By Ryan Mayer, CBS Local Sports
We’ve gotten to that wonderful time of the year college football fans. The calendar has flipped to November and with that comes Saturdays filled with tension as top teams battle it out to impress the College Football Playoff selection committee.
Tonight, the committee will release their first official rankings of this college football season. It goes without saying that a LOT can change between now and Dec. 6 when the final rankings come out. For example, last year’s first edition of the rankings featured three SEC West squads. The committee pegged Mississippi State No. 1, Florida State No. 2, Auburn No. 3, and Ole Miss No. 4. Only one of those teams (the Seminoles) ended the year still in one of the top four spots. With that in mind, and remembering that this is a snapshot of a team’s season to this point, here’s who I would have in the playoff and who’s on the outside looking in.
#1 Clemson Tigers – The Tigers have arguably been the most impressive team in college football. Their marquee win against Notre Dame looks good right now as the Irish have continued to roll along with just that one loss. The Tigers have really gotten the offense going the last two weeks putting up 58 and 56 points against Miami and NC State. This spot could be short lived for the Tigers as they’ll go up against Florida State this weekend in what is really their final big test before the ACC Championship game.
#2 LSU Tigers – The Tigers have been impressive and of this initial top four have played the “hardest” schedule. I put that in quotations because the out of conference games for all of these teams were nothing to be impressed by. But, the reason I think LSU has had it a little tougher is because I think Florida is tougher than Notre Dame at the moment (especially defensively), and LSU beat Florida three weeks ago. LSU currently sits in eighth in the FPI and has the toughest remaining schedule of any of these teams, which starts this week when they head to Tuscaloosa to battle for SEC West supremacy.
#3 Ohio State Buckeyes – The Buckeyes have scuffled along against a below average schedule at points this year. They had a bye week last week after crushing Rutgers behind QB J.T. Barrett. Barrett’s off-field problems aren’t factored in here. Despite the close calls, the Buckeyes sit at fourth in the FPI, and look to have found their stride once again relying on the read-option game with Ezekiel Elliott that was so effective in their run to the title last year. They get docked for the close calls that they’ve had. Because the two teams above them? They’ve been dominant in every game they’ve played. All that said, they have big games still to come against both Michigan State and Michigan.
#4 Baylor Bears – I know, I know. Seth Russell is out for the rest of the year and they’ll have to start a true freshman at QB. Again, let’s reiterate that this is based on the team’s performance to this point, and there hasn’t been a more dominant team in the country than the Bears. Baylor’s point differential is +252. Yes, their strength of schedule is terrible at 109th, but the dominating fashion in which they’ve beaten those opponents is enough. The remaining schedule is where it will get fun. Following a match-up against Kansas State on Thursday night, the Bears get three straight games against current Top 25 teams (home vs Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, at TCU). We’ll find out quickly if the Bears are able to withstand the injury to Russell.
Lurking Just Outside The Rankings
#5 Alabama Crimson Tide- The Tide’s lone loss came against Ole Miss. That hurts them when it comes to possibly playing in the SEC title game, but in the rankings not as much. The Tide have played most of their toughest games in the first half of the season with wins against Wisconsin, Georgia, Texas A&M and Tennessee all on their resume. Their biggest game left is this weekend against LSU.
#6 TCU Horned Frogs- How do you have a one loss team ahead of an undefeated one? I can already hear the complaints from Big 12 fans. Stop me if any of these opponents really scare you: Minnesota, Stephen F Austin, SMU, Texas Tech, Texas, Kansas State, Iowa State, West Virginia. No? Those are the eight teams that TCU has beaten this season. That’s not to say the Horned Frogs aren’t good, but, like Baylor, they get docked for the weak strength of schedule so far. Because the Big 12 back loads their schedule however, the Frogs still have games against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor left. Also known as the three other Big 12 ranked teams at the moment.
Once again, there’s plenty of football left to be played. If the first year of the playoff showed us anything, it’s that plenty of jostling can happen even up through the final week of the season. Last year, the Buckeyes were 16th in the initial CFP rankings. They ended up getting the No. 4 spot and rolling to the title. Stanford fans, TCU fans, Michigan State fans, relax. If your team’s name isn’t shown tonight it will be okay. The sun will still rise tomorrow, and there will still be football left to play.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him.