Sean Pendergast

Survivor: College Football Playoff Edition — Which Four Schools Would Go Today?

Nick Saban would not like us looking ahead to the postseason in October,
Nick Saban would not like us looking ahead to the postseason in October, Screen grab from YouTube
There are a lot of things that college football has gotten wrong through the years, and the correction for those things are typically done, at best, at glacial speed. The advent of the College Football Playoff, implemented in the 2014 season, is certainly among those things, but there is no doubt that it is a "better late than never" scenario.

The College Football Playoff itself is great, but the residual effect of the playoff's existence — the constant wave of speculation, debate, and conjecture over which four teams deserve inclusion in the four team tournament — is fantastic. The selection committee will be releasing its first set of rankings in the next few weeks, but it's never too early for a random radio host and freelance blogger to give his or her opinions on which (a) four teams would go if the playoff started today, and (b) which teams still have a pulse, ranging anywhere from strong to "on life support."

So, since we have no committee rankings off of which to work, for purposes of this exercise, let's use this week's AP rankings. These are generated by 60 media members ranking their 25 best teams in the nation. I like these better than the USA TODAY coach's poll because (a) writers watch way more teams than coaches do, and (b) I find about 20 percent of the college football coaches in the country to be on the portion of the intelligence curve to where I trust their opinion. (NOTE: If you're a college head coach reading this, then know that you're in that 20 percent. No really, I swear....)

So, here are this week's AP Top 25 rankings:

1. Alabama (58) 5-0 1497
2. Georgia 5-0 1405
3. Ohio State (1) 5-0 1395
4. Clemson (1) 5-0 1278
5. LSU 5-0 1233
6. Notre Dame 5-0 1216
7. Oklahoma 5-0 1193
8. Auburn 4-1 1002
9. West Virginia 4-0 998
10. Washington 4-1 978
11. Penn State 4-1 920
12. UCF 4-0 759
13. Kentucky 5-0 707
14. Stanford 4-1 700
15. Michigan 4-1 687
16. Wisconsin 3-1 642
17. Miami 4-1 600
18. Oregon 4-1 462
19. Texas 4-1 403
20. Michigan State 3-1 281
21. Colorado 4-0 225
22. Florida 4-1 210
23. NC State 4-0 118
24. Virginia Tech 3-1 89
25. Oklahoma State 4-1 88
Ok, here are my thoughts, as I put on my "mock selection committee" hat:

1. If I had to seed the College Football Playoff right now, based on the bodies of work through five weeks of the season, they would go, as follows:

1. Alabama vs 4. Notre Dame
2. LSU vs 3. Ohio State

My rationale for these four teams being the four I am selecting goes as follows:

1. ALABAMA: Unlike the other three teams, they haven't really beaten anybody noteworthy (sorry, Aggies), but they are so far on another level over anything we've seen the last few years, they have to be in here, and if they're in here, They are the top seed.

2. LSU: They have two top ten wins — Miami (FL) at a neutral site and Auburn on the road. They haven't shown any signs of being susceptible to let downs like past LSU teams. They are No. 2.

3. OHIO STATE: In back to back weeks, they beat TCU in Arlington, and had a comeback on the road at night against a top ten Penn State team. Very solid resume.

4. NOTRE DAME: The one team where people will call me a homer (ND, Class of '91), but they have a win over Top 15 Michigan and a blowout against Stanford, ranked seventh at the time. The QB change to Ian Book, who's been spectacular in two starts, should change how this team is viewed.

So let's get to the other schools, and categorize them:


GEORGIA: Yeah, I know, Georgia is clearly playing the second best brand of football of any team in the nation, and if I'm going to give Alabama the benefit of the doubt of having not beaten anybody yet, should I not give Georgia that same benefit? Maybe, but Georgia ain't Alabama. They also still have LSU, Florida, Kentucky, and Auburn on their schedule, so this will sort itself out.

OKLAHOMA: The offense looks great with Kyler Murray, but that defense. Not great. That said, an undefeated Oklahoma should rise above any one-loss SEC carnage, and there will be carnage.

AUBURN: Auburn running the table would mean a win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and an 11-1 record, and likely a berth in the SEC Title Game. I can't imagine a 12-1 SEC champ not getting in. (Need a couple LSU losses, so maybe they don't TOTALLY control their own destiny, but even at 11-1, it'd be a shock if Auburn didn't get in, like Alabama last season.)

WEST VIRGINIA: May need style points, but like Oklahoma, I think an undefeated, Big XII champion West Virginia would get into the playoff. I think.

KENTUCKY: Yes, Kentucky! They're undefeated and they're in the SEC, so technically this means they control their own destiny. Hey, they probably lose a game or three, but still, this is kind of fun!


CLEMSON: It would seem as though an undefeated Clemson would be a lock for the College Football Playoff, but they have two things working against them — first, the ACC is WAY down this year, so there are no vintage Florida State or vintage Louisville wins to beef up the resume. Second, Clemson may just not be that good this season, after nearly losing to Texas A&M and Syracuse, the latter at home. Undefeated SEC champ, undefeated Big 12 champ, undefeated Big Ten champ, and undefeated Notre Dame — all possible — go in ahead of undefeated Clemson.

WASHINGTON: Their only loss is a close one to Auburn in SEC territory, so the path to a Pac-12 title is still very much intact. They're not sitting pretty, but the loss being out of conference helps.

STANFORD: Ditto Stanford, with the loss being to Notre Dame. The winner of this Stanford-Washington game on November 3 could be on the fringe for the playoff (especially if it's the Huskies, since their one loss was still a close game, unlike Stanford).

MICHIGAN: Another team that lost to Notre Dame, but they still control their own destiny, with plenty of chances to impress against four ranked teams, including Ohio State.


PENN STATE: Amazing how one loss (and one horrific fourth down play call) can change a season, but Penn State is severely damaged, needing TWO Ohio State losses to get into the Big Ten title game. That and their out of conference schedule is terrible (Appalachian State, Pitt, Kent State).

UCF: Sorry, UCF. You're a fun little story again. Also, I realize that if you don't make the playoff, you'll just declare yourself champions anyway, so what's the point.

WISCONSIN: A one-loss Big Ten champ doesn't get in if the one loss is as a 24-point favorite at home to BYU. Sorry, J.J. Watt.

MIAMI: Miami's one loss was out of conference, but it was a thrashing at the hands of LSU, and to my earlier point with Clemson, the ACC kind of sucks this season.

OREGON: Oregon may very well finish the season 11-1, and if they do, then they will regret their handling of the last 20 minutes of the Stanford game for the rest of their lives.

TEXAS: We will see what happened against Oklahoma, but Texas has positioned themselves as a nice Big XII dark horse. But even a Big XII title win't fully rub the stink of a loss to Maryland off this team.

MICHIGAN STATE: Yeah, Michigan State controls its own destiny for the Big Ten, but the one loss is to Herm Edwards and Arizona State, so...yeah.

FLORIDA: The one loss being to Kentucky in the division is a killer, although we will see if Kentucky is for real. Also, the annual chance to impress late in the season against Florida State is out the window, since the Seminoles blow.

COLORADO: Does an undefeated Pac-12 champion automatically get in? No, no they don't.

N.C. STATE: Yeah, they're undefeated, but if I don't think an undefeated Clemson controls their own destiny, can I really feel differently about N.C. State?

So there you go, I draw the line at 23 teams still with at least a shred of hope, just above number 24 Virginia Tech (sorry, a loss to Old Dominion eliminates you) and number 25 Oklahoma State (sorry, a loss at home to Texas Tech eliminates you). The next few schools receiving votes are Group of Five schools (Boise State, South Florida, Cincinnati) or one-loss Power Five schools with no chance (Syracuse, Iowa).

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast