By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut
Connecticut (CBS) – The time has come. Tonight the College Football Playoff Committee will release their first Top-25 rankings at 7PM EDT on ESPN. Last week, I released what I thought the committee’s top 25 would be if they were ranking at that time. If you’d like to read that, you can find it here. Some extremely important games were played this past weekend that helped shape this week’s predictions.
Tomorrow, I will have a column with some analysis of the committee’s first rankings and some opinions and conclusions that can be drawn from them.
With that said, here is a look at how I think things will shake out tonight.
1. Georgia (8-0) – This Week: vs. South Carolina
Last Week: #2, Beat Florida in Jacksonville 42-7
Georgia moves ahead of Alabama and in to the #1 spot this week. Sure, a neutral field victory over 3-4 Florida doesn’t seem like much, but now that Georgia has played (and won) the same amount of games as Alabama, their resume’s are more comparable. Georgia’s 1 point win on the road in South Bend is better than anything Alabama can bring to the table at this point in the season. A 28 point win over Mississippi State looks better each week as well. The Bulldogs better not looked past South Carolina before their trip to Auburn next week.
2. Alabama (8-0) – This Week: vs. LSU
Last Week: #1, BYE
If you thought Alabama was the best team in the country, I wouldn’t argue with you and you wouldn’t be alone. While they may be the best team in the country on the field, their resume leaves a lot to be desired to this point. Their best win of the season was by 8 points on the road to 5-3 Texas A&M. The win over then-#3 Florida State can be completely tossed out the window now that they are 2-5. If the committee truly wants to make a statement about strength of schedule, this is where Alabama should land in the rankings tonight. Alabama has a pretty tough schedule down the stretch with LSU, @ Mississippi State and @ Auburn.
3. Notre Dame (7-1) – This Week: vs. Wake Forest
Last Week: #7, Beat N.C. State at home 35-14
This is where things get very interesting and where the committee will make their money tonight. There are a ton of 7-1 teams that the committee will have to dissect and it won’t be easy. Notre Dame lands at the #3 spot this week after a very convincing win over North Carolina State on Saturday. Notre Dame has the best loss in the country right now, at home by 1 point to Georgia. The only situation where a loss could look better is if it were on the road to the #1 team by 1 point instead of at home. They have impressive wins over Michigan State on the road, USC and now NC State. All of which were by a combined 76 points. Sure wins over Temple, Miami (OH) and UNC don’t help much, but every team has a few cupcakes on their schedule. After Wake Forest, ND plays a big game in Miami before finishing up with Navy and Stanford. If ND wins out, the odds are in their favor that they will be in the top 4. They cannot afford any more losses being an independent with no conference title game however.
4. Clemson (7-1) – This Week: @ N.C. State
Last Week: #5, Beat Georgia Tech 24-10
Clemson’s loss (at Syracuse by 3 points) is the worst loss of any of the teams that are 7-1, so you could make a case this ranking is too high. Clemson also has the best collection of wins of the bunch (Auburn, @ Virginia Tech and 4 more wins over teams above .500). I have to think the committee places more emphasis on big wins over questionable losses at this point. I also think the human element will come in to play and the committee will partially excuse Clemson’s loss due to the fact that their QB, Kelly Bryant, missed a portion of the loss with a concussion. Clemson will be favored in every one of its remaining games on the way to the ACC championship game against either Virginia Tech or Miami.
5. Oklahoma (7-1) – This Week: @ Oklahoma State
Last Week: #6, Beat Texas Tech 49-27
Oklahoma’s loss to Iowa State looks better and better now that the Cyclones are for real. Oklahoma has a better win than any of Clemson’s (@ Ohio State 31-16). But after that, there is not another win against a team over .500 (Texas, Texas Tech and Kansas State all sit at 4-4). So that is where Clemson gets the slight edge over the Sooners. Oklahoma has two brutal games coming up, at Oklahoma State and at home against TCU. It’ll be hard keep the Sooners out of the top 4 if they keep winning.
6. Ohio State (7-1) – This Week: @ Iowa
Last Week: #8, Won at Penn State 39-38
Ohio State won a fantastic game at home against Penn State last weekend in what is the game of the year to date. It looks like the Buckeyes have gotten back on track after their loss to Oklahoma. It didn’t start out that way, as Penn State grabbed an early 21-3 lead, but credit to the Buckeyes for climbing their way back in to it and taking it away in the end. As big as that win was, and it was huge, Ohio State is in the same boat as Oklahoma as the rest of their wins lack any depth (6-2 Army is their 2nd best win). Couple that with the head-to-head loss to the Sooners and as of right now, Ohio State still has work to do to climb the rankings. Ohio State would be wise to not look past Iowa before their game against Michigan State.
7. Penn State (7-1) – This Week: @ Michigan State
Last Week: #3, Lost at Ohio State 39-38
Penn State was THIS close. Early on, it sure looked like Penn State was going to run away with a big game and put their stamp on the college football season. Now, they need to win the rest of their remaining games and hope Ohio State loses TWO more games in order to win the Big 10 East and make their way into the conference championship game. A trip to East Lansing to take on Michigan State is first, before three very winnable games (Rutgers, Nebraska, Maryland) to finish the season.
8. TCU (7-1) – This Week: vs. Texas
Last Week: #4, Lost at Iowa State 14-7
A few weeks ago, a loss to Iowa State would have crushed your season. Now, although disappointing, it doesn’t damage your resume much. TCU can still win out and make the new Big XII title game (against either Oklahoma State, Oklahoma or Iowa State presumably), but jumping the teams ahead of it into the top 4 will require a bit more help. Still – they are in a better position than Penn State. Their win at Oklahoma State is better than anything Wisconsin has done and that is what keeps them ahead of the Badgers right now.
9. Wisconsin (8-0) – This Week: @ Indiana
Last Week: #9, Beat Illinois 24-10
Not much has changed for the Badgers this week. They beat an inferior team at home, and have an inferior team coming up on their schedule this upcoming weekend. It’s simple for Wisconsin. If they win out and go 13-0 with a win over Ohio State in the Big 10 championship game, they will be in. If they slip up once, they have no shot.
10. Oklahoma State (7-1) – This Week: vs. Oklahoma
Last Week: #12, Won at West Virginia 50-39
Oklahoma State moves up a few spots with an impressive road win in West Virginia. They are one of the two teams featured in this week’s game of the week with Oklahoma. As stated in last week’s column, usually this game is played Thanksgiving weekend but the game was moved up this week to avoid a possible re-match the following weekend in the new Big XII title game. If Oklahoma State wins out (with 2 wins over Oklahoma, or one against the Sooners and a re-match win over TCU) they will have a chance to sneak in to the top 4.
11. Virginia Tech (7-1) – This Week: @ Miami
Last Week: #11, Beat Duke 24-3
Virginia Tech stays put this week. Aside from their home loss to Clemson, the Hokies have been dominant all season outscoring their opponents 266-61. Yes – a few of those wins came against FCS Delaware, 2-6 East Carolina and 2-6 Old Dominion. But they also have a neutral field win over 5-3 West Virginia and were the last team to beat suddenly-dominant Boston College on the road 4 weeks ago. The winner of this weekend’s match up with Miami will most likely win the ACC Coastal division and head to the championship game.
12. Miami (7-0) – This Week: vs. Virginia Tech
Last Week: #10, Won at North Carolina 24-19
Miami drops a couple spots after a not-so-convincing road win at 1-win North Carolina. Miami is still undefeated, and control their own destiny starting with a crucial home game against Virginia Tech, but to this point they’ve just been surviving instead of dominating. After Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes host Notre Dame. Those are two huge resume-boosting opportunities.
13. Washington (7-1) – This Week: vs. Oregon
Last Week: #16, Beat UCLA 44-23
Washington got back on track with a 21 point win at home and moved up due in part to a few teams in front of them losing. Their resume is still lackluster at best. A win at home against Oregon won’t do much either. They will make their move when they play Stanford, Washington State and then their opponent from the Pac-12 South in the championship game. Even then, they’ll need A LOT of help.
14. Auburn (6-2) – This Week: @ Texas A&M
Last Week: #19, BYE
Auburn moves up 5 spots after a bye week. Not too bad. The reason? Four teams ahead of them lost and their resume got a little better as the win over Mississippi State looks much better and Clemson got back on the right track on Saturday. Two losses by a combined 12 points, both on the road to top 20 teams, should not hurt your resume too much. Auburn has a tricky road game at Texas A&M this weekend before hosting Georgia.
15. Iowa State (6-2) – This Week: @ West Virginia
Last Week: #23, Beat TCU 14-7
Iowa State now has two of the strongest wins in the country after beating two then-top 5 teams at Oklahoma and TCU. The home overtime loss in week 2 to Iowa is starting to enter “what if” territory. Iowa is 5-3 and the Cyclone defense is playing so well right now that it would be hard to imagine Iowa scoring 44 points on them again. But it did happen. Their only other loss is to 4-4 Texas. But it’s starting to get to the point where Iowa State’s awesome wins are carrying more weight than anything else. If they beat WVU this weekend, next weekend’s game against Oklahoma State in Ames could be one of the most anticipated ones of the year.
16. USC (7-2) – This Week: vs. Arizona
Last Week: #21, Won at Arizona State 48-17
The Trojans got back in the win column after their awful road loss to Notre Dame. USC doesn’t have much of a shot to get into the top 4 with their two losses, but if they start to trend upwards, they will be Washington’s best shot a resume booster if the two teams meet in the Pac-12 championship game. We all saw how USC was one of the best teams in the country down the stretch last season, it could be the same this year.
17. LSU (6-2) – This Week: @ Alabama
Last Week: #19, BYE
LSU has rattled off three straight wins after their embarrassing home loss to Troy on September 30th. Their loss to Mississippi State (even though it was by 30) doesn’t look as bad anymore and they have a win over Auburn which always helps. Going in to Tuscaloosa and coming away with a win is quite the daunting task. It should be a competitive game, but after what should be a loss, LSU will be 6-3 and towards the bottom of these rankings.
18. UCF (7-0) – This Week: @ SMU
Last Week: #17, Beat Austin Peay 73-33
Last week I wrote about how the committee has set a precedent about non-power 5 conference teams and I wouldn’t be shocked at all if #18 is still too high for UCF. I dropped them a few spots because it’s hard to justify putting them ahead of teams like USC and LSU after USC goes on the road to Arizona State and wins by 31 and LSU beat Auburn. UCF has a very good win over 7-1 Memphis, won by 28 at Maryland and were robbed of a resume building opportunity against Georgia Tech when the game was postponed due to Hurricane Irma. History is not on their side as far as rankings go but they will still most likely find themselves as the highest ranking non-power 5 team and playing in a NY6 bowl game this season.
19. Stanford (6-2) – This Week: @ Washington State
Last Week: #22, Won at Oregon State 15-14
Stanford barely escaped an ugly loss to Oregon State last Thursday and move up a few spots this week due to all the chaos that happened in front of them. Stanford’s loss to San Diego State is what keeps it behind UCF this week. Stanford has a very tough game at Washington State in which the loser will be on the outside looking in in the Pac-12 North.
20. N.C. State (6-2) – This Week: vs. Clemson
Last Week: #13, Lost at Notre Dame 35-14
N.C. State looked like a worthy opponent for Notre Dame when the score was tied 14-14 in the second quarter. Notre Dame ended up running away with the win in a game that crushed N.C. State’s playoff hopes. It’ll be interesting to see how the Wolfpack rebound at home against Clemson this weekend.
21. Michigan (6-2) – This Week: vs. Minnesota
Last Week: #24, Beat Rutgers 35-14
Michigan moves up a few spots after their offense came back to life a bit in a win over Rutgers. Minnesota and Maryland are on the schedule next. Wins there, and the Wolverines could move into the top 20 which will help Wisconsin’s and Ohio State’s resume’s when it’s their turn to play Michigan.
22. Michigan State (6-2) – This Week: vs. Penn State
Last Week: #15, Lost at Northwestern 39-31 in 3OT
This weekend’s game against Penn State would have been a big one if both teams had come away with wins in their respective games. Unfortunately, now it is just a solid college football game that should be fun to watch. It won’t have much impact in the long run. Michigan State did beat Michigan on the road, but their 2 losses to Notre Dame at home and at Northwestern look a bit worse than Michigan’s at this point which is why they are ranked just behind the Wolverines.
23. Washington State (7-2) – This Week: vs. Stanford
Last Week: #14, Lost at Arizona 58-37
Washington State has looked pretty bad in their last 2 road games, getting outscored 95-40. Luckily for them, their next big game is at home and Stanford has looked pretty pedestrian on the road themselves. If the Cougars can beat Stanford and then pull off an upset in the Apple Cup against Washington, they should find themselves in the Pac-12 title game. That doesn’t look likely with the way they have been playing lately. The big 3 point win over USC along with the additional win to get to 7 total (the Cougs haven’t had their bye week yet) is what is keeping them barely in the top 25 for me.
24. Mississippi State (6-2) – This Week: vs. Umass
Last Week: NR, Won at Texas A&M 35-14
Mississippi State has won three straight after their ugly two game skid to Auburn and Georgia on the road. Winning at Texas A&M and throttling LSU help their resume immensely. Beating Umass won’t do much, but beating Alabama the following week would.
25. South Carolina (6-2) – This Week: @ Georgia
Last Week: NR, Beat Vanderbilt 34-27
Honestly, the last couple spots in the first ranking could go to a handful of teams. I’m going to put the Gamecocks in the final spot because now that they have 6 wins, you can start to seriously dive into their resume. Losing at home to Kentucky is never great, but they are 6-2 themselves now. Also, losing by 7 at Texas A&M isn’t a huge deal. What is a pretty big deal is beating N.C. State by 7 on a neutral field. That win is better than anything any of the 2 loss teams that didn’t make this ranking can hang their hat on and is what gets them into the first top 25 in my opinion.
Fell Out: South Florida (7-1), Texas A&M (5-3)
Knocking on the Door: Arizona (6-2), Memphis (7-1)
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