Posted on November 3, 2021
For the last several weeks, I’ve been offering my own version of the Top 25 in an attempt to frame how I understood the college football landscape as a whole.
With the publication of the first College Football Playoff Rankings, it doesn’t make much sense for me to offer my own rankings.
Instead, I’ll be focusing on the Top 10 in the CFP rankings and trying to provide some insight as to how the committee has ranked teams and why.
1 — Georgia (8-0)
At this point I think everyone is on the same page regarding Georgia being the best team in the country. They just finished a stretch of playing Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, and Florida and outscored them 135-30.
With Alabama at No. 2 in the initial rankings, it seems to indicate that Georgia could lose in the SEC Championship and stay in the Playoff field.
2 – Alabama (7-1)
I have to admit I was surprised to see Alabama get the No. 2 CFP ranking over a handful of undefeated teams, and I’m curious if Alabama will stay in that spot if Michigan State and Oklahoma both win out.
The teams Alabama has beaten are not quite as formidable as we initially thought. Miami and Florida were both top 15 teams when Alabama beat them. They are both 4-4 now.
Their best wins are against 6-2 Ole Miss (15th AP, 16th CFP) and 5-3 Mississippi State (unranked AP, 17th CFP). That ranking of Mississippi State is an indicator of how much the committee values SEC competition. They have 7 SEC teams in their top 25.
I tend to think the path for Alabama and the SEC is pretty straightforward. If Alabama beats Georgia in the SEC Championship and both teams finish 12-1, I’m assuming the committee would include both of them in the playoff.
If Georgia deals Alabama a second loss, I’m assuming winners of the Big 10, Pac 12, and Big 12 would stand to benefit.
3 — Michigan State (8-0)
Michigan State is the lone remaining undefeated team in the Big 10. They just pulled out a thrilling win over their in-state rivals behind the efforts of their Heisman-caliber running back Kenneth Walker.
It seems pretty clear that if Michigan State wins out, they’re in.
My question is what if Michigan State doesn’t win out? Say they lose a thriller at Ohio State in a couple weeks and end the year 11-1 with their lone loss coming on the road to a top 5 team.
Is that a scenario in which the committee would entertain giving the Big 10 a second team?
4 — Oregon (7-1)
This seemed to be the biggest shocker in the initial rankings, and since this is a Pac-12 website and I’m a huge Oregon fan, we should probably unpack this ranking a bit more.
The committee clearly placed a high value on Oregon’s head-to-head win over Ohio State. It’s the best win that anyone has on their resume, and the fact that it came with Kayvon Thibodeaux sidelined only helped their case.
Also in Oregon’s favor, their season opening win over 7-2 Fresno is considered a Top 25 win now, which means they beat two top 25 teams in nonconference play. How many teams can say that?
Fan bases from Columbus, Cincinnati, and Norman will surely look to poke holes in Oregon’s resume going forward and there is no doubt that loss to Stanford looks worse by the week.
The Cardinal have lost three straight since beating the Ducks, which means Oregon is the only legit playoff contender that has a loss to a team with a losing record on their resume.
At this point, it seems the committee isn’t too bothered by that one loss. Maybe they recognized it as one of the wonkiest games in recent memory.
After all, that was a game in which:
• Oregon’s offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was rushed into emergency surgery shortly before the game
• CJ Verdell was lost to a season ending knee injury
• Kayvon Thibodeaux was ejected for a targeting call during Stanford’s final drive
• And a few of the late calls against Oregon were so egregious that I had Husky fans texting me afterward complaining about the officiating.
Maybe some of the committee members watched that game and were able to put that loss in context. Or maybe Tyrone Willingham’s presence on the committee has everyone thinking a loss to Stanford isn’t so bad.
Whatever the justification, it appears the Ohio State win gave the Ducks a mulligan—and they used it against Stanford.
Looking forward, the rooting interest for Duck fans seems pretty clear: They should be rooting for Ohio State and rooting against everybody else.
5 – Ohio State (7-1)
While much of the conversation right now centers around Oregon and Ohio State battling for the “final spot” in the Playoff, the truth is that Ohio State won’t be trying to take Oregon’s spot; they’ll be trying to take Michigan State’s spot.
Ohio State just beat Penn State 33-24 in the first game of a brutal closing stretch which will also include games against Michigan State and Michigan.
If the Buckeyes win out, they’d be 12-1 conference champs with their only loss coming in September to a Top 10 team. It’s hard to envision that team getting left out of the playoff even if their head to head loss keeps them behind Oregon.
6 — Cincinnati (9-0)
Cincinnati has a great road win over a top 10 Notre Dame team and not a lot else.
They find themselves at No. 6, so it’s possible they creep into the top four if a few teams above them lose, but also possible that someone behind them (see Oklahoma) simply leap frogs them in the closing weeks.
Cincinnati could have a chance for a couple more quality wins before ending their season. They’ll play 7-1 SMU in a couple weeks. If they win that, they’re likely to play 7-1 Houston in their conference championship.
But it’s telling that both SMU and Houston find themselves in the AP top 25, but not in the CFP top 25. That lack of respect for the AAC could be difficult for the Bearcats to overcome.
7 — Michigan (7-1)
Michigan’s heartbreaking loss at Michigan State will make it very difficult for the Wolverines to challenge for the Big Ten East title. The Wolverines need to win out, which would require beating Ohio State.
Given how the Buckeyes have owned the Wolverines in recent years, that seems like a long shot.
Beyond that, Michigan also would need Michigan State to lose twice. The Spartans still have Ohio State and Penn State on their schedule, so that’s not totally out of the question.
8 — Oklahoma (8-0)
Clearly, the CFP committee wants to see a little more from the Sooners before putting them in the top four. That’s not an unreasonable request.
Oklahoma’s best wins to date are against 4-4 Texas and 5-3 Kansas State. Their last three games of the season include matchups with No. 12 Baylor, and No. 11 Oklahoma State.
If they win those AND then beat one of those teams again in the Big 12 title game, I have a hard time imagining an undefeated Oklahoma team wouldn’t be in the top four.
That would be part of a worst case scenario for one-loss Oregon, one-loss Ohio State, or undefeated Cincinnati.
9 — Wake Forest (8-0)
Wake Forest is 8-0. Let me say that again, Wake Forest is 8-0! Let’s just sit in appreciation of that for a moment.
Like Oklahoma, the committee wants to see more from the Demon Deacons.
Their November schedule isn’t as packed with marquee opportunities as Oklahoma’s is, but it does include what appears to be their three toughest games of the season (North Carolina, Clemson, and No. 19 NC State).
As of now, their potential opponent in the ACC Championship is likely to be No. 25 Pitt. The general assumption around Wake Forest is that they are a great story and that there is no way they are going to finish 13-0.
I’m just wondering how many games Wake would need to win before the teams like Oregon or Ohio State would start to get nervous.
It would be historically unprecedented for an undefeated Power 5 champion to be left out of the Playoff. And if this were Clemson or Florida State with the same resume, I have a feeling they’d be featured more prominently in the CFP discussion.
10 — Notre Dame (7-1)
Notre Dame should be favored in every game from here on out, yet even if the Irish finish 11-1, I just don’t see how they jump Cincinnati.
It doesn’t help Notre Dame that the biggest names on their schedule (USC, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Stanford) are all having lackluster seasons.
The best win on the Irish’s resume is over 5-3 Wisconsin, a team the CFP has ranked at No. 21, but the AP doesn’t even have Wisconsin in its top 25.
It’s crazy that Notre Dame, regularly the most aggressive scheduler in college football, could see an 11-1 team left out of the playoff discussion because their schedule wasn’t tough enough.
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