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Time For a Fake Debate After Unveiling of the First College Football Playoff Ranking

The first posting of the College Football Playoff Rankings will be revealed Tuesday night on ESPN. Let the faux outrage begin.

The spittle will be flying as fans freak out over the slotting of their favorite teams and enemy rivals. Overrated! Underrated! Bias! It’s time for a 16-team playoff! A list of crimes and misdemeanors committed by the selection panel will be filed by the national CFB media.

By the end of the process some of that will be true. We’ll have legitimate reasons for dissent and disgust. But not now … not at the beginning.

Relax.

This is merely the first episode of a six-part TV miniseries that ends with the selection committee’s final Top 25 ranking on Dec. 3.

In the first three years of the four-team playoff format, we’ve learned a few things including:

(1) Initial ranking won’t hold up

(2) It is possible to make a late-season run from a seemingly unfavorable starting position;

(3) And the selection committee will eventually whatever the hell it wants to … with standards that comically shift from week to week to justify peculiarities in the rankings.

Here’s a list of the four teams that were invited to the playoff in each of the past three seasons, and take note of their ranking in the committee’s first call:

2014

2–Florida State

5–Oregon

6–Alabama

16–Ohio State

Yep, Ohio State made it to the final four despite being behind 15 other teams. Do you remember the top four teams in the Week One committee rankings in 2014? Here you go, in order: Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn, Ole Miss. That’s pretty funny, isn’t it? Mississippi State ended up 7th in the final ranking, Ole Miss came in 9th, and Auburn lost four games and tumbled to 19th.

2015

1–Clemson

4–Alabama

7–Michigan State

15–Oklahoma

Oklahoma was another late-charging horse that made up extensive ground in getting from the 15th position and into the winning foursome.The initial rankings had LSU at No. 2, and Ohio State third.  OSU finished 7th in the final ranking; LSU was 20th.

2016

1–Alabama

2–Clemson

5–Washington

6–Ohio State

As you can see, last season was an exception. Teams in the top 10 kept winning, so there weren’t enough temblor upsets to create openings for middle-pack contenders. But here’s one for you if you’ve forgotten: in the first roll-out of the rankings a year ago, Texas A&M was at No. 4. The Aggies went on to lose five games but DID finish fourth … fourth place in the SEC West.

If we go by the first three years, we know that an undefeated Power 5 Conference team is a lock for one of the four bids … and that a one-loss Power 5 team that wins its conference is on solid ground. In the 12 teams that qualified over the first three seasons of the playoff, three were undefeated at the time of the final ranking to set the playoff field — and nine had one loss.

No two-loss team has survived. The closest was Penn State (11-2) which was No. 5 in the final committee ranking last season. Famously, the Nittany Lions were bumped in favor of Ohio State despite beating the Buckeyes on the field, and winning the Big Ten East over Ohio State, and winning the overall B1G Championship.

Perhaps we’ll see a two-defeat team navigate its way into the playoff one of these years, but that would require having a top-end strength of schedule and impressive wins against prominent opponents … and even then a two-loss candidate would need a lot of help from other teams knocking off higher-ranked contenders.

What’s your prediction, or expectation, for Tuesday’s first showing of the committee rankings?

Alabama and Georgia are absolute, other than the debate about who should be the No. 1 team. I say Georgia over ‘Bam because the Dawgs have the best win: the 20-19 victory at Notre Dame.

Alabama’s season-opening win over Florida State seemed big at the time, because the Seminoles were ranked third going in. But FSU’s season went off the rails for a 2-5 record. Alabama’s strength of schedule ranks only 55th according to ESPN. But that should change this month when Bama plays LSU (No. 19 in the new AP), at Mississippi State (No. 24) and at No. 16 Auburn.

Other than that, have fun arguing about the other two spots in the selection committee’s other two choices in Tuesday’s first-take rankings.

Let’s take a look at the big picture.

As of now, the eventual four playoff teams figure to come from a group consisting of, in alphabetical order, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Penn State, TCU, Wisconsin. (And perhaps Washington.) But there will be lots of craziness between now and Dec. 3, so its best we keep an open mind … and our sanity.

There’s an abundance of very good one-loss teams, but there will be carnage — as early as this coming Saturday, when Oklahoma plays at Oklahoma State.

As the CFB Playoff history tells us, the committee’s rankings will be shuffled many times over.

Takeaways from College Football Week Nine … 

@ With two more unbeatens taking the fall Saturday — Penn State lost at Ohio State, and TCU  at Iowa State, we’re down to four undefeated Power 5 teams: Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin and Miami. Elsewhere, Central Florida of the American Athletic Conference) is the only other unbeaten in the FBS.

@ Can Penn State recover from losing a 39-38 game at Ohio State in which the Nittany Lions led by margins of 21-3, 28-10, 35-20, and, with 5:42 remaining, 38-27? Ohio State’s path in 2016 provides hope. But keep this in mind: the Buckeyes recovered from their loss at Penn State by posting three victories over Top 10 teams on its regular-season resume. PSU does not have a meaningful non-conference win. And even if the Nittany Lions win the rest of their games, the remaining schedule will do little to strengthen the case: at No. 24 Michigan State, vs. Rutgers, vs. Nebraska, and at Maryland. Penn State has only one notable win right now, Michigan. To have a crack, Penn State needs higher-ranked teams to trip and crash. And the Nittany Lions can’t win the Big Ten East unless Ohio State loses twice.

@ Considering the enormous stakes in play Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett turned in the best QB performance of the season, hitting on 33 of 39 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Buckeye comeback. Barrett was perfect in the fourth quarter, connecting on all 13 passing attempts for 170 yards and three TD passes. There was no margin for error, and if we combine the numbers on the final two TD drives that won the game Barrett covered 113 yards on 10 plays and did it in 2 minutes 41 seconds. Extraordinary. As a bonus Barrett passed Drew Brees (Purdue) to become the Big Ten’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes with 91.  Well done, sir.

@ Yes, a win is a win is a win … but Miami and Wisconsin — undefeated but largely unimpressive this season — did little to counter the perception that they’ve feasted on a soft-serve schedule. Miami won by five points to dodge a 1-7 North Carolina team. And Wisconsin scored a flat 24-10 win on the road over hideous Illinois. Outside of loyal fans of both teams, does anyone look at Wisconsin (No. 4 in the AP) and Miami (No. 9) and see elite teams?

@ Oklahoma had a happy Saturday on multiple fronts. OU overcame an early scoring flurry by Texas Tech to win 49-27 and move up to No. 8 in the new AP pill. And the Sooners benefited from Iowa State’s win over TCU … not just because of the Big 12 standings, either. OU’s loss to Iowa State doesn’t look so awful anymore. And the Sooners would gain additional stature if Ohio State goes 12-1 and wins the Big Ten. If the Buckeyes become champs of the rugged B1G, it would enhance Oklahoma’s 31-16 smackdown of Ohio State in Columbus. Rather remarkably, Iowa State has two wins over top-five teams this season (Oklahoma, TCU) and are are ranked 14th in the AP. Ohio State is No. 3 in this week’s AP. To put it another way: Oklahoma doesn’t have a bad loss. Iowa State looked like a terribly damaging loss at the time it happened, but not anymore. And Oklahoma still has the best non-conference win of the season to date.

@ It may have been a positive Saturday for Oklahoma, but it wasn’t so hot for the Big 12’s playoff aspirations. Before playing poorly in the mistake-filled 14-7 loss at Iowa State, TCU was the only remaining unbeaten team in the conference. The Horned Frogs got their only score on a kickoff return to open the second half, were penalized 11 times for 104 yards, and were let down by quarterback Kenny Hill, who had an abysmal day (three turnovers, 12 of 25 passing for 135 yards.) All of Hill’s giveaways occurred in the red zone. Brutal.

@ It’s chaos in the Big 12: Iowa State, TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are all 4-1 in the conference and tied for the lead. They’re all living precariously. In the next two weeks TCU will host improving Texas and then play at Oklahoma. As mentioned earlier, OU will be at Oklahoma State Saturday for a hugely important rivalry game. Iowa State already has two losses (Iowa, and Texas) and will play at West Virginia and home vs. Oklahoma State in the next two games. Oklahoma’s dominant non-conference win at Ohio State gives the Sooners the advantage in the resume competition for a spot in the playoff, so OU is the league’s best chance to grab one of the four spaces. But the Sooners have to win out, and that includes the conference championship game.

@ Suppose Iowa State finishes 1st or 2nd and reaches the B12 championship game on Dec. 2 in Arlington? It can happen. Remember, Iowa State has the advantage in the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Cyclones have won their last four games and need to keep the momentum going. Iowa State is one of the best stories, and delightful surprises, of the 2017 campaign. Iowa State’s sudden rise is outstanding for ISU, but the Big 12 — well, not so much because of the damage done to OU and TCU. probably just had the best month in program history, winning all four games on October including the upsets of OU and TCU, allowing only 20 points on defense in the last 3.5 games (starting with the second half off the win at Oklahoma.) Matt Campbell’s agent will be very busy soon.

@ After losing by a point to Georgia in Week Two, Notre Dame has road-graded its way to six consecutive victories. Is there a superior one-loss team in the nation? I don’t believe so. Notre Dame’s  streak includes wins over three opponents that are currently ranked  — Michigan State, USC and NC State — by an average of 25.3 points. The Fighting Irish churned for 318 yards rushing to bounce a good NC State team 35-14. Josh Adams, who is having a fantastic year, rushed 27 times for 202 yards Saturday and went over 100+ yards rushing for the sixth time this season. And QB Brandon Wimbush had his finest day of the season in taking down the Wolfpack. Notre Dame is all the way up to No. 5 in the AP Poll, but the remaining schedule (Wake Forest, at Miami, Navy, at Stanford) is rated the 15th most difficult in FBS by ESPN’s Football Power Index.  The Fighting Irish rank 6th in FBS with an average of 317.9 yards rushing per game, and their average yards per rushing attempt (6.9) ranks third.

@ The Pac 12’s prospects for being represented in the playoff are bleak, but one-loss Washington (No. 11 in the AP) is still paddling to avoid sinking.  The most interesting development out west is the emergence of Arizona, coached by Rich Rodriguez. The Wildcats have gone 4-0 and averaged 48.7 points and 567 yards per game since Rich Rod went with the magnificent Khalil Tate at starting quarterback. In Saturday night’s 58-37 demolition of Washington State, Tate went wild again. The redshirt sophomore had 146 yards rushing and a touchdown on 13 carries, plus 275 yards passing and two touchdowns through the air. More on Tate in a few seconds, but Arizona’s win streak leads them into an important game at USC Saturday night. First place in the Pac 12 South will be on the line for USC (5-1, conference) and Arizona (4-1). The Wildcats moved into the Top 25 for the first time this season, appearing at No. 23 in the new AP.  Fun matchup, Tate vs. USC quarterback Sam Darnold.

@ Among the Khalil Tate highlights vs. Wazzu were a 49-yard touchdown sprint and another breakaway that went 83 yards — giving him a run of at least 70 yards in four straight games. Tate is tied with Notre Dame’s back, Josh Adams for the most 70-yard runs in FBS, but Adams has 132 rushing attempts this season, 63 more than Tate. How was this October? In his four starts this month Tate completed 71 percent of his passes for 743 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 12.8 yards per attempt. On the ground, Tate rushed 59 times for 840 yards (14.2 per carry!) with eight TDs. If Tate had started every game this season, we would be buzzing about him as a leading Heisman Trophy contender … and Arizona may be 8-0 instead of 6-2 overall. In their two losses — Houston and Utah — the Cats  averaged 20 points with Brandon Dawkins starting at QB.

@ As many already have stated, I gotta believe Dan Mullen would be a prime candidate for Florida now that the Gators told head coach Jim McElwain to go away … and take his 105th-ranked passing offense (165 yards per game, and only 5 TD passes)  with him. At some point, Mullen will want to leave Mississippi State and move to a program that has a higher ceiling and deeper resources. Florida makes a lot of sense for reasons that are listed here at SB Nation. Mullen has strong ties to the Florida program and excellent relationship with Florida AD Scott Stricklin.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: How Has Barry Odom Survived in the Cutthroat SEC?

  • Rich Rauch

    “[Iowa State head coach] Matt Campbell’s agent will be very busy soon.” As an ISU alum, I can only hope his contract includes a HUGE buyout clause.