This week’s College Football Playoff rankings came with a shake-up at the bottom half of the bracket, and with it a new message has been sent from Chairman Jeff Long and his committee: it’s no longer just about whether or not you win. It’s how you win and how well you play.
And this weekend it should be heard loud and clear, just in time for the conference contenders to be finalized and the wanna-bes sent packing for bowl destinations other than Miami and Dallas.
That said, here’s my decription of this week’s rankings:
– THEY’RE IN (for now): (1) Clemson, (2) Alabama, (3) Oklahoma, (4) Iowa – Oklahoma clearly got the committee’s attention when they beat Baylor by 10 in Waco, and they clearly believed a one-point win at home over TCU was valuable enough to vault the Sooners into the top four. But we’ll see if they stay there after their trip to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State and depending highly upon what Notre Dame does against Stanford.
Ohio State’s 17-14 loss to Michigan State opened the gate for the Spartans to take the Big Ten East division, and for Iowa to enter the top four. But now the Hawkeyes will have to beat Sparty in the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis to stay in the bracket, assuming they also win on the road this weekend against Nebraska, the one team that has beaten Sparty.
– KNOCKING ON THE DOOR: (5) Michigan State, (12) Florida, (14) North Carolina – Michigan State has the easiest path of this group: beat Penn State at home and then beat Iowa to win their conference title and likely snag a top four spot. That heart-breaking loss to Nebraska might not look so bad if they beat Iowa in Lincoln this weekend.
North Carolina has to beat NC State on the road and then Clemson in the ACC title game in Charlotte to be considered, but then a couple of conflicting details come into play. Beating Clemson should be enough to vault the Tar Heels past Notre Dame, but is a season-opening loss to South Carolina — a team who lost to The Citadel at home last week — forgivable?
Florida was on the right path until Florida Atlantic took them to overtime in Gainesville. The Gators eventually won, 20-14, but see the above-mentioned message from the committee to understand why they fell four spots in the rankings despite that victory. Now they have to beat Florida State this weekend and beat Alabama for the SEC title in Atlanta next weekend to be taken seriously.
– HELP WANTED: (6) Notre Dame, (8) Ohio State, (9) Stanford, (10) Michigan, (11) Oklahoma State – How does a team go from holding a playoff spot to the first two out to needing help to get back in? Simple. Be Notre Dame and beat Boston College by only three points in a game that was very underwhelming and in doubt until the fourth quarter. The only reason Florida is a step ahead of the Fighting Irish is because Florida gets an extra game next weekend.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame has one last chance to get back in the committee’s good graces: to go to Palo Alto and beat Stanford Saturday. But if the Cardinal hold serve at home and take care of the winner of Southern Cal and UCLA in the PAC-12 Championship Game, then maybe we’ll have a real controversy on our hands with a two-loss Power Five champion at the table.
The winner of Ohio State and Michigan in Ann Arbor Saturday has to hope Penn State knocks off Michigan State in East Lansing in order to clinch the East division and play in the Big Ten Championship Game. It’s not easy, but Ohio State should find themselves back in the thick of things if it works in their favor. But Michigan will also need Stanford to beat Notre Dame, Baylor to lose at TCU and Oklahoma State to beat Oklahoma in “Bedlam.” And even then, they still may not fit in the puzzle with two losses.
Oklahoma State has to beat Oklahoma in Stillwater Saturday and hope Baylor loses either this week against TCU in Fort Worth or at home against Texas next week, plus they’ll need Stanford, Michigan and Penn State to knock out Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan State, respectively. Oh, and they’ll need Iowa to lose either this week against Nebraska or next week in the Big Ten Championship. But that’s all. #NBD #sarcasm
– OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: (7) Baylor, (15) Navy – Baylor needs the exact same help Oklahoma State needs, plus they have to win two games. The only thing worse than Oklahoma State’s road would be a 9-1 record despite a strength of schedule ranked 91st in a Group of Five conference and a lone significant win against Memphis… “Oh, hi, Navy! I didn’t see you there.”
– SLEEPER AGENT: (18) Ole Miss – Yes, they lost to Arkansas at home in overtime after that INSANE 4th down lateral. Yes, they lost to Memphis. But they’re also the only team that beat Alabama, giving them the tie-breaker in the SEC West should the Crimson Tide be upset at Auburn in the Iron Bowl. But don’t get it twisted. Even if Alabama loses Saturday, Ole Miss wins the Egg Bowl this week against Mississippi State and beats Florida for the SEC Championship next week, three losses will certainly keep the Rebels out of the playoff. But that doesn’t mean they can’t have a little fun spoiling it for someone else along the way.
Four of the Power Five are represented in the bracket right now, but that could all change in a few days. I wrongfully predicted the playoff picture would be clearer this week, but the truth is it could be even worse by the end of it.
Keep those notepads and number ciphers handy till next time, mystery fans.