Predicting the next-to-last College Football Playoff rankings
Let’s get right to the College Football Playoff debate of the week: Who will be No. 2?
Georgia is a no-duh No. 1 heading into Championship Week after completing a 12-0 regular season, allowing just 83 points all season with 3 shutouts.
But who will be right behind the Bulldogs when the CFP committee releases its next-to-last rankings on Tuesday night (7 p.m., ET, ESPN)?
Alabama was No. 3 last week but needed 4 overtimes to win the Iron Bowl. Michigan was No. 5 last week but mauled the previous No. 2, Ohio State. Oregon reached as high as No. 3 just a couple of weeks ago based almost entirely on the fact that it had beaten the Buckeyes in Columbus. Michigan owns a win over OSU and also defeated Wisconsin by 21 points for its other victory over a currently ranked team.
The Crimson Tide own just 1 win over a currently ranked team but it was a pretty good one, a victory over an Ole Miss team that’s in the top 10.
So do we think the CFP poobahs will place Michigan ahead of Alabama, just because Ohio State was ahead of Alabama last week? Read on to find out.
Getting back into the top 10 of the CFP is irrelevant for the Ducks. The team’s 2nd loss, a rout at the hands of Utah, ended any Playoff conversation for Oregon, which had ranked as high as No. 3 thanks largely to that September win in Columbus. But now Oregon faces a rematch against the Utes for the Pac-12 championship. The conference is only getting 1 team into the New Year’s Day 6 anyway and that’s going to be at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. That win over the Buckeyes is the only one Oregon owns over a currently ranked team.
9. Ole Miss
The fact that the CFP is out of consideration for the Rebels, a 2-loss team that’s not going to the SEC title game, won’t ruin anyone’s mood in Oxford this week. After all, we knew last week that Alabama had clinched the SEC West, ending Mississippi’s chances of booking its first trip to Atlanta for a shot at the conference championship. So all that was left for Ole Miss to do was to beat Mississippi State and retain the Egg Bowl, which Lane Kiffin’s team did. Being this high in the CFP rankings does mean that a New Year’s Day 6 bowl is all but a certainty (several upsets would have to happen to ruin that scenario) and that has to be considered a success on The Grove.
The Bears don’t figure to make any waves in the rankings after beating a meh Texas Tech team by 3 points. But that result was only half of the equation for Baylor on Saturday. The bigger half was that Oklahoma’s loss to Oklahoma State put the Bears in the Big 12 title game. Baylor defeated Oklahoma this month, giving the Bears the tiebreaker when both teams wound up 7-2 and tied for 2nd in the league. And that meant that the CFP ranking for the Bears this week will be much more relevant than it is for the team we project to be just ahead of them. For Baylor to have any shot at the CFP as a 2-loss conference champion, it will probably need to crush Oklahoma State and get a few upsets in other league title games.
7. Ohio State
Any national title hopes evaporated for the Buckeyes with their loss to Michigan. We think Ohio State will be the top-ranked 2-loss team this week because of how dominant the offense has been — even after Saturday’s result in snowy Ann Arbor, OSU still leads the nation in total offense and scoring offense — and because the 2 losses for the scarlet and gray are high caliber, to Oregon and Michigan. It won’t matter to Ryan Day’s team one bit whether they’re No. 6, No. 7, No. 8 or No. 678. The CFP dream is over for last year’s Playoff runner-up.
6. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish are stuck in place. Notre Dame was No. 6 last week and we think that’s where it will stay despite all of the movement in the rankings all around. The win over Stanford to close the regular season won’t help one iota, nor will the fact that the Golden Domers are idle this week while all of the other remaining Playoff contenders are playing during Championship Week. Out of the 9 Power 5 opponents that Notre Dame faced this season, only Purdue and Wisconsin finished with winning records. What looked like a great schedule (USC, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, perhaps Stanford) turned out to be a dud in terms of boosting the Fighting Irish resume after that loss to Cincinnati.
5. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys got rid of nemesis Oklahoma as a CFP contender even though they allowed season highs in points (33) and total yards (441). Still, this is a very impressive win. And look more closely at those numbers. The most points Oklahoma State has allowed is 33 through 12 games, and the most yards is 441? In a league as offense-happy as the Big 12? Mike Gundy’s bunch deserves monumental credit for playing that kind of defense all season, not any slings for trailing the Sooners for a good chunk of Saturday’s game. That result should be enough to push the Stillwater OSU past Notre Dame just as the Columbus OSU slides down below the Fighting Irish in the rankings.
The Bearcats are starting to put it all together, backing up a thrashing of SMU with a smooth road win at bowl-bound East Carolina. Cincinnati ended up 12-0 for the second time in school history and clinched an undefeated 8-0 mark in the American Athletic Conference. In other words, Luke Fickell’s team, which has a few way-too-close games against some bad AAC opposition in the first few weeks of the CFP rankings, did nothing this week to deserve a drop. The discussion between Cincinnati and Oklahoma State could get interesting, but we think Cincinnati will stay put as the last Playoff semifinalist for now.
The Crimson Tide slipped back from No. 2 to No. 3 last week behind one Big Ten team. After needing a last-minute tying TD in regulation and a 4-overtime heart-stopper to beat an Auburn team that wound up 6-6, Alabama might have a hard time convincing the CFP committee that it deserves to rise back up to No. 2. At the end of the day, what’s important for Nick Saban’s bunch is what’s ahead. After all, a win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game this week would rocket the defending national champions to the top seed in the Playoff because that would be the most impressive win on anyone’s résumé anywhere.
The precedent has been set here. Last week, the CFP committee vaulted Ohio State past Alabama for the No. 2 spot after OSU clobbered then-No. 7 Michigan State and Bama squeaked past Arkansas. On Saturday, the Crimson Tide had to survive again while Michigan dominated Ohio State. It wasn’t just the margin — 42-27 over the Buckeyes was convincing, if not quite a blowout — but the way the Wolverines won that should impress CFP voters. The kind of defense and running game that UM displayed against OSU travels well anywhere. The guess here is that, even though the CFP rankings consider the entire season, the win over OSU will stand out more than anything Bama has done in recent weeks and Michigan will jump to second.
Amid all of the chaos this season, Georgia remains at the top — steady, consistent, playing old-fashioned football with a modern level of speed and athleticism on both sides of the ball. After hammering Georgia Tech 45-0 on Saturday, the Bulldogs have punched their ticket to the CFP. Now it’s just a matter of seeding: Best Alabama in Atlanta and the Dawgs will stay No. 1 and get to pick either the Cotton Bowl or Orange Bowl for their semifinal. With a loss, UGA would slip to No. 2 or perhaps No. 3. In any event, the lone undefeated team in the Power 5 is 100% certain to top this week’s CFP poll yet again, as it has done since the first rankings came out in early November.