For the first time in years, a College Football Playoff Poll looked really, really good. To my surprise, I had minimal issues with the first set of rankings.
That being said, I’m not sure how much this difficulty this season has presented yet. Alabama being ranked No.1 is the easiest decision this committee has ever had to make; they’ve been the most dominant team we’ve seen in college football in a long time. For years, Alabama had the best roster in the country and got away with having an average to below average quarterback. This year, they have the best quarterback in the country on top of that roster. What is supposed to come from that has happened: Complete dominance.
Clemson was another easy choice. They’ve been less impressive than Alabama, but it’s hard to be as impressive. Clemson’s had their stints of Clemsoning, including close games against Syracuse (A weird team that just seems to have the Tigers’ number; a Trevor Lawrence injury didn’t help either) and Texas A&M. The A&M game also has a caveat; Kelly Bryant was the starter of that game. Since, the Tigers have turned it over to Lawrence, the gunslinging freshman who has a rocket arm and is super efficient with his passing.
So it’s hard to pit the close calls against Clemson. Their defense and dominance puts them comfortably at No.2. Knock them for their schedule, but there’s something to be said for talent as well.
This is where the case for UCF comes up. Undefeated+easy schedule works for Clemson but not for UCF. Why? Talent.
The eye-test matters. The metrics and schedule do too; no one has more of a respect for analytics than me. But Clemson is just more talented. Ask yourself: Does UCF beat Clemson this season?
Probably not. UCF is awesome; they’re balanced and have a great defense. But Clemson has both of those traits too, and Clemson’s defense is essentially a NFL one.
Clemson’s just a more talented team, and that makes up for the easy schedule.
The committee surprised me with LSU at No.3 instead of No.4. They got it right. I was confident the committee would sneak Notre Dame in at No.3 overall simply to please the PR people. But as much as I like LSU, there is a case that we’re underrating Notre Dame. Punishing them for starting Brandon Wimbush in the first two games of the season was okay in the AP Poll (and I agreed with it then), but now that we’re at Playoff Poll time, it’s time to take things more seriously. This Notre Dame team is much different than the one we watched early in the season. With a quarterback who can air it out and put up points now, the Fighting Irish have emerged as one of the most explosive offenses in the country. They blow teams out, and are going to be able to win shootouts if their stout defense fails them against other high-powered offenses.
The case to rank them above LSU is that and the fact that they’re also undefeated. The case against it is that Notre Dame’s schedule is super easy and that LSU’s defense is better than Notre Dame’s, which is the better case. LSU’s D isn’t only stout but is one of the fastest defenses in the country as well.
So for now, LSU at No.3 and Notre Dame at No.4 works. LSU deserves credit for overhauling their offense, and Notre Dame might still deserve to be punished for letting Wimbush start two games.
5-6-7 is where some debate can be had. It’s fair to speculate that LSU’s presence in the SEC might have something to do with their ranking above Notre Dame. But Notre Dame is one of the media and committee’s darlings; it has to take a really special team to be ranked ahead of them.
But that darling theory can be applied to Michigan and Georgia though. Both are one loss teams with fantastic defenses. Georgia was handled pretty comfortably against LSU, where the Bulldogs made a couple boneheaded coaching calls, had their defense picked apart by Joe Burrow, and just looked lost. The positive spin on that game was: They lost to a top four team.
Michigan’s one loss was also to a top four team. But that loss hurts Michigan more than the LSU loss hurts Georgia. This was a Wimbush-led Notre Dame team. It was in South Bend, but it still looks awful. Wimbush had a classic Wimbush performance, and Michigan’s defense allowed the Irish to get nothing else. But the Wolverines couldn’t get anything going as well. The Wolverines couldn’t outscore Brandon Wimbush. What makes us think they can outscore Ian Book and company?
They can’t, and Georgia has a better chance to beat Notre Dame because of what their offense can do. This is a classic move by the committee; not totally making it blatant that they want Michigan in the playoff, but putting them in a position where it’d be easier given other circumstances to put them in if the time comes.
Oklahoma’s in a tough spot. It just feels like they’re gonna hang around and just miss the cut this season, which is disappointing, because the Sooners kill their opponents, and have one of the deadliest offenses in the country. The loss to Texas three weeks ago has two angles to it. Mine and the committee’s.
The committee did a good job with the placement of Texas in their set of rankings. The AP Poll was out of control for a couple weeks; it was good to see the committee correct it.
No.17 is the right spot, but if the Longhorns beat West Virginia this weekend, expect a huge and undeserving rise.
For Oklahoma, losing to Texas looks bad in my eyes, but not necessarily the committee’s.
If two loss LSU team becomes a thing after this weekend, or Notre Dame sustains just as bad of a loss, Oklahoma could be much closer to the playoffs then we originally thought they were.
Their defense isn’t playoff worthy, and Kyler Murray would probably be the Heisman favorite right now if it wasn’t for that guy at Alabama (He’s been OK this year). The Sooners put up points and that’s it. They know how to score. Sure, they play in the Big 12; he committee is going to punish them because nobody in the Big 12 plays defense, and they’ve had a pretty easy schedule. The Army loss doesn’t look great, but Murray’s coming on to be somebody who you really want to have in a big game. That stuff matters.
Eight and nine in the poll feature two teams that have came out of nowhere this season. After losing their starting quarterback, Washington State is the highest ranked team in the PAC-12, and Kentucky’s defense might somehow be the best in the SEC. No one saw this coming, and the committee is giving those teams respect for that. Probably a little bit too much respect, though.
We’ll start with Kentucky, who is tied for the best defense in the country based off of points allowed. That’s a tad misleading. Football Outsiders’ FEI stat has Kentucky ranked eighth in the country in total defense. No matter where they fall, it’s the most important part of the team. The offense does not move the ball and cannot score points to save its life. They’re a classic SEC team, essentially like a Florida with a better defense.
Kentucky hasn’t scored points against anyone good. The most they put up against decent competition was 27 against Florida in Week Two. That’s actually decently impressive considering the Gators’ defense; Benny Snell Jr. ran all over them.
So as cute as it is that Kentucky is ranked ninth in the country right now, they are not going very far. With the way the SEC is right now, there is absolutely no way they make the playoffs. It’s the first week of the playoffs rankings, and the committee can get away with this. It’s fine. I really don’t have a problem with it!
The Wildcats are good story, but Washington State is an even better one. After the tragedy of losing their starting quarterback, the Cougars are ranked eighth in the country and are sitting pretty a top the PAC-12. That’s not too much of a compliment, considering how inconsistent and how frustrating the conference is; each team has looks like a contender one week and has then look like total crap the next. (Take it from me, I watch ASU every week).
It’s hard to say whether Washington State has any good wins. Their best wins consist of Oregon and Stanford; two teams that fit the PAC-12 model of frustration and inconsistency very very well. Stanford’s offense is not what we thought it was going to be, and Oregon is 2-2 their last four games. They were also blown out by Arizona! Arizona! (God I hope we beat them).
Regarding Washington State’s schedule, we know one thing: They lost to USC. That’s a terrible loss. The win against Utah looks pretty good, but they are still a PAC-12 team, and so are the cougars. Therefore, kind of like Kentucky, it is cute that Washington State is in the top 10. But it really doesn’t mean anything.
Washington State wasn’t trying to make the playoffs this year though. A Rose Bowl appearance would be monumental to this team and program after what they went through. I’m rooting for them.
From here on down, the teams don’t really matter. These are gunning for a New Year’s Six appearance, not a playoff spot. Ohio State, UCF, and Texas are three that can hold out hope. The Buckeyes match up with Michigan is going to be huge in a couple weeks, and UCF’s undefeated mark will hold some weight on the committee, and Texas will hang around because they are Texas.
Now for the weekend preview.
No.6 Georgia vs. No.9 Kentucky
As we addressed above, Kentucky has been one of the best stories in the country this year. They’re coming in with a ton of momentum and nothing to lose right now.
Georgia’s still trying to reprove themselves after the LSU loss. Florida’s a good win, but they’re still Florida. They reverted back to their ways; terrible turnovers and total disfunction on the offensive end. It’s nothing that you can really give Georgia credit for.
With a win tomorrow, they can reprove themselves. Kentucky’s defense might get stops, but they allow yards. You can’t do that against Georgia; they are explosive and have playmakers everywhere.
Georgia allowed 5.3 yards per pass attempt this season, which is 4th in the nation. Teams were able to throw more on the Wildcats, who were 17th in the nation allowing 5.9 yards per attempt through the air. The numbers match-up well, but Georgia has a better quarterback and the overall better passing attack, which means they’ll be able to take advantage of Kentucky’s secondary more than Kentucky will be able to take advantage of Georgia’s. Some have soured on Jake Fromm this season; he’s been a little up-and-down and there have been some calls for Justin Fields to come in and help open up the Bulldogs offense more. I don’t think this is one of those games. Fromm should be able to get it done.
Georgia struggled against LSU because the Tigers defense was fast and was able to contain the speed of Georgia’s offense. Fromm was limited to 6.1 yards per completion against LSU; they took out any receiver who caught passes quickly.
DeAndre Swift got through LSU’s D decently. His speed was the only thing that Georgia could muster offensively, and it was the only thing that the fast Tigers defense couldn’t catch. They stopped Holyfield because he is slow.
There’s not a faster defense than LSU’s. The Wildcats have speed, but it doesn’t compare. That, coupled with their worse pass defense, puts them at a disadvantage to contain George’s offense.
And it’s not like they’re going to be able to match Georgia’s point total. That’s the biggest issue. Georgia may not score a lot of points in this game, but the ones that they do are gonna be hard to come back from.
Snell has been ridiculous this season, running over every defense he’s faced. Georgia has allowed 4.2 yards per rush this season, a less than great number that ranks 72nd in the country. They’re below average.
Georgia also likes to let teams hold onto the ball. Per Football Outsiders’ DBC stat, which measures opponent’s ball control, Georgia ranked 57th in the country. That means 56 teams kept the ball out of their opponents hands better than Georgia did. Kentucky will grind you down. They operate like a Big Ten team. It’s all running all the time, because they don’t have an effective passing game. Time of possession is going to be key in this game. Georgia is going to be able to score with the ball in their hands. If you limit that amount of time, you have a better chance.
There is a very good chance that I am making the same mistake with this game that I did with Georgia against LSU. I thought offense would win. That wasn’t the case. But, that was three weeks ago. LSU wasn’t the LSU they are now. We know that team is better than we ever thought they were going to be. I don’t think that is the case with Kentucky. They are less talented and less threatening than LSU. Georgia learned from LSU, and they’ll use that tomorrow.
Prediction: Georgia-31 Kentucky-20
No.13 West Virginia vs. No.17 Texas
Both of these teams are so average.
That is, when evaluating them based on where they’re ranked. The Mountaineers and Longhorns are probably ranked a little too high coming into this game.
We explained Texas above; they’re 17th because they’re a media darling. Sam Elhinger is the only reason this offense is competent; he’s been just enough to bring them to an average level. He hasn’t turned the ball over, except when it mattered most against Maryland (Maryland!), where he threw a game-sealing interception which gave the Terrapins the upset win.
Elhinger is the Washington Kirk Cousins of college football (The Washington Cousins has also found its way to Minnesota in spurts so far this season). Good numbers, team is okay, but he’ll cost you with dumb plays.
This feels like a classic Big 12 shootout. Neither of these defenses are great; FEI has Texas ranked 47th in the country, while the Mountaineers come in at 26th. 26th is respectable, but West Virginia has trouble getting off the field; they let drives go forever.
That’s about the only thing the Longhorns do on that end. They are 21st in DBC. That’s huge against West Virginia, who isn’t afraid to throw the ball around.
But getting Will Grier out of a rhythm is tough. He’s lighting up everyone this season, completing 70.3% of his passes and averaging 10.37 yards an attempt. That’s a ridiculous ratio, and the simple stats don’t support Texas being able to cover it. The Longhorns are 85th out of 130 in total passing yards allowed.
Grier should be able to operate normally, and Texas just isn’t explosive enough to catch up. The Longhorns did hang with Oklahoma, but Grier is a different animal than Murray. He can pick you apart and stay comfortable in the pocket.
West Virginia’s defense is also miles better than Oklahoma’s. Sure, there’s the difference in ball control, but every other metric is in favor of the Mountaineers.
We’ve seen Texas’ offense sputter lately with a 19 point performance in Kansas State and a 23 point performance against Baylor. You can’t do that against West Virginia. You won’t catch up.
I expect the Longhorns to hang around, but in Big 12 shootouts like this, you take the more explosive offense and the better quarterback. That’s Will Grier and West Virginia.
Prediction: West Virginia-42 Texas-35
No.14 Penn State vs. No.5 Michigan
I don’t think there’s been a more disappointing team in the country this year than Penn State. They’ve been involved in way too many close game, which most notably consisted of Appalachian State in Week 1.
This has been due to incredibly slow offensive starts, which we probably should have seen coming with the departures of Joe Moorhead, Saquon Barkley and DaeSean Hamilton. They’re just not as explosive and threatening this year, and they don’t have the coach to help them get through that.
The news gets worse for Penn State this week. The Wolverines are not only the best defense the Nittany Lions have faced this season, but are one of the best defenses in the entire country. Having a slow start is one thing, but against this defense, it’s not just a start. That’s the way it is the entire game.
Michigan forces third downs and gets stops. They clamp on receivers, giving up 4.8 yards per pass attempt, the best mark in the country. If Penn State was going to find success offensively in this game, it would be through the air with Trace McSorely. That is going to be hard to come by.
Where Penn State will have to stay in this game is on the defensive end. I don’t totally trust Shea Patterson and Co. on the offensive side. They’re a top 30 offense, but nothing really pops. They’re an offense that’s good but it’s not totally one you’re scared of.
Penn State can get stops; they’re the 13th best team in nation at it. Patterson isn’t a gunslinger; he’s a fine, average-to-good Big Ten quarterback. He’s the best QB the Wolverines have had in years, but hasn’t proved to be the upgrade we expected. Like Michigan, Penn State defends the pass extremely well. Patterson isn’t going to pick apart secondaries and make tight throws. The Wolverines are going need their skill position guys to step up.
But even if Michigan starts slow offensively, Penn State’s going to start slower. They have the advantage there. A worst case scenario for the Wolverines would be to have Penn State score first and early; that could give them some momentum, and unleash the type of offense we saw against bad teams early on in the season.
But I trust Michigan’s defense and I don’t trust Penn State’s offense. Based on what they’ve shown this season, the Nittany Lions should score somewhere between 0-13 points in this game. That’s it. With Penn State’s defense on the field for way too much time, the Wolverines should be able to capitalize and get a couple scores. This game is closer than I made it seem, because it’s the Big Ten and neither offense can be trusted, but if Michigan is for real, then they come out and show it tomorrow.
Prediction: Michigan-24 Penn State-10
No.1 Alabama vs. No.3 LSU
This game was big before the season. I never thought it’d be this big.
This game feels like an absolute grudge-match. Whenever Alabama scores, LSU should answer back. Whenever Alabama gets a stop, LSU should get one too.
Neither of these teams have real, glaring weaknesses. We’re gonna have to nit-pick here.
The dominance that Alabama has displayed this season has been unlike anything I have ever seen in college sports. There hasn’t been a team kick this much butt in forever. Harp on their schedule all you want, but the consistent scores of 35-0 in the first half, let alone the first quarter, aren’t totally products of the opponents. To do that every week takes skill from Alabama’s side. They are just so much better than anyone else.
And really, that’s the case for them this week. As far as we know, Alabama being far much better than everyone else includes LSU. For us to go against them, they have to prove that they aren’t. It’s impossible to predict when or how that comes, because they don’t and will never have any weaknesses.
LSU has a couple small ones (Again, nit-picks). The first is experience. This is the biggest game LSU has played in years; no one on that roster, especially quarterback Joe Burrow, has been in a big game before.
You could flip that around say that Bama hasn’t faced been in one big game all year, but their quarterback kinda made the biggest play in all of college football last season. And their coach? He has some experience as well.
The second LSU weakness is their constrained explosiveness. A big reason why LSU is in the spot they are is because of their newfound ability to get big plays through the air thanks to Burrow. But as good as it is, it still doesn’t match Bama. As I said above, the Crimson Tide always had the best talent in the country at everywhere but the QB spot. Now they have the best talent there as well, and what we get is what we’re seeing now. It’s just LSU’s luck that the year they figure out how to have a more varied offensive attack, Alabama does too.
The third LSU weakness has nothing to do with them at all. It’s simply that Alabama is Alabama, and it is terrifying to pick against them. It’s just smart to pick Alabama until they lose. They may not ever.
LSU certainly has a chance. There’s a case that LSU is actually the 2nd best team in the country. They’ll at least stay in this game, and they do that by matching everything Bama does. If the Tide get one little advantage, it’s over.
The Tigers can’t allow what happened against Florida to happen again. A possible 4th weakness of LSU’s is that they’ve had a bad day; we haven’t seen that from Bama. We don’t know if a bad day exists for the Tide. We’ll see if they have one tomorrow.
Prediction: Alabama-24 LSU-21