Tuesday saw the debut of the first College Football Playoff rankings for 2015. With the initial top 4 release, Ohio State begins as the third seeded team despite their top ranking in both the coaches and media polls.
Remember, last year the Buckeyes were 16th when the first rankings were released. We should all know a lot can change between now and New Year’s Day.
No. 1 Seed: Clemson
QB Deshaun Watson and company have earned the top spot. No, the ACC is not the best conference in the country. However, beating Notre Dame and having four wins over winning teams helps them with the strength of schedule.
They certainly pass the eye test. If you watched the Miami (FL) game, you saw just how dominant the Tigers can be. Remember, that’s the game that caused Al Golden to get fired from The U.
What really jumps out from Clemson is their defense. Behind the strength of arguably the best front line in the nation, the Clemson defense ranks fifth in the nation in total yardage given up per game and is tied for 19th in points allowed per game. Oh, and their offense has averaged 40.6 points per game, more than any of the top four teams.
But the ACC schedule may trip Clemson up if they lose along the way, as Florida State is the only other ranked opponent on their schedule.
No. 2 Seed: LSU
RB Leonard Fournette is the real deal and so are the Bayou Bengals. Coached by Elyria High graduate Les Miles, the Tigers stand along atop the SEC and are the only undefeated team in the conference. If LSU runs the table, they may actually jump Clemson for the top spot. But that is a big if.
We all saw what happened to both Mississippi schools last season after they sat atop the playoff rankings in 2014. LSU will still have tough games ahead. They’re at Alabama this Saturday, must travel to Ole Miss, and finishes the year with Texas A&M.
All three teams appear in the top 25 playoff rankings and all three are capable of beating LSU. For those reasons, LSU’s road to the playoffs become more difficult than the rest of the top teams. That includes the SEC title game.
No. 3 Ohio State
The Buckeyes are third after losing their starting quarterback to an OVI arrest and suspension against Minnesota. Even as a homer for the Buckeyes, the “eye test” has not been kind to the Scarlet and Grey.
Oct 24, 2015; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Damon Webb (7) tries to get by Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Isaiah Wharton (11) during the third quarter at High Points Solutions Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim O
Near misses against Northern Illinois and Indiana may have held them back from ranking higher — not to mention a defense that has actually underperformed.
What will keep Ohio State here is closing out the season in convincing fashion. To avoid being leap frogged by TCU, Baylor, or Notre Dame, Ohio State must not just beat Michigan State and Michigan, but it must do so with authority.
If either of the aforementioned teams runs the table with strong wins, Ohio State could suffer the same fate as the Baylor Bears in 2014 and settle for a bowl outside of the playoffs.
No. 4 Alabama
The Crimson Tide is the first team with a loss to appear in the rankings, jumping ahead of notable unbeaten Baylor, Michigan State, and TCU. This may be the most debatable spot.
Even ESPN personality Paul Finebaum doesn’t think the Tide belongs in the top four and said Baylor should actually be the top team.
Alabama beat Florida, who pummeled Ole Miss. Alabama’s only blemish on the year is a six point loss to Ole Miss.
If Alabama can beat LSU this weekend, all of this doesn’t matter. RB Derrick Henry leads the rushing attack and has scored 18 touchdowns, but the Tide defense hasn’t been the dominant units we have seen in the past.
Who Just Missed?
In order, Notre Dame, Baylor, Michigan State, TCU, Iowa, and Florida rounds out the top ten. Of that group, Baylor and TCU will probably be mentioned the most as the teams that deserve the fourth spot ahead of Alabama.
Baylor’s offense has been shattering records all season and TCU’s duo of QB Trevone Boykin and WR Josh Doctson are perhaps the most electric pair in college football. Yet, neither team has played any defense and neither team really has a signature win on the resume. I would still rather see either of those two in the top four than Alabama.
Oct 24, 2015; Waco, TX, USA; Baylor Bears wide receiverCorey Coleman
(1) hugs offensive linemanJarell Broxton
(61) after his 2nd touchdown of the day against the Iowa State Cyclones during the second half at McLane Stadium. Baylor won 45-27. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
As for the rest, Notre Dame beat a good Temple team and has a strong resume, with other wins over USC and Georgia Tech. Their only loss? Clemson. If they win out and beats Stanford to close the year, the Fighting Irish could crack the top 4 if the others get shaken out.
Michigan State’s fate will hinge on their ability to beat Ohio State, by far their toughest test left on the schedule. Sparty needs to fix a leaky secondary and notch a signature win that doesn’t involve a 0.02% play like they saw in Ann Arbor.
Florida, though, is the most intriguing team. What happens if LSU loses to both ‘Bama and Texas A&M? Florida would make the SEC title game if they win out. If they beat Florida State, the Gators stand a chance.
No Iowa won’t crack the top four, even if they win out and knock off Ohio State or Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. There’s too many teams ahead of them with better resumes and better wins. But it would be nice to see Iowa HC Kirk Ferentz do well.
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Any Other Teams of Note?
Holy Toledo! The Rockets break into the top 25 in the playoff rankings at 24, just ahead of the Tom Herman coached Houston Cougars. Both teams are undefeated.
In addition to Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa, two other Big Ten teams made the rankings. Michigan is at 17th, while Northwestern is 21st. That’s 20% of the top 25 for the Big Ten and three in the top ten. So much for the Big Ten being down.
Don’t overlook Memphis. Led by QB Paxton Lynch, the 6’7 gun-slinging quarterback, the Tigers could make some noise and take advantage of the chaos ahead of them if top teams keep knocking each other off.
With their head coach Justin Fuente considered a front runner for the Virginia Tech job, the spotlight will shine a little brighter than usual in Memphis.