Starting 11: The Playoff Selection Edition

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Nov 8, 2014; Norman, OK, USA; Baylor Bears head coach Art Briles watches his team warm up prior to action against the Oklahoma Sooners at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports Mark D. Smith USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for the final Starting 11 of the year so let’s dive right in. 

But first one bit of news — for the lawyers out there, we’re doing traveling CLEs now. On beer, gambling, and sports. The first one is downtown in Nashville tomorrow. You can sign up here. Next week on Tuesday the 16th, we’ll be in Birmingham. We’re coming to other cities as well, but if you’re at a firm or corporation and you’d like to host one in-house, we’re going to start doing those too. These will be as fun as any lawyer CLE can ever be.

You can always get all your online hours with Outkick CLE’s here too. We’re licensed in every SEC state except Arkansas, which doesn’t allow online CLEs.

Okay, on to the Starting 11.  

1. I disagree with Ohio State being the fourth team selected in the playoff. 

That’s not a surprise to regular readers. I believe Baylor had better wins and a better loss than the Buckeyes did. The Big 12 is also a stronger conference than the Big Ten. 

Let’s break down Baylor, TCU, and Ohio State, three teams that finished within eight points of each other in the AP poll. (The AP voters agreed with me, putting Baylor above Ohio State).

I. Best wins (I use this week’s AP top 25 poll plus the others receiving votes for a total of 37 ranked teams.)

Baylor: #6 TCU, #11 Kansas State, #27 Oklahoma

TCU: #11 Kansas State #26 Minnesota #27 Oklahoma

Ohio State: #7 Michigan State, #17 Wisconsin, #26 Minnesota, #34 Cincinnati

II. Best/worst loss

Baylor: at #36 West Virginia by 14

TCU: at #4 Baylor by three

Ohio State home vs. unranked Virginia Tech by 14

Best wins is a tight race here, but I’d give the nod to Baylor since it has the two best wins of any team and beat one of the top six teams in the country. Really, all three teams are very even when it comes to best wins.  

But when you examine best/worst loss Ohio State’s home loss is by far the worst of these three teams. Prior to this year no team in the history of college football had ever finished in the top four with a home loss by 14 points or more to a 6-6 or worse team. Combining that with the fact that the Big 12 is a stronger conference than the Big Ten I would have bumped Ohio State out of the mix and finished with Baylor vs. TCU. The two resumes of these teams are nearly identical — 9 conference games, SMU, and an FCS opponent — save TCU’s win over Minnesota as compared to Baylor’s win over Buffalo. Is that a big enough game to eliminate head-to-head? Of course not.

So Baylor’s my four, TCU’s my five and Ohio State is my six. (But I flipped TCU and Ohio State in my final four to take into account the conference title for OSU).

Worth thinking about, if Baylor and TCU have the exact same resumes, but it’s Texas and Oklahoma instead, does Ohio State still get in over both? I think brand names matter a lot more than it should. My bet is that either Texas or Oklahoma would have finished above Ohio State. 

2. I actually don’t believe Florida State should be in the playoff either.

The Seminoles would be underdogs against 13 teams, including, as you’ve already seen, double digit underdogs against Oregon. Alabama would have been a nearly two touchdown favorite over FSU, that’s more than the Tide was favored over Notre Dame in the BCS title game. Making my comparison between FSU 2014 and Notre Dame 2012 pretty damn on point. 

I understand why FSU is in the playoff — because they haven’t lost and are in a big five conference — but if the goal of the committee is to put the best four teams in the playoff — which it is — Florida State shouldn’t be in there. 

This has nothing to do with off the field issues or hating the Seminoles. It’s simply wanting the best four teams in the playoff. That’s why I Tweeted late Saturday night that my final four would be: 1. Bama 2. Oregon 3. Baylor 4. Ohio State TCU would be my five. I think all five of these teams would beat FSU on a neutral field. 

I also don’t think most of America hates the Seminoles as much as they did earlier in the season. Why? Because FSU isn’t that good. I think the Seminoles will lose by double digits to Oregon. 

Sticking with my brands matter theme, I’d be fascinated to see what would have happened if Duke, Wake Forest, Boston College or Syracuse had the exact same resume as FSU this year. Would they be in because they’re undefeated?    

3. If the Big 12 had announced Baylor was its champ, would the Bears have gotten in over Ohio State?

Given that the Buckeyes ended up beating Wisconsin by 59 points maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway, but it certainly would have ended the absurd arguments between Baylor and TCU that dominated the past week of the college football news cycle.  

I wrote about this exact situation — the fact that the conference had left it up to the committee to pick a champ in the event of a tie — back in October. It was eminently foreseeable that something like this could have happened. So why in the world would the Big 12 let this happen? Because the Big 12 is the worst run major conference in America and there isn’t a close second. The Big 12 hoped that by not picking a champ it would get two teams in the playoff. Instead it’s none. 

Now the question becomes, will the league add a conference title game? I don’t know the answer, but remember that a title game would only have helped if there weren’t divisions and TCU and Baylor played each other again. (Under NCAA rules you can’t play a conference title game without two divisions of at least six teams each). TCU and Baylor were both in the same division before realignment. If you split the south schools with the north schools then Kansas State would have played Baylor and TCU wouldn’t have won its own division. So would Baylor and Kansas State have played in back-to-back weeks? Probably so. 

Does that really help?


Which makes the failure of the league to make a determination in this case even more absurd. 

4. What the hell happened to Wisconsin?

While everyone has been praising Ohio State for the dominant win, what about Wisconsin’s truly disastrous performance for the conference title game ages? I mean, the Badgers were favored by four in this game — yes, I had Wisconsin -4 in a nice retirement gift for Fox’s Scott Ackerson — and they lost by 63 against the number.

I can’t think of a game that finished 63 points off the Vegas line all season.

Meaning of all the college football games played this year the way Ohio State beat Wisconsin was the most surprising result of the season.  

Nice work, Badgers. 

If Ohio State ran for 300 yards on you, Auburn -6 in the Outback Bowl is my early bet the mortgage pick of the bowl season. The Tigers might run for a thousand yards on Wisconsin. 

5. How long until we get an eight team playoff?

This would be our eight team playoff this year:

1. Alabama vs. 8. Michigan State

2. Oregon vs. 7. Mississippi State

3. FSU vs. 6. TCU

4. Ohio State vs. 5. Baylor

Some argue that the ninth best team in the nation would be incensed at being left out, but I think that’s unlikely. If you’re a borderline top ten team you’ve probably given the committee plenty of reasons not to pick you. This year’s ninth best team is Ole Miss, the tenth best is Arizona. I don’t think either team has that strong of an argument for inclusion. Both lost three games, both were blown out at least once. Sure, Ole Miss beat Alabama and Mississippi State, both the SEC teams that would be in an eight team playoff, but it also lost by thirty at Arkansas.

I don’t think there would be much griping at all. 

6. So how’d the committee do?

The committee needlessly complicated things last week when it put TCU third. If the committee had just kept FSU third then TCU would have been fourth, Ohio State fifth and Baylor sixth. 

It was easy to see that with a win, no matter by how much, FSU would go back in front of TCU, but many believed that TCU was in because the committee had them at three, a full two spots above Ohio State and three above Baylor. Unfortunately for TCU there was nothing they could do to stay there and they dropped all the way to six after winning a conference game by over fifty points.

I will commend the committee for sending the message that merely being undefeated shouldn’t make a team number one in the country. 

But other than ESPN getting a television show that around 500k more people watch than would watch its regular programming on Tuesday nights, what’s the point of weekly rankings? Nothing matters until the final ranking.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the weekly rankings because it creates an entire week worth of talk, but their dispositive value isn’t very high. I’m not opposed to the weekly rankings, but all we’ve really done is create a new 13 person poll. 

7. The most overrated aspect of the playoff thus far — non-conference schedules.

Not one single non-conference game impacted the playoff this year. 

Given all the talk about non-conference games you would have thought this would be a big deal. It wasn’t.  

If Alabama and Oregon had both avoided playing a big five conference schools in their non-conference schedules — they played West Virginia and Michigan State — they both would have still finished one and two in the playoff. Florida State would have still made the playoff no matter who they played in their non-conference. Ohio State even lost by 14 to an awful team out of conference and still got in. Baylor and TCU’s non-conference wouldn’t have mattered since Baylor finished above TCU based on conference games.

Here’s what matters in the playoff era — conference games.

That’s it. 

If you win every conference game — even if you play a totally crappy non-conference schedule — you’re still going to be in the playoff.  

8. There were only four big five conference teams favored by two or more points in every game this season.

Alabama and Oregon are the easy two for most people to get. 

But what about the other two teams? How many of you degenerates will get this without looking it up?

Hint: they still lost seven games combined.

8-4 Oklahoma and 9-3 Georgia

Would anyone else out there have killed to see Oklahoma and Georgia play in a bowl game this year? Bob Stoops matching wits with Mark Richt would be incredible to see. This game would definitely end on a intentional safety that made it a push.  

9. Allow me a moment to give Starting 11 props to my wife here.

I was on the road for twenty straight weeks this fall. (This weekend will be the first time I’m home since July.) Along the way we had our third son, Nash, born on September 17th. So she had three boys, ages six, four and a newborn this fall. If you’ve ever tried to put three boys to bed at night, you know exactly what hell this can be.  

This fall I have been responsible for all three boys exactly once, for five hours, last week.

Holy hell, is my job easy.   

10. For all of the talk about the “uneven” SEC divisions, after 23 games the SEC West leads the SEC East 12-11.

This year’s Alabama win over Mizzou was the first time the west has led in most SEC title game championships since 1992. 

While I don’t agree with the existence of divisions, the SEC West’s rise is cyclical, not evidence of uneven division powers. The east won seven of the first nine SEC titles and was favored over the west in ten of the first 11 years. That was when Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia were at the top of the college landscape. Everyone has the memory of a fly in today’s sporting era and they believe things will always be the way they are now. So since the west has won six in a row, it’s evidence of a huge divide between divisions. That’s the same number of wins a row that the the east had from 1993 to 1998. At some point Tennessee and Florida will rise again. It may seem insane, but it’s not, sports is cyclical.   

I do think this year’s SEC is the deepest the conference has ever been. Vegas agrees withe me, the SEC is favored in ten of its 12 bowl games, which is the most games any conference has ever been favored in. 

Las Vegas is so SEC biased. 

On the flip side, the Big Ten is underdogs in all ten of its bowl games, the most bowl games that a conference has ever been favored to lose. 

11. Outkick’s final top ten:

1. Alabama

2. Oregon

3. Baylor

4. TCU

5. Ohio State

6. Florida State

7. Mississippi State

8. Ole Miss

9. Michigan State

10. Georgia Tech 

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.