Most realistic and objective Florida Gators fans were stunned on Tuesday night when the College Football Playoff rankings came out. The Keyontae Johnson situation had (rightfully) drawn the kind of attention that placed football into perspective: it’s just a game. And many Gator fans seemed to be in a state of pure resignation as it related to that game, and their favorite team that played it, after an unthinkable 37-34 Senior Night loss to LSU. Because it seemed that that loss wrung all the remaining life out of Florida’s College Football Playoff chances.
But then, in a vein similar to a guardian angel, the CFP Committee swooped in and jolted them back to life. Despite one of the worst losses in recent history, the Committee effectively didn’t punish them for it, instead having then-sixth ranked Florida and #7 Iowa State swap spots. Sitting behind Florida- now with two losses- is a pair of angry undefeated teams in Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina, as well as presumptive Pac-12 favorite USC and fellow two loss team Oklahoma. And if Florida were to pull the upset tomorrow night, there would be nothing they could do about it.
Of course, it’s worth pointing out just how objectively improbable a Florida upset is. The oddsmakers in Vegas have Alabama favored somewhere between 16 and 17.5 points, depending on the book. If that plays out, and Florida loses to Alabama on Saturday night, there’s not really a discussion to have. The Gators will go to their third consecutive New Year’s Six Bowl, but it won’t be a Playoff game, and there’s no amount of chaos that could change that.
That said, if the unthinkable happens and Dan Mullen’s team pulls the upset, the Florida Gators will more likely than not be in the College Football Playoff.
For starters, it’s important to note how the Selection Committee operates. The Committee sees members come and go each year, and so with different people, you’re going to get some discrepancies. But the Committee has held firm on upholding the same values each year. The factors that go into their rankings include: “Did you win your conference?”, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, and results against common opponents.
Because they’re now ranked #7, the only real thing that Gator fans might have to worry about now is if their loss to LSU placed a greater distance between Florida and the six teams they would need to jump. But even if it did, as much ground as Florida lost with the defeat to LSU, they would unquestionably make it back and then some with a victory tomorrow night.
Before we get any further, three quick disclaimers. One, I’m not counting on any help from Northwestern or Tennessee against Ohio State or Texas A&M, respectively. This scenario is assuming no chaos. Two, no, Florida is in approximately zero danger of being hopped by anybody currently ranked behind them should the Gators upset the Tide. And three, Florida is probably not going to leap Alabama or the Notre Dame-Clemson winner. The debate becomes picking the next two best teams in a pool of Florida, the Big 12 champion, Texas A&M, Ohio State and the ACC runner-up. Five teams for two slots.
Now let’s take a second to tally up all the bonus points Florida would have if they shock the Crimson Tide. That would give the Gators a conference championship, a major bullet point on its resume that only Ohio State, one of Clemson or Notre Dame and one of Iowa State or Oklahoma would have. That would also give Florida the single best victory any team in college football has this year, as the Crimson Tide have steadily held that top ranking spot for over a month now. And that would effectively nullify Texas A&M’s head to head win over Florida.
Meanwhile, let’s look at what those other four teams the Gators are competing with are doing.
Of course, the ACC runner-up is going to lose tomorrow, but it would be a respectable loss to a top three team either way. Florida’s probably not going to jump that team unless the game is a complete and utter annihilation by Clemson, or unless Notre Dame wins fairly convincingly. So now the focus is on the other three teams, and the type of win that they’d be adding.
Let’s start with the easiest, most common assumptions. Regardless of whether it’s Iowa State or Oklahoma who hoists the Big 12 trophy, both teams would have the same number of losses as Florida but nowhere near as impressive a victory. Florida is already ahead of Oklahoma anyway, so there’s no debating that they’d stay ahead with a win over Alabama, and sitting one spot behind Iowa State makes it all but assured that the Gators would hop them with a win over Alabama as all the Cyclones would be adding is a win over the 10th ranked Sooners.
Texas A&M is the team that’s got the most to lose and the least to gain from tomorrow barring major chaos. Tennessee sits at a paltry 3-6, meaning that the Aggies essentially add nothing to their resume by beating them. On the flip side, a Florida upset over Alabama would undoubtedly leapfrog the Gators over Jimbo Fisher’s club because then there would be a three way debate between a trio of teams in Florida, Alabama and Texas A&M that each went 1-1 against the other two. And, you know, because Florida would have a victory and a conference championship trophy that Texas A&M wouldn’t.
The wild card is Ohio State. The Committee seems to really love them, but that may be due in large part to the fact that there’s nobody else they can really justify putting ahead of them. Texas A&M is 7-1 with a better win than Ohio State’s best win (over Indiana), but they also have a really, really ugly loss- a 52-24 curb-stomping courtesy of big, bad Bama. Florida and Georgia each have two losses now. And there’s no chance the Committee would rank a Group of Five team ahead of an undefeated Buckeyes squad.
But let’s say the Buckeyes take care of business against Northwestern. That would grant them two wins over opponents ranked between #11-20, which is impressive in a shortened season… but that hypothetical Gator upset over Alabama would be a data point on Florida’s resume that Ohio State cannot match. The conference championship box would be checked by both teams, but the strength of schedule metric unequivocally favors Florida with a 2-1 record against top ten teams while the Buckeyes failed to face a top ten team all year. You’d have to think that strength of record would probably also favor Florida; despite the Gators sitting at #13 right now relative to Ohio State’s spot at #7 in that metric, Florida would almost certainly leapfrog the Buckeyes with a victory over Alabama. Same goes for the “game control” statistic, where Florida is ranked #5 and Ohio State #2.
Of course, it’s impossible to know for sure what micro-metrics the Committee will and won’t use to rank the teams for the final time less than 48 hours from now, or how much they’ll weigh each of them. But it is easy to figure out what they think of Alabama, as they’ve held the top slot in the rankings since they were first published. A team that were to beat the Crimson Tide would have to be thought of as one of their top four teams without a dominant presence from the Big 12 or Pac-12, and without Ohio State having done anything even remotely comparable.
And who knows? Maybe I’m wrong about what the Committee would think about the loser of the ACC Championship Game; maybe the Committee will hold firm to its “conference championships” criteria and boot out the loser of that game in Charlotte, instead sending Ohio State and Florida.
All I know is that the Committee would have a very difficult time justifying the omission of a 9-2 SEC Champion, particularly when that team knocks off the #1 team in the land in order to claim that crown.