The College Football Playoff Committee loves stirring the pot, don’t they?
Tuesday’s initial rankings once again raised more than a few eyebrows across the country. Some of the biggest surprises included Alabama debuting at No. 2, Oregon landing in the top four, and undefeated Cincinnati ranking at No. 6.
The Committee made plenty of good calls this time around, but don’t worry, there’s still much to debate. Let’s evaluate this year’s playoff contenders and determine whether the Committee got their rankings right or wrong.
The Bulldogs are the clear No. 1 team in college football right now. Georgia boasts an undefeated record, knocking off a handful of good Power 5 teams, while consistently performing at a dominant level. Georgia’s closest game came in Week 1 against Clemson — a game that the Bulldogs controlled from start to finish. That seven-point win doesn’t look nearly as impressive now that Clemson has suffered a couple more losses, but if the biggest blemish on Georgia’s resume is a relatively close win against a team that had lost just three regular season games since 2015, I’d say that’s a picking hairs.
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The Bulldogs have won all of their other games by at least 24 points, including a road win against an Auburn team that controls its own destiny in the SEC West, and a victory against 6-2 Kentucky. There’s no debate to be had here. The Bulldogs are the best team in college football right now, and as long as they win out in the regular season, they will be in the Playoff, regardless of the outcome in the SEC Championship game.
CFP Ranking: No. 1
Verdict: The Committee ranked Georgia at No. 1, the Bulldogs deserved to be ranked No. 1. This was an easy call.
Alabama’s argument to be ranked in the top four is a little more complicated. We all know how good the Crimson Tide has the potential to be, given Nick Saban’s stellar track record. But none of Alabama’s previous success can be factored into the evaluation of this year’s team.
Alabama has three wins of significance so far. The Tide opened the season by throttling Miami. The Hurricanes went on to struggle after that 44-13 defeat, but now control their own fate in the ACC Coastal, following big wins against NC State and Pitt. Alabama’s other major wins were a 42-21 drubbing of Ole Miss (in a game that wasn’t even as close as the scoreboard suggests) and a 49-9 throttling of Mississippi State.
But of course, Alabama, unlike Georgia, has a loss. It was a road loss to a very good SEC team, but it was a loss, nonetheless. Beyond that loss, Alabama sweated out a win against Florida — a game in which the Gators out-gained the Tide — and couldn’t put away Tennessee until the fourth quarter. Florida and Tennessee have been nothing more than average this season, and since Alabama has already suffered a loss, its standing will heavily depend on its performance in games such as these.
Alabama has a clear path to the Playoff. If it wins the SEC, it will deservedly rank in the top four. Given its resume right now, though, the Tide is very much on the bubble.
CFP Ranking: No. 2
Verdict: Alabama has not been consistently dominant enough to deserve a ranking above undefeated teams with similarly impressive wins. This is far too high of a ranking.
The Committee needs to stop treating Cincinnati as little more than a feel-good story. The Bearcats have done what few have managed to do at this point: win every game on their schedule.
So far, only two of Cincinnati’s FBS opponents have a record above .500. But one of those opponents was a one-loss Notre Dame, and the Bearcats still have to play a one-loss SMU, and potentially a one-loss Houston in the American Championship Game. The American isn’t the SEC or the Big 10, but we need to stop pretending that it’s a tier below the Pac-12 and ACC.
Cincinnati has played at a top-four level for most of the season. Its win at Notre Dame is the second-most impressive victory of any Playoff contender. Notre Dame has been inconsistent this year, but it still has a very real shot at finishing 11-1, and Cincinnati emphatically beat it. The Bearcats did struggle against Navy, only winning by a touchdown, and had some trouble against a plucky Tulane team, but this is a group that has beaten all but one opponent by double digits.
Potential one-loss Power 5 champions will have strong arguments when all is said and done, but as of now, Cincinnati has a top-four resume.
CFP Ranking: No. 6
Verdict: This is the Committee’s biggest misstep. Cincinnati’s resume is very comparable to Michigan State’s. This is a top-four team; they’re ranked far too low.
Oklahoma is an undefeated Power 5 team, but the Sooners have seemingly done everything in their power to trip up along the way. Oklahoma has won a whopping five one-possession games this season, and that doesn’t include its victory over Kansas in which the wholly inept Jayhawks inexplicably led the Sooners at halftime 10-0.
The Sooners’ struggles are even more unforgivable considering they’ve only played two FBS teams with a record above .500 this season. Their end-of-game heroics have come against the likes of 4-4 Texas and 4-4 West Virginia. Not exactly powerhouses.
If the Sooners are able to win out in a brutal end-of-season stretch that includes Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma State, they’ll comfortably be in the Playoff as an undefeated Power 5 team. But right now, since Oklahoma hasn’t yet won any of those resume-building games, they have one of the least-impressive arguments to be a top-four team.
CFP Ranking: No. 8
Verdict: Oklahoma should probably be ranked above Michigan, but that’s nitpicking. The Committee did well by not rewarding Oklahoma for winning games by the skin of its teeth.
The Spartans may be the hardest team to evaluate in this discussion. Michigan State is undefeated, with a huge win against then-undefeated Michigan. The Spartans also throttled the same Miami team that could prop up Alabama’s resume.
But the Spartans haven’t played like a playoff team for much of the season. They were significantly out-gained in their big win against the Wolverines, and a number of controversial calls went their way. Beyond that game, Michigan State struggled mightily against a couple of bad Big 10 teams in Nebraska and Indiana (the same Indiana team that both Cincinnati and Ohio State beat by double digits).
The Spartans have a dominant player — Kenneth Walker III — but don’t have a dominant team. Things will work themselves out, as Michigan State will either be exposed as a pretender or prove that it’s a contender, with big games against Ohio State and Penn State looming. Right now, the Spartans have to get credit for beating Miami and Michigan and remaining undefeated. But they’re far from an impressive candidate at the moment.
CFP Ranking: No. 3
Verdict: This was spot-on. Michigan State has to be in the top four with its undefeated record and victory over Michigan, but they have not been good enough to warrant a higher ranking.
Here’s where things get dicey. Ohio State has looked like the second-best team in the country for stretches this season. Unlike Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon, the Buckeyes have thoroughly dominated lesser teams all year long.
However, in the three games they’ve played against good Power 5 teams this year, the Buckeyes have had some trouble, trailing against Minnesota at the half in Week 1, losing to Oregon at home in Week 2, and only leading by a field goal against Penn State entering the fourth quarter. The team is simply hard to piece together.
Still, for all of its struggles, Ohio State did beat both Minnesota and Penn State by multiple possessions, and the rest of its wins were blowouts. Plus, a close loss against Oregon is as good of a loss (if there is such a thing) as any contender has suffered this season.
Ohio State has played better than any other one-loss team in the country for the duration of the season. But alas, there is the Oregon factor …
CFP Ranking: No. 5
Verdict: Another team properly rated by the Committee, Ohio State has to rank behind Oregon, but should be above Oklahoma.
It’s arguable, but I think most people would agree that Ohio State has been a better team than Oregon for most of the season. Regardless, Oregon deserves to be ranked ahead of Ohio State if their records are equal because Oregon beat them. End of discussion.
If the goal of the Playoff were truly to field the four best teams, then Vegas odds and power rating systems would determine the ranking. Why play the games if the on-field results don’t matter?
Oregon has had a couple of solid, albeit close, wins against UCLA and Fresno State. But make no mistake, the Ducks’ victory over Ohio State was the best win of the entire college football season, and it’s looking better by the week as Ohio State continues to win.
The Ducks haven’t played at a top-four level for much of the season, but that win, and the fact that they’ve managed to win all but one of their other games, means they should not fall behind the Buckeyes no matter how well Ohio State plays down the stretch.
CFP Ranking: No. 4
Verdict: The Committee got this one right. As long as Oregon keeps winning, it should stay above the Buckeyes.
How does your top seven compare? Do you think the Playoff Committee got it right last night?
Morgantown, West Virginia
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck
Joshua is an adopted Duck fanatic, originally hailing from southwestern Pennsylvania. His love for the University of Oregon began as a young child when he became mesmerized by the flashy uniforms and explosive offenses of the Chip Kelly era, and now, he follows the team religiously. His fondest memory of the team is seeing De’Anthony Thomas race past Wisconsin defenders back in the 2012 Rose Bowl. A true football enthusiast, Joshua loves studying the intricacies of the game, and he aspires to become a professional sports journalist. Joshua now resides in Morgantown, West Virginia where he works in customer service. When he’s not watching Oregon replays, Joshua loves reading, writing, and spending time with his family. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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