Predicting what the 3rd College Football Playoff rankings will look like
What to do with Alabama?
That’s the biggest question the College Football Playoff selection committee no doubt started wrestling with as soon as Tua Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending dislocated hip Saturday against Mississippi State.
Alabama still won, easily. Its 31-point margin was better than Oregon’s, almost as good as Ohio State’s, and the Tide’s opponent was better than what the Ducks and Buckeyes faced, too.
Still, there is no denying the Alabama team that went to bed Saturday night is nowhere near as dangerous as the Tide team that woke up Saturday morning.
Tagovailoa’s injury changes everything. If the goal is, as stated, to select the 4 best teams, Alabama no longer is in that discussion.
Where will be they ranked tonight? Will LSU still be No. 1? How high did Oklahoma climb? How far did Minnesota fall?
Here’s what I expect to see when the Playoff selection committee unveils its 3rd set of rankings at 7 p.m. (Eastern, ESPN).
Yes, I saw the Big Ten media contingent loudly suggest that Ohio State was more impressive Saturday and deserves to return to No. 1. Nobody stays on brand quite like that group, which just last week was shouting Minnesota should be in the top 4.
It’s fine to question LSU’s defense. But until somebody stops that offense … the Tigers are No. 1 in the country.
2. Ohio State
The Buckeyes gave up 21 points to Rutgers — that’s the most points Rutgers has scored in a Big Ten game since 2017, by the way — and some want them to be rewarded? The committee will keep the Buckeyes at No. 2. If they blow out Penn State on Saturday, they’ll have a case to return to No. 1.
Care to guess who is the highest-scoring team in the country over the past 6 games? The once-written off Clemson Tigers, who topped 50 for the 4th consecutive week, this time against a good Wake Forest team that had been ranked. The Tigers won by 49. Since the scare at UNC, Clemson has outscored its past 6 opponents 315-58.
Trevor Lawrence in that 6-game stretch? He’s thrown at least 3 TDs in every game, totaling 19 TDs against just 3 interceptions.
The Dawgs were No. 4 last week and won’t drop after knocking off No. 12 Auburn on the road. The Dawgs still have issues in the passing game. Jake Fromm threw 3 TDs — including a beautiful 51-yard laser to Dominick Blaylock — but his 3rd TD came after a questionable call extended the drive. His TD total diverted attention from an otherwise poor performance, arguably his worst of the season.
This is where it starts to get interesting. I expect Alabama to fall and others to move up. The committee might disagree and play wait-and-see with the Tide, which would be perfectly fine, too. I could see the Tide at 5, 6 or 7. The Ducks were No. 6 last week behind Alabama. They beat an average Arizona team, at home, by 28. Is that enough to move ahead of Bama and hold off Utah? Or Oklahoma?
Utah was No. 7 last week. The Utes blew out a bad UCLA team, at home, by 46. Was it enough to jump Bama and Oregon and move into the No. 5 spot? As I’ve written, Utah has a cleaner path to the Playoff because it doesn’t have to worry about Auburn. Oregon lost to Auburn, and if No. 4 comes down to LSU, Georgia and Oregon, the Ducks are the only team that lost to the Tigers. Auburn won’t even be discussed if Utah is the 12-1 Pac-12 champion.
Too low? The committee has 2 choices: Reward Alabama for another 30-point victory without regard to Tagovailoa’s injury and sort things out after the Iron Bowl, or position them realistically tonight based on the aftermath of Tagovailoa’s injury. If you don’t think there’s much of a difference in the 2 versions, I’d politely suggest that Alabama with Tua would beat Alabama without Tua about 49-21. Outlandish? Emotions no doubt contributed, but Mac Jones and the offense scored 3 points in the 2nd half against Mississippi State. A Najee Harris-led offense isn’t explosive enough to keep pace with the Playoff teams. Even if the Tide slide, they’ll have a chance to rebound, possibly all the way to No. 4, if they can hammer Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 30.
Too high? The Sooners went on the road and knocked off an unbeaten Baylor team that many screamed was too low at No. 13 last week. The Sooners did it in style, too, closing with a 24-0 run to erase a 28-3 deficit, delivering the biggest comeback in program history. I’d have them above Alabama and Utah, but I’m not sure the committee will be that bold tonight.
9. Penn State
The Nittany Lions beat an unranked Indiana team, at home, by 7. It was a 3-point game until the final minutes of the 4th quarter. A solid, stay-on-track victory, but certainly not enough to move up. They’ll remain No. 9.
In theory, the Nittany Lions can jump back into the top 5 if they upset Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday. In theory.
If Penn State wins that game, it will win the Big Ten East and all but eliminate Ohio State from Playoff contention. As great as that drama would be, Ohio State is simply on another level.
I predicted Florida would be No. 10 last week, but the committee slotted the Gators at 11. No real harm, either way. The Gators don’t have a Playoff path, but they stayed on track for a 10-win regular season and New Year’s 6 bowl game.
Outside the top 10
The myriad “if this, if that” scenarios define November’s Playoff talkin’ season.
Minnesota, which lost at 3-loss Iowa on Saturday, will fall out of the top 10. I expect them to land at 11. Many are insisting the Gophers aren’t done. In theory, sure. A 1-loss Big Ten champion certainly will have a Playoff case. The reality is, the Gophers will have their hands full trying to stop Jonathan Taylor and Wisconsin in Week 14 and might not even make it to the Big Ten title game.
Michigan has 2 losses, so it’s not a Playoff threat, but it is a serious threat to wreck Ohio State’s season in Week 14. Jim Harbaugh’s group finally seems to have figured it out. Because of the 2 losses, nobody blinked when the Wolverines smashed Notre Dame 45-14 a few weeks ago. Ohio State has won 7 in a row in the series and 14 of the past 15. Can Shea Patterson pull off the improbable on Nov. 30? Michigan and Ohio State have tough games this week, but the hype is building toward their annual regular-season finale.