A new era in college football officially becomes reality Tuesday night, when the selection committee releases its first set of College Football Playoff rankings this season.
Given the chaos that's happened so far this year, it would be appropriate to wish committee members good luck, because such a task is not an easy one. While we've played nine weeks of football, we still don't have a grip on certain teams, and two conferences in particular -- the SEC and Pac-12 -- continue to press the case they have some terrific teams, but we might not know which ones they are exactly.
In some respects, 2014 represents a perfect litmus test for the four-team playoff. There's no one dominant team like Florida State was last year, and the host of contenders sitting with just one loss entering this week means the field is not at all narrow for the four spots.
In advance of the rankings release show, here are five things to keep an eye on when the committee finally reveals its initial top 25.
1. How much does strength of schedule and non-conference games really matter? Plenty has been made about how strength of schedule will factor into the committee's rankings, but will it really result in a top 25 that looks much different from the AP or Coaches Poll? Take Mississippi State and Florida State, for example. They are nearly unanimous picks as the top two teams in the country. The Bulldogs played Southern Miss, UAB and South Alabama in the non-conference slate so far but still end up with Jeff Sagarin's 17th-rated schedule at this point in the season thanks to SEC games. The Seminoles are all the way down at 41st in Sagarin's strength of schedule component -- which is just one measure, to be fair -- but have taken on Oklahoma State, The Citadel and Notre Dame. Numbers would suggest we'll see MSU as the committee's No. 1, but common sense might say it's FSU if a strong non-conference slate is a factor. Keep that in mind as well when it comes to the order of one-loss teams to see where Michigan State, Arizona State and others fall in the top 25.
2. Will better wins be rewarded or does it all come down to the loss? One issue with the polls is they strongly overreact to a loss compared to big wins. Take the Oregon vs. Notre Dame resume test for example. The Ducks are ahead of the Irish on most AP and Coaches Poll ballots, even though the Irish's loss came on a controversial officiating call ... on the road ... against one of the best teams in the country. Oregon's loss indeed came while it was dealing with some injury issues, but it also came at home to a then-unranked team that had some close calls in its early games. How can TCU be behind Georgia despite losing on the road to a better team (Baylor, compared to a mediocre South Carolina team)? And where does the committee slot Michigan State, which has been blowing teams out since dropping a tough one to Oregon, in the biggest non-conference game of the year?
3. Are there some stats the committee will weigh more heavily than others? That glut of one-loss teams will have to be ranked somehow, and TCU will provide an interesting case into what stats the committee values. The Horned Frogs lead the country in scoring but, uncharacteristically for a Gary Patterson-coached team, are down at No. 29 in scoring defense. That's still a pretty good combination but might not be as good as Michigan State, which is in the top 20 in both categories and has an offense on par with Oregon when it comes to scoring. But only one of those two teams is scoring points on more than half its offensive possessions: TCU. Both appear to be good, balanced teams, but TCU has the edge in a number of areas, and it will be interesting to see if the committee recognizes that. The Coaches Poll voters sure haven't.
4. Will we see a glut of SEC teams or will there be four conferences represented in the top four? This one is pretty self-explanatory. Will there be two, or even three, SEC teams in the top four, and will that one conference dominate the top 10 like it does in the current rankings? Fans outside the Southeast will be watching closely.
5. How much will injuries be a factor? Look no further than how the committee ranks the Pac-12 teams on this front. Oregon lost at home to Arizona, thanks in large part to the absence of left tackle Jake Fisher, among others. Arizona State's only blemish was against UCLA without starting quarterback Taylor Kelly. One would think missing your quarterback is more serious than an offensive lineman, but Sun Devils backup signal-caller Mike Bercovici still threw for 488 yards and three touchdowns in the loss to the Bruins. The Ducks at least had a chance to win the game at the end before Marcus Mariota was strip-sacked on the final drive. Would the issues brought on by those injuries be enough to keep those teams above, say, a one-loss Ole Miss that lost at LSU last week? How does Baylor's offensive line injuries affect its ranking? It all remains to be seen, if at all, on Tuesday.
Stat of the week
Hat tip to ESPN's Ted Miller for this one: Pac-12 quarterbacks have thrown 18 touchdowns with zero interceptions against Washington State this year.
Stats to chew on
» Ohio State has won 11 consecutive road games, the longest active streak in the nation.
» Not surprisingly, TCU set a Big 12 record for points scored in its 82-27 romp over Texas Tech. It was the fourth straight game the Horned Frogs set a series-high for points scored against an opponent. They also have at least one sack and one interception in nine straight games, the longest streak in the nation.
» Stanford still has not allowed a third-quarter touchdown in 2014.
» Kansas State has scored a rushing touchdown in 45 straight games, the best streak in the nation. The Wildcats won their 500th game as a program over Texas and beat the Longhorns and Sooners for the second time in the past three years after having not accomplished that feat since 1927.
» Per SportSource Analytics, four FBS defenses that are giving up less than a point per opponent's possession: Ole Miss, Louisville, Alabama and Stanford. All four have at least one loss.
» Navy QB Keenan Reynolds had 251 yards rushing Saturday, a career high. Amazingly, two quarterbacks topped that mark on the ground last season, but Reynolds is the only one to do it in 2014.
Quote of the Week
Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson on his large, um, butt after a win against Kentucky: "I think that's why the women come to the game, to be honest."
Sound from Saturday
There were so many scores for TCU against Texas Tech that it was hard to pick just one call, so here are all of them from Brian Estridge on the Horned Frogs Radio Network.
Tweet of the Week
Gold medal:*Les Miles*, after dealing with the loss of his mother the night before, the Mad Hatter got a masterful/lucky performance out of his team to upset Ole Miss.
Silver medal: Co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, who have helped lead a remarkable turnaround offensively for TCU.
Bronze medal:*Larry Johnson, Ohio State's defensive line coach, returned to his old stomping grounds at Penn State and helped turn defensive lineman *Joey Bosa into a monster against the Nittany Lions.
Auburn at Ole Miss: The Tigers are coming off a game against South Carolina in which they were nearly perfect offensively but had to escape with a win because their defense couldn't stop anybody. The Rebels are reeling from their first loss of the year thanks to a woeful offensive performance that would have looked even worse had their defense not come through time after time. Something has to give, but with two even teams, look for home-field advantage to be a deciding factor.