Outside Looking In:
One of the greatest weeks in sports has come and gone, and we are left with a murky playoff picture to say the least. At this point no one cares about the top 25, since all but about 9 or 10 teams are eliminated from playoff contention. So I won’t waste your time by nitpicking the committees picks at lower half of the rankings. All that matters is who in and who is out of the College Football Playoff. That being said, championship Saturday is upon us and we could still be looking at a very different picture next week. It is important to note that the committee lists a conference championship as one of the few tangible criterion they consider in evaluating teams with similar records. As a result, we could see see a number of teams vault into contention with wins this Saturday. For example, on the off chance the committee still values Alabama over a team like Wisconsin or Oklahoma and keeps them in the top 4 this, that could likely change if the latter 2 teams win their conference. Additionally, I’d like to remind people that my top 25 is a projection of what I believe the committee will decide, not my own evaluation.
Clemson will undoubtedly move into the top spot after their decimation of #24 South Carolina. Despite a hiccup at Syracuse (with QB Kelly Bryant injured), Clemson holds the only win over a team in my top 4. Given it was an early season win against an Auburn team that looks very different now. Nevertheless, that makes their resume the most impressive. Sooner fans may feel slighted at this idea. Let me clarify by first acknowledging that Baker Mayfield is incredible and that offense is dangerous with Rodney Anderson playing as well as he has. What is not incredible is their defense. Their win on the road against Ohio State, and their annihilation of TCU were extremely impressive performances. Nonetheless, as I said before, Clemson boasts the most impressive win against an Auburn team that won the Iron Bowl last week. Not to mention, Dabo Swinney’s program boasts an elite defense and thus brings a far more well-rounded team to the table. But never fear Sooner’s fans, the number 1 spot is still very much in play for next week. Oklahoma will take on the same TCU team that they battered earlier this November for the inaugural Big 12 championship game. Meanwhile, Clemson will have a tougher task in the ACC championship against Miami.
The third spot in the rankings is where things get tricky. I believe the committee will finally reward Wisconsin for their undefeated record. Sure their schedule is a joke, but going undefeated in the Big Ten has to be enough to secure a playoff berth. That defense and offensive line are for real, and Jonathan Taylor runs for a billion yards every week. If their name was Ohio State instead of Wisconsin, they might even be ranked number one at this point. All this is not to say I think they’re actually a top 3 team in the country. Anyone who has watched a down of SEC football this year would surely expect teams like Auburn, Alabama, and even Georgia to be favored against the Badgers. Hell the Buckeyes will be favored against them this Saturday and rightfully so. For that reason, I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see Wisconsin left out of the top 4 again. If the committee opts to value the eye test and convention over the Badger’s undefeated record, Clemson, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Alabama will be your top 4. However, fans back in Madison have no cause for worry. If the Badgers take care a business against the Buckeyes, there is no way they will be left out of the final rankings. But that is a Big if.
With their upset victory in the Iron Bowl, the Auburn Tigers control their own destiny when it comes to a playoff berth. The Tigers will likely be fourth in this week’s rankings, but an argument can be made that they are the best team in the nation right now. Wins over the previously #1 ranked Bulldogs and Crimson Tide will surely have put the rest of the country on notice. Auburn is cruising into the SEC championship as a clear favorite in their rematch against Georgia. The winner of that game will undoubtedly finish in the top 4. One team who could unthinkably find themselves on the outside looking in this year is Alabama. At an 11-1 record, you would be hard pressed to convince me the Tide are not one of the top 4 teams in the country. I’ll take it a step further, they’re probably still the best. But their loss against Auburn means they’ll be excluded from the SEC championship game. With no conference championship, and a number of one or zero loss teams on level footing with a conference championship game still to play, Nick Saban’s squad will likely need help to make the playoff. I see the committee placing them at #5 right now, with the opportunity to move up should Wisconsin lose to Ohio State.
Numbers 6 and 7 in my rankings face very similar playoff outlooks. But I have Kirby’s Smart Georgia team ahead of Mark Richt’s Miami team. I still believe Georgia is one the best teams in the country. The only reason they are on the outside of the playoff picture is that the ran into Auburn. The same reason Alabama find themselves out of the top 4. In fact the argument can certainly be made that Georgia should be ahead of the Tide. But since Georiga was unable to run the ball against Auburn, I have a hard time believing they’d fare any better against ‘Bama. Unlike Alabama though, Georgia still controls their own destiny. A win in the SEC championship would guarantee the Dawgs a spot in the playoffs. Unfortunately the same Auburn team that battered them a few weeks prior stands in their way.
Number 7 Miami also controls their own destiny. They’ll find themselves outside of the top 4 this week, but will have the opportunity to regain their playoff spot with a win in the ACC championship game. But just like Georgia, Miami will also face a tough task, in a Clemson team that will be number one. The defending national champions will surely be favored against the Hurricanes. I can’t picture their offense getting much done against a stellar Clemson defense. Therefore, any probability of winning will likely depend on how many times the turnover chain comes out for the Hurricanes.
The number 8 spot is occupied by the last team with any real shot of making the playoffs. The Ohio State Buckeyes could potentially play their way into the top four with a win against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. Despite losing twice this season, the Buckeyes will likely still be favored against the undefeated Badgers. At times this season, Ohio State has looked as good as ever, most notably during their 48-3 beat down of Michigan State and their comeback win against Penn State. However, getting worked by Iowa on the road 55-24 is enough on its own to potentially disqualify them from the top 4. That being said, a Big Ten championship could be enough to propel them into the top four, especially if Oklahoma were to lose. If any of the other top 4 teams lose, Ohio State is no better off. If Clemson loses to Miami, the hurricanes would a have a top 4 spot. If Auburn loses to Georgia, the Bulldogs will usurp the Tigers. Without an Oklahoma loss, Alabama will still likely be ahead of the Buckeyes. But who knows, maybe not.
As I alluded to before, our number 9 team Penn State has no shot. On paper they may be the best team in the Big Ten. But a two loss non-conference champion Big Ten team has no chance. In a down year for the conference, there will only be one team, if any, in the playoff from the Big 10. That team would be the conference champion.
I have heard some rumblings that USC is dark horse contender for a playoff spot. I love college football as much as the next guy, but If that happens I am protesting. I am withholding sex from the committee, going on a hunger strike, all of that shit. I am #TRIGGERED just thinking about the Trojans being considered. They have beaten one ranked team all season, in Stanford. This Stanford team we are seeing now, who beat Notre Dame and Washington, is a much different team than the one who lost to USC early in the season. The Cardinal have a new starting quarterback now in KJ Costello. After going 1-2 in the first three games, Stanford has gone 8-1 in the last 9 games. The Trojans got absolutely bundled by Notre Dame and blew it against Washington State. Other than Stanford, they have no wins against a team with a record better than 7-5. Sure they have a very talented offense. But an unimpressive year in a weak PAC 12 conference should disqualify them. But the committee loves them for some reason so they’ll be at number 10.
Another fan base wondering whether they still have a shot is TCU. Unfortunately I have to be the first one to report that the Horned Frogs are dead. They have more of a case than USC, in my opinion, but after getting trounced by the Sooners, they are all but eliminated because of the log jam at the top of the rankings. Baker Mayfield viciously murdered their playoff hopes. I can’t see things being much different the second time around when TCU rematches Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship. If by some miracle, they win that game, they are still done. A two loss big 12 champion would be a markedly less attractive playoff option than a team like Alabama or Ohio State.
Frankly, no one else in the country has even a remote shot at the playoffs. Not even unbeaten UCF. The Golden knights won an amazing shootout against rivals, USF, this past weekend to lock up the AAC East. Scott Frost’s team looks on their way to a conference championship and a New Year’s six bowl, as long as they can get past Memphis this Saturday (who they beat 40-13 earlier this season). However, the committee has made it clear that they do not respect their schedule enough to include them anywhere near the top 4 conversation.
What everything boils down to is simple. The ACC Champion is in. The SEC champion is in. Oklahoma is in if they win the Big 12. The remaining spots will go to Wisconsin, Alabama, or Ohio State. To everybody else good luck in your consolation bowl games.