College Football Playoff Rankings: After Dropping In Last Week’s Top 25, Will San Diego State Bounce Back?
San Diego State fell in last week’s College Football Playoff rankings. What could change now that the Aztecs have won the West division and will host a conference championship?
Is winning enough at this point?
The San Diego State Aztecs continued their run to new heights on Friday afternoon by rallying to take down the Boise State Broncos, wrapping up the West division crown and setting up a championship bout with Utah State next Saturday.
Given that Cincinnati finished its own regular season unbeaten, however, the Aztecs’ path to the Group of 5’s New Year’s Six bowl berth is all but gone at this point. Nonetheless, here’s how San Diego State stacks up ahead of the College Football Playoff’s fifth top 25 reveal on Tuesday:
#21 San Diego State Aztecs (11-1)
What’s new for the Aztecs? After falling two spots last Tuesday, San Diego State went out and did just about everything it could to prove that was a mistake. After falling behind early against Boise State, the Aztecs roared back to claim their fourth win of the year against a bowl-eligible team.
Most of those wins also look slightly better, once again, than the week before: Utah crushed Colorado and will roll into the Pac-12 title game with momentum while Air Force and Nevada did the same to UNLV and Colorado State, respectively. They’ll get one more chance to pad the overall resume against 9-3 Utah State, a team with three wins against bowl-eligible opponents of its own (Wyoming, Washington State, and Air Force). There probably isn’t much wiggle room left for their standing to improve in the Playoff committee’s eyes at this point, but you never know.
What does the broader landscape look like at this point?
By Way of Comparison: The Rest of the G5 Field
#4 Cincinnati (12-0): SP+ rank: 5 | Sagarin rank: 7 | Strength-of-schedule rank (per Sagarin/Sports Reference): 87/84
#13 BYU (10-2): SP+ rank: 45 | Sagarin rank: 32 | Strength-of-schedule rank (per Sagarin/Sports Reference): 66/66
#24 Houston (11-1): SP+ rank: 29 | Sagarin rank: 40 | Strength-of-schedule rank (per Sagarin/Sports Reference): 123/127
Louisiana (11-1): SP+ rank: 57 | Sagarin rank: 47 | Strength-of-schedule rank (per Sagarin/Sports Reference): 126/129
What are the big takeaways here?
UTSA’s shocking blowout loss to North Texas on Saturday is certain to remove them from the conversation, despite the fact they still get to play an explosive Western Kentucky team for the Conference USA title next weekend.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, took a little while to get going against East Carolina on Friday, but they ended up coasting against the Pirates where the Bearcats had enabled past opponents to hang around a while. Houston did exactly what they needed to do against UConn, as well, though their overall strength of schedule took a hit in the process. That’s what they have in common with Sun Belt West division champions Louisiana, who beat rival Louisiana-Monroe in a closer-than-expected contest but might finally rise into the top 25 on Tuesday ahead of a conference title bout with a pretty good Appalachian State team.
BYU beat another Pac-12 team on the road, though defeating a 5-7 USC team playing out the string probably won’t come with the same cachet it would’ve a couple years ago. Their standing is a strange one at this point because, even if Cincinnati claims a spot in the top four after next weekend, the Cougars might still find themselves on the outside of an at-large NY6 bid looking in. Oddly enough, they might find themselves rooting for bitter rival Utah to win the Pac-12 title against Oregon next weekend, just like San Diego State. This time of year always makes for strange bedfellows.
The biggest question left for the Aztecs at this point is whether rooting for Houston in the AAC title game is even worth it at this point. The Cougars’ overall resume is pretty tepid, but will they be in a position to leapfrog San Diego State? Conspiracy theories abound here, so it might be worthwhile to take a look at exactly which wins should move the needle for the committee at this point. If beating a 6-6 team is the absolute floor, what can the top contenders boast of?
Cincinnati: #6 Notre Dame (11-1), UCF (8-4), SMU (8-4), East Carolina (7-5), Tulsa (6-6), Miami of Ohio (6-6)
San Diego State: #19 Utah (9-3), Air Force (9-3), Nevada (8-4), Boise State (7-5)
Houston: SMU (8-4), East Carolina (7-5), Memphis (6-6), Tulsa (6-6)
Beating SMU doesn’t look nearly as impressive as it did a couple weeks ago since the Mustangs limped the finish line with just two victories over bowl-eligible teams (UCF, North Texas) on the year and a 1-4 record to close the season. ECU also has just two wins against teams who finished 6-6 or better (Marshall, Memphis), UCF has three (Boise State, ECU, Memphis). All of this suggests the AAC sort of ate itself in a lot of respects and just wasn’t very good overall.
Is a win over a top-four team going to be enough to propel the Cougars into a big money bowl should they and the Aztecs take care of business? Should it be? Utah is far and away the best win that either SDSU or UH has to date and it’s not just because the Utes pasted Oregon once already: Utah beat every other team in the Pac-12 that finished the regular season with a winning record and those teams — Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State, Arizona State, and UCLA — combined for four non-conference wins against teams who finished at least 6-6 (Fresno State, Ohio State, Purdue, LSU).
Provided the Aztecs beat Utah State, that would give them four wins over teams who compiled three non-conference victories against .500 or better opponents (7-5 Washington State, 7-5 UTEP, 10-2 BYU). Houston, by contrast, would have what Notre Dame has done (7-5 Toledo, 8-4 Purdue, 8-4 Wisconsin, 6-6 Virginia Tech, 6-6 North Carolina, 6-6 Virginia). A hypothetical Cincinnati win would have to carry a ton of water.
If one win counts for that much, though, then you might as well throw the whole exercise out and start over because the message to Group of 5 teams would be “never try until you have to”.
That being said, what do I think the fifth CFP top 25 will look like? Read on.