The No. 2 team in the College Football Playoff rankings lost on Saturday. So did No. 3 and No. 4 and No. 8 and No. 9.
This isn’t the preseason when you can dismiss the rankings as the delusions of the know-nothing media. There’s two weeks left in the regular season and half of the top 10 just lost. A little chaos and unpredictability is what makes college football great.
It also leaves the selection committee with the unenviable task of sorting through a bunch of one-loss teams. Come selection Sunday, this week’s results might even be nullified.
On paper, that’s not good for college football. The games have to count. Otherwise why play them? But there is value to the committee’s big-picture approach. Under the old system, a late loss meant you went to the back of the bus, regardless of previous results.
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Lou Holtz is still trying to figure out how his 1993 Notre Dame team beat Florida State but watched the Seminoles, with the same 10-1 record, play for the national title (and win it) instead of his Fighting Irish.
You have to look at the whole picture and not just the most recent image. The committee deserves credit for this approach.
Now, what does that mean for this year’s playoff soup? After Saturday’s spate of upsets, Alabama’s the only unbeaten Power 5 team. The Crimson Tide, 10-0, will be the No. 1 seed in the playoff, even with a loss to either Auburn or in the SEC title game (ha-ha, good one, Joe).
That means there are five one-loss teams (Clemson, Louisville, Michigan, Ohio State, Washington) for three playoff spots.
Clemson, 9-1 after Saturday’s 43-42 home loss to Pittsburgh, is 9-1. So is Louisville. The Tigers have a win over the Cardinals. The committee does some crazy things to goose TV ratings for its weekly TV rankings show, but they’re not going to ignore head-to-head results. Baylor, you’ll note, did ultimately finish the 2014 season one spot ahead of TCU.
Washington, which lost at home to Southern Cal, is the most likely of the one-loss teams to drop another game. The Huskies have been impressive this season, but they proved they were not ready for primetime on Saturday night. They shrunk on the big stage.
Unlike Clemson, which has quality wins over Auburn, Louisville and Florida State, the Huskies don’t have much to hang their hat on. Utah, on the road, is their best win. Southern Cal getting pasted by Alabama, 52-6 at a neutral site in the opener, doesn’t help Chris Petersen’s team in the comparison game, either.
The Big Ten is where it’s going to get tricky. Michigan and Ohio State, both 9-1, will take care of each other when they play in two weeks. But … and get ready for this … if Ohio State wins (the game is at Ohio State), Penn State would have the tiebreaker over the Buckeyes in the Big Ten’s East division.
That means the Nittany Lions (8-2), which also lost to Pitt this year (the Panthers and former N.C. State offensive coordinator Matt Canada are ruining it for everyone), would face Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
So the Big Ten champion would likely get shut out of the CFP in favor of a team that didn’t win its division. Why would the committee take Ohio State?
The Buckeyes already have wins over Oklahoma (8-2), Wisconsin (8-2) and Nebraska (8-2). Even the Sept. 10 win over Tulsa (7-3) looks good because the committee uses a strength of schedule component that measures the combined record of opponents.
So, yes, Saturday’s chaos was fun but three of the teams that lost might wind up in the playoff anyway.
Here’s hoping for more unpredictability.
A weekly review of who’s trending:
↑ Duke: The Blue Devils continue to zig when expected to zag. The Notre Dame road win, the worthy fight in a loss to Louisville, the Virginia home loss (seriously, how did that happen?) and now the 28-27 upset of North Carolina. Truth serum time for Duke fans: Is going 4-8, with wins over Notre Dame and UNC, better than going to a bowl but without beating anyone of note?
↑ Alabama: It must be nice to be so good. While the other top four lost, the Crimson Tide pummeled Mississippi State, 51-3. That’s the same Mississippi State team that knocked off then-No. 4 Texas A&M a week ago. The Tide is so boring, and Nick Saban wouldn’t have it any other way.
↓ Michigan: But … but … Jim Harbaugh wore an Allen Iverson jersey to a satellite camp. But … but … Jim Harbaugh likes milk a lot. But … but … Jim Harbaugh invented football. Spare us, Michigan fans, at least until the Wolverines actually do something on the field.
↓ Virginia Tech: The Hokies are spotting dimes and eating onions. They beat UNC, lose to Syracuse. They beat Pitt, lose to Georgia Tech (which started its backup quarterback and backup running back). Honestly, VT, make up your mind.