Earlier this week, the College Football Playoff Committee unveiled its first official rankings of the 2017 campaign. Not surprisingly, the Penn State Nittany Lions were not included in the top four projections, meaning if the season were to end today, the team would not be included in the playoff. The good news for the Nittany Lions, however, is that there are still a handful of weeks left to be played, including some top notch conference battles between some highly ranked teams. It will certainly need some help to sneak back into the top four, including an Ohio State loss at some point, but Penn State is very much alive under this new format.
As soon as these rankings were announced, a loud cry could be heard from every teams’ fans across the nation that weren’t given the number one spot that felt they deserved it. But, as it stands in sports, there can only be one top team, and for the first time in the College Football Playoff era, the Georgia Bulldogs have taken the top spot. Rounding out the top four are the Alabama Crimson Tide, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Clemson Tigers. Sitting just outside of the top four are the Oklahoma Sooners and Ohio State Buckeyes, both of whom are in front of the seventh ranked Nittany Lions.
Now that the basics are established, let me vent. I hate this list. This rankings list makes me believe that the committee doesn’t watch the games in depth, but instead, looks primarily at advanced statistics and box scores.
The first issue I have with the committee’s choices for the first rankings of the year is with the top spot. The Alabama Crimson Tide, much like the Goergia Bulldogs, are undefeated throughout the regular season thus far. In fact, both teams are 8-0. The two teams have played many common games to this point, including victories over Vanderbilt and Tennessee.The key factor, and quite possibly the only factor I can fathom as to why Georgia jumped Alabama, is that the Bulldogs have a greater strength of schedule with a victory of Notre Dame alone. The Crimson Tide opened the regular season against Florida State, a marquee matchup at the time. While the Seminoles season has plummeted over the course of the fall, that game was slated to be a good one. Prior to the season ending injury to Deondre Francois, that win was going to go a long way in the committee’s eyes. Right now, if Georgia and Alabama were to play on a neutral sight, and they appear to be on a collision course to do just that in the SEC Championship Game later this year, I’d take the Crimson Tide’s stifling defense over the freshman led Bulldog offense.
Now this doesn’t mean that Georgia should be much farther down the list. In fact, I’d be perfectly okay with the top two had these two teams just been flipped. Georgia has been as good as any team in the country this year, and deserve to remain within the top two. I’m simply against the top ranking they received.
Let’s move down the list, because I have another major qualm. That issue is Notre Dame being ranked number three. Notre Dame took Georgia down to the wire. They also beat up on North Carolina State. Outside of those two games, what have the Fighting Irish done to this point? They defeated a highly overrated USC squad that has floundered recently. They also beat Michigan State prior to the Spartans beginning their ascension back to relevancy. Notre Dame doesn’t scream title contender to me. Brandon Wimbush, the former Penn State commit, has been incredible with his legs, but average with his arm. I’d like to see the Fighting Irish take on a team that is capable of containing a running quarterback, forcing Wimbush to remain in the pocket a split second longer. Nine days from now will prove a legitimate test for the Fighting Irish, as they take on the undefeated Miami Hurricanes on the road. If Notre Dame can jump to 9-1 after a victory against Miami, my tone will change. For now, it remains steadfast.
My final problem with the top four is not a team that is in it, but a team that isn’t involved. That would be the Wisconsin Badgers. I understand that the Big Ten West is nowhere near the powerhouse that its eastern counterpart has become, but credit needs to be given where it’s due when it comes to the Badgers. Wisconsin remains undefeated at 8-0 and are practically a lock to represent the West Division in the Big Ten Championship game. The Badgers have been one of the most physically dominating teams defensively of 2017. See the trend in the Big Ten yet? Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State. All have been stout defensively. The Badgers have allowed the sixth least amount of yards to this point, giving up just 2144 yards through eight games. As the seasons change over and the weather turns for the worst in the Big Ten, offenses will transform into running oriented teams. That plays right into the Badgers strength, as they allowed 750 rushing yards, the fifth best in the country. The Badgers will likely have to go undefeated AND win the Big Ten title this season in order to be recognized as a top four team in the nation. They deserve that recognition now.
Looking beyond the top four, I’m actually fairly content. Oklahoma, Ohio State, Penn State is the correct order for those three teams by the transitive property alone. The Sooners beat the Buckeyes, the Buckeyes beat the Nittany Lions. I have no issue with these three teams being ranked in that particular order. The Sooners will need to survive a gauntlet of a next couple of weeks to remain in the playoff conversation, as they’ll get into some bedlam this weekend against Oklahoma State, followed up by a date with TCU the following week. If Oklahoma can emerge this stretch 9-1, they’ll have a fantastic chance to not only win the Big 12, but to make their way into the playoff. Much like the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes still have a matchup with the Michigan State Spartans remaining. They also must play Michigan in the final weekend of the season. There is a very real chance the Buckeyes can lose again, which would help Penn State tremendously. First, however, Penn State must defeat Michigan State this Saturday on the road. That won’t be an easy task. They will be pressed all game long, and will have to do a much better job of adjusting this week compared to last,
Outside of the top seven teams mentioned, I figure that there are six teams that have a legitimate chance to find their way into the final four. These teams outside the top seven include Wisconsin, Miami, TCU, Oklahoma State, Washington and Auburn. The beauty of the playoff going to four teams is that the final weeks are truly going to be special. TCU holds power over Oklahoma State by way of a victory earlier this year, but OK State could jump Oklahoma with a win this weekend. As mentioned, the Horned Frogs and Sooners still have to play in two weeks, which could round things out once again. Miami can push themselves into a playoff spot with a victory over Notre Dame in two weeks. Penn State could find a way back with a lose from Ohio State and Clemson. Wisconsin simply needs to win out. Their path, despite being one that will need to be perfect, may be the most clear. While they have two losses, Auburn still holds Goergia and Alabama on their schedule. Winning out, including defeating the top two teams in the nation, and finishing 10-2 with a chance to win the SEC would almost certainly get the Tigers in.
While there is still plenty of football left to be played, including top ten matchups, I have an inkling as to which four teams will get into the playoff this year. As the first playoff rankings are announced, I’ll take Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State to be the last four standing in January.
Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports