Predicting the top 10 for the 4th Playoff poll of 2022
It was weird.
For the members of the selection committee who watched football on Saturday, it had to be strange. All of the top 5 teams found themselves in a 1-score game in the second half against unranked teams. Each of the top 4 prevailed, with the lone exception being No. 5 Tennessee.
We could’ve had tons of movement. Instead, though, we should have a somewhat drama-free rankings show Tuesday night (7 pm, ESPN).
Here’s how I see that playing out:
This spot should really come down to Oregon or Penn State, but the Ducks fended off Utah, which the selection committee clearly valued. The Ducks continuing to get respect is important for a potential 1-loss, Pac-12 champ USC team. The Oregon ranking could carry a lot of weight for the Trojans if they’re trying to battle the Michigan/Ohio State loser or a 1-loss TCU team.
It really would’ve been nice for Clemson’s outside Playoff chances if Michigan and/or TCU could’ve missed their respective game-winning kicks. Instead, that didn’t happen and UNC fell as a 3-touchdown favorite, which means the ACC Championship won’t be a potential top-10 win for the Tigers. On the surface, one would think Clemson would be in position to make a nice jump after clubbing Miami. But last week, the selection committee told us that Alabama’s résumé is being held in higher regard, and because Tennessee has the head-to-head against the Tide, I wonder if that puts an indirect ceiling on Clemson. At least for now.
Would I have the Tide in this spot? No, but the selection committee might point to the true road wins against current AP Top 25 teams (Ole Miss and Texas) as a justification for this ranking. We know the Tide came in a spot ahead of 1-loss Clemson last week, and without a path to a division title, there’s no Playoff discussion that directly involves Alabama.
Wait, only a 2-spot slip? How? Didn’t the Vols just get trucked by an unranked South Carolina team as a 3-touchdown favorite? Yes. I’d put Clemson ahead of both Tennessee and Alabama. But I wonder if the selection committee gives the Vols the head-to-head advantage against fellow 2-loss team Alabama, but not fellow 2-loss team LSU. Why not LSU? Well, Tennessee has 2 losses since that decisive LSU win while the Tigers are unbeaten since that beatdown. But whatever the case, the Vols’ Playoff dreams died at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday night.
Finally, USC answered a true test. That was a gutsy showing at UCLA (I use “at” loosely) to keep its Playoff hopes alive. Caleb Williams continued to build his Heisman Trophy résumé, but more importantly, USC continued to build its 1-loss résumé. No contender has more wins vs. current AP Top 25 teams (2) than USC. So then why won’t the Trojans jump LSU? They still have just 3 wins vs. Power 5 teams with winning records. Clearly, though, the selection committee is going to make the Trojans think they have a Playoff path heading into conference championship weekend … as long as they beat Notre Dame.
I’m not totally ruling out the idea of USC jumping LSU, but the selection committee had the Tigers at No. 6 last week, so they can maintain the stance they had last week about why there’s a 2-loss path to the Playoff. That is, they totally flipped the script since getting blown out by Tennessee. Thats’s why Brian Kelly’s squad was only 1 spot behind the Vols last week, despite that early-October drubbing in Death Valley. The 5 wins against Power 5 teams with a winning record should help, as should the fact that LSU and Georgia are the only remaining contenders with wins vs. current AP Top 10 teams. Of course, LSU still needs to take care of business in College Station before a win-or-go-home showdown in Atlanta.
Somehow, someway, the Horned Frogs are still here. By virtue of a fire drill field goal for the ages, TCU now has 7 wins against Power 5 teams with winning records. That’s as many as Michigan (4) and USC (3) combined. There’s no denying that they’re worthy of a top-4 spot as it stands, and if they become the second Power 5 team to go 12-0 and win a conference championship with a 9-game conference schedule, well, that’s not debatable. What’s debatable is whether the Horned Frogs have any leeway. One would think they don’t, but a blowout in the Michigan-Ohio State game coupled with an LSU loss in the SEC Championship could change that. And while we’re at it, USC losing to either Notre Dame or Oregon would be greatly beneficial.
The notion that Michigan is automatically in with a close loss to Ohio State is premature. Yes, the Penn State win is solid. Outside of that, though? It’s a few wins against 4- and 5-loss teams. We know the Wolverines punted on a real nonconference game, and if they’re on the outside looking in during conference championship weekend, they could be banking on a 3-team parlay of:
- Georgia beats LSU
- Oregon beats USC
- Kansas State/Texas beats TCU
Alternatively, Michigan could lock in a No. 2 seed at worst if it beats Ohio State in Columbus and it takes care of business against an unranked Big Ten West champ. Regardless of that likely No. 3 ranking, Michigan fans should be treating Saturday’s showdown in Columbus as “Playoff or bust.”
2. Ohio State
Here’s the good news for the Buckeyes. Even though it’s been a bit touch and go at times, they’re still sitting at 11-0 with 2 wins against teams that are currently ranked inside the top 15 of the AP Poll. And the subjective “eye test” metric working in Ohio State’s favor is that the average scoring margin against Power 5 teams is +26.2. Only Georgia is better. That’s why a loss to Michigan isn’t make-or-break. Still, though. Ohio State knows all too well about what it’s like to be sitting there as the 1-loss team on the outside looking in during conference championship weekend. It happened in 2015 and 2016 with mixed results.
My advice? Beat Michigan.
Yeah, it was ugly. The same was true of every top-5 team on Saturday. At least the Dawgs added another win against a Power 5 team with a winning record and closed out a perfect SEC slate for the second consecutive season. Oregon beating Utah to get back into the top 10 of the AP Poll helped the Dawgs’ growing résumé, which includes 2 such wins. Among the 7 teams with a path to the Playoff, here are the wins against current top-10 teams in the AP Poll:
- Georgia, 2
- LSU, 1
- Clemson, 0
- Michigan, 0
- Ohio State, 0
- TCU, 0
- USC, 0
That’s why barring losses to both Georgia Tech and LSU, the Dawgs will have a Playoff spot with a legitimate shot to repeat.