By : Dan Bender
On Tuesday night, the CFP Selection Committee released their week 11 top 25 rankings. The top 10 teams are as follows:
- Georgia, 9-0, SEC
- Alabama, 9-0, SEC
- Notre Dame, 8-1, Independent
- Clemson, 8-1, ACC
- Oklahoma, 8-1, Big 12
- TCU, 8-1, Big 12
- Miami, 8-0, ACC
- Wisconsin, 9-0, ACC
- Washington, 8-1, Pac-12
- Auburn, 7-2, SEC
These rankings are based on the following criteria which have been taken directly from the CFP Selection Protocol document available on the CFP website:
-Conference championships won (not applicable at this point in the season)
-Strength of schedule
-Head to head outcomes
-Outcomes of common opponents without margin of victory considered
-Other relevant factors (i.e. Injuries that have or will affect a team’s performance)
My rankings are based largely on the same factors with the exception that I will take into account margin of victory against common opponents, some teams’ recent histories (last 2-3 years), certain offensive and defensive statistical rankings, and other relevant factors that I value.
1. Alabama (CFP Rank: #2) While keeping Bama at #1 may seem immutable and a boring decision, I still believe they are the nation’s best football team. Though the Crimson Tide had their only notable win last week defeating #24 LSU 24-10, it should be acknowledged that they’ve beaten every opponent this year by more than one possession with the exception of Texas A&M, whom they beat by eight points.
Although Georgia may have a better current year resume with more impressive wins, I don’t think you can dethrone the king until the king has been dethroned. Some teams have weak schedules so it’s true that being undefeated isn’t everything, but Alabama’s dominance in recent years makes it hard for me kick them from the top spot until they are straight up beaten.
The committee may have taken the Tide’s depleted line backing corps into consideration after Shaun Dion Hamilton and Mack Wilson suffered serious injuries against LSU. However, Bama’s defense ranks 1st and 2nd in the nation in points (9.8) and yards (244) given up per game, respectively. Even more impressive is that they’ve accomplished this feat despite starting LBs Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis being out since the season opener. Alabama consistently attracts the top recruits and they truly are a “next man up” team.
The Tide’s next test will be on the road at #10 Auburn in the final week of the season.
2. Georgia (CFP Rank: #1) Georgia has certainly made a strong case for themselves this year as they defeated #3 Notre Dame 20-19 on the road and dominated #16 Mississippi State 31-3. After QB Jacob Eason went down following week 1, the Bulldogs looked to be in trouble as their second string true freshman QB, Jake Fromm, got the nod. Surprisingly, Fromm has been fantastic boasting 15 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and a 63.3% completion rate since taking over Eason’s starting role. Complementing the Bulldogs’ passer is the star senior back, Nick Chubb, who has punished defenses all year and ranks 27th in the nation with 867 rushing yards.
The Georgia defense is no slouch either with 254 yards and 11.7 points given up per game which ranks 4th and 3rd, respectively. However, Alabama still ranks higher in each category and also has the more significant edge in offensive yards and points per game ranking 17th and 9th while Georgia is 31st and 22nd in the respective categories.
The difference between Georgia and Alabama should become much clearer in the coming weeks as each team plays #10 Auburn (Georgia plays them this Saturday at 3:30 pm ET). Should both teams beat Auburn and not stumble against their remaining opponents, they’ll meet in the SEC championship game with the victor likely being crowned #1 in the CFP.
3. Notre Dame (CFP Rank: #3) I agree with the selection committee’s decision to slot the Irish at #3 as they have the strongest resume of the remaining teams. Notre Dame is tied at three wins against current top 25 teams with Clemson, although if you add this week’s rankings of each team’s opponents, Notre Dame has the advantage with a sum of 46 (#12 Michigan State, #11 USC, #23 NC State) while Clemson’s is 50 (#10 Auburn, #17 Virginia Tech, #23 NC State).
The Irish have arguably the nation’s fiercest rushing attack with QB Brandon Wimbush and Heisman candidate, Josh Adams, who ranks 9th with 1,191 yards on the season. Wimbush is a capable passer but it is evident that his legs are his greatest asset as he has rushed for 100 yards three times and 200 yards once this year. Notre Dame ranks 13th and 7th in offensive yards and points per game, but are vulnerable on defense as they’ve fallen to 50th with 376 yards allowed per game. This is somewhat offset, however, by the fact that they’re limiting opponents to 18.4 points per game which is 17th.
Notre Dame plays #7 Miami on the road this week (Saturday at 8pm ET), Navy next, and will finish the season at Stanford. Should the Irish win out, I have a tough time believing they’d be ousted from the top 4 despite not having a conference championship. Anyone who can pummel four top 25 teams and whose only loss is by a mere point to the #1 Bulldogs deserves to be in the CFP.
4. Oklahoma (CFP Rank: #5) Oklahoma is unique this year in that they’re a very one sided team. The nation’s best quarterback and Heisman favorite, Baker Mayfield, flaunts the following stat line among quarterbacks: 3,226 passing yards (2nd), 11.9 yards per attempt (1st), 28 touchdowns (3rd), 71.7% completion rate (1st), and only 5 interceptions. Given these astounding numbers, it is no surprise that the Sooners are 1st with 608 yards and 3rd in points scored per game.
Oklahoma’s defense, on the other hand, is quite feeble as they are giving up 28.2 points per game which ranks 75th. However, I think their elite offense is essentially their defense in that they can outscore almost anyone which largely negates their woes on the defensive side of the ball. This proved true last week as they knocked off their bitter conference rival #15 Oklahoma State 62-52, a game in which the over/under was exceeded in the first half.
The Sooners also had a convincing win over Ohio State in Columbus and have the chance to further bolster their resume with Saturday’s showdown against #6 TCU. Although Clemson has one more top 25 win than Oklahoma, the Sooners’ only loss is to the funky #21 Iowa State, a team that has also beaten #6 TCU. If they take care of business against the Horned Frogs this week and Iowa State finds a way to defeat Oklahoma State, I think the Sooners can make a strong case for locking up the 4th seed.
5. Clemson (CFP Rank: #4) Clemson has had 3 top 25 wins this year over #10 Auburn, #17 Virginia Tech, and #23 NC State, however, they have a bad loss against an unranked Syracuse team. Although starting QB Kelly Bryant played hurt during the first half before leaving entirely, I’d expect that a complete team would be able to pick up the slack against a much weaker opponent. The Tigers played down to the Orange’s level and were therefore dealt a loss in one of the biggest upsets of the year.
Clemson is very solid defensively as they rank 13th and 8th in yards and points allowed per game, but have been mediocre by their standards on offense ranking 34th and 35th in yards gained and points scored per game. Deshaun Watson’s departure for the NFL is certainly a factor, but I don’t believe Kelly Bryant can elevate the offense to last year’s status.
Although the selection committee doesn’t consider margin of victory over common opponents, I do and their 7 point win over NC State is not as convincing as Notre Dame’s 21 point margin. Additionally, Clemson was lucky as the Wolfpack would have been set up on the one yard line in the final seconds to tie the game had it not been called back for an illegal shift, a violation that honestly did not give them an unfair advantage on the play.
Clemson does not face a ranked opponent the rest of the year, so the bulk of their work is behind them. However, if Miami can beat Notre Dame this week, it will make for a very interesting ACC championship game. If the Tigers win that given this scenario, I’d have to believe they’d be a shoo-in for the CFP.
6. TCU (CFP Rank: #6) TCU has one notable win over #15 Oklahoma State 44-31, so the Sooners’ victory last week doesn’t give them much help. They also share a common defeat with Oklahoma, falling to Iowa State earlier in the year. TCU’s defense is clearly better than Oklahoma’s as they rank 6th in both yards and points given up per game, but their offense is not nearly as strong. I think the Sooner offense is explosive enough to overcome the advantage that TCU has on defense.
The Horned Frogs’ biggest test of the season comes this week against Oklahoma which should clarify who the better team is. If they win out, they might be able to sneak into the top four, but they’ll need some help from Clemson and Notre Dame as I don’t think two top 25 wins and a Big 12 championship would be enough to give those teams the boot should they win the remainder of their games as well.
7. Miami (CFP Rank: #7) Although Miami is 8-0, they only have one quality win over #17 Virginia Tech which took place last week. Prior to that game, the Hurricanes narrowly escaped UNC, Georgia Tech, Florida State, and Syracuse, all of whom are unranked which lowers my confidence in them.
Miami is a solid overall team, ranking among the top 45 in offensive and defensive yards gained/allowed and points scored/against per game, but they also have no real “explosive factor.” Quarterback Malik Rosier has been pretty good all year as he’s thrown for 2,264 yards (30th), 19 touchdowns, and only 7 interceptions.
The ‘Canes do play Notre Dame this week which represents the first time since 1990 that the “Catholics” and “Convicts” faceoff as top 10 teams. If Miami can defeat Notre Dame and win the ACC (which means beating Clemson) while going undefeated, I’d assume they’d have to be in the top 4.
8. Wisconsin (CFP Rank: #8) Wisconsin’s performance and schedule this year represent what’s wrong with college football. They have handedly beaten every one of their opponents this year, although no victory has been against someone noteworthy. Wisconsin did receive some help from the selection committee this week as Northwestern, whom they beat, was slotted at #25 for the first time and Iowa, who they play next, was boosted to #20.
The Badgers’ best chance to crack the top 4 would have been a conference championship had either Ohio State or Penn State not stumbled in recent weeks. It would be very tough for an undefeated Power 5 team not to make the CFP, but given the way the Big 10 has shaped up this year, I don’t think Wisconsin gets in even if they win out. They will need some serious help from the teams currently above them if they hope to get a bid.
9. Auburn (CFP Rank #10) If there’s one team that has the best opportunity to move up the most in the coming weeks, it’s the Auburn Tigers. Auburn is 7-2 after a dominating 49-10 victory over #16 Mississippi State and a “good loss” to #3 Clemson 14-6. They also fell to #24 LSU, but only by four points.
Auburn has a top 25 offense led by running back Kerryon Johnson who ranks 22nd and 3rd at the position for yards (868) and touchdowns (15). The Tiger defense is even better as it ranks 14th and 9th in yards allowed and points given up per game and has Jeff Holland at linebacker who is 7th in the country with 8 sacks.
Despite their two losses, however, Auburn has a chance to beat #1 Georgia this week and #2 Alabama shortly thereafter. This is obviously an extremely difficult task, but if the Tigers are able to pull off the seemingly impossible, they’d have a shot at making the CFP if they got a little help from some of the teams above them.
10. Washington (CFP Rank #9) The Huskies are 8-1, although they haven’t played a top 25 team and they have a bad loss to an unranked Arizona State team. Their opportunity for improving their resume was limited this week as Stanford, who they play next, dropped out of the top 25 and Washington State plummeted to #19 after being in the top 10 following week 7.
Washington does appear to have a strong defense as they rank 1st with only 241 yards allowed and 2nd with 11.1 points given up per game, but their weak schedule somewhat overshadows this accomplishment. Even if Washington wins out and takes the Pac-12 championship, the conference isn’t very strong this year so I don’t see them breaking into the CFP.
Conclusion: The NCAA took an important stride when they instituted the CFP a few years ago, but much of the same problem with the previous format still exists. With the multitude of teams competing, it is very difficult to accurately rank the top four given the year to year fluctuations of schedules and conference strengths. I understand that the brutal nature of football makes it tough to have a big tournament like basketball, however, I think a six team playoff would be the ideal situation with the top two teams receiving byes in the first round. Yes, there will still be arguments over who should be the top two seeds, but at least two additional teams will get a chance to prove themselves in head to head match ups. Expanding to eight teams would be too many games, so I think six would be the best option moving forward.