There's a theory out there that the College Football Playoff is (and will forever remain) four teams in part because the 12 person committee thirsts attention and relevance, and four teams lends itself to perpetual debate, if for no other reason because there are five power conferences and only four playoff spots.
However, if that's their goal, then one could argue that they chopped their own nose off by doing their collective job just a little too well this season. Last week, the top five were (in order) Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Michigan State. After a Thanksgiving rivalry weekend, we are left with not only the same exact top five, but a playoff path that is virtually locked in heading into Conference Title Game weekend.
Here are the rankings released last night:
1. Clemson 12-0
2. Alabama 11-1
3. Oklahoma 11-1
4. Iowa 12-0
5. Michigan State 11-1
6. Ohio State 11-1
7. Stanford 10-2
8. Notre Dame 10-2
9. Florida State 10-2
10. North Carolina 11-1
11. TCU 10-2
12. Baylor 9-2
13. Ole Miss 9-3
14. Northwestern 10-2
15. Michigan 9-3
16. Oregon 9-3
17. Oklahoma State 10-2
18. Florida 10-2
19. Houston 11-1
20. USC 8-4
21. LSU 9-3
22. Temple 10-2
23. Navy 9-2
24. Utah 9-3
25. Tennessee 8-4
(NOTE: Dropped from rankings — Washington State 20, Mississippi State 21, UCLA 22, Toledo 24)
Now, a few observations:
1. It would have taken a massive troll job of rankings shuffling from last week to this week to inject any controversy or debate into the playoff dialogue. Things are pretty damn simple — Clemson should beat North Carolina (although I'm shocked the Tigers are only a 5 point favorite), Alabama should murder Florida (rightly, a 17.5 point underdog), Oklahoma is finished and in, and the winner of the Big Ten title game (Michigan State -4 over Iowa) will get the fourth spot. This is the cookie cutter scenario, and based on moneylines, it has roughly a 70 percent chance of happening. But what if…..
2. Now, Florida ain't beating Alabama, so we won't even go there, but what if North Carolina (12 game winning streak) knocks off Clemson? Well, by my count, there are three teams on the playoff "stand by" list if that were to happen: 6. Ohio State, 7. Stanford, 10. North Carolina. (8. Notre Dame and 9. Florida State are both finished with their seasons with no chance for upward movement.) Here is the case for and against each one (if Stanford and UNC were to win this weekend):
PROS: Defending national champ…one of three best teams talent-wise…destroyed top 10 rival on the road in last game…only loss on last second FG to #5 team
CONS: 61st ranked SOS…struggled against lesser teams routinely….beat just three teams with winning records
STANFORD (if they beat USC)
PROS: Pac-12 champ….16th rated SOS….played two difficult OOC games (NW and ND)
CONS: Only team on "stand by" with two losses…loses the "brand" battle with Ohio State
NORTH CAROLINA (if they beat Clemson)
PROS: Hasn't lost since Week 1….ACC Title Game win would give them best win on the board
CONS: One loss is to 3-9 South Carolina…..no Top 25 wins….not a strong CFB brand…probably needs to do more than just win, probably needs to destroy Clemson
I think, in this case, Ohio State would get the bid. Just my gut feeling.
3. Houston is back in the rankings at 19th after a one week omission thanks to their 52-31 trouncing of Navy. The Cougars have the highest ranking of the non-Power Five schools, and they face 22nd ranked Temple in the AAC Title Game on Saturday. The Coogs are favored by a little under a touchdown. If they win, they likely get Florida State in the Peach Bowl, or Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Either one would be a great possible win over a big brand name to head into the offseason and a potentially lofty ranking (for an AAC school) headed into 2016.
4. While we're on the other New Year's Six Bowl games, the most likely scenario, based on Vegas spreads in title games this weekend, are as follows (all times CST):
December 31, 2015
11 a.m. — Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Houston vs. Florida State
3 p.m. or 7 p.m. — Capital One Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Michigan State (semifinal No. 1)
3 p.m. or 7 p.m. — Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Alabama vs. Oklahoma (semifinal No. 2)
January 1, 2016
12 p.m. — Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame
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4 p.m. — Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual: Iowa vs. Stanford
7:30 p.m. — Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss
Pretty solid set of games, although purely out of intrigue, I'd rather see Baylor in the Sugar Bowl against an SEC team just to see Art Briles' team go up against an SEC defense. Ohio State versus Notre Dame has a chance, hype-wise, to be one of the best non-BCS/playoff bowl match ups of the last ten years. Brian Kelly versus Urban Meyer, Joey Bosa versus Ronny Stanley, DeShone Kizer against his home state school. Freaking stupendous.
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