Forde-Yard Dash: Five Questions Ahead of the Season's First Playoff Rankings

The fourth quarter of this week’s Forde-Yard Dash looks at the top five things to look out for before the first CFP rankings of the season, the week's best and worst coach and more.
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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (tackling instructional video sold separately at Syracuse, where the Orange gave up 498 rushing yards to Boston College Saturday):

MORE DASH: LSU vs. Alabama Storylines | News from Tuscaloosa | Taggart and the 21-Game Test

FOURTH QUARTER

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH TUESDAY NIGHT

When the College Football Playoff selection committee releases its rankings Tuesday, it will offer the first view into the collective mindset of the group as it begins the one-month process of selecting and seeding the four-team field. A thousand things could change between now and December, but initial impressions can be revealing. These situations will be of particular interest:

Do the Powers of 2018 (31) get any carryover love? That would be Alabama and Clemson. They’ve dominated the playoff era and were by far the two best teams a year ago. Yet neither has beaten much of anybody thus far this season. That hasn’t hurt their standing in the top four of the AP or Coaches polls—but will that carry over to the committee?

We know that the committee loves undefeated teams more than anything, so expect both the Crimson Tide and Tigers to be in the top five. But their positioning within that top tier will show whether the committee has fully put to bed last season and moved on to an independent analysis of this season.

What is the overall positioning of the Big Ten (32) and SEC (33)? Thus far the two leagues combine for five undefeated teams and 10 teams ranked in the Top 18 of both polls. Where does the committee place those teams in relation to each other? That could be instructive in trying to gauge which conference has the best chance for a second team in the playoff. At present, three seemingly secure spots would be: Big Ten champion, SEC champion and an undefeated Clemson. The fourth spot could be a tussle between a Pac-12 champ, a Big 12 champ or a second from one of the two leagues that have dominated the season thus far.

Where are the Pac-12 leaders (34)? Oregon’s placement is of particular interest, especially vis a vis the SEC’s third, fourth and fifth representatives. The Ducks’ only loss was in the season opener on a neutral field to Auburn—a game the Tigers never led until the final 10 seconds. In other words, it’s not a bad loss—but if Auburn is the fifth-ranked team from the SEC, with losses to LSU and Florida, does it doom Oregon to be locked behind a wall of teams from that conference while lacking any non-conference wins of note? As for 8–1 Utah: the Utes’ lone loss is by a touchdown to unranked USC, and its best non-league victory is over a bipolar BYU team. Basically, the league’s playoff hopes rest on Utah and Oregon both steaming into the Pac-12 title game at 11–1 and the winner getting a boost from beating the other team, while probably needing some help elsewhere.

What about Oklahoma (35)? The Sooners trail the pack of one-loss Power 5 teams in the polls, behind Georgia, Oregon and Utah but ahead of Big 12 unbeaten Baylor. The demise of Texas has weakened Oklahoma’s biggest win, and unless UCLA continues climbing back to respectability there isn’t much on the non-conference slate to brag about. The Sooners’ brand name and offensive style seemed to have helped them out in the past; will they do so again this year?

Who leads the Group of Five contingent (36)? The race for the Cotton Bowl bid looks like a quartet from the American Athletic Conference (Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU and Navy) vs. Boise State or San Diego State. All have one loss to date, and all but Navy have at least one victory over a Power 5 team. How will the committee sort them out?

STAT OF THE WEEK

The surge at Indiana (37) has been something to watch. The Hoosiers (7–2) have won four Big Ten games in a row for the first time since 1993, and have scored more than 30 points every game this season except against Ohio State.

Most impressively, it doesn’t seem to matter who is playing quarterback—the offense works whether it’s Michael Penix or Peyton Ramsey. Their stat lines are nearly identical: 160 pass attempts for Penix, 157 for Ramsey; 1,394 passing yards for Penix, 1,304 for Ramsey; 10 touchdowns and four interceptions for Penix, nine touchdowns and three interceptions for Ramsey; a 157.6 rating for Penix, a 156.7 rating for Ramsey.

Kudos to offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, in his first year at Indiana after doing very good work alongside Jeff Tedford at Fresno State the previous two seasons.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Jeff Brohm (38), Purdue. Down to his third-string quarterback and needing a big play to complete a drive while trailing late in the fourth quarter against Nebraska, Brohm called timeout and drew up a gorgeous Red Zone play for the win. Aidan O’Connell pitched to receiver David Bell on a reverse, and he skirted the left end with ease to score the winning touchdown with 1:08 left. The season has been an injury-riddled mess for the Boilermakers, but they pulled out a feel-good victory with the help of a big call at the right time. The play was clever enough that it left Purdue alum Drew Brees pumping his fist on the sideline, enjoying the scene during the Saints’ open date.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Dave Doeren (39), North Carolina State. This season was expected to be a rebuild for Doeren after winning nine games in 2018, but it’s gotten pretty ugly. The Wolfpack’s only wins are over East Carolina, Western Carolina, Ball State and miserable Syracuse. The four losses have all come by at least 17 points, bottoming out in a blowout beating at Wake Forest on Saturday. NC State trailed 24–0 in that one after just 18 minutes, and was down 44–10 early in the third quarter before the Demon Deacons finally took their foot off the gas. This week the Pack has the opportunity for a rebound against … Clemson.

POINT AFTER

When thirsty in the Beerhalla town of Asheville, N.C., The Dash has a million recommendations. You cannot go wrong. But you owe it to yourself to take a tour and sample the works at the Sierra Nevada (40) brewery in nearby Mills River. The food is excellent, and the approximately one million varieties of beer available are all superb. Ask if they’ll let you move in. And thank The Dash later.

MORE DASH: LSU vs. Alabama Storylines | News from Tuscaloosa | Taggart and the 21-Game Test