True College Football Playoff Rankings: Ohio State, LSU top the list

With the first College Football Playoff rankings being released last Tuesday, much ado was made regarding the Committee’s rankings. Clemson, a team ranked no higher than fifth in the voting polls, vaulted into first in the playoff rankings. And Alabama, a team most see as having a fairly weak playoff resume at this point, was included in the playoff party ahead of seven undefeated teams.

Yesterday, I questioned the Committee’s legitimacy, as well as their rationale in putting the rankings together. Today, I’m sharing my personal playoff rankings, along with my basis for them.

First, undefeated teams get priority ahead of teams with losses. That, of course, has to have its limits. For example, an undefeated team from the Sun Belt that has played no teams from major conferences would not be looked at quite as seriously.

Second, teams that have beaten ranked opponents will also get priority ahead of teams that haven’t. Thus, a team like Houston that is unbeaten but has no real quality wins will sit behind a team like Memphis, which upset then-top 10 ranked Mississippi.

Other factors include average scoring margin, offensive and defensive strength, voting polls and a number of Ratings Percentage Index polls to help sort out which teams might be stronger than others. In the end, I hope to present to you a very strong list of College Football Playoff teams.

 

No. 1 – Ohio State (8-0). This is one place where I’m going against my own guidelines, and it’s coming at the very top. The Buckeyes don’t have a win over a Top 25 team, let alone a Top 10 team. They’ll get their chance against Michigan State and Michigan in the last two weeks of the season. The only reason they’re No. 1 here is because they’re the defending champion, and they have yet to lose this season.

No. 2 – LSU (7-0). The Tigers probably have the strongest playoff resume in the field, having already beaten three Top 25 teams. If they beat Alabama this week, their case will only get strong. On the other hand, if the Tigers lose to the Crimson Tide, they run the risk of dropping to the fringe with no way of getting back in.

No. 3 – Clemson (8-0). Clemson is a bit of an enigma at this point. Are the real Tigers the team that shellacked Miami 58-0 (and thereby sent Al Golden packing), or is it the one that struggled with unranked Louisville and N.C. State. Their lone quality win was a 24-22 nailbiter over Notre Dame, another team that may or may not be overrated. Clemson may prove its case (or that of its detractors) when it plays Florida State this Saturday.

No. 4 – Baylor (8-0). The Committee has shown no respect for the Big 12, either in last season or this one. Of course, Baylor hasn’t played any quality teams to this point, so its 36-point average margin of victory doesn’t seem quite as compelling as if it was playing Top 25 teams. The Bears will get to show whether they truly belong or not starting next Saturday, when they start a three-week gauntlet of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU.

No. 5 – Michigan State (8-0). The Spartans case was helped by an early win over Oregon, when we all thought the Ducks were good. A win over Michigan two weeks ago helped even more. But an 11-point average scoring margin shows they’re playing opponents way too close. No worries – should State run the table, including a win over Ohio State an in the Big Ten championship, they’ll reach the Top Four.

No. 6 – TCU (8-0). Like some other teams in these rankings, the Horned Frogs have been a bit schizoid. They were brilliant in their 50-7 drubbing of Texas. But their defense has been porous at times, giving up 37 points to SMU, 52 points to Texas Tech and 45 points to Kansas State. In TCU’s last four games, only Kansas will be easy. The other four are Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor.

No. 7 – Iowa (8-0). On this whole list, no team seems to generate as much puzzlement as the Hawkeyes. While they do have two Top 25 wins – including a 40-10 stomping of Northwestern – much of their schedule has been very sketchy. Iowa gets a huge break by not having to play any of the Big Ten’s toughest teams (their toughest opponent was 7-2 Wisconsin). Their pathway to the Big Ten title game seems to be paved. Should they reach it undefeated and win there, they should get every consideration for the CFP.

No. 8 – Oklahoma State (8-0). Just like its Big 12 compatriots, the Cowboys haven’t played anybody. With a powerful offense and a pedestrian defense, they’ve cruised through their first eight games with little challenge. But the next four weeks will solve everything in the Big 12. We could have one big-time undefeated champion, or we could have several teams with one or more losses. Given that OSU gave up 53 points to Texas Tech, it very well could be on the outskirts of the CFP by December.

No. 9 – Memphis (8-0). While the CFP Committee gave little thought to the Tigers, I tend to think a lot more of their resume thus far. Their win over Mississippi doesn’t seem to be a fluke, and with one of the best offenses in the country, Memphis could end up as the lone unbeaten in the AAC. The next three weeks will tell everything – Navy, Houston and Temple await.

No. 10 – Houston (8-0). The Cougars may be better than Temple, but they haven’t played a Top 25 team thus far. However, they have a strong offense and defense, and their wins have been more convincing on the average. After the Cougars bested Louisville, no team has come within two touchdowns. Their Nov. 14 matchup with Memphis should be a real treat.

No. 11 – Alabama (7-1). While the Committee might be very impressed with Nick Saban, I’m much less so at this point. Yes, the Tide has beaten three Top 25 teams. But the win over Georgia doesn’t seem quite so impressive. But with one loss, the Tide falls behind 10 other teams on my list. That could change should they win at home against LSU Saturday night.

No. 12 – Oklahoma (7-1). The Sooners aren’t getting any love from the Committee, but they might be the best team in the country. If it weren’t for a strange loss to rival Texas, Oklahoma would easily be near the top of these and most rankings. They’ve mowed down every other opponent (other than a narrow win over Tennessee). After an easy game against Iowa State, OU will finish with Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State.

No. 13 – Notre Dame (7-1). This is a place where the Committee’s obvious bias is most clear. The Irish do have two Top 25 wins and a close loss to Clemson. But the win over Georgia Tech doesn’t look very impressive now that the Jackets are 3-6. There are three easy games left before the season finale at Stanford. Given the CFP’s love affair with the Golden Dome, if the Irish finish 11-1, they’ll have a great chance of making the playoff.

No. 14 – Stanford (7-1). The Cardinal is the biggest surprise in the Pac-12. Where USC and UCLA were supposed to own the year, Stanford is instead now sitting atop the heap. The Cardinal doesn’t exactly look unstoppable – as in last week’s two-point win over Washington State. But it might be strong enough to run the rest of the table, including the Pac-12 championship game, likely against Utah. Only one Top 25 challenge remains – against Notre Dame – but tough matchups against Oregon and California are also on the slate.

No. 15 – Florida (7-1). As a lifelong Florida fan, I’d love to say that Florida is as strong as any other team in this list. But they really aren’t. Defensively, the Gators are amazing, with the No. 11 unit in the country. But their No. 75 offense is struggling to put up points. Still, the Gators seem to be on a roll, and with a fairly easy remaining schedule (other than the season-ender versus Florida State) might even reach the SEC Championship at 11-1. If they can pull an upset there, they should be in the middle of the CFP discussion.

No. 16 – Utah (7-1). Before they lost to USC two weeks ago, the Utes looked like a serious CFP contender. They have two Top 25 wins, plus an impressive win over Michigan before we all realized just how strong the Wolverines were. The Utes only have one visibly tough game remaining – against UCLA in three weeks. That contest will probably determine who plays in the Pac-12 championship.

No. 17 – Florida State (7-1). Because the ACC seems so weak this season, the Seminoles still haven’t played a Top 25 opponent. Games against Miami, Georgia Tech and Louisville that should have given FSU credit instead have done just the opposite. The loss to unranked Georgia Tech is a serious black mark against the Noles. Two chances to prove themselves remain – this week at Clemson, and in the final week at Florida.

No. 18 – North Carolina (7-1). The Tar Heels are also victims of a weak year in the ACC, and of a strange bias within the CFP. North Carolina didn’t even make their Top 25, in spit of its 7-1 record. (One-loss Toledo from the MAC made the poll instead.) The rest of their schedule will be a bit testy, starting this week against a Duke team that will be bent on proving itself. (More on that next…)

No. 19 – Duke (6-2). Here is another place where I will contradict my guidelines. If it weren’t for an egregious bit of officiating at the end of last week’s game against Miami, Duke would easily fit on this list, with an even easier path to the ACC Championship than division-rival North Carolina. Sadly for the Blue Devils, that kickoff return will almost certainly cost them any chance of fitting into the championship discussion, regardless of what they do on the field.

No. 20 – Toledo (8-1). Prior to last week, the Rockets were climbing the charts as a possible major bowl game party-crasher. Then came an upset loss to Northern Illinois, and their dream season came to an end. All three of Toledo’s remaining games come against MAC teams with winning records. At this point, Toledo’s concerns should be more about winning its division and less about staying in the CFP rankings.

No. 21 – Temple (7-1). Another team with major bowl aspirations, the Owls were ever so close to being in the CFP discussion before they narrowly lost to Notre Dame last week. They can still figure in the equation if they run the table, including wins over Memphis in three weeks and in the AAC championship. Their woeful, 103rd ranked offense might be the biggest obstacle in their path.

No. 22 – Navy (6-1). The Midshipmen have had little trouble in navigating their first seven games, aside from a 17-point loss to Notre Dame. Then again, Notre Dame is the only serious team the Middies have played. The rest of the season won’t be as easy, with solid challenges from Memphis and Houston ahead. It’s doubtful we’ll be mentioning Navy again in this space after this week.

No. 23 – Marshall (8-1). I’ve always had a soft spot for the Thundering Herd, given how hard the program has had to climb over the years. Once again near the top of its conference, Marshall only appears on this list because it’s still a one-loss team. By all rights, it should be a no-loss team, with the lone defeat coming to middling Ohio. Marshall has a fairly easy schedule remaining, with the biggest challenge coming against Western Kentucky in the final week. If they survive that, there will be the Conference USA championship game. But even a 12-1 Marshall team would be hard to take seriously alongside the others on this list.

Copyright © 2015 Doug DeBolt

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About Doug DeBolt

Capnpen is a writer who was a newspaper and magazine journalist in a previous life. A college journalism major, he now works as an administrator, but gets his writing fix by blogging about a variety of topics, including politics, religion, movies and television. When he's not working or blogging, Capnpen spends time with his family, plays a little golf (badly) and loves to learn about virtually anything.
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