this one, but it will be no surprise if they lose, if they play the way they did against Texas Tech last weekend.
What Does It All Mean?
Alabama and TCU are locks for the CFP. While an upset is always a possibility, Alabama is too good to fall to Missouri after the season both squads have had, and TCU losing to lowly Iowa State when winning means a guaranteed spot in the CFP would be one of the biggest chokes in history. Any team can win any given Friday/Saturday (Michigan vs. Appalachian State anybody?), just not Iowa State on this Saturday.
Since the premise of this article is Arizona making the CFP without help from other teams, we’ll say that Alabama and TCU are locks, and Florida State finds a way to eke out another win. For the sake of the article, we’ll also say that Ohio State beats Wisconsin and Baylor beats Kansas State. With Oregon falling, this leaves one spot for winning teams Ohio State, Baylor, and Arizona.
So how can Arizona possibly make the CFP? How can it jump two teams already ahead of it, who will have just beaten ranked opponents? Assuming the College Football Selection Committee sticks to its trends and doesn’t throw us all a curve ball, the answer is “Pretty easily.”
The Case Against Ohio State & Baylor, & The Case For Arizona
The Committee has forgotten Ohio State. They moved up last week because Mississippi State lost ahead of them and Baylor nearly lost to Texas Tech, but they were essentially dead to the committee when Heisman hopeful JT Barrett broke his ankle. As has been discussed many times over the past week, this is essentially the “Kenyon Martin effect.” Martin was a star for the number-one-in-the-land Cincinnati Bearcats basketball squad when he broke his leg the game before March Madness. The Bearcats lost their number one seed (they fell to a two-seed, essentially ranking them as the fifth best team in the tournament at best), and sure enough, were eliminated early on in the tournament. Ohio State may be able to play without their QB, but even if they can do so against an overrated Wisconsin team, the Committee has already said it will look at how well they believe a team can do going forward (i.e. how competitive they can be in the Playoff with their team as it currently is). Ohio State should struggle to win this weekend. Even if it does, Baylor and Arizona will easily jump the Buckeyes should each team win their respective games against better, tougher opponents than Ohio State is facing.
The Committee never liked Baylor. Baylor and TCU play in the same conference and have the same record. The difference is, TCU’s lone loss was to Baylor! And yet, Baylor is behind TCU—not by one spot, but by three. The Committee has said they will not drop Florida State out of the Playoff as long as it keeps winning and remains undefeated, so it is understandable Baylor is behind FSU, but there is no reason for the Bears be ranked below Ohio St. In addition to losing Barrett, Ohio State is worse than Baylor across the board, both in terms of teams it has beaten, and the lone team each has lost to. For whatever reason—a TCU win over Minnesota that grows more suspect by the week—the Committee values TCU over Baylor. While the rankings aren’t done with public percentages released by the Committee like the BCS did and other polls currently do, Arizona can’t be far behind Baylor. If they are pretty even going into the weekend and Baylor Beats the ninth-ranked team while Arizona beats the second-ranked team, Arizona should definitely jump Baylor—especially if Baylor ekes out a win like it did against Texas Tech last week.
The Committee likes Arizona. For what seems like the first time in College Football History, the Committee values the PAC-12 Conference. The Conference has been touting the PAC-12 Championship Game as a CFP play-in game: the winner will make the Playoff. Arizona would have had a good resume ranked eighth in the nation coming into this weekend. The Committee favored the Wildcats and surprisingly had them jump Michigan State last week after beating ranked Arizona State, putting Arizona in the perfect position to make the CFP.
If Arizona beats Oregon, it will arguably have the two best wins of any team in the nation, having beaten an Oregon team ranked second in the nation on two separate occasions away from Tucson (once on the road, once at a neutral site). Its only losses will have come on a last-second missed field goal to ranked USC, and on the road to ranked UCLA. While the Committee says that it looks at teams where they were when the matchup happened, it has to help Arizona that UCLA and USC are both ranked in the latest CFP rankings (#15 and #25 respectively). Also ranked are the aforementioned Arizona State Devils (#17), and Utah Utes (#23), both of whom lost to Arizona. Arizona will have won the most conference games of any conference champion in the nation, and will be the champions of the conference with the second-most teams ranked in the CFP Rankings (behind only the mighty SEC).
So why does the CFP Selection Committee like Arizona? Maybe it’s because they are an upstart team. Maybe they like Coach Rich Rodriguez or Scooby Wright. Maybe they recognize how far the program has come, that this was the same program that won eight games total from 2003-2005 and has won 10 already this season. Maybe they think the style of spread offense Arizona runs will wow and excite fans, and maybe they just don’t like teams that wear green and yellow or gold—whether they are from Texas or Oregon.
Regardless of the reason, the Arizona Wildcats control their own destiny: beat Oregon to become PAC-12 Champions, and they will find themselves in the inaugural College Football Playoff—regardless of what other teams do.
WARNING: Biased Fan Comment Coming Soon…
Will I feel better if Baylor, Ohio State, and Florida State lose? No question. Any Arizona fan would be silly to rely solely on the CFP Committee. However, we should take solace in the fact that any help locks Arizona into a Playoff spot—as opposed to the Wildcats needing help to make it to the CFP.
BEAR DOWN BAY-BE!!! BEAR DOWN!
*Column on Scooby’s candidacy coming after the CFP field is announced
Joseph D. Robbins is a poet and an educator based in New York City. He has a BA in Creative Writing & Judaic Studies from the University of Arizona, a Masters in the Teaching of English from Columbia Teachers College, and a Masters in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is pursuing State Certification in Students with Learning Disabilities at Teachers College. You can find his poetry album, “One Man Gang Live” at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/one-man-gang-live/id769044733.