It would seem that an unbeaten, ACC-champion Miami would be a lock for the College Football Playoff.
What about a one-loss ACC champion Miami? Or a one-loss Miami that doesn’t win the league? Far less likely, given what we know about the CFP selection committee’s criteria.
SB Nation’s Jason Kirk and Bud Elliott, two smart thinkers when it comes to this sort of thing, laid out the rankings a week early (the first official batch comes out next Tuesday). Both issued their own lists, based on how they think the committee would see the 2017 season thus far. Elliott had Miami at No. 6 (which, for what it’s worth, is where the old BCS formula ranks UM). Kirk had the Hurricanes one spot lower.
(If you’re the type who is currently thinking, “Yeah, well, it’s the ranking at the end that matters,” a) I’m not sure why you even clicked on this story and b) this isn’t the piece for you. The rest of you: Let’s look under the hood.)
The rankings that matters most are those of Dec. 3, after the conference championship weekend. The top four on that list get paired up in playoff games.
The first four criteria in the committee’s explainer are league titles, strength of schedule, head-to-head (if possible) and common opponents. It does not look at sportswriter polls, and treats “nuanced mathematical formulas” with a degree of skepticism (though it does consider metrics).
Based on the committee’s explanations of the past three years, it also uses “the eyeball test,” a nebulous formula that has given us phrases like “game control” to kick around. We’ll get to that.
With the end of the season still six weeks away, strength of schedule is a bit easier to get a handle on.
Based on four schedule benchmarks (in bold, pulled directly from the SB Nation article), let’s assess how Miami’s schedule could look down the stretch:
“Finish with one or fewer losses (100 percent of Playoff teams have done this).”
At 6-0, the Hurricanes are in good shape, but three major tests are upcoming. They are on the road this week at a moribund North Carolina (1-7). Virginia Tech (6-1; averaging 15th in SB Nation’s projection) is at UM on Nov. 4. Notre Dame (6-1; seventh) visits Nov. 11. The Hurricanes host Virginia (5-2, but not looking good the last two weeks) and visit Pittsburgh (3-5) to close the regular season.
The winner of North Carolina State-Clemson on Nov. 4, a battle of teams currently 6-1, has the inside track to winning the Atlantic, and would likely face the Miami-Virginia Tech winner in the ACC title game Dec. 2.
“Beat at least three teams ranked in the committee’s Dec. 3 top 25 (100 percent).”
Miami would likely have to handle Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and the Atlantic winner to achieve this. Entering Week 9,
Before the season, when Florida State was ranked No. 3, beating the Seminoles would have headlined any team’s playoff resume. FSU (2-4) may not even make a bowl. The Canes beat Toledo (currently 6-1), but that doesn’t look like a year-end top-25 squad. Georgia Tech (4-2) could sneak in if it keeps winning. Syracuse (4-4) is a solid win — the Orange beat Clemson, after all — but there isn’t much room in the rankings for four-loss teams. Virginia (5-2) has a tough finish (at Louisville, Virginia Tech) and could add a few more losses to its record.
“Win a Power 5 conference (92 percent).”
Given how Georgia (7-0) and Alabama (8-0) look, it doesn’t seem likely both the winner and loser of the ACC title game will make the playoff. But that’s why they play the games, etc.
“Beat at least six teams that have .500-plus records on Dec. 3 (92 percent).”
Sort of addressed above. UM’s win over Bethune-Cookman (an FCS team) doesn’t count. It appears Toledo and Georgia Tech will make bowls. Miami would like Duke (4-4) and Syracuse (4-4) to pick it up, and it wouldn’t hurt if FSU (2-4) went on a run.
Of the teams Miami has yet to face, UNC (1-7) and Pitt (3-5) don’t look like they’ll be much help. Beating Virginia Tech (6-1), Notre Dame (6-1), Virginia (5-2) and the Atlantic winner would get UM home.
Notice a trend?
To put itself in the best possible position, Miami needs to win out. That seems obvious, but a one-loss UM doesn’t seem like a playoff contender.
One-loss teams have made the playoffs before. In fact, nine of the first 12 College Football Playoff teams — the format was adopted for 2014 — have taken an L along the way. In 2014, Ohio State lost in Week 2. Last year, Washington lost in Week 11.
However, Miami’s potential losses could knock them out of playoff contention. Here’s why:
* if UM lost to Virginia Tech, it may need help to make the ACC title game, since that could leave both UM and VT with one ACC loss, and the Hokies holding a tiebreaker over the Canes. Making the ACC title game, as noted above, is a must-do for Miami.
* if UM lost to Notre Dame, it could still make the ACC title game — ND is a non-conference opponent — but would likely be behind the Irish in the CFP rankings. Head-to-head matters to the committee, and Notre Dame’s schedule is stiff: its only loss, in Week 2 to Georgia, might be the most acceptable on any team’s schedule. The Irish whipped USC — No. 11 in the AP poll — last week, and closes with N.C. State, Wake Forest, Miami, Navy and Stanford. The combined record of those teams: 26-8. UM would need to win the ACC title, hope Alabama, Georgia, Penn State and TCU — all unbeaten — take an L somewhere, and hope the same for Wisconsin (7-0), Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Ohio State (all 6-1).
* If UM lost in the ACC title game, a playoff bid seems unlikely. Clemson or N.C. State (both 6-1), as ACC champions, would have stronger cases. N.C. State has a chance to win at Notre Dame this week, and will host Clemson next week. Clemson’s resume, despite a loss at Syracuse, is rock-solid: the Tigers beat Auburn (6-2), dominated at Louisville (5-3) and Virginia Tech. They also have a shot to beat the only team that beat N.C. State thus far, South Carolina (5-2; road game to end the season).
* Losing to UNC, Pitt or Virginia would probably take Miami out of playoff contention. And be … really surprising, unless something unforeseen (injuries, acts of God) happened.
As for the eyeball test: the Hurricanes haven’t exactly passed with flying colors, having won their last three games by a combined 13 points (over teams with a combined 10-10 record).
Winning out, of course, would open eyes.
More Canes over here