Georgia Tech could make a case for a spot in the top 25 when the final Associated Press and coaches polls come out after the College Football Playoff championship next week. The arguments would lean heavily on the strong finish, with six wins in the final seven games including road wins at Virginia Tech and Georgia and a convincing bowl win over Kentucky.
They are one of 24 power-conference teams with nine or more wins. They played nine bowl teams and beat five.
There’s a shot, but I don’t think it’s an overwhelming one. The problem is that there’s too many teams for the Jackets to pass from the most recent poll. In the week 15 AP poll, released after the conference championship games, Tech was 12th out of 13 teams among the “others receiving votes.” (Tech did not get any votes in the most recent coaches poll.)
There will be some room at the bottom of the top 25, as Nos. 21 (Iowa), 22 (Pittsburgh), 23 (Temple) and 24 (Nebraska) all lost. However, of the 11 teams ahead of Tech in “others receiving votes,” six won.
After taking a good look at the changes in voting between the penultimate and final polls for the last four years, my guess would be Utah, Air Force, Tennessee and Miami will move in. The Hurricanes’ impressive bowl win over a top-25 team should enable them to jump past San Diego State and Western Kentucky, which were barely ahead of them point-wise.
To make the top 25, and assuming there’s four vacancies in the final top 25, Tech would probably have to leapfrog Tennessee, San Diego State and Western Kentucky. It’s doubtful the Jackets could move past Miami, which had a better bowl win and also beat Tech head-to-head at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
San Diego State had a weaker schedule, but was the Mountain West Conference champion, which should count for something. Likewise, further, the Aztecs beat Houston in their bowl game. While Houston was without coach Tom Herman, the Cougars beat Oklahoma and Louisville.(That said, Kentucky also beat Louisville.)
Western Kentucky likewise won 11 games and its conference championship (Conference USA). Again, Western Kentucky had a weak schedule and lost to the only common opponent with Tech (to Vanderbilt in overtime), but dominated its conference (No. 1 in offensive and defensive yards per play).
This is kind of like the debate made every March in the NCAA tournament with at-large berths. Do you give it to a dominant mid-major or a team that probably has the seventh or eighth best resume in a power conference (in Tech’s case, probably after Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Louisville and Miami)?
Tennessee and Tech, who will open the 2017 season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game, are an interesting comparison. They played four common opponents, more than you’d think – Virginia Tech, Georgia, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Tech was 4-0 and Tennessee was 3-1. However, while Tennessee can match Tech’s two biggest wins (Georgia and Virginia Tech), the Volunteers also beat No. 20 Florida and played Texas A&M to double overtime on the road. Tech’s third-best result is probably a “good” road loss to No. 22 Pittsburgh.
While the difference between Tennessee and Tech is negligible voter-wise – the Volunteers also had just two people vote for them in the last poll – what makes me a little doubtful is that there really hasn’t been much leapfrogging after bowl games in the past four years.
Between 2012 and 2015, there were eight teams that moved into the top 25 after the bowl games. Tennessee was the only one to jump a team that was ahead of it in “others receiving voters” and also won its bowl game, and the Volunteers beat No. 12 Northwestern 45-6 in their bowl game.
Tech did win impressively. The Jackets held a Kentucky team that had averaged 38 points and 512 yards in their final six regular-season games to 18 points and 324 yards. You could also say that Tech beat an unranked seven-win team from a conference that has lost some luster in the bowl season. A lot of minds will need to be changed. After getting two voters to put them on their ballots in the last vote, Tech would probably need at least another 25 out of the 61-person panel to jump on board.
(I recognize that Tech isn’t technically 37th, in that it’s not like voters ranked them 37th. It’s conceivable, if unlikely, that the Jackets were actually the No. 26 team with a lot of voters, and that the bowl win will put them over the top. So to say that they have to pass the teams ahead of them in “others receiving votes” isn’t probably entirely accurate. That’s a rabbit hole I don’t want to go down. We’re far down enough as it is.)
If voters were making a fresh top 25 after the bowl games, I’d think Tech would have a pretty good shot. Unfortunately for the Jackets, it doesn’t work that way.