Predicting the Playoff Rankings entering Championship Weekend
It’s the end of an era.
Tonight will mark the last instance in which we have a Tuesday show to debate the 4-team Playoff.
Pour one out. It’ll be missed.
We’ll never forget the endless debates about teams 16 through 20 as if it has any bearing whatsoever on the top 4. Who could ignore the “don’t sleep on this team” lines from the college football analysts during the 18 minutes it takes to release a top 4 that didn’t change.
Appreciate this final Tuesday rankings show of the 4-team era, and watch it for all 2 minutes of its relevance.
Here’s how I think the top 10 will shake out:
10. Penn State
Do I believe Penn State should be ranked ahead of Ole Miss simply because it beat Iowa like a drum? No, I don’t. But do I believe the selection committee will hold steady with that instead of reevaluating those résumés? I do.
Mizzou’s Playoff chances are gone, but think about this: The Tigers won 10 games with their lone losses coming to the possible Heisman Trophy winner and the 2-time defending champs on the road. I believe the Tigers can finish as high as No. 6 in the final AP Poll, and perhaps they can move up to No. 7 by Selection Sunday. Not too shabby.
This will frustrate Alabama fans to no end, but after 4 consecutive No. 8 rankings, what makes us think the selection committee is about to throw the Tide a bone? Do I believe that Alabama’s résumé is better than Ohio State’s? I do. Alabama and Florida State lead the remaining Playoff contenders with 7 victories against Power 5 teams with at least 6 wins. Ohio State only has 5 such victories. I just don’t expect the selection committee to move the Tide around until after the SEC Championship.
What do we think is more likely — Texas has a drama-free Sunday when the final Playoff field is revealed, or it has to sweat it out? It’s the latter. That’s a baffling thought considering what we said about this team in Week 2 after the Alabama win. It’s still, for my money, the most impressive victory of the season and it should tip the scales in a side-by-side with Oregon, though obviously the Ducks’ current best win (at 8-4 Utah or vs. 8-4 Oregon State) will change if they beat Washington. “If.”
6. Ohio State
Let’s remember that the selection committee still respected the Buckeyes’ résumé as an undefeated team. They were ranked ahead of Georgia to start, so losing a 1-score game at Michigan won’t suddenly send Ohio State to No. 8. I might actually be too low on the Buckeyes, who won’t have a conference title game to improve that résumé, unlike the rest of the likely top 8. But even if Ohio State is still in the top 4, unlike last year, it would take some major chaos for the Buckeyes to sneak in as a 1-loss, non-division champ.
The selection committee hasn’t deviated from its initial ranking of Oregon as the top 1-loss team. After beating ranked Oregon State like a drum, that’ll likely continue. The Ducks will get the “eye test” argument in their favor heading into what’ll likely be an all-or-nothing Pac-12 Championship rematch against undefeated Washington. It’s telling that the oddsmakers have the Ducks as more than a touchdown favorite. But despite what Nick Saban tried to tell us last year, being favored won’t factor into Playoff rankings.
4. Florida State
If you don’t believe that FSU is worthy of being ranked inside of the top 4 because of the Jordan Travis injury, answer me this: Among the remaining Playoff contenders, who has more wins against Power 5 bowl-eligible teams than Florida State? Nobody. FSU played 2 SEC foes away from home in nonconference play and beat both by multiple scores. So what if Tate Rodemaker didn’t look like the second coming of Cardale Jones against Florida? The selection committee ranking FSU behind a 1-loss team — something it hasn’t done this season — would be a slap in the face. I don’t believe that happens.
The good news for Washington is that it survived Washington State to close out a 12-0 regular season, and the only thing standing in its way of a Playoff berth is a rematch against a team it already beat. The bad news is that Oregon is a considerable favorite and Washington doesn’t appear to have the conference championship loss safety net that 12-0 Power 5 teams like 2022 TCU and 2021 Georgia had. Georgia and Ohio State would probably both have better cases without a conference title, and neither should feel particularly good about that path if chalk plays out.
Beating Ohio State, without Jim Harbaugh, felt like a Playoff quarterfinal win. You can acknowledge that Michigan made its bed while also acknowledging that the program deserves a ton of credit for winning The Game without Harbaugh. You could argue that the Wolverines have done enough to be ranked No. 1, but we typically haven’t seen much shuffling of the deck among teams with the same amount of losses. Both Michigan and Georgia have 2 wins against teams currently ranked 6 through 11 in the AP Poll, but Michigan has just 4 victories against Power 5 teams with 6 wins while Georgia has 6. Pick your poison. What’s undeniable is that the Wolverines have the most favorable path to the Playoff among the remaining contenders: a Big Ten Championship date with Iowa.
The Dawgs will likely hold on to that top spot, despite what the final score against Georgia Tech said. And if that’s not the case with Michigan as the new No. 1, the Dawgs will likely have a No. 1 overall seed up for grabs if they can beat Alabama in the SEC Championship. What happens with a Georgia loss? That’d be a mess unlike anything the selection committee has had to sort out in the first 9 years of the 4-team Playoff. We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.