With the first college football playoff committee poll coming out tomorrow, here’s my poll for comparison. Once again, these are based on the things that have happened, and not those yet to come. There is one titanic SEC matchup that has major playoff implications, but both those teams find themselves just a hair on the outside looking in…for now.
Orange Bowl (#1 vs. #4)- Clemson vs. Houston
Houston took major advantage of LSU, Alabama, Ohio State and Baylor all having bye weeks this week, and managed to pitch a shutout against Vanderbilt. The Cougars have one of the best offenses in the FBS, and for now they absolutely deserve this spot. They will get held back in the eyes of the committee, and the public, because of their highest profile win coming against Louisville. However, there is value to be found in bludgeoning weak competition. Looking forward, Houston has a handful of opportunities to impress the committee with games against Memphis and Navy on the schedule coming up in November and the possibility of a conference championship game to pad the resume. Ultimately, the odds are that Houston ends up getting left out, especially if the four Power Five conferences who still have undefeated teams can produce an undefeated champion.
Clemson is one of four or five teams with its fate completely in its own hands. If Clemson doesn’t lose, then they will assuredly be a playoff team. N.C. State gave them a good run on Saturday, but the Tigers ultimately pulled away and ended up winning by two scores. Florida State poses the biggest threat to Clemson’s conference and national title aspirations this weekend, and the Seminoles are no stranger to ruining Clemson’s hopes and dreams, but the game is at Death Valley which helps. From there, the Tigers would need to navigate Syracuse and Wake Forest to clinch a division title, then close with a win over the in-state rival Gamecocks to get to the ACC championship game undefeated.
Cotton Bowl (#2 vs. #3)- Ohio State vs. Baylor
Both teams had a bye this weekend, but both have also been dealt major blows since the last time they suited up for a game. Baylor’s Seth Russell will miss the remainder of the season after fracturing a vertebra in his neck against Iowa State. The Buckeyes also lost a quarterback this weekend, but there’s was only for a game, at least. J.T. Barrett was cited last weekend of operating a vehicle under the influence. (You will have to ask Levi what the difference between that and a DUI is because he’s the law student, not me). Barrett was suspended for one game and will forfeit his scholarship for next summer’s semester. Neither of these teams are necessarily going to lose now though, especially Ohio State.
Jarrett Stidham will need to step up in a big way for the Bears, because the toughest stretch of their schedule is coming up. Stidham has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions in seven games this season, so he isn’t just coming in cold, but there is a pretty big difference between being the relief in a blowout and being “the guy”. Baylor has Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and TCU in back-to-back-to-back weeks following this Thursday’s game against Kansas State.
For Ohio State, they will need to beat Minnesota without Barrett this weekend. The Gophers have been pretty disappointing this season, and their head coach, Jerry Kill, recently stepped down for health reasons, so Barrett picked a pretty convenient time to get suspended. Michigan State and Michigan lie ahead in the last two weeks of November and present the biggest challenges for Ohio State’s quest to remain unbeaten.
Rose Bowl- Iowa vs. Stanford
No changes here from last week. Stanford has been pretty easily the best team in the Pac-12 over the course of the season, but it is also safe to say that this season has been supremely disappointing for the “Left Coast”. The Cardinal held on against Washington State this weekend to take a commanding North division lead. Stanford still has Oregon on the schedule, but the Ducks have arguably been the most disappointing team in the conference this season. Notre Dame seems like the most likely team to end Stanford’s playoff hopes before a conference championship game. If Stanford were to lose to the Irish, it would give us an interesting test to see how the committee would evaluate a two-loss conference champion.
Raise your hand if you keep forgetting that Iowa is undefeated. (I’m right there with you don’t worry). The Hawkeyes would almost assuredly make the playoff if they run the table, but almost nobody seems to think that likely. The primary reason, in all likelihood, is that Iowa has skated by the majority of its opponents this season rather than handily beating them. A 40-10 shellacking of Northwestern is the main exception to that, and the Hawkeyes did beat Maryland by double digits this weekend. With Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, and Nebraska left to go before a Big Ten title game, there’s a very real chance that the Hawkeyes will face the Michigan State vs. Ohio State winner for the Big Ten championship game and a de facto playoff berth.
Sugar Bowl- Alabama vs. TCU
It’s hard to imagine either of these teams winning out and not making the playoff, but for now neither particularly belong either. Baylor has been better than TCU over the course of the season so far, and Alabama has a loss already with several undefeated teams still out there. The Horned Frogs have a plethora of resume building opportunities looming though with both Oklahoma schools and Baylor remaining. Going three-for-three there likely means TCU wins the conference and a playoff berth, assuming that they aren’t upset anywhere in there. Trevone Boykin is still likely the best quarterback in college football, and by virtue of that I’ll stick with my preseason playoff pick for the Frogs.
Even though it’s hard to imagine a one-loss Alabama not making the playoff, it is entirely possible that a one-loss Alabama wouldn’t win the SEC West. The Tide’s destiny is technically not in its own hands, as they would need another Ole Miss conference loss to ensure that they can win the division if they win out. A big question here is what would the committee do with an 11-1 Alabama who doesn’t win its division? History (2011) says they would get in, but the public outcry from that decision is at least partially responsible for bringing about the playoff system in the first place, so who knows.
Peach Bowl- LSU vs. Oklahoma
There’s nothing quite like a Bob Stoops vs. SEC matchup to escalate the internet message board vitriol. Oklahoma’s inexcusable loss to Texas aside, the Sooners have been one of four teams in the Big XII’s top tier this season. Those four teams will get sorted out over the next month as they all play each other leaving the Dancin’ Mayfields playoff hopes very much intact, despite already having a pretty bad loss on the resume. The Sooners might need a few more style points than some of their other division rivals though because of the Red River folly though.
An undefeated LSU undoubtedly makes the playoff, and probably locks up the Heisman for Leonard Fournette. LSU’s resume probably isn’t quite as impressive as they have looked on the field with their three best wins being (in order): seven-point win over Florida, 28-point win over Western Kentucky, and two-point win over Mississippi State. That’s an impressive three game stretch, but not undoubtedly deserving of a top four ranking yet either. With road trips to Ole Miss and Alabama still to come, as well as home dates with Arkansas and Texas A&M, the Bayou Bengals still have plenty of opportunities to impress, especially this coming weekend.
Fiesta Bowl- Toledo vs. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State just keeps on doing what they have to do in order to win, even win it looks awful. The Pokes let Texas Tech jump all over them this weekend before battling back to win 70-53. Most probably feel like Oklahoma State belongs in a group behind TCU and Baylor in the Big XII undefeateds discussion, and those people would have the evidence to support that claim. Oklahoma State’s best win is either last weekend’s shootout or an overtime win over West Virginia, neither of which are “wowing” the playoff committee presently. Just like with the other Big XII teams though, opportunities for a signature win abound in November.
Toledo has flown under the radar in the Group of Five undefeated discussion, but here they sit as we enter November with a fat zero in the loss column. It has been exactly pretty, but it doesn’t always have to be either. The Rockets battled back from a huge halftime deficit against UMass to preserve their New Year’s Six hopes, but it is worth noting that the Rockets have won their last five games by double digits. November will be a tough month, comparatively, for Toledo with MAC power Northern Illinois, preseason favorite Western Michigan, and two road games against likely bowl teams (Central Michigan and Bowling Green) coming up. That will be a tough stretch to navigate, especially considering there’s a decent chance they would have to play Bowling Green again in the MAC championship game, but if Toledo does then a New Year’s Six bowl is within reach.
1. Clemson Tigers
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
3. Baylor Bears
4. Houston Cougars
5. Alabama Crimson Tide
6. Iowa Hawkeyes
7. Toledo Rockets
8. LSU Tigers
9. TCU Horned Frogs
10. Oklahoma Sooners
11. Oklahoma State Cowboys
12. Appalachian State Mountaineers
13. Memphis Tigers
14. Florida Gators
15. Michigan State Spartans
16. Michigan Wolverines
17. Stanford Cardinal
18. North Carolina Tar Heels
19. Florida State Seminoles
20. Temple Owls
21. Marshall Thundering Herd
22. Wisconsin Badgers
23. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
24. Utah Utes
25. Ole Miss Rebels
First Five Out: Navy, Boise State, Mississippi State, Duke, USC