Despite lack of drama at top, CFP rankings hint at chaos to come
Despite Wisconsin’s undefeated record, Kirk Herbstreit and Booger McFarland aren’t convinced the Badgers are better than the teams surrounding them in the CFP rankings. (1:38)
It sounds illogical, but the story of the CFP selection committee’s second rankings never was going to be the top four (or five).
Businesslike wins by No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Notre Dame, plus quality road victories by No. 4 Clemson and No. 5 Oklahoma, suggested that nothing would change at the top, and it didn’t. Tuesday’s rankings reset instead would shine a spotlight on the next set of contenders, namely unbeatens Wisconsin and Miami.
The committee’s message: There’s work left to do, as winning isn’t everything.
Wisconsin moved up only one spot to No. 8 after its 45-17 win at Indiana, even after Ohio State and Penn State plummeted out of the race. Miami moved up three spots to No. 7 after smashing Virginia Tech, ranked 13th in the committee’s first rankings. Both teams linger behind four one-loss teams: Notre Dame, Clemson, Oklahoma and No. 6 TCU.
Miami has to be a bit ticked that it didn’t jump TCU in the rankings. Although Miami can record its best win of the season this week against No. 3 Notre Dame, so can TCU, which visits No. 5 Oklahoma. What type of performance would the Hurricanes need to jump a Frogs team that wins in Norman? Is it possible for Miami to displace Oklahoma next week if both teams defend home field on Saturday night?
The good news for Miami is that it likely will have another profile-boosting opportunity against No. 4 Clemson in the ACC title game. The TCU-Oklahoma winner likely won’t face a top-five foe in the Big 12 championship. So advantage, Canes.
While Miami finally started building its playoff profile last week, Wisconsin, now the beleaguered Big Ten’s best playoff candidate, can begin to craft a top-four-worthy résumé this week against No. 20 Iowa, which entered the rankings after its historic beating of Ohio State. The Badgers caught a break with the first team revealed Tuesday night, No. 25 Northwestern, which they beat Sept 30. The Wildcats are favored to win out, and Wisconsin is pulling for them.
Wisconsin also will be rooting for the winner of this week’s Michigan State-Ohio State clash in Columbus. With the Spartans surging to No. 12 and the Buckeyes falling to 13th, it’s a decent bet Saturday’s winner will reach the Big Ten championship game ranked in the committee’s top 10. Wisconsin desperately needs a top-shelf win there, or a perfect season in a Power 5 league still might not be enough to make the playoff. Sorry, Barry Alvarez.
The biggest obstacle for both Miami and Wisconsin, other than the SEC tandem at the top, looks to be Oklahoma. Although everyone is questioning the Sooners’ defense right now, including committee members, they could have the nation’s best one-loss profile if they win out. After taking down Ohio State and Oklahoma State on the road, Oklahoma has a chance for at least two more top-15 wins (TCU and the Big 12 championship). A home game against West Virginia, which could crack the next set of rankings if it beats Kansas State this week, only helps the Sooners.
Clemson also emerged from Tuesday night in good shape. Its win at Virginia Tech doesn’t look quite as splashy (the Hokies dropped to No. 17), but a Week 2 triumph over Auburn, which now sits at No. 10, helps Clemson’s case to remain in the top four. Dabo Swinney’s Tigers become big fans of Gus Malzahn’s Tigers the rest of the way, as Auburn hosts Georgia and Alabama the next two weeks and, with victories, would face Georgia again in the SEC title game.
Auburn might be the most popular team in America the next two weeks, but are the Tigers more than spoilers? Three wins over likely CFP top-five teams would make Auburn an attractive top-four candidate, despite two losses, especially if multiple two-loss conference champions are fighting for a spot.
One of those champions could be USC, which moved to No. 11 after outlasting Arizona. The Trojans have been unpredictable, but they’ve also played one of the nation’s most taxing schedules. Their playoff chances remain minimal, but they’re still on the radar — barely.
Washington remains the Pac-12’s best candidate after moving up three spots to No. 9. The league’s dream title-game matchup — Washington versus USC — is still in line, and if the Trojans win their next three games, that matchup will pair two top-10 teams. Washington will root for USC, and it also wants No. 19 Washington State to win its next two games before the Apple Cup in Seattle.
UCF remains in the driver’s seat for a New Year’s Six bowl, though the Knights have to be a bit peeved about staying at No. 18 — behind eight two-loss teams — despite a solid win at SMU. There’s a good chance that the AAC title game, which projects as a UCF-Memphis rematch, will decide which Group of 5 team goes to a big-time bowl.
Tuesday night’s rankings were unusually static, even boring, with only one team (Michigan State) making a major move (12 spots). But another A-list slate of games on Saturday promises more drama in the weeks to come.
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