Florida State debuts its 2016 season ranked No. 4 in the preseason Coaches Poll, and five of its opponents also made it: #2 Clemson, #12 Ole Miss, #20 North Carolina, #23 Louisville, and #24 Florida. Miami came in 26th, somehow. This is one of the toughest Florida State schedules in recent memory.
But how will those teams finish when it comes time to pick the four teams to go to the College Football Playoff? This question matters since many are projecting both Clemson and Florida State to make the playoff.
Answering the question requires determining how many wins FSU’s opponents are likely to have after the conference championships are played. I consulted multiple sports books for the betting lines for the opponents on FSU’s schedule who could conceivably be ranked by season’s end to figure out a potential record, then compared that to previous seasons.
Clemson’s Vegas number is 10.5, one of the highest in the country (FSU’s is 10), and the Tigers are likely to finish with 11 or 12 wins (12 or 13 if they make the ACC Championship). A 1-loss ACC team that started the season at No. 2 is essentially guaranteed to stay in the top five.
Louisville’s Vegas number is nine. The highest a 9-3 Power 5 team has been ranked over the last five seasons is 10th (Kansas State in 2014), and it would be hard to see a situation where a 9-3 Louisville team is worse than 20th.
Ole Miss’ number is eight, and an eight-win SEC West team (a division that is the most talented in football and perhaps also overrated by some) that also played Florida State could be as high as No. 19 Auburn was in 2014. Four losses is usually a recipe to be unranked after the regular season unless one plays in the SEC. Ole Miss starting at 12th would help in this scenario. Florida’s number is also eight, so this exact same analysis applies.
North Carolina is at 8.5, and the Tar Heels getting to nine could be crucial, especially if it makes and loses the ACC Championship Game. A couple teams have finished ranked before the bowls at 9-4. It is worth noting that it would be much better for UNC and Miami (Vegas number of eight) to go in opposite directions as opposed to both winning eight games and being unranked. Pollsters and voters rarely reward teams for beating top-35 type teams, even if top-35 level is just as arbitrary as top-25.
The real sleeper here could be USF, who finished the 2015 season strong and is the favorite to win the AAC East Division. If USF were to go 10-3 (Vegas Number nine) or (gasp!) 11-2, Florida State may have a sneaky top-15 or top-20 type team on its schedule in the Bulls. Temple was No. 24 last season out of the American at 10-3, and this year the league starts with much more respect.
If Vegas is right, FSU could have a schedule with a top-five team, a top-15, three top-20s and a top-25 team. Plus three bowl teams according to Vegas in Miami, Boston College, and NC State. If FSU gets through a schedule like this at 11-1, folks projecting two ACC teams getting into the CFP aren’t so crazy if things break right in other conferences.