Two feet. That was roughly the difference Saturday night between thrilling victory and agonizing defeat for Mississippi against Auburn.
The two feet that separated Laquon Treadwell from game-winning touchdown and game-losing fumble translated into a seven-spot plummet in the College Football Playoff rankings that were released Tuesday night. That’s a steep drop for a supremely small margin of error.
But Ole Miss’ free-fall from the most important ranking of all in the first week of the CFP Top 25 – fourth – to 11th in the second week is a sign of two things: There is very little difference between contenders at this juncture; and the committee will absolutely penalize teams for losses. Even an agonizing loss to a top-five team.
With a loss by three points to LSU and a loss by four points to Auburn – teams now ranked 16th and third by the selection committee – Ole Miss finds itself behind, among others, Arizona State. The Sun Devils were the big winner this week, shooting up five spots in the rankings, from 14th to ninth. What propelled them? Rallying to beat Utah at home in overtime.
ASU’s one loss was by 35 points, at home, to a UCLA team ranked 18th by the committee. Has Arizona State done more than Mississippi this year? Not in my book. The Sagarin Ratings say the Sun Devils have played the nation’s 30th-toughest schedule, while rating Ole Miss’ the third-hardest.
But the Sun Devils have lost one fewer game, and that certainly seems to matter most.
Mississippi is the highest-ranked two-loss team. But it still is behind eight one-loss teams. Thus, if your favorite team is in the SEC West, the Ole Miss Trapdoor Precedent should concern you.
There will be more losses for most of the SEC West's five playoff contenders – perhaps all of them – because they all have games left against each other. If the penalties are that severe for losing in America’s best division, is the committee setting this up to reward teams that have easier paths from now until Selection Sunday?
If the biggest task the rest of the way is not losing, No. 2 Florida State should feel great. The Seminoles will be solidly favored in remaining games against Virginia, Miami, Boston College and Florida. And against whichever tomato can represents the ACC Coastal Division in the conference championship game.
Sixth-ranked TCU should take heart. The Horned Frogs are on the outside of the top four right now, but if they get by Kansas State in Fort Worth on Saturday, they’ll be solidly favored in remaining games against Kansas, Texas and Iowa State. They can sit back and wait for SEC West teams ahead of them to knock each other off.
What I will be watching in the coming weeks is how big the penalty is for losing to good teams. The Ole Miss precedent – built on a fracture, a fumble and the two-foot difference between winning and losing – is pretty severe.
Other takeaways from the second CFP Top 25:
• The committee loves Notre Dame no more this week than it did last week. In fact, probably even less. The Fighting Irish stayed at No. 10 after surviving a tougher-than-expected game against Navy, and were leapfrogged by Arizona State. Notre Dame’s problem is a lack of quality wins, but it can rectify that Saturday when it plays the aforementioned Sun Devils in Tempe.
• Is the selection committee having an effect on the established human polls? Notre Dame’s ranking suggests yes. The Irish were No. 6 in the AP poll and No. 7 in the USA Today poll before the first committee rankings came out, which put Notre Dame 10th. This week, the AP poll dropped the Irish two spots and USA Today dropped them one – the latter poll moving them behind a Michigan State team that didn’t play last week. Keep an eye on next week’s AP and USA Today polls to see if they again reflect what the committee has done.
• The committee still isn’t buying what the Big Ten is selling. Teams from that league are No. 8 (Michigan State), No. 13 (Nebraska), No. 14 (Ohio State) and No. 25 (Wisconsin). It will be interesting to see if the showdown game Saturday between the Spartans and Buckeyes gives the winner a significant boost. With the other four power leagues all having at least one team ranked higher than the Big Ten’s highest, the champion of that league will need some outside help getting in the playoff.
• Per its rankings, the most important game this loaded week is Kansas State (No. 7) at TCU (No. 6). Second is Notre Dame (No. 10) at Arizona State (No. 9). Third is Oregon (No. 4) at Utah (No. 17). Fourth is Alabama (No. 5) at LSU (No. 16). Fifth is Ohio State (No. 14) at Michigan State (No. 8). Sixth is Baylor (No. 12) at Oklahoma (No. 15).
• With East Carolina’s loss last week, there are zero teams from outside the power-five conferences in the Top 25. Marshall, Boise State and Colorado State all would figure to be circling off-radar, hoping for the major bowl spot that will go to one team from the mid-major level.