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Final Four Analysis

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Although my Power Rankings differ on a few teams, my main takeaway from Tuesday's second release of the College Football Playoff rankings was that the selection committee is doing an excellent job.

After last week’s release, I suggested on multiple radio shows that those outside of SEC Country needed to pop a chill pill. Four of the top six teams hailed from the SEC West, but those teams were going to knock each other off in November. Alas, Auburn beat Ole Miss, which was fourth last week, sending the Rebels down to No. 11. (See, wasn’t that easy?)

College Football Playoff - Top 4
Rank Team Record Future Odds ([...])
1 Mississippi State 8-0 15/2
2 Florida State 8-0 7/1
3 Auburn 7-1 12/1
4 Oregon 8-1 9/2

Although it struggled to sneak past Arkansas, Mississippi State was rewarded with the No. 1 seed once again last night. The Bulldogs are again followed by the defending national champs, the Florida State Seminoles, at No. 2. Yet again, FSU had to rally from a double-digit deficit to get out of Louisville with a 42-31 win in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated.

The third and fourth seeds are Auburn and Oregon, respectively. The Ducks, by virtue of a 45-16 win over Stanford in a double-revenge spot, climbed one notch into the coveted four hole.

Alabama moved up a spot from sixth to fifth. The Crimson Tide is joined by TCU at No. 6 to complete the First Two Out category. Since Alabama plays Auburn and Mississippi St. later this month, the Horned Frogs have no reason to complain about their current position.

With TCU and Kansas State (#7 this week) squaring off Saturday in Ft. Worth, the winner will be in fine shape. In fact, all of the fringe contenders want to root for the Wildcats in that showdown, because Gary Patterson’s team will be heavily favored in its three remaining games: at Kansas, at Texas (after an open date, albeit on a Thursday night) and vs. Iowa State.

On the flip side, Kansas State will still have to navigate through daunting road assignments at West Va. (#23) and at Baylor (#12).

The rest of the Top 10 looks like this: Michigan St. (#8), Arizona St. (#9) and Notre Dame (#10). The Sun Devils and Irish will collide Saturday in Tempe, while the Spartans will take on Ohio State (#14) in East Lansing.

We saw a pair of one-loss Pac-12 teams go down in Week 10. Utah lost an overtime heartbreaker at Arizona St. in a game that came down to field-goal kickers. Meanwhile, Arizona got zero help from its kicker and gave up a long third-quarter TD pass from Brett Hundley, who was otherwise held in check all night.

Oregon and Arizona St. remain on track – if they win out – to meet in the Pac-12 title game, but don’t expect that to happen. The Ducks might win out, but they could go down this weekend at Utah. ASU has multiple challenges in front of it, including Notre Dame as previously noted.

Although FSU is second, still unbeaten and has the easiest path of all teams in terms of remaining schedule, it is the one team that can’t afford a loss. The ACC is weak, Oklahoma State’s season has gone South and the ‘Noles haven’t had to face the ACC Coastal’s top teams, Duke and Georgia Tech.

FSU wants Florida and Oklahoma State to finish strong and needs Notre Dame to play well. But how well? If FSU and Notre Dame both had one loss, would the ‘Noles get in ahead of the Irish based on the head-to-head victory? I’m not so sure. First of all, the game was in Tallahassee and decided by a flag in the final minute.

Secondly, Notre Dame would have wins at Arizona State and at Southern Cal if it wins out, not to mention a decent home scalp over Louisville. Again, though, if FSU does indeed lose (presumably at Miami with the Hurricanes demonstrating rapid improvement in recent weeks), it will need a slew of upsets to occur to even be a factor in the conversation.

But these things do happen. In 2007, lots of teams in front of LSU -- most notably West Virginia, which lost outright at home to Pitt as a 28.5-point favorite in the Backyard Brawl -- lost to allow the Tigers, who had lost overtime games at Kentucky and vs. Arkansas, to get to the BCS Championship Game and win it all with a dominant victory over Ohio State. On that note, especially now that we're dealing with four teams, there is the potential for a two-loss team to get invited to the semifinals.

I think the most-likely candidate could be Auburn. Gus Malzahn's squad already owns huge road wins over Ole Miss and Kansas St. It can add another at Georgia in two weeks. The folks on The Plains want Mississippi State to lose to Alabama and Ole Miss and in that scenario, Auburn might get the advantage among two-loss teams if it loses a serious nail-biter to ‘Bama in the Iron Bowl.

Sure, Mississippi State would have a head-to-head win over Auburn, but the Tigers’ non-conference slate was much tougher and so was its SEC schedule (AU had UGA and South Carolina from the East, while MSU drew Vandy and Kentucky). Most of all, Auburn would have more impressive road wins and its non-conference scalp of K-St. certainly looms larger than any of Dan Mullen’s non-con triumphs.

There’s lots of football left and too many potential scenarios to cover them all. It’s going to be exciting and we’re going to love every minute of it.

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