The first set of College Football Playoff rankings will be released on Tuesday night. The top four teams seem to be set, but there is still plenty of intrigue.
The College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first set of rankings of the 2016 college football season on Tuesday evening, and there shouldn’t be a ton of surprises when it comes to the top four teams—the remaining unbeatens (not including undefeated Western Michigan, of course).
Defending national champion Alabama will very likely check in as the CFP’s No. 1 team in the country, as Nick Saban’s squad has shown its dominance on offense, defense and special teams. The Crimson Tide also have a win over Texas A&M in their biggest test to date. Another critical test looms against LSU this Saturday at Tiger Stadium.
The next three teams should be some combination of Michigan, Washington and Clemson.
The Wolverines’ schedule up to this point didn’t look too daunting, but it actually is much better on paper than many had expected in the preseason. Jim Harbaugh’s squad has wins over Colorado, Penn State and Wisconsin—and the Wolverines looked very good in the victories.
Chris Petersen’s Huskies, meanwhile, went into hostile territory to score a win over Utah last week, notching their biggest win of the season thus far. U-Dub has shown similar dominance to Michigan in all three phases of the game, which is why the Huskies may be ahead of Clemson in these first standings.
The Tigers have very good wins over Auburn and Louisville, which could give them the edge to stay out of the No. 4 spot. In terms of quality wins, Dabo Swinney’s squad has an argument. The problem for Clemson could be the eye test. There has been some sloppy play off and on throughout the year, which almost resulted in a home loss to NC State.
Overall, though, those are the four teams we can expect to comprise the top of the rankings.
What else should college football fans be looking for when the rankings are released from committee chair Kirby Hocutt and Co. at 7:00 p.m. ET tonight?
No. 5 and No. 6
The real debate is which teams will slide into the No. 5 and No. 6 spots in the rankings. Of course, these rankings will change each week, and a team that is fifth one week does not have to be fifth or even move up the next week following a win. But a spot as close as possible to the Top 4 is important in case any of the top teams suffer a loss.
In terms of which teams have the best cases for No. 5 and No. 6, Louisville, Ohio State and Texas A&M are the ones in play here. The Cardinals, led by Heisman Trophy front-runner Lamar Jackson, have the lone loss to Clemson. And it was a game in which it led late. Add in the blowout win over Florida State early in the year when the Cardinals “arrived” on the national scene, and it’s a team that has a good argument for No. 5. Of course, Bobby Petrino’s squad just barely survived Virginia. So…
Ohio State, which has a loss to Penn State on its resume, is in play here. The Buckeyes unquestionably have their issues on offense, but Urban Meyer’s power spread attack will find its footing. And we have seen flashes of this offense click before, so the Buckeyes could be ready to break out. Wins over Oklahoma and Wisconsin also very much help the Buckeyes’ cause.
Then there is Texas A&M, which could have a shot at No. 5 because its best loss is to Alabama. The Aggies also have a win at Auburn. There is no shame in losing to the top team in the country, of course. And we have seen an improved A&M team both on offense and defense this year. Kevin Sumlin is doing a very fine coaching job in College Station this fall.
Michigan is the lone undefeated team in the Big Ten heading into the first release of the rankings, as Harbaugh’s squad is off to its best start since 2006. Wilton Speight has been solid at quarterback, the rushing attack is very effective and one of the nation’s top defenses is being led by do-everything stud Jabrill Peppers. But Michigan isn’t alone in terms of a CFP Big Ten presence. One-loss Ohio State and two-loss Wisconsin should find themselves very high on the selection committee’s rankings on Tuesday night. The Buckeyes’ only loss came to Penn State, but the Nittany Lions look like they have turned the corner for James Franklin. Meanwhile, the Badgers have dropped close contests to Michigan and Ohio State, and their physical brand of football is quite a joy to watch. And don’t forget about Nebraska, which suffered its first loss last week to Wisconsin. This is a league that continues to improve, which is nice to see after suffering through some lean years pre-Harbaugh and Meyer. The league will be well-represented on Tuesday.
Big 12 blues
It was a very rough Week 9 for Bob Bowlsby and the Big 12. The league’s last remaining unbeaten teams—Baylor and West Virginia—fell on the road to Texas and Oklahoma State, respectively. Despite there being a lot of football left to be played, the setbacks considerably weaken the case for a Big 12 team to get into the College Football Playoff. It’s hard to imagine the league not being on the outside looking in when the selection committee releases its final rankings. Oklahoma may actually have the best chance of any Big 12 team to be a factor in the CFP race, but the Sooners do have two losses. A New Year’s Six spot is more likely for Bob Stoops and Co., but you never know what can happen the rest of the way. OU is hot, so racking up style points will be key. A Houston win over Louisville would also be huge for OU because the Sooners lost to the Cougars. Having Ohio State win out will also help because the Sooners fell victim to the Buckeyes in Norman. OU’s losses have a chance to look solid at the end of the year, but would second-half wins over Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State be enough for the committee when it releases its final rankings in December?
There may not be a ton of intrigue when it comes to the best four teams in the land, but there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the first set of CFP rankings nonetheless.