By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut
Connecticut (CBS) – Just one week from today, Halloween night, the College Football Playoff Committee will release their first Top 25 rankings for this year’s playoff. Come next week, the AP and Coaches polls will become meaningless. It’s hard to believe we are already 8 weeks deep into the season. After this upcoming weekend, the committee will have 9 weeks worth of games to analyze.
If you’ve thought that the college football season has been a bit lackluster to this point, well I wouldn’t argue with you.
Teams have strategically adjusted their schedules to give them a better chance at making the playoff. That’s why you see some extremely intriguing non-conference games at the beginning of the season, a lull in the middle, and some great conference games scheduled for the end of the season. Making a good first impression is just as weighted as making a good last impression and vice versa. That’s not to say the middle of the season doesn’t count for anything, it does. Losing hurts no matter when it occurs. It just so happens that most of the high-end teams have back-loaded their conference schedules for the sake of making the strongest case possible before the committee meets for the last time.
So don’t worry college football fans. The best is yet to come. November football will be just as exciting as it’s always been.
Starting today, and every Tuesday going forward, I will try to predict what the committee is thinking and rank the top 25 teams for the week. This is NOT a prediction of how the teams will be ranked when all is said and done. This is just how I think the committee would rank the teams if they were releasing their rankings tonight. The exciting thing, is that starting a week from today, we will no longer have to guess. We will know. But the predictions will keep coming. That’s half the fun.
1. Alabama (8-0) – This week: BYE
Alabama does not have much of a resume. Opening weekend, Alabama faced off against then #3 Florida State. That game was supposed to be in the running for game of the year. Florida State is now 2-4. Safe to say that win doesn’t hold as much weight as everyone originally thought it would. What Alabama lacks in resume, they make up for in dominance. Sure – the Colorado State (6-2) and Fresno State (5-2) wins look better and better each week, but Arkansas, Ole Miss and Tennessee are mediocre-to-bad teams. It’s hard to see Alabama losing the rest of the regular season. Even if their schedule gets tougher with LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn remaining. It’s easy to envision a thrilling Alabama/Georgia match up in the SEC Championship game on December 2nd.
2. Georgia (7-0) – This week: vs. Florida (Jacksonville)
Could you make a case for Penn State or TCU at number 2? Of course you could. Here’s why Georgia is here. They have the best win of the remaining undefeated teams. Georgia’s 1 point win in South Bend over Notre Dame continues to look better and better each week. Yes, they have a win over a FCS opponent (Samford) in week 3. But I’m not going to penalize them for that, as most SEC teams play an FCS team week 12, Georgia just so happened to get it out of the way early this season. They also have a win over 5-2 Mississippi State by 28 points. Georgia’s schedule is tricky the rest of the way. After Florida they have games against surprising South Carolina and Kentucky with a trip to Auburn sandwiched in between before finishing the season off with Georgia Tech. No time to rest.
3. Penn State (7-0) – This week: @ Ohio State
Penn State passed their first test in what is a brutal three week stretch for them. Next is probably the most anticipated game of the year to date, a visit to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes. Penn State has been nothing short of dominant this season with the exception of a late escape against Iowa in week 4 by 2 points. The problem is their schedule to date is relatively weak in comparison to Georgia. Only 3 of their 7 opponents are above .500 (Iowa, Northwestern and Michigan) and only 2 of the 7 games have been played on the road. If Penn State beats Ohio State this Saturday, they will jump Georgia to number 2. As of now, they are one spot behind the Bulldogs.
4. TCU (7-0) – This week: @ Iowa State
TCU is hurt by the fact that Arkansas has fallen flat this season. That win won’t carry much weight when all is said and done. They still have a very impressive win at Oklahoma State by 13 and solid wins over West Virginia and SMU. Yes SMU. Their game this weekend at Iowa State is looking more and more difficult. Something has clicked with the Cyclones. They have won three in a row including wins on the road against Oklahoma and Texas Tech. After Iowa State, the Horned Frogs have meetings with Texas and Oklahoma. Plenty of chances to improve their resume and move up in the rankings.
5. Clemson (6-1) – This week: vs. Georgia Tech
It seemed last Friday’s loss to Syracuse could doom the Tigers hopes of getting in the top 4 and repeating as champions. Well, since that loss, Washington State, Washington and USC have all lost as well. USC for the 2nd time. This means that it is going to be increasingly difficult for the Pac-12 to get a team in the top 4. If Clemson wins out and wins the ACC, they will be in the top 4. They still have an incredibly solid resume to this point. Wins over Auburn at home and on the road at Virginia Tech and to a lesser extent Louisville boost the resume. After Georgia Tech, Clemson will travel to Raleigh to face a very good N.C. State team.
6. Oklahoma (6-1) – This week: vs. Texas Tech
Good news for the Sooners. Iowa State seems to be legit. Three weeks ago, college football fans everywhere scratched their head when the Cyclones went in to Norman and took down the Sooners by 7. Since then, that loss hasn’t looked nearly as bad as it did then. Oklahoma gained a phenomenal non-conference win when they beat Ohio State in week 2. Bad news for the Sooners? Every win besides that one is against mediocre-to-bad teams. Oklahoma is one of the teams with the back-loaded conference schedule however. After Texas Tech, the Sooners play Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia in a span of 3 out of 4 weeks. There could be a lot of movement here. Good or bad.
7. Notre Dame (6-1) – This week: vs. N.C. State
Wins over North Carolina, Miami (OH) and Temple don’t really move the needle in comparison to wins by other teams. However, dominant wins over Michigan State on the road by 25 and USC at home by 35 do. In terms of good losses, the Irish have the best one, at home to Georgia by 1. After games against N.C. State and Wake Forest, a potentially huge showdown at Miami (FL) awaits.
8. Ohio State (6-1) – This week: @ Penn State
Since their week 2 loss to Oklahoma, Ohio State has looked like one of the best teams in the country. The problem is their dominant wins have come over extremely inferior opponents (Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska). Ohio State is in the same boat as Oklahoma, as they have back-loaded their conference schedule. They get Penn State at home this weekend after a bye week. After that, they still have to travel to Iowa and Michigan with a home game against Michigan State squeezed in the middle. A win over Penn State this weekend will bump the Buckeyes up pretty far. Still – as long as Oklahoma keeps winning, it will be hard to jump the Sooners after losing at home to them by 15 points.
9. Wisconsin (7-0) – This week: @ Illinois
Wisconsin keeps trucking along. I’m sure Wisconsin fans will argue that their team should be higher in the rankings considering their undefeated record. My retort to that would be their atrocious schedule. Most seasons, Wisconsin challenges itself out of conference as they have played both Alabama and LSU in recent seasons. Yes, I’m sure Wisconsin was expecting a trip to BYU to be tough. But the Cougars are now 1-7 and in the running for one of the worst teams in the FBS. Utah State, FAU, Northwestern, Nebraska, Purdue and Maryland make up the rest of their 7 wins. And aside from their trip to BYU, they’ve only had to play Nebraska on the road. The good for the Badgers? The rest of their schedule is pretty cake-y as well and if they finish 12-0 it will be hard to ignore them. The bad news? They have zero margin for error if they want to compete with the teams ahead of them.
10. Miami (6-0) – This week: @ North Carolina
Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, they cancelled a week 2 trip to Arkansas State (4-2). A win there would have been one of the more impressive to date. Miami’s wins so far aren’t that strong. Duke has come back down to Earth after a hot start. Florida State’s season is a wreck. Miami’s best win is probably against MAC West leading Toledo (6-1). After what should be an easy win against UNC, Miami plays Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. Luckily for them, both are at home.
11. Virginia Tech (6-1) – This week: vs. Duke
Virginia Tech opened the season with an impressive neutral field win over West Virginia. Since then, their schedule has been pretty tame (noticing a trend with the middle of the season schedule here?) with the exception of a home game against Clemson. The Tigers won that one by 14, and it wasn’t even all that close. The only tough thing about the Hokies remaining schedule is that after this weekend, three of their remaining four games will be on the road. Tech should be favored in all but Miami however. If they win out and win the ACC, they will have a legitimate shot at the top 4.
12. Oklahoma State (6-1) – This week: @ West Virginia
If this were almost any other year, a few of Oklahoma State’s wins would be pretty impressive. Usually, Tulsa and Pittsburgh are pretty good, if not very good, teams. But Pitt has slipped to 3-5 and Tulsa is having an off-year at 2-6. Aside from that, they’ve beaten arguably the worst team in the Big 12 (Baylor) and have decent, if not exciting wins over Texas and Texas Tech. Their schedule gets much tougher starting this weekend. After WVU, the Cowboys welcome in-state rival Oklahoma. Usually Oklahoma and Oklahoma State play each other the final week of the season. But since both were expected to be the two best teams in the league this year, the league moved the game up a few weeks to avoid a possible rematch the very next weekend in the new Big XII title game.
13. N.C. State (6-1) – This week: @ Notre Dame
North Carolina State has some pretty solid wins this season. They beat a 6-1 Marshall team by 17, they beat Florida State on the road before their season was confirmed as a disaster and they beat Louisville by 14. Unfortunately for them, they don’t have an extremely impressive win. They will get every opportunity the next two weeks. There is probably not a tougher back to back than at Notre Dame followed by Clemson. If N.C. State wins both of those games, they could very well make their way into the top 4. The Wolfpack’s lone loss of the season was in week 1 to 5-2 South Carolina by a touchdown.
14. Washington State (6-1) – This week: @ Arizona
After Washington State beat USC and Oregon in back to back weeks they moved all the way up to number 8 in the AP poll. What followed was an absolute stinker of a loss at Cal by 34 points. They got back on track last week with a solid 28-0 win over Colorado. Unfortunately, the USC and Oregon wins have gotten weaker as time has moved on. Wins over FCS Montana State, 1-6 Oregon State and 1-7 Nevada will never help either.
15. Michigan State (6-1) – This week: @ Northwestern
After week 3, Michigan State sat at 2-1 and had just suffered a beat down at home to Notre Dame. Since then, the Spartans have won 4 straight, including wins over Iowa and Michigan. Every game has been within 8 points however. This fact will not go lost on the committee. After Northwestern, the Spartans play both Penn State and Ohio State before finishing the season with Maryland and Rutgers. A trip inside the top 4 is highly unlikely given the road ahead.
16. Washington (6-1) – This week: vs. UCLA
Why is a team that was #4 in the rankings to end last season and 6-1 to start this season so low? Well first off, what happened last season has no bearing on this season’s rankings. Second? A terrible non-conference schedule. I’m sorry, but games against Rutgers, Montana and Fresno State should be judged as what they are. Terrible. They’ve also started out relatively weak in conference as well. Their conference wins to date are 4-4 Colorado, 1-6 Oregon State and 4-4 Cal. A loss to 4-3 Arizona State 13-7 doesn’t look all that great either. Washington should win their next two games against UCLA and Oregon before their schedule gets tougher (@ Stanford, Utah, Washington State). Still – It’s going to be extremely hard for Washington to jump in to the top 4 unless there is complete chaos ahead for the other teams.
17. UCF (6-0) – This week: vs. Austin Peay
If this were up to me, UCF would be much higher in the rankings. But the committee has set a precedent that they usually don’t rank non-power 5 teams that high with the exception being Houston last season. UCF doesn’t have the schedule that Houston had last season, so they can’t compare. Unfortunately for UCF, their schedule was turned on its head by Hurricane Irma. UCF had Georgia Tech on the schedule for week 3 after already postponing a game against Memphis in week 2. UCF moved the Memphis game to week 5 and cancelled their game against Maine. But the Georgia Tech game was not salvageable. That would have been a big opportunity for the Knights. UCF plays Austin Peay this weekend (a game that was not originally on the schedule but was scheduled late due to all the cancellations and the possibility of only having 10 games all season). UCF does have impressive wins over Memphis, Maryland and Navy.
18. South Florida (7-0) – This week: vs. Houston
Coming in to the season, the Bulls were the favorites to land the “Group of 5” spot in one of the New Years Six bowl games. South Florida hasn’t done anything to really change that. UCF just has a slightly better resume at this point. South Florida’s FBS opponents record is a combined 13-33. That would look even worse if their game against 1-6 Umass wasn’t cancelled. This is also in addition to FCS Stony Brook. South Florida should be glad that they were already on people’s radar to start the season or else this resume wouldn’t be top 25 worthy on its own. If both USF and UCF win out, the game in Orlando on November 24th will most likely decide who will play in a New Years Six bowl game now that Navy and San Diego State have fallen off.
19. Auburn (6-2) – This week: BYE
Auburn has two very forgivable losses at Clemson by 8 points and at LSU by 4 points. Their wins aren’t all that impressive with the exception of Mississippi State by 39 points. Georgia Southern, Mercer, Missouri, Ole Miss and Arkansas aren’t exciting. Three of their last 4 games are against Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama however.
20. LSU (6-2) – This week: BYE
LSU fans are probably thinking “Hey, we just beat Auburn 10 days ago. Why are they ahead of us?”. If head to head was the only factor, this ranking would be wrong. But it’s not. Auburn lost to Clemson and LSU. LSU lost to Mississippi State and Troy. The losses aren’t comparable. LSU probably wishes it didn’t have a bye this week as they are playing some great football lately before their annual fistfight with Alabama.
21. USC (6-2) – This week: @ Arizona State
USC was the favorite to win the Pac-12 this season after a very impressive finish to their season last year. But the Trojans haven’t been able to live up to the hype. Sure, a 3 point loss on the road to a very good Washington State team is excusable. What isn’t is a 35 point loss to Notre Dame. The rest of their games are winnable, but the chances of a top 4 finish at this point are almost 0.
22. Stanford (5-2) – This week: @ Oregon State (Thursday)
Stanford has won 4 games in a row and looks extremely good. They already have losses to USC and San Diego State and their best win is either UCLA or Arizona State however. They can throw a wrench in the Pac-12’s playoff chances with games against Washington and Washington State down the stretch. Not to mention their season finale at home against Notre Dame.
23. Iowa State (5-2) – This week: vs. TCU
Earlier this season this did not seem possible. But after a stunning 38-31 win at Oklahoma, the Cyclones throttled both Kansas and Texas Tech, the latter being on the road as well. Is this sustainable? If Iowa State knocks off TCU, all bets are off for the Big XII.
24. Michigan (5-2) – This week: vs. Rutgers
Michigan opened the season with an impressive, neutral field victory over Florida 33-17. The Gators have fallen off in recent weeks, losing at home by 1 to LSU and 2 to Texas A&M. If those are both victories for Florida, Michigan’s resume looks much much better. Their offense has struggled recently and they weren’t really that competitive at Penn State. They can still play spoiler down the stretch, but a top 4 finish is unlikely.
25. Texas A&M (5-2) – This week vs. Mississippi State
If Texas A&M hadn’t suffered one of the worst collapses in football history in week 1 at UCLA, the Aggies would be pretty far up this list. Aside from that loss, their only other loss is to Alabama by 8. They’ve also beaten a good 5-2 South Carolina team and won at Florida by 2. They aren’t a great team, but still one that can move up these rankings in the coming weeks.
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