So Tuesday is going to be the first release of the College Football Playoff Committee’s Top 25 of the 2017 season and we’ll finally get a look at how they value the performance of the top teams in college football. I like the format we have right now and it has given a lot of debate, especially as it pertains to the #4 seed. I figured this was going to be a really easy projection when I started thinking about this over the weekend, however there were so many upsets this past week that it has really muddied up the waters for this prediction. Before I get into my personal rankings, I want to get into some ground rules for this segment. I’m only doing the Top 6 teams: The 4 teams that make the playoffs and the two that just missed. I’m also doing this based on who I would vote for in the playoffs, not what I think the committee will do. The factors that came into play were win-loss record, quality of opponents, and quality of victories and defeat (notice that “defeat” is singular and not plural. Two-loss teams can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye). So with that, let’s get into the rankings.
#1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Record: 8-0 (5-0)
Notable Wins: #3 Florida State, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas A&M
This was probably the easiest team to place. Alabama has been doing Alabama things this season and they are clearly the team to beat in all of college football. Their closest game was their 27-19 win over Texas A&M. The next closest game was 24-7 over Florida State (who was ranked third at the time but lost quarterback Deondre Francois for the season in that game and has since gone into a tailspin) and a 41-23 win over Colorado State. Their margins of victory include scores of 59-0 (Vanderbilt), 66-3 (Ole Miss), 41-9 (Arkansas), and 45-7 (Tennessee). It’s not like these are Sun Belt teams that Alabama is destroying. All four of those teams I just listed are SEC opponents and some pretty decent ones at that (wouldn’t call any of them elite, but they’re good enough to put up a fight and beat a good team on any given day). Alabama doesn’t have that signature win against an elite team yet, but they’ve beaten the teams they have faced so handily that I think it evens out.
#2. Georgia Bulldogs
Record: 8-0 (5-0)
Notable Wins: #24 Notre Dame, #17 Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida
Georgia at number 2 was another easy selection. Despite quarterback Jacob Eason being out, Jake Fromm has gotten the job done in his stead and the run game has been unbelievable. And don’t even get me started on the defense. They’ve only allowed 20 points in a game once all season (28 against Missouri) and in that same game they dropped a season-high 53 points. Roquan Smith has been an animal for this defense that matches up well with any team in the country. Probably the best all-around performance out of this team was when they went into Knoxville and embarrassed Tennessee 41-0. They also whipped Mississippi State 31-3 after the Bulldogs trounced LSU the week prior. It’s going to make for a very interesting SEC title game. What happens to the loser of an Alabama-Georgia SEC title game? Should the loser miss out on the playoffs? This is the fourth year of the playoff and we’ve never had two teams from the same conference make it. These two teams don’t face each other in the regular season so I’d say chances are good that both teams are undefeated heading into this matchup. If it were me, I think it would depend on the quality of the performance in the SEC Title game. If one team were to get blown out, then I’d be in favor of removing them from the playoff. If it’s a tightly-contested game, then I’d be all for having the loser be the 4 seed with the winner being the 1 (though I don’t know if the committee would do that, having two teams play each other in back-to-back games). The committee may have their first really hard decision on their hands with Alabama and Georgia.
#3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 7-1 (5-0)
Loss: #5 Oklahoma 31-16 in Week 2
Reason for Loss: Baker Mayfield was inhuman in that game
Notable Wins: #2 Penn State
The notable wins category is a little light here for Ohio State, but the argument in their favor is similar to that of Alabama’s: while the schedule isn’t that great, they’re beating their opponents badly enough to where it evens out. They do have a loss on their record, however I consider it a good loss because they were competitive with an Oklahoma team that was fifth-ranked at the time (moved to #2 after beating OSU) and is currently sitting at #8 in the AP Poll. It was also the infamous Flag Game, where after Oklahoma won, Baker Mayfield (who was unbelievable in that game) ran out to the middle of Ohio State’s field and planted Oklahoma’s flag right on the logo. Like Alabama, Ohio State has wins of 38-7 (Army), 56-0 (Rutgers), 62-14 (Maryland), and 56-14 (Nebraska). Their win over Penn State was a huge signature victory, as they overcame a 21-3 deficit to steal a victory from the Nittany Lions with a minute to go. They only have 2 good opponents remaining on their schedule (Michigan State and Michigan) but I don’t see them losing to either team, allowing them to coast into the Big Ten Title Game.
#4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Loss: #15 Georgia 20-19 in Week 2
Reason for Loss: Georgia just outlasted them in a defensive slugfest
Notable Wins: #11 USC, #14 NC State, Michigan State
So I have a 1-loss Notre Dame team getting into the playoff over an unbeaten Wisconsin team for one main reason: quality of wins. Wisconsin has faced nobody good while Notre Dame has beaten every team they’ve played by at least 20 points with the exception of their 1-point loss to the team that currently sits at #2 in the nation. I’ve been very impressed with how well Notre Dame’s defense has bounced back from their abysmal 2016 showing, where offenses could send out a pee wee team and still score 28 points. They’ve turned it into a smash mouth defense and the most points they’ve given up this season is 20 (Georgia and Boston College). A lot of credit has to go to first year D-Coordinator Mike Elko, whom they hired away from Wake Forest after last season, for turning this defense around. We may have one of the next top head coaching candidates when heads start rolling (Florida, anyone?). They’ve also had one of the top rushing attacks in the nation as Josh Adams has thrown his name into the Heisman mix while quarterback Brandon Wimbush has also added some good rushing yards into the mix.
First Team Out: Wisconsin Badgers
Record: 8-0 (5-0)
Notable Wins: Not Available
Wisconsin’s schedule is the easiest I’ve seen since Baylor’s schedule while they still had a relevant football program. I looked down their remaining schedule and the only team left worth noting is Michigan, whose defense has been extremely impressive sans the Penn State game but has had no offense whatsoever. Though, Brandon Peters looked really good in relief of John O’Korn against Rutgers, which isn’t saying much. Wisconsin has a similar style to this year’s Notre Dame team in that they have a tough defense and a strong running game, led by true freshman Jonathan Taylor. The reason they’re this high for me with a cupcake schedule is that big goose egg in the loss column. Say what you will about their easy schedule, they’ve gotten the job done. Clemson lost to Syracuse, Oklahoma and TCU lost to Iowa State, and Washington lost to Arizona State. Wisconsin has gone in and done their job each time out. I think they get into the playoff if they win the Big Ten, which would have to include a victory over most likely either Ohio State, Penn State, or Michigan State.
Second Team Out: Penn State Nittany Lions
Record: 7-1 (4-1)
Loss: #6 Ohio State 39-38 in Week 9
Reason for Loss: Late comeback effort by JT Barrett in the final minute
Notable Wins: #19 Michigan
Penn State is a team I’ve been high on all season and had they been able to hang on against Ohio State last week, I think I would have them at #2 ahead of Georgia. But JT Barrett’s late-game heroics have put the Nittany Lions in a REALLY difficult spot to get back into the playoff discussion. They probably won’t get into the Big Ten title game because not only does Ohio State have a better conference record (5-0 vs 4-1), but they hold the tie-breaker in case they end up with identical conference records. Penn State would not only need to win out, but they would also need Ohio State to lose TWICE in the next four games. Not likely. My reasoning for putting them here even though I think their playoff chances are pretty much dead is because I do feel that they are the best team remaining. As I said, they are a late JT Barrett drive away from being #2 on these rankings. Saquon Barkley is still the Heisman frontrunner despite his stats not being great against the Buckeyes (there’s been a downward trend of late), but they can still put up points against any defense.
So that’s my playoff outlook right now. If you want my thoughts on other teams that you think have a shot at the playoff, let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.