Ranking the final six

by Nov 29, 20214 comments

This year’s regular season has been phenomenal and certainly ended with a bang. As a result of all the fun, only six teams remain in playoff contention ahead of conference championship games. The committee will release rankings twice more, once Tuesday and then the final verdict five days later on Selection Sunday. Here we continue my personally-devised ranking system, which debuted last week, in an effort to keep the committee honest and to position the teams based solely on merit.

The criteria

These rankings are comprised of seven metrics (eight in the final release).
1. Adjusted record
2. Strength of schedule
3. Quality opponents
4. Ranked opponents
5. Adjusted ranked opponents
6. Quality opponent point differential
7. Performance issues
8. (Finished ranked opponents)

For a detailed definition of each metric, read the section “Finalized criteria” in last week’s article.

No. 1 Georgia

The Bulldogs pitched their third shutout of the year and wrecked Georgia Tech, 45-0. The most-anticipated matchup of the year (which is saying a lot) is now less than a week away when Georgia squares off against Alabama in Atlanta for the SEC championship (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS). Georgia is speculated to be a lock for the playoff regardless of the outcome and it’s not hard to see why. Despite having the no. 2 strength of schedule among playoff contenders, the Dawgs have not been tested since their week 1 victory over then-no. 3 Clemson, 10-3.

No. 2 Alabama

True sophomore Bryce Young, with 1:37 remaining, led a 97-yard touchdown drive, converting two third and 10s and once on fourth and seven for the Tide to force overtime in the Iron Bowl. The quadruple overtime victory, 24-22, keeps alive the possibility of Alabama becoming the first two-loss team to ever make the College Football Playoff, should Georgia win the SEC.

No. 3 Michigan

The Wolverines bullied their archrival, on the ground and with a relentless pass rush, for four quarters, en route to a resounding 42-27 win. The victory removes from Jim Harbaugh the 600-pound gorilla on his back and sends the Maize and Blue to the Big Ten Championship Game for the first time in the game’s 11-year history. Hassan Haskins rushed for 169 yards and now holds the record for The Game with five rushing touchdowns. The Wolverines would outgain the Bucks on the ground 297-64. David Ojabo had a huge sack of C.J. Stroud to force fourth down on the Buckeyes’ final possession and Aiden Hutchinson added three more, two of which came on third downs, proving he’s indeed one of the finest football players in the America today. Blake Corum added 87 rushing yards, including a 55-yard scamper on Michigan’s opening drive of the second half. Ohio State’s vaunted receiving corps combined for 28 catches for 334 yards and Stroud threw for 394, but the Buckeye defense had no answer for the Wolverine offense, which attempted just five passes in the second half. The Wolverines forced a three-and-out coming out of halftime, scored four touchdowns on their next four possessions, and took two knees before droves from the 111,156 stormed the field in delirium. Whereas the fans may still be celebrating, Michigan is busy preparing for its clash with Iowa in Indianapolis (Saturday, 8 p.m., FOX). A win would end a 16-year title drought for the Wolverines and cement a spot in the College Football Playoff for the first time in the playoff’s eight-year history.

No. 4 Oklahoma State

The Cowboys spotted the Sooners nine points in the opening minutes of the second half – a safety off a fumble and a muffed punt recovered for a touchdown. Oklahoma would also pick off Spencer Sanders with about three minutes left in the third. Despite Mike Gundy’s bunch making every effort to keep the Sooners’ playoff hopes alive while at the same time squandering theirs, those would be the only Oklahoma points in a second half that served as a microcosm of its disappointing season. With the 37-33 victory, the blue-collar Cowboys advance to the Big 12 Championship Game in Arlington to take on Baylor (Saturday, noon, ABC). A win would give Oklahoma State, which already has the strongest schedule of remaining contenders, victories over two top-10 teams in successive weeks.

No. 5 Cincinnati

The Bearcats finished the regular season 12-0 with a 35-13 victory over East Carolina (7-5). Next up, Houston will travel to Cincinnati in a true away game for the American Athletic Conference championship (Saturday, 4 p.m., ABC). The Cougars lost their season-opener to Texas Tech (6-6) and have reeled off 11 straight victories since. The Bearcats are in desperate need of a ranked win to bolster their challenged résumé. Cincinnati’s clearest path is either Baylor knocking off Oklahoma State or Iowa upsetting Michigan. If the three favorites (Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma State) prevail, the committee will only have two options, both of which would be unprecedented: send a two-loss team to the playoff, or a non-power-5. Get your popcorn ready because this Saturday is jam-packed with theater.

No. 6 Notre Dame

The good news is the Irish steamrolled Stanford. The bad news is the Cardinal was 3-8 going in, so Notre Dame’s schedule, which already left a lot to be desired, took yet another hit. Even if the Irish were in a conference playing for a championship this weekend, such a win still wouldn’t guarantee a spot, so sitting at home waiting for chaos isn’t necessarily the worse option. Notre Dame needs two of three dominoes (Michigan, Oklahoma State, Cincinnati) to fall in order to back its way into the playoff.



  1. Keith, congrats on another well-written article. I really like your criteria of finding the four teams for the playoff (acknowledging we both think it should be eight teams). I’m glad you decided to give more time to that huge Michigan/OSU game. The fact that it was the most viewed game in the history of FOX Sports demands it be warranted. The fact that I am a huge Michigan fan demands that I say: LET’S GO BLUE!!!

    • Thanks! Almost 15.9 million TV viewers is incredible and just one more reason to believe it’s the greatest rivalry in all of sports.

  2. For the last several years it had lost the rivalry status due to OSU utter domination. Perhaps this and the fact that Michigan appeared to have a chance (besides the fact that the winner had a chance for the playoff) is why it had such a record viewing audience. I have no doubt there were people around the country who were not fans of either team who tuned in with the hopes of seeing OSU lose, especially older people like myself, who can remember the days of when there wasn’t so many games on so many channels. I have no doubt there were older football fans around the country who viewed OSU as people viewed the Yankees in baseball through the years (the same would go for Alabama). Not only that, I’m sure to the delight of many, Michigan did it the old-school way; they smashmouthed them into submission. Well, the dragon has been beheaded … for this year anyway.

    • It’s a rivalry, perhaps more so than others, of streaks. I remember very well the Cooper era, where he went 2-10-1 against Michigan in a 13-year span, only for Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez, Brady Hoke, and Jim Harbaugh to combine to go 2-17 over the next 19 meetings. For the last 34 years, the two have taken turns in owning the rivarly for long stretches. Perhaps Michigan will put on a run of its own now. I don’t believe in turns in college football, so it’s not necessarily Michigan’s turn. This could easily turn back into something like the ten-year war and Bo’s tussles with Earl Bruce, where the schools went 9-9-1 head-to-head.

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Keith Eichholz

Lead writer for the Voice of College Football. Thorough, evidence-based, critical thinker. Husband to a beautiful wife, father to a terrific kid, always looking forward to football Saturday.

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