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College football playoff prediction: Don’t count out TCU

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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There is a new set of college football playoff teams to argue over: Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Oregon. All are deserving, but one of the pitfalls of such an early ranking is that there is a lot of football left to play. So much, in fact, that these top four teams now could look decidedly different once the final playoff rankings are released on Dec. 7.

For example, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, there are just four teams from a Power 5 conference projected to finish with at least 11 wins (after rounding up): Florida State (12.0 wins), Oregon (11.2), Mississippi State (11.0) and Ohio State (10.6).

TCU, however, could be a dark horse. ESPN has the Horned Frogs projected to finish with a 10.3-1.7 record, but give them a 43.5 percent chance to win out against the 56th hardest schedule. They also have TCU winning the Big 12 Conference 42.2 percent of the time. An 11-1 record with wins against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virgina and Kansas State en route to a conference title could go a long way with the selection committee.

The same applies to Oregon if the Ducks win the Pac-12 with a 11-1 record.

Mississippi State has just a 7.1 percent chance at running the table, but if they did, it would be extremely impressive going undefeated in the Southeastern Conference.

However, if they don’t, that opens the door for Auburn and Alabama to lay claim to a playoff berth based on record and strength of schedule. Here are the deciding games left in the SEC:

  • No. 1 Mississippi State at No. 4 Alabama on Nov. 15
  • No. 1 Mississippi State at No. 12 Mississippi on Nov. 29
  • No. 3 Auburn at No. 4 Alabama on Nov. 29

If Mississippi State and Florida State end up undefeated, they are in – no questions asked. Either way, the winner of the SEC will get its ticket punched into the playoffs. That leaves the Big 12 champion (either TCU or Kansas State), Pacific-12 champion (Oregon or Arizona State), Michigan State if it is the winner of the Big Ten and Notre Dame all vying for the last spot in the top four.

The Big Ten could be the odd conference out. They have two teams in the mix with one loss, Ohio State and Michigan State, but those two play one another on Saturday, all but ending the loser’s playoff hopes. If the Buckeyes are the victor, I don’t see the selection committee impressed with their performance enough to warrant their selection over one of the one-loss SEC teams. If the Spartans win, then a conference title against the 37th most difficult slate of games could sway them away from a one-loss SEC team, but that is no sure thing.

The most likely scenario is Mississippi State, Florida State, Oregon and TCU as the last four teams standing.

Correction: Prior version had incorrect spelling of TCU’s mascot. This has been fixed.