THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS - WHO HAS A SHOT?
By Simon Carroll
Wow. Just wow. What a weekend of College Football! Things are getting serious, and it’s time to put the anecdotes to one side. Instead of the usual Five From Si, I’ll be walking you through the jungle that is the College Football Playoff rankings, and working out who has a route to New Orleans on the 13th January:
How It Works
The College Football Playoff committee released their rankings for the first time last week. Now hang on, I hear some of you cry. Haven’t we had some rankings throughout the year? Well, yes and no. The Associated Press (AP) have provided one of the most prestigious polls in college football since Adam left Eve to care for the baby as he went to watch Michigan at Notre Dame. Before the playoffs existed this poll was considered the gospel, with the top two ranked teams playing for the National Championship every year.
But all that changed in 2014. To try and get a more accurate reflection of the best team in the nation the NCAA brought in a four-team knockout tournament that would hopefully lead to less controversy (spoiler alert: it hasn’t). With this playoff bracket established, it was also determined that they would create their own rankings. This, essentially, renders the AP poll useless from November onwards. But like other polls out there, the AP continues to rank their top 25 college teams after every week. It serves as a useful benchmark for the media and fans, and is usually not far from identical to the CFP’s rankings that come out later in the year.
The CFP dropped their first set of rankings last week. Unsurprisingly, the top five were all undefeated. But the losses to Penn State and Alabama will see the rankings look a lot different when the CFP release them tomorrow (Tuesday). The truth is, it doesn’t really matter where they’re ranked right now. Quite simply, there are those who can make the playoffs and those that can’t. Let’s look at those who still have a shot at ultimate glory in January:
Quick disclaimer here; any team with two or more losses are out of the race. There’s too many good teams undefeated or with one loss that are higher in the pecking order. So that leaves eleven potentials.
Winners Of The Big Ten
#1 – Ohio State Buckeyes (9-0)
Under first year head coach Ryan Day the Buckeyes have bulldozed anyone and everyone in their way. They’ve only conceded more than 10 points twice this year and have beaten ranked teams in Cincinnati & Wisconsin. With Justin Fields & JK Dobbins their offense is close to impossible to control for four quarters, and despite LSU’s victory I’d be surprised if they get moved off top spot after a brutal 73-14 beatdown of Maryland on Saturday. In fact, I’d go so far to say that if Ohio State drop one game against either of the other Big Ten teams on this list they might still sneak into the top four come the end of it. Win out, and they’re in for sure.
#4 – Penn State Nittany Lions (8-1)
Penn State won’t be #4 after losing to Minnesota on Saturday. James Franklin’s Nittany Lions have been impresisve all year but lost a really good battle that will have them tumbling down the rankings this week. Despite that, if they go undefeated the rest of the year it will mean they’ve beaten Ohio State AND got revenge on The Gophers in the Big Ten Title Game. At 12-1 that should be enough to get them back in the mix.
#17 – Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-0)
The job that PJ Fleck has done in Minnesota is incredible. Ranked quite low for an undefeated team, they had enjoyed a relatively easy schedule so far this season. They proved doubters wrong this weekend with that impressive victory over Penn State but will definitely have to go undefeated to get in. If they don’t slip up, I don’t know how the CFP voters leave them out.
#5 – Clemson Tigers (10-0)
I didn’t even deign to suggest any other ACC team could make it to the playoffs, because they can’t. The conference is so rubbish that the current National Champions, with no defeats, are ranked just fifth. Their schedule has been a cakewalk, and truth be told they’ve hardly blown their opponents away, but if Clemson wins out they’ll be in the playoffs. It’s that simple. And to be fair it’s probably right – someone should have to beat the current champs if they want the title for themselves.
Winners (& Maybe More) Of The SEC
#2 – LSU Tigers (9-0)
Going into Tuscaloosa and beating Nick Saban? You can go ahead and put LSU in the final four right now. And give Joe Burrow the Heisman whilst you’re at it. All jokes aside, The Tigers have put themselves in prime position for SEC glory and the playoffs with that statement win. A trip to Ole Miss with two home games against Arkansas & Texas A&M shouldn’t pose any problems, leaving just the SEC title game as a potential banana skin. Ed Orgeron can be the butt of many a joke, but he’s a damn good football coach.
#3 – Alabama Crimson Tide (8-1)
I can’t remember the last time I saw Alabama beaten in an SEC game by anyone other than Auburn, and that LSU defeat leaves a nasty sting. Having said that, the route to the playoffs isn’t dead. In fact, Saban and The Crimson Tide have been in this situation before. Two years ago they lost the Iron Bowl and missed out on the SEC Championship Game, but with just one loss on their resume were still considered one of the top four teams in the nation. The voters were vindicated as they went on to win the National Championship. The difference this year is their schedule was not nearly so hard and therefore not nearly as impressive. They’ll need a lot of things to go right for them, but it’s certainly possible that two, and in a crazy world THREE SEC teams make the playoffs.
#7 – Georgia Bulldogs (8-1)
That three-team SEC scenario would come into play if Georgia wins out. The Bulldogs slipped up against South Carolina earlier in the year, but beating Florida should see them win the East and line up a conference title game against LSU. If they win that, then Georgia, LSU and Alabama may all have just one loss. Georgia would get first refusal as they won the SEC, and LSU will have beaten Alabama, Texas, Florida and Auburn. They would be hard to leave out. Alabama have the ‘best’ loss out of all the potential playoff teams after taking LSU close on Saturday. But some big names would have to falter (Ohio State, Clemson) to see three teams from one conference make it to the dance.
Big 12 Breadcrumbs
#9 – Oklahoma Sooners (8-1)
Lincoln Reilly knows that the loss to Kansas State has made their path to the playoffs treacherous. How can this Sooners team prove to the voters they’re better than a one-loss Bama or Georgia? Well, it begins and ends by winning out. If they do that they’ll beat an undefeated Baylor this Saturday and likely beat them again in the Big 12 championship game. With The Bears ranked #12 that’s two big wins on the resume. They would also have beaten Oklahoma State and Texas, two teams who have flirted with the rankings this season. But any more close wins like the one against Iowa State on Sunday could mean the end for Jalen Hurts & co.
#12 – Baylor Bears (9-0)
What a season for Matt Rhule. Close to leaving Waco for the New York Jets, he chose to pass up on that disaster of a franchise and continue to build his profile in the college ranks. The results have been spectacular for a program that not too long ago was in disarray. Much like Minnesota, The Bears have quite a low ranking currently due to playing the soft part of their schedule early. It means they have to win out for a chance at the playoffs, but I would challenge anyone to leave out an undefeated team with wins against Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma and one of those three again in the Big 12 title game on their resume.
#7 – Oregon Ducks (9-1)
Another team that might be difficult to leave out is Oregon. After losing a very close game on a neutral field with Auburn in week 1, the Ducks have marched to the top of the PAC-12 North winning nine straight. A schedule with USC, Washington & Washington State on it, that’s no mean feat. Mario Cristobal and Justin Herbert have this offense humming. And in a usually cannibalistic conference, the Ducks have navigated their PAC-12 schedule unscathed. Three more wins and then victory in the title game would make Oregon very difficult to ignore.
#8 – Utah Utes (9-1)
If Oregon win out, then they’re likely to face Utah in the PAC-12 title game. Utah and Oregon are very similar scenarios in that they both have just one loss and have their destiny, to some extent, in their own hands. It could be argued that The Utes’ remaining schedule is slightly easier than The Ducks, but their one loss was to USC, a defeat that doesn’t look as impressive as Oregon’s close defeat to Auburn. Regardless, if these teams makes it to the end of the year unscathed they’ll face off and we’ll know who the West Coast’s potential representative will be. Whoever wins can add another big scalp to their docket and give the voters one more headache come the end of the year.
previously the founder of nfl draft uk, simon has been covering college football and the nfl draft since 2009. based in manchester, simon is also co-creator & weekly guest of the collapsing pocket podcast.