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College Football Playoff Rankings Review: Could Notre Dame be Florida's biggest concern?

Florida's chances of making the Playoff may depend on how Notre Dame finishes 2015.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The latest College Football Playoff rankings slot Florida at No. 11, one spot worse than the program's highest-ever ranking from last week. Clearly, the selection committee wasn't impressed with the Gators' play against Vanderbilt, making them human beings with functional eyes.

But that's far from a harbinger of doom for the Gators' chances of making the College Football Playoff field. Indeed, this week's rankings suggest that Florida might be in great shape to stage an end run.

This committee loves Alabama

The most important movement of the week for Florida was Alabama jumping past unbeaten Ohio State from No. 4 to No. 2 after the Crimson Tide beat LSU last Saturday. The selection committee's made a lot of noise about various factors over its year-plus of existence, but it's also routinely rewarded teams it thinks are very good and have very good wins, and Alabama clearly has both: The only other teams in this week's top 10 with wins over other top 15 teams are No. 1 Clemson (which beat No. 5 Notre Dame) and No. 10 Utah (which beat No. 14 Michigan).

That more than makes up for Alabama's loss to Mississippi, which fell out of this week's rankings after a loss to Arkansas. And while Florida's probably hurt by its newfound lack of a top-25 win, the Gators are in position to take Alabama's transitive impressiveness with a win in the SEC Championship Game.

And the Tide being Florida's hypothetical victim in that game may actually be better for the Gators than LSU making the game would have been. LSU's best win is Florida, but its schedule lacks other great wins beyond that game, with Mississippi State providing the Tigers' only other top-25 pelt. Alabama is favored to match that Mississippi State win this weekend, and it has wins over Georgia and Wisconsin that LSU can't match.

While a one-loss SEC champion is a Playoff contender no matter what, Alabama's clearly the SEC's strongest candidate to make the Playoff at this moment. And beating Alabama in Atlanta might help Florida more than beating LSU — and producing a scenario in which the committee rewarded Florida simply for going .500 against the Tigers because of when the second win came — would have.

Florida's real worry should be Notre Dame

Consider, if you will, a hypothetical.

Clemson wins out. Ohio State or Iowa wins out, and impresses by beating Michigan and/or Michigan State soundly. Baylor or Oklahoma State, it doesn't matter which, wins out and ends up as an undisputed and unbeaten Big 12 champion. Notre Dame wins out, knocking off Stanford on its way. Florida wins out, beating Alabama in Atlanta.

I think the three unbeaten Power Five conference teams would all feel very good about their Playoff chances. But I don't know whether Notre Dame or Florida would feel better about its shot. Florida's loss would be to a top-10 team, probably, but Notre Dame's would almost certainly be to No. 1 Clemson. The Irish could have as many as three top-20 wins (Navy and Temple in hand, Stanford to come) and would be able to boast a record on which the worst win was a romp over UMass. In this scenario, Florida's best win (Alabama) would be better than Notre Dame's best, but it would add only a win over Florida State to that, and its worst win probably came by a single score over either East Carolina or Vanderbilt.

I think the SEC's brand name goes a long way. I think conference championships matter a whole lot to the selection committee, which last year's Playoff field of champions made clear. But I also think Notre Dame can beat out one-loss Power Five champions this year, and so I'm worried about Florida being one of them if there are also three unbeaten Power Five champions.

The SEC is ahead of the Pac-12

What I wouldn't worry about is Florida falling behind the Pac-12 champion, no matter what team that ends up being, if the Gators win the SEC.

Stanford and Utah both sit slightly ahead of Florida this week after winning more impressively last weekend, it's true. But Stanford's best win is over a team (USC) that isn't in the top 25. Utah's is over a team that, despite Michigan's incredible standing in S&P+ and other statistical measures, isn't overwhelmingly likely to even play for its conference title.

And while Stanford can cannibalize Notre Dame and Utah, Stanford could also beat Notre Dame and lose to Utah.

Oh, and Utah lost to that USC team, and by 18. The Utes are also still behind LSU, a team whose best win is ... Florida. While Mississippi's struggles are hurting Florida, surely, the Gators did beat the Rebels, and it makes less sense to consider that win an anchor than it should to consider a loss to USC one.

Only one of Notre Dame and Stanford can win out, and only one of Stanford and Utah can win out, thanks to the hypothetical Pac-12 Championship Game between the two teams. But while Florida fans should obviously root for the Cardinal and Utes in those games, respectively, I think the former is far more important.