Predicting what the fourth College Football Playoff ranking will look like
Finally we’re to the last Tuesday rankings show. Finally we saw a top-7 team lose a game. We have Florida’s shoe-throwing disaster to thank for that.
The question now is how does that shake up Nos. 6-10. Those spots are, in many ways, still significant. We still have teams vying for an outside shot at the Playoff. That includes teams like Cincinnati and even USC, which matched Ohio State’s 5-0 with a comeback win against UCLA on Saturday.
So what will the rankings look like on the last Tuesday show of the year (the field will be revealed Sunday afternoon)? Here’s my guess at the top 10:
I absolutely think the Trojans leap into the top 10, especially after Miami was smoked by UNC while Oklahoma and Indiana were both idle. USC is now 5-0, just like Ohio State. The selection committee has done its best to try and keep all the Power 5 conferences engaged (see last week’s No. 7 ranking of Iowa State). It wouldn’t surprise me if we saw the Trojans jump into the top 10 to make it seem like the Pac-12 is still competing for a Playoff spot, even if their combined opponents’ record is 7-14.
Yes, I think the Dawgs move back a spot despite their rather impressive showing against a ranked Mizzou squad on the road. Why? The selection committee told us before that head-to-head matters, and Georgia still doesn’t have the head-to-head with now 2-loss Florida. The only way in which Georgia doesn’t move back a spot is if the selection committee rethinks that belief, or if it goes back on its absurd No. 7 ranking of Iowa State, which was more egregious than those favorable Georgia rankings.
Georgia, in a way, is like a buffer for Florida. Even after that brutal loss to LSU as a 3-score home favorite, the Gators’ fall shouldn’t be as steep as some imagined. Remember that Florida was ranked behind Texas A&M because of the head-to-head. The Gators still have that — and by double digits on a neutral site — against Georgia. I’d actually have Florida ranked ahead of 2-loss Iowa State, which still has that 3-score home loss to a Group of 5 team, but based on what we’ve seen from the selection committee so far, it’s safe to say the Cyclones are getting the overwhelming benefit of the doubt.
Could the idle Bearcats, who have yet to play a game since the first rankings come out, be in position to actually move up a spot? My guess is yes. I think the selection committee sends a bad message if Florida only drops 1 spot after a home loss as a 23-point favorite. Ergo, moving Cincinnati and Iowa State up a spot is something they can justify. Was it a slap in the face that an unbeaten Cincinnati team fell behind a 2-loss Iowa State team who lost by 3 scores at home to a Sun Belt team? Yes. Will it still be a slap in the face? Absolutely. But again, the selection committee already showed its hand, as weird as it is.
6. Iowa State
If you read 7-10, you know that I don’t have a lot of nice things to say about the Cyclones’ baffling ranking. My guess is that the Florida loss somehow moves them up to No. 6, despite the fact that they had a bye week. They already came in at No. 7 last week ahead of Georgia and Cincinnati. Because I believe Florida still has to be ranked ahead of Georgia based on the head-to-head, it allows the selection committee to continue to justify this ridiculous spot for Matt Campbell’s team. The selection committee is trying to convince us that the Big 12 title game has Playoff ramifications, but we should know better. That “2” in the loss column looms large.
5. Texas A&M
Here’s the good news for the Aggies. As much of a bummer as it was that the Ole Miss game got canceled, Florida losing to LSU was 1 of the key things that needed to bounce their way. Florida having a Playoff path with 1 loss stood in the way of A&M because of that potential Alabama win, but that’s no longer the case. The Aggies are now in a spot where if they beat Tennessee and then get either a Clemson blowout win OR a Notre Dame win against Clemson, they have favorable odds to make the field regardless of what happens to Ohio State. Nothing is a given. Monitor that interesting USC ranking, too. If the Trojans suddenly jump into the top 7 or 8, that’s bad news.
But if that doesn’t happen, A&M’s path is at least still there heading into the last weekend. That’s all Jimbo Fisher could’ve asked for post-Alabama loss.
4. Ohio State
Another canceled game, another top-4 ranking? Not to go all Dan Mullen here, but the selection committee has told us that playing games isn’t the end all, be all. The Buckeyes can still make the field by simply winning the Big Ten Championship. Did it really matter whether the Buckeyes played in the conference title game or instead played a solid Iowa squad? No, I’d argue. But this ranking is significant for Ohio State because assuming it doesn’t change, A&M’s opponent isn’t better. It’s a 3-win Tennessee team.
Now that Florida lost to LSU, the only way the Buckeyes get bumped out of the field is by losing to Northwestern. That is, assuming they get this No. 4 spot Tuesday night.
Isn’t it nice not to have to play a game with the conference title berth already clinched? The Tigers, not Florida, got that luxury. As a result, Clemson’s path is obvious. For them, Saturday’s ACC Championship is a de-facto Playoff quarterfinal game (it isn’t that for Notre Dame). There’s not really any mystery to it at this point, but I fully expect Dabo Swinney to live in a world where he thinks a 2-loss Clemson team should totally make the field. That’s not happening. What’s more likely is that the Tigers can win and knock Notre Dame down to that No. 4 spot so that they don’t need to have a grudge match with the Irish in the Playoff.
2. Notre Dame
I’m OK with the Irish still having a Playoff path with a Clemson loss, depending on what it looks like. If it’s clear that they can’t stay on the field with a Trevor Lawrence Clemson offense, forget about it. We’ve never seen a team get waxed in a conference title game and then still make the field. But if the Irish make it a 60-minute game or at least keep it within 2 scores, that’s a different conversation, especially now with that 14-point win at UNC looking even better following the Heels’ drubbing at Miami. That’ll give the Irish a 10-1 record and more than 120 minutes of showing that they can hang with the program who’s had more success than anyone in the last 5 seasons. A big Saturday is in store, to say the least.
In. Don’t argue it. You’ll just sound dumb. We’re talking about a 10-0 team against only SEC opponents with an average margin of victory north of 30 points, and 2 of those wins came against top-10 teams by 3 scores.
Ticket punched. Forget about it. Only 3 spots are on the line this weekend.