Final Whistle: Get ready for outrage at College Football Playoff committee’s first ranking
Finally, the moment we’ve all awaited is about to arrive. On Tuesday, 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee emerge from a conference room perched atop a replica Alamo inside a Texas-themed hotel. They’ll hand us their first Top 25.
And then all of college football will descend into a howling maelstrom.
Not because it’s Halloween or Nick Saban’s birthday (we know – wild, right?), but because how could they have missed this? Who in their right mind thinks that ranking makes sense?
None of it matters right now. In its desire to promote conversation, the CFP has created this process of weekly rankings it insists are meaningless until Dec. 3, when the actual Playoff field is picked. And beyond that, a funny thing is about to happen to college football. It’s called November.
But come Tuesday, we’ll all get angry. When that first Top 25 is released, we’ll take what we’ve seen so far, shine up the talking points that make our team look best (or the other guys look worst), fast-forward everything to the end of the season as though nothing much could change, and then present our case very, very loudly. Until next week, when we do it all again.
With that, here’s a preview of what we’re going to hear in the next few days:
— Alabama and Georgia are likely to be ranked Nos. 1 and 2 (maybe not in that order). Which of course only means the SEC will definitely have two teams in the Playoff! Because how could a 12-1 Georgia, coming off a competitive loss to a 13-0 Alabama, get left out?
(This is the more prevalent scenario, because does anyone expect Alabama to actually, you know, lose? But if Alabama were to lose to Georgia in the SEC title game, go ahead and crank the argument up to 11.)
Pay no attention to the actual SEC schedules being played by both teams, which are not stout. It’s all about the eye test, y’all – and anyone can see these teams are flat good.
– It’s an absolute travesty to have Ohio State ranked ahead of Oklahoma, which dominated the Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio, back on Sept. 9!
Or from the other side: What are you talking about? Since that loss, the Buckeyes have played better than anyone – certainly better than Oklahoma, which has lurched to most of its victories. Never mind what actually happened, who do you think would win now?
(We got a taste of this one Sunday afternoon, when my Twitter feed exploded with the release of the two major polls)
– Notre Dame! What?! The Fighting Irish are overhyped just like always!
We’re sympathetic to this line of screaming. But this Notre Dame team was actually underrated (we know, but it’s true) coming off a 4-8 season. It didn’t really begin to move up the rankings in the polls until the blowout defeat of Southern California.
Some of this is actually fear that an 11-1 Notre Dame might make the Playoff field, meaning (at least) two Power Five conferences would get left out. That’s a very real possibility. At the least, it would pose a very difficult challenge in the final rankings for the selection committee, which is charged with valuing conference championships when comparing similar teams.
– Look at the sheer disrespect for unbeatens Wisconsin and Miami (Fla.). How can they possibly be stuck behind all these one-loss teams?
It’s not Wisconsin’s fault the Badgers occupy the Big Ten West. But beating up on a pillowy soft schedule doesn’t tell us much. Good news: The Badgers are a good bet to roll unbeaten into the Big Ten championship game, where it would essentially be a one-game playoff for the Playoff.
And Miami? The Hurricanes keep winning, somehow. That’s the most important thing. But get back to us after Virginia Tech on Saturday and Notre Dame next week. Still perfect then? Welcome into the Top 4.
– What do you mean, one-loss Penn State’s Playoff hopes are in big trouble? We saw Ohio State get in after losing to Penn State last year, and the Buckeyes didn’t win their division!
True enough. And none of the one-loss teams are out of anything (see below). But if Penn State finishes 11-1 without winning the Big Ten, its best win would be against .. who? It would take complete chaos to see the Nittany Lions in the four-team bracket ahead of conference champions.
– The Big 12 is out of it … and the Pac-12 is, too.
Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU all have one loss, which means the league that fears getting left out of the Playoff more than any other has no margin for error. If Oklahoma wins out, it’s probably in (see that above argument about that non-conference win in Columbus). The other two? Hmm. They might need help.
And the Pac-12? They’re down to one-loss Washington, which is still in search of a signature victory. They’re in big trouble.
– But this is all meaningless!
True. As a reminder, here’s a look at the initial rankings in each of the first three seasons of the Playoff:
2014: 1) Mississippi State, 2) *Florida State, 3) Auburn, 4) Ole Miss
2015: 1) *Clemson, 2) LSU, 3) Ohio State, 4) *Alabama
2016: 1) *Alabama, 2) *Clemson, 3) Michigan, 4) Texas A&M
Five teams in those initial rankings eventually made the Playoff field (indicated by asterisks). But that means seven did not (and for fun, google where some of those in the initial Top 4 finished).
Five of the eventual Playoff participants were ranked 5, 6 or 7 in the first rankings. Only No. 16 Ohio State in 2014 and No. 15 Oklahoma in 2015 came from outside the initial Top 7. But look at it another way: In two of the three years we’ve had the Playoff, one entrant was ranked No. 15 or lower in the initial CFP Top 25.
So when everyone starts howling at their TV on Tuesday, go ahead and count to 10 (or 12, if that’s where your team is ranked) and remind yourself:
November is coming.
BIG 12 A MESS? OR “THE BEST”?
Iowa State’s upset of TCU was another indication of how wrong perception can be. The Cyclones, as it turns out, are pretty good. And now, they’re atop the Big 12 – a four-way logjam along with Oklahoma, TCU and Oklahoma State.
“It’s the best conference in football,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “Top to bottom you see it. There’s a lot of great teams in this league.”
Putting aside the obvious (yeah, we all know the perception of the Big 12, but if Iowa State can be good, can’t the league be, too?), Riley has a point. Rather than “best,” it’s probably more accurate to suggest the Big 12 might be the most competitive conference, and that’s not necessarily a great thing for the league. At least, not if the goal is to reach the Playoff – and if you’ve been following along, that is most definitely the Big 12’s goal.
The best formula for making the Playoff might be a top-heavy conference with a clear elite tier and not much below – meaning, no real danger of resume-busting upsets.
Whether Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or TCU is good enough to reach the Playoff (Iowa State is a great story, but with two losses the Cyclones aren’t in the Playoff conversation), we’ll see. But we know this much: The Big 12 might have more dangerous teams in that next tier than any other league. It’s very possible eight of 10 teams will go to bowls, and several feature the kinds of offenses that, when hot, can create upsets. It’s a potentially lethal combination.
While we’re talking about the Big 12’s Playoff chances, it’s worth noting that if Iowa State wins out, the Cyclones would reach the Big 12 championship game. That requires a win against Oklahoma State – but given recent history, would that be surprising?
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Riley said. “A lot of the eyes in the country are going to be on it, and we’re looking forward to be a part of it.”
BARKLEY AND THE HEISMAN
Who knows how the Heisman race will be affected after Saturday’s results – it’s all cosmetic, anyway, and there’s plenty of time left for more highlights. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who’d been getting plenty of attention as the supposed leader for the award, had only 44 rushing yards on 21 carries in that loss to Ohio State.
Of course, he also had a kickoff return for a touchdown. And here’s all you need to know about how good Barkley is: Ahead by one point after scoring the go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes left, Ohio State chose to squib the kickoff – giving Penn State possession at its 41, where a couple of plays could have put the Nittany Lions into field-goal range – rather than kick off deep, where Barkley lurked.
Each week, we select the College Football Playoff as though it began next week. (Note: It does not begin next week.)
1. Alabama – Let’s be clear. This is all about the eye test. Alabama’s resume so far is the weakest of any contender. A couple of actual opponents with a pulse lurk in November, but the Tide has been routinely dominant.
2. Georgia – Except for a win at Notre Dame, Georgia’s argument is pretty much the same as Alabama’s, with against a similar soft schedule. But that win at Notre Dame is a pretty big deal.
3. Notre Dame – In beating Southern California and North Carolina State in consecutive weeks, the Irish showed this team has something more than hype.
4. Clemson – A healthy Kelly Bryant and that defense makes Clemson a threat to win out and win its way back into the Playoff.
THE NEXT FOUR
5. Oklahoma – Ahead of Ohio State because of that convincing road win over the Buckeyes. Actual on-field results matter.
6. Ohio State – Since that loss to OU, the Buckeyes have played terrific football. Now with the inside track in the Big Ten East.
7. Penn State – Only one loss, but needs help to win the Big Ten East.
8. Wisconsin – Yeah, the Badgers are undefeated. Keep winning, they’ll rise. Could be a one-game-for-the-Playoff scenario.
A few more: Miami (Fla.), TCU, Oklahoma State, Washington.
THREE TO WATCH
Clemson at North Carolina State (Saturday, ABC, 3:30 p.m.): Doesn’t have the luster as if NC State had beaten Notre Dame, but the winner gets the inside track in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Saturday, FS1, 4 p.m.): Bedlam with Big 12 and potential Playoff implications? Count us in.
LSU at Alabama (Saturday, CBS, 8 p.m.): Ed Orgeron’s Tigers have suddenly found life. Now they travel to Tuscaloosa for something that passes as a big game on Bama’s schedule.
Others: Memphis at Tulsa (Friday, ESPN2, 8 p.m.); Auburn at Texas A&M (12 p.m. Saturday, ESPN, noon); Iowa State at West Virginia (Saturday, ESPN2, 3:30 p.m.); Ohio State at Iowa (Saturday, ESPN, 3;30 p.m.); South Carolina at Georgia (Saturday, CBS, 3;30 p.m.); Texas at TCU (Saturday, ESPN, 7:15 p.m.); Virginia Tech at Miami (Saturday, ABC, 8 p.m.); Oregon at Washington (Saturday, FS1, 10 p.m.); Arizona at Southern California (Saturday, ESPN, 10:45 p.m.).
“I know what I was brought here to do. We haven’t been good on offense, I get it. We’ve won a few games but haven’t won enough – haven’t won a championship. That’s real. That’s life. That’s this business. And I take full responsibility for all of it.” – Florida’s Jim McElwain after losing to Georgia, amid reports he would lose his job
BY THE NUMBERS
840 – Rushing yards by Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate in four October games (1,583 combined rushing and passing yards) – all victories
16 – Consecutive passes completed by J.T. Barrett as Ohio State rallied to beat Penn State
77 – Passing touchdowns by Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, breaking the school record or 75 (by Brandon Weeden).
– Three times, Ole Miss interim coach Matt Luke called timeout with 4 seconds left Saturday. Three times, Arkansas kicker Connor Limpert went ahead and kicked the 34-yard field goal – good each time. Then, Limpert nailed it for the fourth time, and it counted, giving Arkansas a 38-37 win.
– Lane Kiffin’s got something going at Florida Atlantic. After a comeback win against Western Kentucky, the Owls are 5-3 overall and 4-0 in Conference USA, the only unbeaten team in conference play. During a four-game winning streak, they’re averaging 51.8 points and 563.5 yards.
– Clear your schedules for the Pac-12 South showdown we all anticipated when Arizona plays at Southern California. The Wildcats, who’ve won four in a row, are among the biggest surprises in college football. Rich Rodriguez entered the season on the hot seat, but Arizona is headed to a bowl – and there’s more potentially available.