With Baylor’s incredible 11-1 regular season run, the Bears have found themselves in the thick of the College Football Playoff conversation. If you listen to many pundits (especially those on ESPN), the Bears are picked as the least likely of three remaining teams vying for a fourth spot: Oklahoma, Utah, and Baylor. However, the CFP Committee has (somewhat surprisingly) shown that they don’t necessarily have the same views on the Bears as many national pundits, at least as of late. After moving Baylor up five spots following their win against Texas, the committee seemed to flip opinions and go from heavily penalizing Baylor for its non-conference schedule to giving them credit for a close loss to OU and a dominate win against Texas. With another win under their belts and some key losses ahead of them, the Bears should be positioned well. However, there are a three key things to watch with tonight’s rankings release that should give us a hint as to just how well Baylor is positioned.
Where is Baylor ranked?
Duh. But at this stage of the game, being ranked one spot higher or one spot lower than expected could make or break Baylor’s chances of making the playoff. The AP ranking still has Baylor behind two loss Florida. Luckily, the AP poll shouldn’t have any impact on the CFP rankings, where Baylor was already moved ahead of Florida. Baylor needs to at least be ahead of every two loss team (including threats like Florida, Alabama, and Wisconsin) to feel somewhat confident in their position. I, along with most predictors of such things, think Baylor will land at #7. Any lower than that and the Bears are in a bad spot. Any higher and the committee is REALLY doing Baylor a solid. Which brings me to the next thing to key in on...
Is Oklahoma or Utah ranked higher?
There are many pundits and media sources who are somewhat discrediting Baylor in the race for the CFP, mainly because they think OU will automatically get a second win against Baylor in the Big 12 Championship. Obviously, Baylor would have to beat Oklahoma to have any shot at the CFP so we’ll toss those arguments aside for a proper preview of the rematch. Still, the positioning of Oklahoma and Utah could be critical for Baylor. The AP poll has Utah at #5 and Oklahoma at #6. Last week’s CFP ranking had them positioned in the same order, just a spot back as they both still trailed Alabama. With the Crimson Tide removed from the picture after last weekend’s loss, whichever team claims the #5 spot could indicate how the committee views the Big 12 overall. With the regular seasons of all teams complete, does the committee view Oklahoma’s top 10 win over Baylor and additional ranked win over Oklahoma State as better than Utah’s dominating performances but complete lack of CFP Top 25 victories? I think the Oklahoma State win, which OU was able to do in fairly dominate fashion, gets the committee’s attention and moves Oklahoma into the #5 spot. The rankings then would likely be #5 Oklahoma, #6 Utah, and #7 Baylor. This is the perfect setup for the Bears, where a win on Saturday would secure them a top 5 win and a Big 12 Championship. Even if Utah wins the PAC 12, the committee might very well view the Big 12 Champion as interchangeable and boost Baylor over Utah with their potential quality win. Obviously, the rest of the resume will be compared as well, which brings us to our third key to watch for...
Where are Kansas State and Oklahoma State?
While a lot of things went Baylor’s way last weekend, one thing that did not go as planned was Iowa State losing to Kansas State. The Cyclones were sitting at #23 and lost to Kansas State on the road, almost certainly dropping them out of the polls. But, with that loss, Kansas State now has a strong chance to be ranked. Kansas State has the same record Iowa State would have had if they had won, albeit with a worse loss than Iowa State (West Virginia), but a much better win than any the Cyclones had: Oklahoma. With another at-the-time Top 25 win over the Cyclones, I expect this will be enough to get the committee to push the Wildcats into the Top 25. On the other hand, Oklahoma State was sitting in the Top 25 at #21 before losing to Oklahoma. How harshly does the committee punish them for losing to OU in fairly convincing fashion? Hopefully not too badly. If you put stock in conspiracy theories, many have argued that the committee uses the bottom rankings of the Top 25 to boost the resumes of who they want to see in the playoffs. If they keep Oklahoma State in the rankings AND move Kansas State in, that’s a huge boost for both Baylor and Oklahoma’s cases. If you see both teams in the Top 25, I expect that the winner of the Big 12 would be almost assuredly in the playoff (assuming LSU beats Georgia). If only one team remains in the Top 25, then there’s a fighting chance for Utah to get passed by Baylor who could boast either Kansas State or Oklahoma State as a lopsided, Top 25 road win. If neither team remains in the Top 25, the Big 12 is in a tough spot. If the committee inexplicably puts in a PAC 12 team like Arizona State or Washington, that could spell doom for both Baylor and Oklahoma. So while most Baylor fans will obviously be waiting for the top of the poll with anticipation, the show starts with the bottom of the Top 25 and that could be a massive predictor of where Baylor and Oklahoma will stand.
The College Football Playoff Rankings Show airs at 6:00 PM CT tonight on ESPN.