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Takeaways From The Playoff Committee’s Initial Rankings

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Nick and Garrett discuss the playoff landscape, with no mention of the Big 12 in sight.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Ah yes, it’s over-reaction time. Sure, you could say there are five weeks left in the season, and plenty of time for the CFP’s Week 10 rankings to shake up dramatically.

But you know what? This is one of the fun parts of college football. So let’s go nuts. Now that the Playoff Committee has done their measurements, let’s re-measure and second-guess and break it all down.

Nick: So, let’s get right to it: is #3 too high, too low, or just about right?

Garrett: It’s what I expected. Alabama is going to be number one until some other team says otherwise and beats them, and the general impression around the country right now is that Clemson has better quality wins than Michigan. I was surprised that TAMU jumped unbeaten Washington. The best thing you can say about TAMU right now is that have a quality loss, and I think you have to make a huge intellectual leap to claim that six wins against nobody and a 19 point loss to Alabama is better than an unblemished score sheet.

Also, our buddy Drew Hallett had a good point here:

Nick: Yeah, I definitely agree about Bama. They’ve looked a solid step above any other team I’ve seen, even Michigan - the offensive and defensive lines are just really strong, and you’ve got a couple guys who might be the best offensive lineman (Cam Robinson) and the best defensive lineman (Jonathan Allen) in the country. Damien Harris is quietly one of the deadliest running backs in the country - imagine Ohio State’s Mike Weber, but faster. The only weakness they have is Jalen Hurts in the passing game.

But, on the flip side, what does it say about the rest of the field that the #4 team in these rankings just lost to Bama by a margin of 33-14? With all due respect to Bama, I do think there’s a team that can challenge them better than that out of the #4 spot. A&M hasn’t proven they belong, in my mind.

Garrett: So much of what goes into these rankings still seems to be what we thought of teams in the moment they played, not what we have learned of them as the season has progressed. Which I don’t think is the best line of thinking. The Aggies beat Arkansas when we thought Arkansas was a good team. Then they beat Tennessee when we thought Tennessee was a good team rather than a team that cashed in all of their luck for the next 15 years.

Nick: Well, that’s why we look back and re-assess. But that residue is common; some other biases are, as well.

Another interesting team I wanted to mention is Washington, who I’ve gotten a little less impressed with than I was in the first few weeks of the season. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re a top-five team, but I’d have them at fifth behind some combination of Bama, Michigan, Clemson, and Louisville. So that #5 ranking felt fair to me, but instead of A&M leap-frogging them, I think it should have been Louisville.

Like Michigan, UW has a shutdown corner wearing #26 - Sidney Jones, one of the best in college football.

Garrett: I also think Louisville should be fourth. They’ve been screwed a bit here.

Nick: Yeah, everyone’s talked about their offense with Lamar Jackson, but I was seriously impressed by their defense and how fundamentally sound and fast it is. They throw a lot of defensive backs out there, five or six most of the time, but they’re physical, north-south hitters and really limit the outside stuff that other teams run.

Garrett: Their defense is ranked 10th in S&P+. It’s definitely a solid unit that gets outshined by Lamar Jackson. I think the only reason they were dropped from the first four is because of their game last Saturday against Virginia. They struggled to get out with a win. And college football wouldn’t be college football without everybody overreacting to every game as though they’re all played in a vacuum.

Nick: Yeah, for sure.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Virginia
Lamar Jackson has the #12 quarterback rating in the country, and is 9th in the country in rushing yardage.

So, I thought this bit was interesting: the last two years, the teams that finished in the top four started off at #6, #5, #2, and #16 in 2014 (and that was Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and FSU, as a reminder) and then #1, #4, #7, and #15 (Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State, and Oklahoma). So there will be a lot of time for one of these teams that maybe has gotten screwed to continue to make their case.

Garrett: Also of note, in 2014, only Florida State remained in the final poll after the rankings were released. In 2015, Clemson was the only team in the original four to make the playoff.

Nick: Any teams outside of that four that you think could be sleepers?

Garrett: Well right off the bat, I don’t think any two loss teams will make it in. Unless the school starts with an A and ends with Labama, the committee is unlikely to give any team with more than one loss serious consideration. So that rules out Wisconsin, Auburn, Penn State, LSU and Oklahoma. At least three of those teams are popular sleeper picks I think. If I have to pick any one (at this moment) it’d be Nebraska. If they beat Ohio State, they could beat Michigan in the Big Ten championship game and that would rocket them right into the final four. Florida at #11 is attractive, but I’m not totally certain they actually have offensive players on the roster so I don’t see them building much of a resume.

Does Louisville count as a sleeper? They’re ranked #7, but with Houston faltering their potential resume has gotten weaker. I still think Louisville is one of the three best teams in the country.

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Houston
Houston could have been in prime position to make the playoff, but the Cougs have struggled mightily in October.

Nick: And I should also point out that Texas A&M is #16 in this week’s S&P+ (so not exactly top-four material on their part), while Louisville is third. Though, the more I’ve thought about it, you do have to give the Aggies some credit for their early-season wins against Auburn and Arkansas. I’ll bury the hatchet on this one for now; I might bring it up again down the road.

I’ll say this about Nebraska: I was one of the ones on their bandwagon early, but I’ve been a little disappointed with the leadership and fire on their offense and Tommy Armstrong in particular. Late in that Wisconsin game they weren’t executing and didn’t really take advantage of their chances. Maybe we’re spoiled with Jim Harbaugh, I don’t know.

Garrett: For what it’s worth, I do think Nebraska is going to get throttled by Ohio State. Saturday night in Columbus when everyone is down on OSU? Please. The Buckeyes are going to win by 50.

Nick: I think so too. Ohio State will come out with fire.

Garrett: And I have to agree with you about Nebraska recently. I think they should have/could have beaten Wisconsin, and I think there’s a feeling surrounding Nebraska that they are a good team. But there’s the Je ne sais quois missing from that team that you normally find in other championship caliber teams.

In the second year of the College Football Playoff there remains some lingering ratings based on BCS era performances, which were SEC heavy. We know what conference came out of nowhere to win the first College Football Playoff, though.

Nick: Alright, so before we wrap this up - if you had to take a guess who the final four will be, based on everything you’ve seen this season… who’s your pick? Who makes it out of this crazy season on top?

Garrett: 1. Alabama 2. Michigan 3. Clemson 4. Louisville.

Nick: You know, I hate myself for saying this, but after researching these teams, my views fell pretty closely in line with what Kirk Herbstreit was saying earlier this week: he had Bama #1, Clemson #2, Michigan #3, Washington #4, Louisville #5, and a toss-up between Ohio State and Texas A&M at #6.

I’d have Clemson and Michigan in a toss-up for that #2 spot - as Drew pointed out, it’s irrelevant - and I’d also put Louisville in ahead of Washington. They’re really similar teams, but Louisville is more sound and well-rounded defensively. And, of course, as good as Jake Browning has been, Lamar Jackson has been better.

Clemson does worry me a little bit. They have a budding young star on their defensive line, sophomore Christian Wilkins, but there are three other clones of him who can rush the passer at 310 pounds or more. Their weak spot is the secondary, which is one of the top ten in the country but can get a little grabby.

After that I like Wisconsin, Auburn, Colorado, LSU, and Nebraska as some dark-horses with serious hopes. Things will definitely change a bit from here to Thanksgiving.