Saturday early afternoon, the Baylor Bears took care of their business in a rather resounding way. They ran the Oklahoma Sooners 48-14. With a dominant win on their resume, the Bears put themselves in tremendous position to move up in the College Football Playoff Poll announced Tuesday night. However, the late afternoon and evening games gave the Bears even more breaks and could see themselves just outside of the Top-5 come Tuesday night. Let’s look at the big games that helped out the Bears.
Mississippi State took care of business in their last non-conference game of the season, routing Tennessee-Martin 45-16. Florida State also won, defeating Virginia 34-20 on the road. After that though is when things got interesting. Auburn, a three-touchdown favorite over Texas A&M, fell in a ridiculously silly ending to a game, 41-38. The Tigers had the ball inside the 5-yard line with just a few minutes left but fumbled it on a zone-read running play.
After forcing a 3-and-out for the Aggies (while almost getting a safety), the Tigers got the ball back, but fumbled again as the center had a terrible snap that the Aggies recovered. With the Tigers second loss of the season, they will likely fall out of the Top-10. It felt dirty a bit for Baylor fans to be rooting for the Aggies, but that loss eliminated a big road-block for the Big 12.
Also losing was Notre Dame, who fell 55-31 in a game that was a blowout, then a nail-biter and then a blowout again to Arizona State. The Irish will surely fall quite a few spots with this being their 2nd loss and no great wins.
In the night games, the Kansas State Wildcats fell to TCU 41-20 to suffer their second loss of the year and likely fall out of the Top-10. The Bears should also pass Ole Miss, who beat Presbyterian 48-0 at home in their last non-conference game. Ole Miss already had 2-losses, but stayed ahead of the Bears due to a lack of a second marquee win for the Bears. That is no longer an issue.
The biggest gift though for the Bears might have been given by the Ohio State Buckeyes, a team that Baylor came to know last year as they stayed high in the rankings until losing late to the Michigan State Spartans. Well, the Buckeyes returned the favor last night, as they went to East Lansing and won 49-37 against one of the best defenses in the nation.
With the Spartans, Tigers, Irish, and Wildcats all losing, and Ole Miss already having a second loss, the Bears will up at least 5 spots. The big question for the committee is how they order three teams; TCU, Baylor and Arizona State. All three have cases to be ranked the highest, and all three have strong arguments. The Bears beat TCU already this year, but the Frogs have been higher in the polls since the bears lost and have quite a bit of a lead in the committee’s eyes. The Sun Devils have more good wins than either TCU or Baylor and just beat up on the Irish on Saturday.
With Alabama pulling a miracle off and beating LSU in overtime, and Oregon holding off Utah before pulling away late, the top-4 should be Mississippi State, Florida State, Oregon and Alabama. The Tide would replace rival Auburn in the Top-4. After that though, it is anyone’s guess. Worst case, the Bears should be in 7th place, but could be as high as 5th if the committee values the Bears head-to-head win over the Horned Frogs.
A safe guess is 6th though, with the Frogs maintaining a slight edge in the committee’s eyes and the Bears leaping past Arizona State.
The long-term outlook for the Bears might look even better. With the Michigan State loss, the Big 10’s top team will be Ohio State, who was already several spots behind the Bears in the poll. The Buckeyes will move up quite a bit in this poll, maybe even up to 8th place, but even if they win out and win the Big 10, will probably not have enough schedule strength to move pass a 1-loss Big 12 team.
The Bears will also get a benefit from the Pac-12 championship, which will be Oregon and Arizona State if they both win out. A second loss will knock the loser of that game out of the picture. Another big game will be this coming weekend when top-ranked Mississippi State travels to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama. If the Bulldogs win that game, they will maintain the top spot and cause the Tide to fall.
However, if the Tide win, the big question for the committee will be should the Bulldogs fall out of the Top-4? Honestly, the only way I see a 1-loss Big 12 champion not making the playoff is if the SEC has two teams with 1 loss and the committee takes those two over the Big 12 (along with Florida State and probably Oregon).
In the end, the big takeaway from this weekend is that the Bears are still very much alive for the Big 12 championship (which is won with them winning out) and the College Football Playoff. Chaos has won in College Football again, the only consistent winner anymore.