The latest College Football Playoff rankings came out on Tuesday night, and we will dive into them in just a second, but I want to go into a topic that deserves more than a one paragraph blurb beneath the rankings — the University of Houston's place in the College Football Playoff landscape, which is highly relevant given the number of Power Five conference schools that will be pawing at their head coach in the next month or so.
Let me preface what I think needs to happen for the Coogs over the next ten months by telling you what I don't think will ever happen for them, and that's an invitation to the Big XII. In 2015, conference expansion is not a "quality of program" driven phenomenon, it's a "TV market" driven phenomenon. Just ask the Big Ten, who expanded two seasons ago by adding Maryland and Rutgers, two below average football programs who happen to reside in the D.C. and New York City TV markets. If the Big XII expands (a massive "if"), Maybe someday the quality of the football program and facilities will take precedence in conference realignment, but right now, it just doesn't.
For the record, I think the Big XII will approach Cincinnati, Memphis, one of the Florida AAC schools, and maybe even UConn before they approach Houston. In other words, the Big XII already has the Houston TV market covered, saturated even, with Texas, Baylor, TCU, and Texas Tech (and to a lesser extent, OU and Oklahoma State, two big alumni bases in Houston). The Big XII does not have a window into Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, or the Northeast. End of story.
So what does Houston do to try to somehow get into the championship discussion, enough to where a bigger salary isn't the only thing keeping Tom Herman here? Well, it's pretty simple — win football games. I know, you're like "Wow, great insight, Sean! You should get your own show on ESPN screaming at Skip Bayless!" But just hear me out.
For the University of Houston, 2016 might wind up being the most important football season in the program's history, but only if the 2015 Cougars make it so. In some sense, I feel like Houston's 2016 season started on Saturday with the win over Memphis, and here's why — so much of college football's impressions headed into a season are shaped by how the previous season ended. Houston has enough on its plate now, with the potential to add more to its plate with an AAC title game and massive bowl game, to be a top 10 or 15 team headed into next season.
Look at it — there's the remainder of the regular season, which entails a trip to UConn this weekend and then a home game against 16th ranked Navy. After that, there'd be a home game for the AAC title, likely against Temple, which has been in the Top 25 for most of the last month or two. If the Cougars win those games, they'll take an undefeated record into a New Year's Eve/Day bowl matchup against a likely Top 10 Power Five team.
If somehow they're able to run that gauntlet, which is difficult but far from impossible, the Coogs return in 2016 with a ton of buzz, a hot head coach, a Heisman candidate at quarterback, and an opening weekend matchup in Houston against an Oklahoma team that could start the season in the top five. In other words, the opportunity is in front of them, and they don't have to beg the Big XII for anything. I can't stress this enough, the University of Houston's best chance at being in a championship mix is to maximize what they have, become what Boise State was for so long and what Gonzaga is in basketball — an elite team that supersedes its conference.
Because if the Big XII does decide to expand, and it yanks away a couple of the AAC's other stellar programs, it may be a "be careful what you wish for" situation for Cougars hoping the Big XII opens the books again to add new members.
Ok, this week's rankings….
1. Clemson 10-0
2. Alabama 9-1
3. Ohio State 10-0
4. Notre Dame 9-1
5. Iowa 10-0
6. Oklahoma State 10-0
7. Oklahoma 9-1
8. Florida 9-1
9. Michigan State 9-1
10. Baylor 8-1
11. Stanford 8-2
12. Michigan 8-2
13. Utah 8-2
14. Florida State 8-2
15. LSU 7-2
16. Navy 8-1
17. North Carolina 9-1
18. TCU 9-1
19. Houston 10-0
20. Northwestern 8-2
21. Memphis 8-2
22. Ole Miss 7-3
23. Oregon 7-3
24. USC 7-3
25. Wisconsin 8-2
And a few thoughts….
1. I mentioned this on Monday, and will say it again — the committee, for one week, has to feel like it got it right with their top four teams, none of whom came close to being scared on Saturday. I still feel like the list of teams that 100 percent control their own destiny are Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, and Florida. Iowa and Oklahoma State are close, insomuch as they're both undefeated, but who knows how this committee will treat their schedules versus Notre Dame's, which is starting to look better each week, with USC (a ten point loser to ND) popping into this week's rankings at 24.
2. How should the Big XII feel about these rankings? I'd still say they should be a little nervous, with so many chances for the ranked teams to cannibalize each other in the next two weeks. The big fly in the ointment for the Big XII could wind up being Texas, and here's why — the team playing the best football in the Big XII right now is Oklahoma. If the 7th ranked Sooners win out, it could turn into a beauty contest with them and potentially one-loss Notre Dame for the fourth and final playoff spot, and while the Sooners have been mauling teams, their resume will always have that 24-17 loss to Texas in October. Notre Dame beat Texas 38-3 in the opening week of the season. Advantage, Irish.
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3. Baylor, after losing to OU, still sits in 10th place. With Oklahoma State and TCU remaining on the schedule, there's a chance for the Bears to climb back onto the margins, but I will make this call right now — a two-loss Stanford or Utah winning the Pac-12 will jump a one-loss Baylor, if it comes down to that. Why? Simple. Out of conference scheduling. Stanford will have played Northwestern and Notre Dame outside of the Pac-12, and Utah will have played and beat Michigan. Baylor unapologetically played Lamar, Rice, and SMU. Advantage, Pac-12 schools.
4. Don't look now, but coming up on the outside as a possible dream crusher is the North Carolina Tar Heels, ranked 17th and destroying teams lately. I don't think they have enough juice to get into the top four (a loss to South Carolina is a killer), but they can certainly make life hard on Clemson in the ACC Title Game.
This is about to get fun!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.