No creative titles really struck me this week, so my apologies for not having a catchy title. Each week seems to narrow the field of contenders, and as we hurtle towards the end one team that the committee continues to shower with love is absent from my New Year’s Six altogether: Notre Dame. Their only loss is a very good one, one of the best actually, but the entirety of their resume still doesn’t stack up with some of the other team’s we are about to discuss.
Cotton Bowl (#1 vs. #4)- Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Alabama vaults up to number one this week after another impressive performance against Mississippi State. Some will argue against a one-loss team being ahead of an undefeated team, and it’s certainly a valid argument. However, the full resume (something I will probably bring up a ton today and in the coming weeks) even with the loss is the best to date. The Crimson Tide have won every game, other than the loss to Ole Miss and the win over Tennessee, by double digits. The strength of schedule is also solid too as eight of Alabama’s nine wins are over teams that will most likely make it to a bowl game.
Oklahoma got the single biggest resume boost of the past weekend with the ten point win over previously undefeated Baylor. Dancin’ Baker Mayfield may also be getting ready to creep back into the Heisman conversation as well. The Sooners have one of the worst losses of the current New Year’s Six, but have overcome it with solid wins over both Tennessee and the Bears. Oklahoma has also soundly beaten pretty good teams like Texas Tech and West Virginia, and manhandled mediocre Kansas State, Iowa State and downright awful Kansas. Some people won’t give any credit to those wins, but that is pretty narrow-minded. All wins have value, and the difficulty lies in assigning the appropriate value for each win.
Orange Bowl (#2 vs. #3)- Clemson vs. Ohio State
Clemson will likely still be the number one team in the selection committee polls this week, and I can’t really find fault in that. The Tigers currently have three really good wins on their resume with a blowout win over a good, yet underrated Appalachian State, and wins over Notre Dame and Florida State. The “middle” of the resume, so to speak, contains double digit wins over Boston College, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina State, and Syracuse. N.C. State is easily the best of those four, and the 15-point win over them was solid even if it was the Tigers’ worst defensive outing of the season by a pretty wide margin.
The Buckeyes’ early season “struggles” were well documented, but ever since going back to J.T. Barrett they have started to look like the championship contender everyone expected them to beat. Ohio State owned Illinois on Saturday, and have won each of their last five games (including the win over Illinois) by double digits. These last two games will be huge for OSU though with the Michigan schools coming up in back-to-back weeks. If the Buckeyes win both of these and the Big Ten championship game the following week there’s a really nice chance that they head into the playoff as the number one overall seed.
Rose Bowl- Iowa vs. Stanford
Stanford stays atop the Pac-12 rankings almost by default at this point. The Pac-12 has pretty much eliminated itself from playoff contention, but it does still have the Rose Bowl to look forward to it. With the Cardinal and Utah both falling on Saturday, every team in the conference now has two losses, but Stanford still seems like a likely conference champion even after losing to division rival Oregon. Stanford can still clench the Pac-12 North with a win or an Oregon loss next weekend, and the Ducks have to take on a surging USC team.
Iowa didn’t look particularly impressive this weekend, nor have they most weekends but they keep winning and ultimately that’s what matters. An undefeated Big Ten champion would make the playoff I’m pretty positive. If Iowa and Ohio State play in the Big Ten championship game, it would be pretty likely that the loser ends up here, unless the committee decided to give Michigan State and/or Michigan the nod over the loser (which would probably only happen if Iowa were the loser as unfair as that may seem).
Sugar Bowl- Oklahoma State vs. Florida
The Cowboys narrowly avoided letting history repeat itself in Ames this weekend. For those of you who may not know, Ames is the home of Iowa State University, a proud university coached by an even prouder man. Oklahoma State hasn’t always looked great, but they do have one really good win on their resume (a twenty-point win over TCU) and the meat of their schedule still to come. Baylor and Oklahoma are the next two weeks for the Pokes and, as with the other OSU, a win in both games would almost assuredly be enough to vault them into the playoff.
Florida is another team that’s tough to figure out. The Gators have one really nice win with the blowout win over Ole Miss, and the loss to LSU was a “good loss”. However, beyond that several of Florida’s wins have been close shaves against teams that they shouldn’t be having close shaves against. One of the biggest things going for the Gators right now though is that they have already clenched the SEC East, and a one loss champion is considered by pretty much everyone to be a playoff lock.
Fiesta Bowl- Houston vs. Baylor
Baylor messed up this weekend. They had a major opportunity to pick up a big win and all but force the committee to put them where they belonged at the time, which was in the top four. However, now Baylor falls back some and will have to earn their way back up, if they can. Opportunities still abound for the Bears with road trips to Oklahoma State and TCU coming up, and if they can win both of those they could make a strong playoff case, but will ultimately still need help even if that happens.
Speaking of teams that need help, Houston has a great chance to run the table, but are the only remaining undefeated who needs more than to just win out to get to the top four. The big question is: what would it take? My belief is probably more optimistic for the Cougars than most, but even I believe they need Notre Dame and at least two of the Power Five champions to have two or more losses to have a shot. I think the committee could make a great statement by putting an undefeated Houston team into the playoff, but I’m not particularly hopeful that they will unless they are basically forced into it by other team’s losing.
Peach Bowl- North Carolina vs. Navy
The Tar Heels looked very uninspiring in the opening game of the season, but look at what they have done since then. A team that I picked to go 4-8, is currently 9-1 and it doesn’t look they will lose again in the regular season. Virginia Tech and N.C. State are both decent, but North Carolina has been really good since week one. The problem for the Heels is that their best wins to date are Duke and Miami, neither of whom are in the Top 25. It also doesn’t help that UNC played two FCS teams in its non-conference schedule, which will ultimately hurt in the eyes of the committee. North Carolina would need to win out and win the conference to have a shot at the playoff, and even then it isn’t a guarantee.
Navy has zero shot to make the playoff, but their New Year’s Six hopes are still very much alive. The Midshipmen close the regular season conference schedule against undefeated Houston, and would win the division with a win in that game. Navy could be the first team that I’m aware of to ever play a regular season game after a conference championship game with the annual Army-Navy game coming on the Saturday following conference championship weekend. This could also potentially mean more work for the committee who would have to wait to make sure Navy beat Army, even after Navy won the conference, to actually put them into the New Year’s Six.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Clemson Tigers
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
4. Oklahoma Sooners
5. Houston Cougars
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
7. Navy Midshipmen
8. North Carolina Tar Heels
9. Iowa Hawkeyes
10. Baylor Bears
11. Florida Gators
12. Michigan Wolverines
13. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
14. Toledo Rockets
15. Marshall Thundering Herd
16. Wisconsin Badgers
17. TCU Horned Frogs
18. Appalachian State Mountaineers
19. Michigan State Spartans
20. Stanford Cardinal
21. Florida State Seminoles
22. Bowling Green Falcons
23. USC Trojans
24. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
25. Utah Utes
First Five Out: Temple Owls, LSU Tigers, Georgia Southern Eagles, Memphis Tigers, Boise State Broncos