Week Twelve of the college football season eliminated three more undefeated teams, as third ranked Ohio State was outplayed by Michigan State at home, Oklahoma State couldn't keep up with or stop the Baylor Bears and high-powered Houston imploded against upstart UConn. While the top two remain unchanged, expect to hear Committee Chairman Jeff Long express that numbers three through six gave them significant headaches. In the end, everyone slides up a row, but the simplicity of the result masks the complexity of the process that created it. Here are the predicted Committee's Top Four heading into Rivalry Week.
1 - Clemson (11-0)
2 - Alabama (10-1)
3 - Notre Dame (10-1)
4 - Iowa (11-0)
Clemson remains atop the college football universe after an easy win over Wake Forest. While the tail end of the ACC season is continuing to drag on the Tigers' strength of schedule rating, Alabama certainly didn't make up any ground playing Charleston Southern this week. Clemson remains one of only two undefeated teams still standing in college football, and have far better predictive metrics than the Hawkeyes. Rivalry week will continue to chip away at the strength of schedule after South Carolina just lost to Citadel, but as long as Clemson wins out, they'll be heading to the playoff.
The Tide were close to jumping into the number one spot last week as the committee reported the notion was discussed, but the loss on their record holds them back, and after playing an FCS opponent in Week Twelve, their top ranked strength of schedule has finally given way to between five and ten, depending on the rating system. Nevertheless, Alabama is playing as well as anybody and cruising to a 56-6 victory is noteworthy no matter who you play. The Tide also weren't helped this week by their conference brethren, as overtime finishes by Georgia and Florida and a loss by South Carolina further dropped the overall impression of the SEC.
There is a steep dropoff after the top two slots, and rankings three through five are particularly close. Notre Dame, Iowa and Oklahoma can all make a claim to any of these three positions and I believe this is the area where the committee will struggle. While Iowa boasts an undefeated record, the Irish have the best strength of schedule and Oklahoma owns top marks in predictive metrics, meaning they pass the eye test better than anyone. After a thorough debate, I think the committee maintains the same order as the previous week, due to the fact than none of the metrics changed enough to warrant a shuffle, and while Oklahoma scored a big win, it became a close game despite TCU's depleted roster and third string quarterback.
The Fighting Irish, therefore, benefit by Ohio State's loss as they move into third in the rankings. Notre Dame's metrics are nearly identical to the previous week, despite a close game against a struggling Boston College team. The Irish may have been looking ahead to their end of season showdown with surging Stanford, who is looking to make their own bid for a playoff spot with another marquee victory and possible Pac-12 Championship. The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, took a hit in their strength of schedule after playing a two win Purdue team. If the committee felt the Irish were a stronger team last week, Iowa certainly didn't do anything to move past them, and so Notre Dame lands at number three.
While the Hawkeyes still aren't wowing anyone with style points, the committee has repeatedly gushed over their balanced style and consistency of play. Having Tom Osborne and Barry Alvarez on the committee also likely enforces a healthy respect for that style of football, and the Big Ten in general. As such, an undefeated Big Ten team continues to be ranked over Oklahoma, a Big 12 team that despite having metrics superior to both Iowa and Notre Dame, suffered the worst loss of the group to 4-6 Texas. The Hawkeyes may need to look out next week if the Sooners can take out one loss Oklahoma State in Bedlam, but for now, they make the cut for the first time this season in the fourth installment of the College Football Playoff Committee Rankings.