Predicting the Playoff field
Let’s get into the mind of the selection committee.
“UGHHHH, STOP TEXTING US, COASTAL CAROLINA FANS.”
Whoops. Wrong discussion.
What will the selection do with a pretty chalk-y Saturday? Will the Aggies get rewarded for ending the regular season with a 7-game winning streak? Or will Notre Dame’s body of work hold up despite a blowout loss? And what about Ohio State struggling with Northwestern?
Saturday is in the books, so let’s predict the Playoff field that’s announced at noon ET on Sunday (note that this is what I think the rankings be and not necessarily what I believe the rankings should be):
No debate. None. When you go 10-0 in the regular season against an all-SEC schedule with wins by an average of 32.7 points, you’ve earned a Playoff bid before the conference title game. When you then come out and put up a 50-burger in the SEC Championship, yeah, it’s in the bag.
That’s now 3 wins against teams who will likely be in the top 12. And no, don’t tell me that a down-to-the-wire game against Florida is somehow a knock against Alabama.
I didn’t think we’d see any SEC team run the table en route to the Playoff this year, but here we are. The Jaylen Waddle injury didn’t prevent that from happening as some speculated. If this team’s upside is limited, it certainly doesn’t look like it. There are 3 legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in Tuscaloosa, and if none of them winds up with the award, it’ll be because they canceled each other out.
But this is about the Playoff, which Alabama is arguably the strongest No. 1 seed we’ve seen on Selection Sunday … maybe with the exception of 2019 LSU.
Lost in the shuffle of Clemson’s “win-and-in” rematch against Notre Dame was the fact that with Trevor Lawrence, Clemson has blown out everyone. That now includes Notre Dame. The Tigers settling into that No. 2 spot feels fitting. Clemson won’t have to face Alabama in a semifinal thanks to what was easily its best win of the season. Other than that, it was pretty much just that blowout win against Miami (FL) that was propping up a 1-loss Clemson team.
Now, though, that’s different. The biggest — and only — question with Clemson was if it could avenge the Notre Dame loss with Lawrence back. It did. Perhaps more impressive was how much better the Tigers were defensively. Ian Book was throwing to nowhere for most of the day. It was a vintage Brent Venables performance. That should’ve sent a loud message that Clemson is a title-worthy team, and it’s much more complete than it was at mid-season.
Dabo Swinney didn’t have to do any politicking for his squad after Saturday, which in a way, was a win for all of us.
3. Ohio State
It must be nice to struggle immensely in your 6th game of the year only to wake up in the second half and clinch a Playoff bid. The Buckeyes have been at No. 4 in every ranking so far, which means that a double-digit win against a solid Northwestern squad isn’t about to move the Buckeyes back a spot. Anybody arguing about Texas A&M vs. Ohio State is wasting their breath because the selection committee tipped its hand weeks ago.
This was always about preseason confirmation bias. It wasn’t about the number of games for the selection committee. It was about Ohio State winning every game and not necessarily showing that it wasn’t worse than the team who started at No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25. Two wins against current Top 25 teams gave the selection committee all the evidence it needed.
My guess is that the Buckeyes get the rematch with Clemson after last year’s thriller. Do I think the selection committee admits that it sets up that matchup on purpose? No, but the Notre Dame loss opened the door for that to happen.
4. Notre Dame
This is a good time to remind A&M fans that this is what I think will happen, and not what I think should happen. Different things, those are. While we’ve never seen a team lose its conference championship game and make the field, I have a feeling the selection committee will give the Irish the benefit of the doubt for its quality wins. Notre Dame will get a bit more credit than it deserves for beating Clemson without Trevor Lawrence, and it’ll get love for that convincing win at UNC.
In a weird way, it might be the SEC West’s down year that ends up hurting A&M. When your division only has 2 ranked teams and you lost to one of them by 28, it’s hard to say that it was a true gauntlet. A&M has 1 win vs. a team with a winning record, and it now has 3 losses. That’s reality for the Aggies.
Notre Dame will sneak into the field, and it won’t just be because of name brand. It’ll be because the Irish won all of its road games by 14 points. The selection committee will argue that Notre Dame’s body of work was impressive, and that holding Clemson to 34 points is somehow worth celebrating.
Brace yourselves, Aggie fans. It’s been an impressive 2 months, but Sunday might be a frustrating day.