With only four weeks left in the college football season, and the first official playoff polls coming out tomorrow, it’s time to hunker down and start analyzing. Polls will be scrutinized ten different ways, and every fan in the country has a different opinion about who is worth to make the College Football Playoff. I am no exception. So, without further ado, here’s who I think, right now, should be the four teams playing in the College Football Playoff come January:
#1 – Ohio State: Even though I’m an Iowa State Cyclone fan first and foremost, I will admit (on certain days, anyway) to also being an Iowa Hawkeyes fan. As such, there are few teams in college football that I hate more than the Ohio State Buckeyes. Having said that, I have to give respect where respect is due. They have been the clear-cut best team in college football for several years, and an undefeated record along with their reputation earns them a spot in the Playoff to me.
They haven’t been as impressive this season as they have been in years prior. They just barely beat a solid, but inferior, Northern Illinois team, and the narrowly escaped defeat against an inferior, despite being a conference opponent, Indiana Hoosier team. These close games have not affected them in the polls, but it has had some negative repercussions on how fans and the media evaluate their performance thus far.
They went 14-1 last season and handily won the Big 10 and the National Championship game. The year before, they again went undefeated in the Big 10 and were champs. They finished that year ranked 10th in the polls after a loss in the Orange Bowl to Clemson. They year before that, Urban Meyer’s first year, they were ineligible for a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions, or they would have, in all likelihood, been National Champions that year as well. All of this is to say that, despite some close games, they deserve the benefit of the doubt.
#2 – LSU: For my money, the Tigers of LSU have the highest chance — other than Ohio State — of making the College Football Playoff, though not necessarily the easiest road. If they can get past Alabama next week, and again in the SEC Championship game, then they’re going to be a lock for the playoff, if for no other reason than the media’s obsession with the SEC as the “nation’s best conference.”
While I think that moniker is a bunch of junk, I do think that the Tigers are perhaps the best team in the nation this season. They’re playing very well on the defensive side of the ball (a respectable 40th in the nation in points against per game). Their passing game, though not as explosive as we have become accustomed to seeing in previous years (with the likes of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr.) has been doing enough to keep opposing teams honest.
What sets LSU apart is that they, in my opinion, the clear-cut best player in the nation in Leonard Fournette. What Fournette has done this season is borderline historic, and there are still several games left. People will make a case for guys like Ezekiel Elliot, Josh Doctson, and Trevone Boykin for the Heisman Trophy, but to me, no one comes close to the production and importance to the team as Leonard Fournette. He should run away with the Heisman Trophy, and will likely carry his team to the National Championship Game.
#3 – Clemson: So if LSU doesn’t have the easiest road to the College Football Playoff, who does? To me, it’s the Clemson Tigers. They’re already ranked 3rd in the AP Poll, and with a win next Saturday over the Florida State Seminoles, they’ll all but cement themselves as the regular season ACC Champion, as they can’t meet Florida State in the ACC Championship game due to the two being in the same division.
It won’t be easy for Clemson to get past the Seminoles, but they have the talent to do it. They’re ranked 3rd in the nation for a reason, after all. The average fan would be hard-pressed to name a single player on the Clemson team, but they are proving this season that you don’t need star players to be a stellar team. They are ranked in the top 20 nationally in rushing yards, points per game, and points allowed per game. On both sides of the ball, they are dominating.
Clemson was, without question, the pick that I struggled the most with, partially because I, admittedly, have not had a chance this season to see Clemson play live. I have only been able to see them in highlights. The other reason I’ve waffled so much with this choice (and will probably change it by this time next week) is that there are several other teams that I also feel are deserving of the College Football Playoff, Stanford and Oklahoma State being the ones that jump out at me right away. Should Clemson falter against Florida State, I expect to be bumping one of those two teams into this spot.
#4 – Notre Dame: One of the biggest storylines this season in college football has been the success of the Notre Dame Irish, in spite of having several key players lost for the season due to injury. They are down to their third-string quarterback and a backup running back, and yet they are still perfectly poised to make a run to the College Football Playoff.
They have a strong, balanced team this year, ranking in the top 30 nationally in both passing yards and rushing yards per game, in addition to points per game. Whether it’s through the air or on the ground, these kids, in spite of being bench-warmers at the start of the season, pose a threat each and every Saturday. Their schedule certainly tells that story, too.
They already have wins over 14th ranked Georgia Tech (though I should mention that Georgia Tech has since fallen to 3-6, looking terrible all year), and 21st ranked Temple, with only a 2-point loss to another one of my playoff teams, the Clemson Tigers. If the Irish can run the table (including a season-finale against the Stanford Cardinal), then you should see them as one of the four remaining teams come January. For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Playoff Predictor gives Notre Dame the highest chance out of all the current one-loss teams of running the table at 28%.
If you’ve read this far, you may notice that I’ve omitted some highly-ranked teams and might be asking yourself “Are you crazy?” Well, I just might be, but the fact is, I just don’t trust some of the teams that, at this point in the season, are ranked well above where I feel they deserve to be.
The two biggest examples of that to me are the two teams from the Big 12, Baylor and TCU. I understand why they rank as highly as they do; they’ve gone out every Saturday and won, consistently. They have high-powered offenses that can score with just about anyone. With that said, I don’t think they have the defense or toughness to hang with the teams that I have in my playoff.
The Baylor Bears suffered a huge loss last weekend when their starting quarterback suffered a broken neck. The injury doesn’t look to be career-ending, which is great news, but he is going to be out for the remainder of the season. Playing from here on out with a back-up quarterback is going to make Baylor’s bid for an undefeated season a lot more difficult.
As for the TCU Horned Frogs, they have a playoff-caliber team on paper. They have a solid Heisman Trophy candidate in Trevone Boykin, and quite possibly the best wide receiver in the nation with Josh Doctson. The problem that I see with TCU is that I don’t think they can play physical defense and stop anyone. Their success is predicated on being able to go out on Saturday and out-score you, no matter what you do. I don’t think that’s a strategy that can carry you to, and through, a playoff. It may be hard to believe these days, but the adage that “defense wins championships” still rings true.
The other reason to not like either team from the Big 12 is the fact that they don’t have a true champion. It hurt them when it came playoff time last season, and it’s poised to hurt them again this time around. By the rules of the NCAA, a conference with ten teams or less is not allowed to have a conference championship game without a special waiver, which the NCAA has yet to grant to the Big 12. At this point, it’s hard to imagine a team who didn’t outright win their conference making a legitimate case for the College Football Playoff.
The other highly-ranked team that I’ve omitted from my playoff is Utah. I struggled with this one for a long time, because I do like what I’ve seen this season from the Utes though I like it a lot less after their loss to an unranked USC squad.
They have huge wins over Michigan, Oregon, and Cal already on their resume. Travis Wilson has been outstanding at the QB position, and Devontae Booker might be the best RB that no-one is discussing.
So why don’t I have them in my playoff? Simple, they didn’t make it out of the Pac 12 undefeated, and we’ve reached the point of the college football season where, if you lose, you’re out. I just don’t think that the Utes can overcome the loss to USC and make a case to leapfrog so many other teams. I would love to see them in the playoff, but the USC loss, in all likelihood, eliminated them.
Every college football season is crazy, and this year has been no exception. I expect I’ll be making a follow-up post in the coming weeks explaining just how wrong I was, but for right now, these are my picks for the College Football Playoff.
I think it’s worth pointing out that I don’t necessarily feel that these are the four best teams in the nation (for instance, I would put Alabama ahead of Notre Dame), just the four teams that I expect to see at the end of the season.
Welcome! My name is Chris Spooner. I am an overly-passionate Dolphins fan who has many opinions about his team, and the sports landscape as a whole. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy voicing them.