There’s something that I think is worth remembering this time of year.
First of all, it’s “Playoff” and not “Playoffs.” I realize that goes against what our brains have learned over a lifetime of watching sports, but it’s Year 5 of this thing. We can do this.
Another thing to remember is that while people individually debate what they think the top 10 should be, I focus on what I think it will be. That means I try and do my best job of getting into the mind of the selection committee to figure out how they’re going to look at this.
That’s why I laughed whenever someone said Ohio State deserved a shot last year after getting pummeled at Iowa for its second loss. Anyone who paid attention to how the committee treated second losses and blowout losses would have been able to pick up on that. Instead, people wanted to debate the Buckeyes’ upside and “do you think they’re one of the four best teams in the country?”
That doesn’t matter. What does matter is the men and woman in that room — shoutout Paola Boivin — making that decision.
With that said, here are my questions for them before the first Playoff poll Tuesday night:
1. Are the top 4 spots as obvious as we think?
It seems like the consensus is that Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Notre Dame will be in the top 4. Those are the 3 unbeaten Power 5 teams (let’s just call Notre Dame that because of its schedule) and the 1-loss team with the best résumé. Whether you think it’ll be LSU or Notre Dame for that third spot, it seems like those are the obvious 4.
How obvious is that, though? Is there a chance that a team like Michigan, which enters the first poll having won 7 consecutive games and 2 against ranked opponents, sneaks into the top 4? Certainly crazier things have happened.
Let’s not forget that 1-loss Texas A&M’s stunning No. 4 spot ahead of unbeaten Washington in the first Playoff poll of 2016 threw us all for a loop. Will the selection committee get cute with a move like that? I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out, especially considering the gap between LSU’s and Michigan’s résumé isn’t massive (the Wolverines do have wins against 4 consecutive Power 5 teams with winning records).
But I have a feeling that the selection committee will want to reward an LSU team that won its marquee nonconference game, unlike Michigan. And like with A&M in 2016, LSU will face Alabama following the first Playoff poll of the season. Conventional wisdom suggests they’ll want to set that up as big of a Playoff implication game as possible.
Or maybe the selection committee will fool us all gain.
2. Does the SEC’s depth get the Associated Press Top 25 treatment?
Ah, there’s another thing worth reminding everyone about. While we say that “X number of teams are still alive in the Playoff hunt,” it’s important to remember that the rest of the top 25 serves a key purpose. This is all about résumé.
You better believe teams like Alabama and Clemson are hoping that Texas A&M is in that first Playoff poll, and LSU will fist pump if it sees Mississippi State in there. Stuff like matters. That’s why the SEC is in such good shape with 7 ranked teams in the AP Top 25. The question is whether that repeats itself with the Playoff poll.
In case you forgot, here’s where each SEC team is ranked in the AP poll:
- 1. Alabama
- 4. LSU
- 6. Georgia
- 11. Kentucky
- 13. Florida
- 21. MSU
- 25. Texas A&M
These rankings are key for the teams fighting for that last spot. If it’s a team like 1-loss Alabama that doesn’t play for a conference title again, this matters.
And obviously for teams like Clemson, which basically watched the entire ACC crumble before it, the back end of these rankings are extremely important. I’m still not sold on the belief that a 1-loss Clemson team is a lock to make the field because of how few opportunities there could be to rack up quality wins.
The entire Top 25 matters if one of these spots comes down to a narrow margin at season’s end.
Don’t just tune in for the top 10.
3. How many SEC teams are ranked ahead of UCF?
Get ready for UCF Twitter to point this stat out the second the rankings are announced. It’ll shed some light as to just how much the selection committee values UCF’s résumé, while also showing everyone that with the exception of Alabama, even losing a game in the SEC puts you ahead of the unbeaten Knights.
UCF fans will argue that it’s Group of 5 bias while ignoring that the team’s strength of schedule is outside of the top 100 in FBS. They’ll dismiss the fact that in 2018, the records of teams they faced is a horrendous 17-34. And that’s Group of 5 teams’ records. For some perspective on that, a 1-loss Kentucky team faced teams with a combined record of 33-32. Even 1-loss Georgia, which had a favorable first-half schedule, has a combined opponents record of 37-27.
And you know how UCF fans love to argue Alabama doesn’t play anyone? The Tide have an opposing record of 29-36, which isn’t great but it’s still significantly better than the Knights’ mark, and that’s against 6 Power 5 teams compared to 1 for UCF.
That’s why UCF will find itself ranked behind a handful of SEC teams. How many, you ask? Three seems like a lock with Alabama, LSU and Georgia. Four certainly seems possible with Kentucky. The real “SEC bias” narrative for UCF would be out in full force if 2-loss Florida was ranked ahead of the Knights.
If you want to watch people get mad online, just search “UCF” on Twitter around 7:15 p.m. ET on Tuesday night.
4. So what will the top 10 look like?
Without further ado, my best guess for what I think the selection committee does on Tuesday night:
- Notre Dame
- Ohio State
Consider this a reminder that the first poll means everything and that nothing will change so we should just argue like these rankings are all written in stone.