Instant Analysis: Iowa cracks CFP top four, but will need Big Ten title to stay
Here are three key takeaways from the latest College Football Playoff rankings, which were released Tuesday night:
1. And the gods love the Big 12! Finally!
Oklahoma’s darkhorse run is complete!
The Sooners’ meteoric rise through the rankings continues after beating Baylor and TCU in back-to-back weeks. There was some trepidation that the Sooners wouldn’t crack the top four after they needed a failed two-point conversion to knock off the Horned Frogs (without Trevone Boykin or Josh Doctson), but the Sooners aren’t just in the top four, they’re No. 3! Unlike TCU, which sat third in the rankings before its final game of the season, the Sooners are all but guaranteed a spot in the playoff if they beat Oklahoma State (which sits at No. 11) in Stillwater in this week’s Bedlam rivalry.
The Sooners are apparently being awarded the ‘hot hand’ by the committee, the criteria (likely) used when Ohio State jumped TCU and Baylor into the fourth spot last season.
For the conference that could never seem to get it right, the Big 12 appears (for now) to have guessed right by back-loading its schedule. Not only is it likely a boon for their ratings, it has allowed four different teams to position themselves for just one of the spots that it missed out on last season. Even if Oklahoma loses this weekend, the Big 12 still has an outside shot with Baylor, which lingers at No. 7 with only a hobbled TCU remaining on its schedule.
2. The Committee really, really, really does not want Iowa in the playoff
Tell me if this sounds familiar. An undefeated team is met with skepticism by the general public because it hasn’t logged a marquee win and many of its wins have looked unimpressive. That team has suffered a series of difficult injuries, but continues to win every week. This team can’t be left out of the playoff, right? It played its schedule and didn’t lose. What more could be asked of it after all?
The committee gave 2014 Florida State the No. 3 spot in the playoff because it had a very good win (Clemson) even though it scuffled to most of its wins that season and hardly looked like the 2013 juggernaut that rolled to a national title.
Welcome to the 2015 Iowa dilemma. It sits at No. 4 after the latest rankings, but two teams sit ahead of it with one loss. It makes little logistical sense. Should the Hawkeyes beat Nebraska this weekend, a loss in the Big Ten title game (whether it’s to Michigan State, Ohio State or Michigan) will eliminate Kirk Ferentz’s squad from contention. If that loss is to Michigan State, the Hawkeyes’ only loss will have been to a playoff team.
Though the Hawkeyes’ resume looks startlingly like Florida State’s last season, they lack a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, a national profile and aren’t defending national champions. With no national cachet and a resume that boasts Northwestern as its best win (a team that should finish the season with 10 wins), Iowa will only be allowed into the playoff if it completes an undefeated season. The irony will be rich if the Hawkeyes, should they survive Nebraska this weekend, end the season with one loss to a team all but guaranteed to finish in the Top 20. And they’d finish the season ranked below a team that lost to Texas.
It’s not wrong. It’s just not totally logical.
Florida sunk to No. 12 after needing overtime to defeat Florida Atlantic, a team with losses to UTEP, Buffalo and Rice. Based on that performance (and an inept offensive performance against Vanderbilt, to boot), the Gators would need a three-touchdown win over Alabama to even be considered for a playoff spot—even if they finish the season with only one loss. The committee was right to sink Florida, but that result places immense pressure on the SEC.
Which brings us to Alabama. The Crimson Tide are more or less assumed to make the playoff with games against Auburn and Florida remaining. The defense looks impenetrable, Derrick Henry is a Heisman favorite and the Tide have dominated the month of November.
But should the 80th Iron Bowl cast voodoo on the Tide, there is virtually no way for them to return to the top four. Even if the Gators somehow end the year with one loss, Florida will likely finish behind Baylor, Stanford or Notre Dame (depending who wins this week’s matchup in Palo Alto).
And that, friends, is how the SEC could miss the playoff. Even if isn’t likely.
A fourth thought: ESPN commentators need to find a new word for ‘chaos.’ I counted it eleven times in a 90-second span after rankings No. 25–7 were unveiled. Let’s hit the thesaurus, guys.