Two weeks ago, I posted my first response to the College Football Playoff rankings, essentially (more like outright) questioning their legitimacy. These rankings are quite biased toward some teams, and against others. Teams like Alabama and Notre Dame will always fare well in a committee steeped in its own tradition. And teams like Iowa, Oklahoma State and Houston will always face being on the outside looking in.
The next go-round of the CFP rankings will be released Tuesday night (Nov. 17) at 7 p.m. on ESPN. When that happens, you can expect a repeat of last week’s poll, where the pecking order was Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame. Meanwhile, undefeated Iowa, Oklahoma State and Houston will be peering in from the fringes.
Below you’ll find the second release of my personal playoff rankings. Remember that undefeated teams get priority ahead of teams with losses. That, does has its limits, particularly when you’re looking at a clearly weak conference like the MAC or Sun Belt. (Amazingly, in spite of the ease of those conferences, none of them have even one undefeated team, and only one “weak sister” has a one-loss team. With weakness, apparently, comes parity…)
Also, teams that have beaten ranked opponents get priority ahead of teams that haven’t. Houston is unbeaten, and has a win over slightly ranked Memphis. That puts the Cougars behind stronger unbeaten, but ahead of the one-loss teams.
A handful of other factors will also figure in, but honestly, the list is getting a lot easier to manage now that eight teams have dropped in the past two weeks. Amazingly, one of those was LSU, which was No. 2 in my first rankings. The loss to Alabama might have been expected, but their hangover drubbing at the hands of Arkansas had an element of shock to it.
No. 1 – Ohio State (10-0). (Last: No. 1) The Buckeyes were effective against Minnesota and fairly impressive on the road at Illinois. Their only two regular season games against ranked opponents will come in the next two weeks – at home against Michigan State and at Michigan. After that they’ll face off against a testy Iowa team looking to place itself in the playoff. Until the Buckeyes lose, they’ll occupy the top spot in my poll.
No. 2 – Clemson (10-0). (Last: No. 2) Many have jumped ship on Ohio State as the top seed in favor of Clemson, and their resume is decent, though not overwhelming. The road to the playoff seems to be the easiest of the remaining teams; regular season matchups against Wake Forest and South Carolina remain, followed by a date in the ACC title game, likely against North Carolina. While they might end up as the top seed, they won’t do that here unless Ohio State falters.
No. 3 – Oklahoma State (10-0). (Last: No. 5) While the nation has focused on everyone else, the Cowboys have somewhat quietly crashed the playoff discussion simply by staying undefeated. With a convincing win over TCU in their rearview mirror, homestands against Baylor and Oklahoma lie just ahead. Within 12 days, the Cowboys will have a chance to make a strong case that they deserve a spot in the playoff.
No. 4 – Iowa (10-0). (Last: No. 4) One of the year’s biggest surprises, the Hawkeyes haven’t done anything wrong in keeping themselves at No. 4. It’s just that, while Oklahoma State impressed the nation with a win over TCU, the Hawkeyes limped home with tight wins over Indiana and Minnesota. They should easily close out the season with wins over Purdue and Nebraska, but then must clear Ohio State to earn a spot in the CFP.
No. 5 – Houston (10-0). (Last: No. 10) The only reason the Cougars have ascended five spots is that five undefeated teams in front of them have fallen. Admittedly, Houston isn’t the strongest team on this list, but they have beaten all comers, and have shown a lot of character in staying unbeaten in the past two weeks. Nothing is easy in the AAC, so this week’s road game at 5-5 UConn might be closer than expected. After that will be the regular season finale against a very strong Navy team, and the AAC championship, probably against Temple. If the Cougars finish 13-0, the Committee will undoubtedly still ignore them for the playoff, but they shouldn’t. (And a 13-0 Houston team would be a fabulous argument for why the field should be expanded to eight or 16 teams.)
No. 6 – Alabama (9-1). (Last: No. 11) The committee will likely keep the Tide at No. 2, even though Ohio State hasn’t lost in 14 months. Since Alabama narrowly escaped on October 17 against Tennessee, the Tide has looked to be on cruise control against LSU and Mississippi State. The annual cupcake game falls this week against Charleston Southern, and then comes the rivalry match against Auburn, which probably won’t put up much of a fight. Florida is the SEC championship opponent, and while the Gators might have CFP dreams of their own, the lack of a viable offense should ensure ‘Bama finishes at 12-1.
No. 7 – Oklahoma (9-1). (Last: No. 12) If the Sooners finish the season at 11-1, they might have every reason to be hacked. To date, only a loss to rival Texas keeps Oklahoma from a perfect record. Last week, they dominated Baylor on the road. (After the 7-minute mark in the first quarter, the Sooners never trailed.) Strong on both sides of the ball, Oklahoma puts up about 46 points a game on offense while allowing less than 20. This week OU hosts TCU, and plays at Oklahoma State in the season finale. It’s very possible that the 11-0 Cowboys will play against the 10-1 Sooners. The winner of that game should considered for the fourth spot in the CFP. (Note it’s should, because with this committee, that won’t be the case.)
No. 8 – Baylor (8-1). (Last: No. 3) The Big 12 is probably the most interesting conference in the country, with four bona fide contenders at varying points this year. Unfortunately for Baylor, the Bears are now the third out of the four, but they have the chance to leap into second should they upset Oklahoma State on the road. That game should be a barn-burner, since the two teams average about 100 points combined per game, and give up an average of 52 combined. Expect the winner of to score at least 40, and maybe 50. Even if Baylor wins this one, they’ll still have to win again on the road at TCU, and then at home against Texas.
No. 9 – Notre Dame (9-1). (Last: No. 13) No team is the beneficiary of more unwarranted love than the Irsh. The most impressive wins on their schedule have been against Georgia Tech (now 3-7) and Temple, by a combined 12 points. Other than that, Notre Dame’s schedule has been pedestrian. Still, the 9-1 Irish are easily entrenched in the Top 4 of the CFP. Should they win against Boston College (3-7) and at Stanford (8-2), Irish fans will be able to book their tickets for the Orange Bowl for a first-round playoff beat-down.
No. 10 – Michigan State (9-1). (Last: No. 4) The Spartans would be at No. 4 on this list if not for its loss to Nebraska two weeks ago. Honestly, the horrible call by the officials only shot MSU in one foot. Terrible coaching down the stretch in that game shot them in the other foot. Still, Michigan State controls its own destiny in the Big Ten. Win this week against the Buckeyes, and next week at home against Penn State, and the 11-1 Spartans will play in the Big Ten championship against Iowa. Michigan State still has a chance to play itself into the playoff. with two huge wins in the final three weeks.
No. 11 – Florida (9-1). (Last: No. 15) Like Michigan State, Florida has a chance to play itself into the playoff discussion on the next three Saturdays. The Gators are ultimately impressive on defense, but ultimately unimpressive on offense, which forces me (and most others) to grade them down in the rankings. Still, after Florida plays cupcake Florida Atlantic this Saturday, they’ll get two big games at home against Florida State, and in the SEC championship against Alabama. If they can manage enough offense to reach 12-1, the Gators would deserve a spot in the CFP.
No. 12 – TCU (9-1). (Last: No. 6) Again, the Big 12 has suddenly become so interesting. TCU, after a convincing loss at Oklahoma State is still 9-1. But they suddenly look very beatable. (Even moreso after the Horned Frogs barely beat winless Kansas last week.) Now comes the most interesting part of the season: TCU can still get to 11 wins if the Frogs can beat Oklahoma and Baylor. What the Committee is probably hoping is that the teams all cancel each other out. Now that the two Oklahomas have won a big game, they’re hoping that the two Texas teams (TCU and Baylor) will get big-game wins so that the Big 12 is knocked completely out of the discussion. This writer isn’t so sure they’ll play along with that dream scenario.
No. 13 – Navy (8-1). (Last: No. 22) There’s no way – absolutely no chance whatsoever – that Navy will get anywhere near the CFP. There are simply too many teams between them and the top, and they play in too weak of a conference. But the Midshipmen are undefeated in the AAC, and should they win on the road the next two weeks against Tulsa and Houston, they’ll assure themselves of a spot in the conference championship. Another win after that, and Navy will be 12-1. Honestly, I like their chances of doing exactly that. They’ll be left out of the CFP discussion, but they might add some fuel to the fire for expanding the field in the distant future.
No. 14 – North Carolina (9-1). (Last: No. 18) The voters and the Committee have shown no love to the Tar Heels in spite of their 9-1 record in the ACC. After a season opening loss at South Carolina, North Carolina has been perfect, including a wins over Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh – two teams beaten by Notre Dame by similar margins. Truthfully, I’m not so sure that the Irish would easily beat the Heels, if at all. North Carolina has a couple of testy conference games left against Virginia Tech and N.C. State. With a win in one of those, they’ll reach the ACC title game, where they can prove if they’re for real or not against Clemson.
No. 15 – Toledo (8-1). (Last: No. 20) At the very bottom of this list is Toledo, a team that might not even win its own division. Should the Rockets and Northern Illinois both win out in the next two weeks, NIU would win the MAC Western division and get the berth in the conference championship. Toledo’s only hope to reach even a CFP non-playoff bowl game was to beat the Huskies head-to-head. The 32-27 loss means that even if they win against Bowling Green and Western Michigan in the next nine days, plus in the MAC championship, the Rockets will at most plum bowl in the MAC – the GoDaddy Bowl on Dec. 23.
Dropping out: No. 2 LSU, No. 9 Memphis, No. 14 Stanford, No. 16 Utah, No. 17 Florida State, No. 19 Duke, No. 21 Temple, No. 23 Marshall