College Sports

Late Hits: Chaos in the top 25 and the genius of Katy Perry

Oregon, Alabama and Oklahoma led a parade of top 10 losers in one of the craziest weeks college football has seen in the past 25 years.

Eleven of the teams ranked in last week’s AP top 20 lost, including five of the top 10. Five of the ranked teams lost to unranked teams, including No. 2 Oregon and No. 8 UCLA.

Now what?

Your guess is as good as mine but not as good as Katy Perry’s. Sitting in as ESPN’s guest picker before the Alabama-Mississippi game, Perry correctly predicted wins for the Rebels and Mississippi State. We probably should have known the doe-eyed pop star would come up with the upsets, as her current hit song is titled “Dark Horse.”

Sure, Perry was playing to the GameDay crowd at The Grove with her Ole Miss pick, but that’s basically what we (media, fans) all do in college football. We pick the name-brand teams with all the tradition (Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Notre Dame) and usually ignore the dark horses (Arizona, Texas Christian, the Mississippis). It’s safer and easier that way.

There were 17 unbeaten teams before Arizona and Oregon kicked off late Thursday night. By the time Utah toppled UCLA late Saturday night, there were only 10 left.

Of those 10 teams – Florida State, Georgia Tech, Baylor, TCU, Notre Dame, Marshall, Arizona, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State – seven will play at least one game against another in the group during the regular season. The three SEC West teams will play two games among the group.

Mathematically, it’s still possible for four major conference teams (an ACC team, a Big 12 team, an SEC team and Arizona) to go into the playoff with an unbeaten record.

What does all of this week’s chaos mean? It’s a good year to have a playoff format. It’s also not unlike the previous two years.

Last year, FSU was the only major unbeaten before the bowls. Notre Dame was the only major unbeaten before the bowls in 2012.

There’s a real chance No. 1 FSU, a 43-3 winner against Wake Forest, will be the lone unbeaten again this year.

The scrum after the unbeaten team, if one gets there, will be more difficult to parse. There were six majors with one loss last year and four in 2012.

Before we get to “Selection Sunday” on Dec. 7, there might not be any major unbeatens left. That hasn’t happened since 2008 when there were seven one-loss teams.

There was even more chaos in 2007, when there were only two major conference teams with one loss and eight with two, including eventual national champion Louisiana State.

After this week’s bedlam, we’ll probably get closer to normal (whatever that is) for the next couple of weeks but nobody really knows, except maybe Miss Teenage Dream.

Who’s trending?

↑  The state of Mississippi: Ring a cowbell and shout “Hotty Toddy,” it doesn’t get any better than this for the Magnolia State. The Bulldogs throttled No. 6 Texas A&M and the Rebels knocked off No. 3 Alabama on Saturday afternoon. The annual Egg Bowl might actually decide the SEC West title.

↑  Arizona: Quite a week for “Rich Rod.” Not only did coach Rich Rodriguez’s current team upset Pac-12 power Oregon for the second straight year, but his former team, Michigan, the one he was supposedly never good enough for, was wistful for his services.

↓  The state of North Carolina: The only thing worse than UNC’s first-half performance against Virginia Tech? N.C. State’s first-half performance at Clemson. Neither in-state team can seem to figure out how to play any defense.

↓  Michigan: “Hail to the Victors” lost to Rutgers? Bring back, Rich Rod or even A-Rod.

Playoff projections

Instead of a weekly AP top 25 vote this season, here’s a projection of the four teams for the College Football Playoff and the four other New Year’s bowls.

The top four teams, as ranked by the 13-person selection committee, will be placed in the Rose and Sugar Bowls and meet on Jan. 1. The winners will meet on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas for the national title.

Sugar: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 4 Michigan State

Rose: No. 2 Georgia vs. No. 3 Oklahoma

Two important questions

1. Given the cluster and the competition level in the SEC West, how many SEC teams are really going to finish the schedule with one loss?

2. How will the selection committee treat a two-loss SEC team compared to a one-loss Oklahoma, Michigan State, Notre Dame or Pac-12 survivor?

Two best-guess answers

1. Two: Georgia (my pick to win the SEC) from the East and whoever wins the West.

If the SEC could finish the regular season with three teams with either one loss or no losses, there’s no doubt the toughest conference would get two teams in the playoff.

But is there a realist scenario where that happens? Depends on the Auburn-Georgia game on Nov. 15.

The SEC’s best hope for two CFP teams: Alabama runs the table, a one-loss Auburn misses the SEC title game but then makes the playoff after the Tide wins the SEC title game.

2. If you just go by decades of AP and coaches’ voting, a one-loss team – even with a weaker schedule – won’t get jumped by a two-loss team. It’s just not how we’re wired to compare teams. Look at Ohio State rising to No. 2 late last year not for who it beat but “just because” it was unbeaten.

We love “just because” arguments in college football. Oklahoma, whose schedule is much weaker than any SEC West team, and Michigan State, ditto, stand to benefit from that flawed thinking.

New Year’s bowls

Fiesta: Stanford vs. Baylor

Cotton: Ole Miss vs. Notre Dame

Peach: East Carolina vs. Auburn

Orange: Clemson vs. Alabama

I’m tapping out with the Pac-12. I have no idea who’s going to win that league, so by default, I’m going with the only team that plays defense. There are as many as eight teams that could wind up winning the league.

Ole Miss, by virtue of a better home schedule, gets the nod over Mississippi State in the Cotton.

And, your weekly reminders: the highest-ranked team (projecting a one-loss East Carolina) from the Group of 5 (American, MAC, Sun Belt, C-USA, Mountain West) is guaranteed a spot in either the Peach, Cotton or Fiesta.

The ACC has a contracted slot in the Orange opposite the highest-ranked SEC or Big Ten team or Notre Dame.

Ranking the ACC

1. Florida State (5-0): Another slow start but bottom line, 21 straight wins, is all that matters.

2. Clemson (3-2): A tsunami of a performance by the Tigers’ defense in a 41-0 annihilation of N.C. State.

3. Georgia Tech (5-0): Keep waiting for the other shoe to drop with the Jackets, they keep winning.

4. Virginia (4-2): Wahoos knock off the Coastal sleeper (Pittsburgh) and become the new Coastal sleeper.

5. Miami (3-3): First loss to GT in six years for Canes.

6. Virginia Tech (4-2): The Hokies will regret that loss to GT, if they don’t already.

7. Duke (4-1): Extra time off to prepare for GT almost always helps.

8. Louisville (5-1): The Cards’ offense is a mess but the defense is strong.

9. Boston College (3-2): While Clemson was mauling N.C. State, the Eagles were resting up.

10. N.C. State (4-2): Brutal performance but no time to cry about it; important game with BC is next.

11. Pitt (3-3): “Sleeper” team asleep at the wheel since win at BC.

12. UNC (2-3): Bad combo for the Tar Heels: not as much talent and tougher schedule.

13. Wake Forest (2-4): The Deacons kept it respectable at FSU for a half.

14. Syracuse (2-3): Rony Seikaly and Sherman Douglas are not walking through that door.