The first College Football Playoff Rankings of 2015 are set to come out next Tuesday night and this year's field appears to be wide open. Seven of the top 10 teams in the AP Top 25 are undefeated and several other one-loss squads will have chances to get in the thick of the race.
Since one of those undefeated teams just so happens to reside in East Lansing, we here at TOC want to prepare you, the reader, for this highly scientific, completely objective, in NO WAY influenced by popular opinion selection process.
Why? Because we care, that's why.
In this column we will examine the committee's thought process, examine each week's critical games and tell you who to root for each weekend. To help keep track of each team's upcoming slate, our crack squad at TOC has created this handy (and colorful!) schedule chart for the AP Top 10 (In the future this will be the CFP Top 10). BEHOLD!
Before we get to this week's games, I'm going to make three inevitably terrible BOLD predictions because that's the kind of guy I am. I live for the ACTION, BABY!
1) The Big 12 will miss out on the playoffs...again
At the time of this post, the Big 12 claims two of the top five teams in the AP Top 25. By the end of the season, they will claim none.
Even before QB Seth Russell went down for the rest of the season with a broken bone in his neck, I was skeptical that Baylor could win their last three games. Now, with true freshman Jarrett Stidham at the helm, that swing looks exponentially more daunting. Unless Stidham can play well beyond his years (given Art Briles' track record, he might) Baylor will be on the outside looking in again.
TCU's season mirrors Michigan State's in a lot of ways: tons of injuries on a once-dominant defense, a team-carrying QB-WR combo and an insane last second win. But, unfortunately for the Frogs, their road is much tougher than the Spartans' and getting past the back third of that schedule will be tough.
If they manage to win out, they're a no-brainer to be in the final four. Realistically, a one-loss TCU team still has a good shot of getting in, given that they'd still be champions of the Big 12, but I'm here to be BOLD not some SISSY BOY.
Should they lose, they will likely face a lot of one-loss competition for the final spot. More on that in a sec.
2) LSU-Alabama, Michigan State-Ohio State and Notre Dame-Stanford will all be de facto play-in games
Ok, so the first two aren't that bold. I am apparently only about some of the action.
Anyways, the winner of LSU-Alabama will almost certainly go to (and win...right?) the SEC Championship Game and assuming they finish the year undefeated, the winner of MSU-OSU will be a shoo-in, as well.
The aggressive part of this prediction comes from the SHOWDOWN ON THE FARM: 10-1 Notre Dame vs 10-1 Stanford.
If both teams actually make it to this game 10-1, it's going to have major playoff implications. If Stanford wins (and then wins the Pac-12 Champ game) they have as strong a claim to a spot as anyone with one loss. On the flip side, should Notre Dame get the W, at 11-1, it would be near-impossible to keep them out.
Here's a wonderful hypothetical for everyone: Say Ohio State, LSU and Clemson make it easy on everyone, finish undefeated and claim the top three playoff seeds. Now, say TCU loses a game but still wins the Big 12 at 11-1. Finally, the winner of Notre Dame-Stanford wins also finishes with only one loss. Assuming those are the top two one-loss teams, who do you put in the field?
TCU would have a conference championship, plus the pressure on the committee to "make right" what happened a year ago would be unfair, but undeniable.
Then there's Notre Dame, who would sport the "strongest" loss possible: a last-second road defeat against an undefeated Clemson. Plus, who (aside from EVERYONE) doesn't like a good Notre Dame team?
On a third hand, if it's a 12-1 Stanford vying for the final spot with TCU, the old "they-won-a-conference-championship-game" argument is reborn from the ashes. Ah, that old chestnut. I'm sure TCU fans would respond well to missing out on the playoffs for two consecutive years for the exact same reason!
This debate would be fascinating, if only for the insane Twitter arguments it would spark. If MSU isn't in it, I'm rooting for this scenario because I am an agent of chaos and would love to watch as an entire fan base simultaneously evolves into Tammy from Clanton. WE SHOULDA BEEN IN THERE PAAAWWWWWLLLL!!!
3) There will be at least one one-loss team in the field
The obvious examples are Alabama, Notre Dame, TCU and Stanford, as laid out above, but there are a number of other potential one-loss teams that could play their way into the field.
Oklahoma is lurking just outside the top 10 with three remaining games against top 12 teams. If Florida can win out and take the SEC Championship Game over an undefeated LSU or Alabama they'll almost certainly get in. Finally, Florida State could make waves with late season wins against Clemson and Florida.
Unfortunately for the #B1G, the chances of a one-loss MSU or OSU team getting in look slim, at best.
MSU's win at Michigan looks great but the rest of the schedule, not so much. Oregon is in the midst of a down year and wins against Nebraska and Penn St wouldn't carry the same weight as their program history would have you believe. Ohio State currently owns exactly zero wins over ranked teams and a loss to either of the teams from "Up North" would likely spell an end to their repeat bid.
It doesn't look like either of those teams are getting in without going unbeaten so, yeah, that November 21st matchup in Columbus is looking pretty big right now.
WHO TO ROOT FOR
Here we highlight three games that most directly impact MSU's chances at the CFP. With Ohio State, Baylor, LSU and Alabama all on bye weeks, our focus shifts further down the rankings...
#3 Clemson (7-0) at NC State (5-2)
ROOT FOR: NC State
WHY: Clemson losing to a two-loss NC State helps MSU in two ways: First, it knocks off an unbeaten. The fewer of those, the better. Secondly, it marginalizes Notre Dame's "quality loss" in Death Valley.
Unrelated, but of the utmost importance, it keeps "Clemson-ing" relevant. There are only a few things you can count on in life: Death, Taxes and the Tigers blowing an imminently winnable game year in and year out. Change scares me, NC State. Please help.
#9 Notre Dame (6-1) at #21 Temple (7-0)
ROOT FOR: Temple
WHY: Because they're playing against Notre Dame. Is that not reason enough?
In case you need more, see the paragraphs above. A high-quality Notre Dame team will always get love, so getting them off the one-loss line is big, even if it's another loss to a ranked team. I can't believe I just wrote "Temple" and "ranked team" in the same sentence. Strange times, folks.
Georgia (5-2) at #11 Florida (6-1)
ROOT FOR: Georgia
WHY: Quick rant - I hate the NCAA for a lot of reasons, but not letting us officially refer to this as the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" anymore is perhaps their worst crime. Cmon guys! Is there ANYTHING more SEC than that title? Answer: No, no there is not. Ok, maybe a Houndstooth fedora but that is IT.
Clever monikers aside, you want Georgia to win this one. The (non-Spartan) Dawgs are already out of the playoff picture and Florida poses a threat should they win out. The Gators' odds aren't great, per se, but it's one less team in MSU's rearview mirror.
That'll do it for this week. Come back next week when we examine the results of the first College Football Playoff rankings.
Enjoy the bye!