IT’S FINALLY HERE!! The 12-member College Football Playoff Selection Committee has officially unveiled their inaugural Top 25 ranking for this college football season. As we delve into the details and analyze this initial ranking, it’s important to bear in mind a couple of key considerations:
To begin with, we find ourselves slightly beyond the midway point of the college football season. There remain numerous games ahead that will ultimately shape the final verdict for the inaugural College Football Playoff. It’s crucial not to jump to conclusions or place excessive significance on the initial ranking placement of one’s team.
Secondly, we can use this ranking to infer the criteria that the committee is likely emphasizing in their assessment of team standings.
Let’s take a look at the first edition of the committee’s Top 25 ranking below:
Evidently, the primary factor influencing these rankings is the overall season record. In my personal view, I regard Florida State as the strongest team in the nation. Their impressive 23-game winning streak, dating back to their national championship victory last year, holds substantial significance. Despite losing key players to the NFL, their success this season remains unscathed. It’s akin to a championship boxing match – to claim the title, one must defeat the reigning champion. So far this year, no one has managed to accomplish this feat. Barring their upcoming match against Louisville, I foresee few obstacles on their path to the playoff.
Mississippi State’s position at the top of the rankings can be attributed to their membership in the most challenging division within the most competitive conference in college football, the SEC West. The Strength of Schedule (SOS) also serves as a significant determinant in how the committee assesses these teams. It’s worth noting that the SEC West boasts four of the top six teams – specifically, Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, and Alabama, in that order. This division is renowned for its abundance of top-tier talent, formidable defenses, and the potential for a Heisman Trophy winner in Dak Prescott. Such a division unquestionably commands respect; however, these rankings are bound to shift as these powerhouse teams are set to face off against each other in the upcoming weeks.
I have some reservations when it comes to Mississippi State. Despite having one of the most versatile quarterbacks in college football, Dak Prescott, they appear to lack the team speed necessary to match their upcoming opponents. This was evident in their recent game against Kentucky, where Mississippi State struggled to establish a significant lead until the latter part of the fourth quarter. I anticipated a slower start from Mississippi State after their bye week, but I also expected them to be well-rested and in good health, which did not seem to be the case.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have had difficulty preventing opponents from making significant plays against them. They find themselves at the bottom of the SEC in both Passing Yards Allowed (PYA) and Total Yards (TY).
My initial assumption was that this defensive performance was a result of Mississippi State often being in the lead during their games, which led opponents to pass the ball more in an attempt to catch up. However, there’s a noticeable gap in overall team speed between Mississippi State and the teams they’ll be facing in the near future. It appears that they may not be evenly matched in this regard. To compensate, they will have to heavily rely on team defense and swarming to the football to make crucial stops. Teams are likely to employ strategies to spread out Mississippi State’s defense to exploit these vulnerabilities, and if Dak Prescott isn’t at 100%, it could spell trouble for the Bulldogs.
Auburn and Ole Miss are set to face each other this weekend, and as a result, one of these two teams will lose their place in the Top Four rankings. The remaining teams will go head-to-head over the next four to five weeks to determine the West Division champion.
Auburn currently holds the third spot in the rankings, standing as the top team with just one loss. Their victory over Kansas State in Manhattan has been duly recognized, with KSU being considered one of the top teams in the Big 12. Auburn’s significant win against LSU has gained even more luster after LSU’s recent upset of Ole Miss in Death Valley. It appears that Auburn is hitting its stride at a critical juncture in the season. Quarterback Nick Marshall is in top form, and he’ll need to maintain this level of performance this weekend when facing Ole Miss’ formidable “landshark” defense.
Ole Miss secures the final spot in the Top Four, another recognition for an SEC West team that has faced a challenging schedule. Until just a week ago, Ole Miss was one of only three undefeated teams, under the leadership of Head Coach Hugh Freeze and boasting the top-ranked defense in the nation. Their consecutive victories over Alabama and Texas A&M were considered significant statements, although those perceptions were tempered by their recent loss to LSU in the daunting environment of Death Valley. It’s worth noting that playing as a road team in such circumstances is no easy task. Quarterback Bo Wallace had one of his less impressive outings, struggling on third downs and showing some issues with ball security. If Ole Miss aims to have a chance against Auburn this weekend, Wallace will need to perform better in the role of a “game manager.”
Some other interesting notes in the Top 25
Oregon has secured the fifth spot in the rankings, thanks to their high-octane offense and the presence of what I consider to be the best player in college football, Marcus Mariota. Mariota has been remarkably effective this season, with just one interception compared to 24 touchdown passes. His precision and smart decision-making in the passing game are notable, and he demonstrates impressive elusiveness when he’s outside the pocket, possessing the speed for game-changing plays.
In the previous week, the freshman running back Royce Freeman added a dimension of balance to the Ducks’ offense, amassing over 100 yards on the ground and scoring two touchdowns. Oregon’s emphasis on developing their running game is crucial, as their defense ranks near the bottom in all of college football in Passing Yards Allowed, Total Yards Allowed, and 3rd Down Conversion Percentage.
This highlights another observation about the committee’s apparent criteria – they are influenced by what we might call “style points.”
Oregon has the ability to rack up points rapidly, but they seem to struggle when it comes to preventing their opponents from doing the same. If they intend to secure a place in the Top Four and maintain their status as a one-loss team, they must discover a way to halt their opponents effectively.
In the context of “style points,” TCU surprisingly lands in the seventh position in this initial poll. This positioning has raised eyebrows, especially since it places them ahead of Baylor, a team they recently lost to in Waco, Texas. It appears that the committee is either downplaying the third-down pass interference call that played a crucial role in Baylor’s game-winning drive, considering it a fluke, or they are emphasizing the significance of the teams a particular team has defeated over those they’ve lost to.
Another perspective could be that TCU’s remarkable feat of scoring an astonishing 82 points against Texas Tech last week has created an image of an unstoppable force. TCU isn’t just winning through offensive firepower; they are also capitalizing on turnovers and converting them into points on defense.
No team is currently showcasing more effective complementary football in the college football season. Their impressive resume deserves added respect, particularly given their early-season victory over Minnesota, a team that has now secured bowl eligibility by winning six games this year. However, it’s worth noting that they are part of a Big 10 conference that is relatively weak, and this fact should be taken into account.
If Trevonne Boykin and the rest of TCU’s championship Big 12 4×100 meter relay team can maintain their dominance on the field, TCU is poised to become the most talked-about team in the country. Keep an eye on the Horned Frogs if they manage to secure victories on the road against West Virginia this weekend and Kansas State in the following game.
The Big 10 conference only manages to secure three spots in the Top 25 rankings, with Michigan State at #8, Nebraska at #15, and Ohio State at #16. The Big 10 has the poorest record among Power 5 conferences when competing against other Power 5 opponents, standing at 26-30. This situation doesn’t bode well for the Big 10’s long-term prospects.
Michigan State, often considered the best team in the conference, suffered a loss to Oregon, which is ranked 5th in the poll. If both teams were to maintain perfect records, the head-to-head performance between the two would come into play, and it’s reasonable to assume that Oregon would hold the advantage over Michigan State in such a scenario.
Despite Ohio State’s impressive performance as one of the hottest teams in football, they have not received the recognition they might have hoped for. Their #16 ranking poses a significant challenge in quickly ascending the rankings to reach the Top Four. Their potential for a rapid rise largely depends on their upcoming game against Michigan State in a couple of weeks, where the committee’s ranking at that point in the season will be a crucial indicator of whether Ohio State can contend as a one-loss team.
Ohio State’s early-season loss to a Virginia Tech team that has been struggling appears to be a key element in the committee’s criteria, particularly in assessing the “quality of one-loss teams” and the strength of their opponents. Virginia Tech’s subsequent decline after their loss to Ohio State will likely influence how other one-loss teams, such as Notre Dame, are evaluated in comparison.
Finally, we have Notre Dame, positioned at the 10th spot in the poll. Notre Dame is arguably one of the most divisive and debated teams in the rankings, particularly when considering their preseason Strength of Schedule (SOS), which was one of the most challenging in the nation. This team certainly warrants a closer examination and reconsideration.
Notre Dame’s most significant victory came in the closing moments of a home game against Stanford, and since then, the Cardinal have faced challenges in maintaining their position in the Top 25 of the polls. The controversy surrounding Notre Dame’s sole loss to Florida State in Tallahassee appears to have had a lesser impact on the Committee’s rankings compared to the influence it had on many other polls. There is a prevailing belief, which I share, that Notre Dame should have emerged as the victors in that game and stayed undefeated. It would indeed be intriguing to see where they would be ranked had that been the case.
The path ahead won’t be a cakewalk, as Notre Dame faces challenging road matchups against both Arizona State and USC in the coming weeks. In contrast to the situation in the Big 10, I am of the belief that if the Irish manage to win their remaining games convincingly, they have a strong chance of making it into the playoff. Their single loss would have been against an undefeated FSU team on the road, setting them apart from a one-loss Oregon team that lost at home to Arizona or a one-loss Big 10 team with a less impressive schedule.
Their primary competition might come from TCU, depending on how they conclude their season and whether the concept of “style points” becomes a factor in the decision.
This initial committee ranking provides a glimpse into their perspective, but it’s only the beginning.
As we look ahead, there are numerous scenarios that could unfold, which I will delve into in my next column when the committee releases its second ranking on Tuesday. I’ll particularly focus on the SEC and explore how it might be possible for them to secure two spots in the college playoff if certain conditions align.
Now it gets interesting!