This was a week in which the eye test counted.
With only two undefeated Power 5 teams remaining -- Mississippi State and Florida State -- and no conference championships yet to help separate the best from the rest, the College Football Playoff’s selection committee has one metric it can count on right now, and that’s what the 12 members have seen with their own eyes.
Did they see Auburn struggle with South Carolina, especially on fourth down?
Did they watch West Virginia run all over Oklahoma State ... on the Cowboys’ home turf?
And in a race for the best team among the Group of 5, did they notice that both East Carolina and Marshall struggled in their wins?
In a season that has been defined by chaos, Week 9 finally followed the script with one exception: LSU’s upset of Ole Miss. And not even that was an elimination game. Few answers were revealed, but this week was a reminder that the selection committee has to look deeper than the scoreboard to find separation between the 18 one-loss teams. As the group prepares to announce its first ranking of the season on Tuesday, the biggest question is which team will hold the title of best one-loss team in the country -- at least for now. Week 9 gave the committee plenty to debate on Monday and Tuesday in Dallas.
LSU has two losses, but head-to-head results matter to the committee. How far will Ole Miss drop after the Rebels’ disastrous end? Alabama was all Amari Cooper in a win over Tennessee, but the Tide lost to Ole Miss. Ohio State entered the game at Penn State looking like one of the most improved teams in the country since its Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech, but the Buckeyes needed two overtimes to shake the Nittany Lions. Oregon’s win at Cal was further evidence that the Ducks can be the best team in the Pac-12 -- if the committee can forgive that home loss to Arizona.
And Michigan State looked like nobody’s little brother against Michigan.
How closely was the committee watching this week?
Five sitting athletic directors are on the committee: Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez, Clemson’s Dan Radakovich, Arkansas’ Jeff Long, USC’s Pat Haden and West Virginia’s Oliver Luck. All of them have said they’re spending at least a chunk of their Saturdays watching their own programs. Condoleezza Rice said she attends Stanford’s home games. Mike Gould said he still goes to Air Force games.
For the first half of the season, they have used the weekdays to catch up on game film. Now their Mondays and Tuesdays will be spent voting for their top 25 -- not studying it.
The Big 12 is enough homework alone. Kansas State is the only undefeated team left in conference play after its shutout of Texas, but TCU’s 82 points against Texas Tech were impossible to ignore. Alvarez said he likes the relative defense statistic, though, which will point out that the Red Raiders’ defense has been one of the worst in the country.
The selection committee has a significant body of work to begin ranking teams, but even some head-to-head results can be debated right now. The eye test matters, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- and so are the top four teams in the country.