Many see the College Football Playoff Committee as a conservative group with a fairly standard, albeit small, bias in terms of carry-over power from the previous season. Making that assumption, we figured we’d see Clemson at No. 4. We did not. It’s two SEC schools (No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Alabama) and two Big Ten schools (No. 1 Ohio State and No. 4 Penn State) currently in the playoff picture.
So what does that mean going forward? (Well, other than, “the rankings don’t really matter until December!”)
Clemson on the Outside Looking In
The ACC is down this year. This isn’t news to anyone who follows the sport closely. That’s why Clemson finds itself at No. 5 directly behind fellow unbeaten Penn State. That being said, the Tigers could be in the top four as quickly as next week, since Bama and LSU play each other in the game of the century/millennium/eon this Saturday. And Penn State and Ohio State also play each other in a few weeks, providing yet another opportunity for an undefeated Clemson to move up. Would the committee take a second, one-loss Big Ten or SEC team whose only loss is to another playoff team? Absolutely. Would they take two of them to end up with the same top four we have now even if Clemson finished 13–0 with an ACC crown? No. So Dabo Swinney will use this as motivation, as coaches are wont to do, but the Tigers still kind of control their own destiny.
Lowest Ranked Team With a Shot at Climbing Into the Top Four Is…
MINNESOTA. The 8–0 Gophers haven’t exactly been world-beaters in 2019, but they have their first chance to prove otherwise this week when they play host to No. 4 Penn State. Win that one, and then you only have to get through the season-ending gauntlet of at No. 18 Iowa, vs. Northwestern, at No. 13 Wisconsin and a Big Ten Championship date with either No. 1 Ohio State or a rematch against Penn State. If P.J. Fleck’s crew somehow miraculously survives such a tough stretch, there’s no way they’re kept out of the final four.
(Sorry Wake Forest, if you get past Clemson in a couple weeks and then beat whatever mess comes out of the ACC Coastal, you’re still not getting in.)
The Group of Five Battle
Five second-tier schools appear in the first playoff rankings of the season and they all show up in the final six slots. This is how it is. The Group of Five is only fighting for that one spot reserved for its highest ranked conference champion. The four teams from the American will sort themselves out, while the biggest challenge left for No. 22 Boise State in the Mountain West is a likely conference title game clash with San Diego State. Ruling out complete G5 chaos, one of the five currently ranked schools or SDSU will land that Cotton Bowl spot.
1. Ohio State
4. Penn State
15. Notre Dame
16. Kansas State
19. Wake Forest
22. Boise State
23. Oklahoma State