Quick Reactions: Alabama still sitting pretty in latest College Football Playoff rankings
Here are five quick takes off Tuesday’s third release of the College Football Playoff committee’s Top 25:
1. Alabama fans should care more about their prospective Playoff opponent … than the actual Playoff ranking
Miami … or Arlington, Texas?
Jerry World … or Sun Life Stadium in tropical Florida?
At this point, Tide Nation shouldn’t have any definitive preference for Alabama’s Playoff venue, provided that Nick Saban’s crew takes care of business against Charleston Southern, Auburn and Florida (SEC championship) in the coming weeks.
(Note: Alabama can clinch the West division title next week at Auburn.)
**When playing at AT&T Stadium during the Saban era, the Crimson Tide have an average victory margin of 22.5 points over Michigan (2012) and Wisconsin (2015).
**In Miami nearly three years ago (January 2013), Alabama throttled Notre Dame in the BCS title game, cruising to a 42-14 win that had become academic sometime before the second quarter.
In earnest, Alabama’s choice of venue should run second to the specter of a Playoff rematch with Ohio State. By comparison, facing Clemson (currently No. 1) or Notre Dame (No. 4) would seem like the more palatable matchup. (Cue hate mail from Tigers and Irish fans.)
Of course, ‘Bama has some ammunition on its side, in terms of overtaking Clemson for the Playoff top seed:
a) Alabama (9-1 overall) owns seven top-40 victories over teams from ESPN’s Football Power Index, contributing to the Crimson Tide’s high strength-of-schedule ranking.
b) The Tide (eight double-digit victories) house the new front-runner for the Heisman Trophy: Tailback Derrick Henry (1,458 rushing yards, 19 TDs) recently surpassed LSU’s Leonard Fournette in the unofficial, but eminently relevant Heisman Court Of Public Opinion Vote, thanks to sterling touchdowns runs of 74 and 65 yards against Mississippi State last Saturday. Consequently, Henry has tallied four straight games of multiple touchdowns (six overall).
2. Don’t fall sleep on Ohio State’s chances of claiming the Playoff top seed on the first Sunday of December
Including Penn State (7-3 overall, 4-2 Big Ten), the six victims on Ohio State’s conference resume (Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota) have a combined league record of 8-29 — an unspeakably bad compilation, no matter how you slice it.
And yet, as the defending national champions, the undefeated Buckeyes hardly live in fear of falling out of Playoff favor with the committee, because of the Big 12-esque backloading of the 2015 schedule — featuring high-profile showdowns with No. 9 Michigan State, No. 12 Michigan and presumably No. 5 Iowa (Big Ten championship) in the next three weeks.
Presuming victories across the board, that’s three significant bounces for Ohio State on the strength-of-schedule side; and the so-called “bump” of a conference championship would guarantee the Buckeyes no worse than the No. 3 overall spot.
Now for the fun part: In the above scenario, Ohio State would have a stronger finishing kick than an undefeated Clemson; and the Buckeyes would notably have one less defeat than the SEC champion (presumably Alabama).
On the flip side, last year’s Playoff committee had little trouble rationalizing an undefeated Florida State at No. 3 in the final rankings, while one-loss superpowers Alabama and Oregon maintained the 1-2 slots. Of course, the 2014 Seminoles were habitually slipping past lesser-lights on their way to an ACC title; and at last check, the 2015 Buckeyes have enjoyed an average victory margin of 26 points in their last five games.
3. It’s a simple proposition for No. 8 Florida and No. 9 Michigan State: Keep winning … and we’ll see you in the semifinals
Did the Gators and Spartans coaches/players even watch Tuesday’s rankings release? After all, both programs are smart enough to know they’re non-factors for the national title with one additional loss; and by extension, they control their own destiny from this point forward, if victorious.
These are the perks accompanying elite-level teams from the nation’s most marketable conferences: Take care of business, and the committee can virtually guarantee a slot in the Playoff.
That aside, you’d be hard-pressed to find many objective writers/analysts predicting a Michigan State upset of Ohio State (Saturday in Columbus, Ohio) or a Florida fleecing of Alabama in the SEC championship (Dec. 6). And that includes this writer — a proud, but realistic MSU grad from the underrated Saban era (1995-99); and that comes with no insider knowledge of quarterback Connor Cook’s latest upper-body injury.
4. Only the SEC has enough cachet to shoehorn a two-loss conference champion into the Playoff mix
Let’s see …
a) The Pac-12, now devoid of undefeated teams in conference play, no longer has any one-loss clubs (overall), as well.
b) Citing the Playoff 25, Notre Dame currently boasts only victories over No. 16 Navy and No. 24 Southern California.
c) It’s hard to fathom No. 3 Ohio State and No. 5 Iowa — at 10-0 apiece — entering the Big Ten championship with one defeat. Certainly one, but not both squads.
d) Before the annual Bedlam showdown on Nov. 28, No. 6 Oklahoma State and No. 7 Oklahoma must also get past Baylor and TCU this weekend. No easy task.
Put it all together, and it’s hard to imagine any conference — minus the SEC — reaching the Playoff with a two-loss team; and keep in mind, that lucky program would almost certainly be the respective league champion.
(Until the Playoff committee proves otherwise, I’ll assume that only conference champions or Notre Dame would ever warrant Playoff bids.)
In fact, there’s really only one situation where a two-loss SEC champion could miss the Playoff altogether: If Florida State knocks off Florida next week, and Auburn follows suit with a monumental home upset of Alabama.
And even then, the Playoff committee would likely reject the notion of nixing the Crimson Tide, if they rolled to a title-game rout of the Gators.
(Note: In the above scenario, Ole Miss — which holds the SEC West tiebreaker over Alabama — would still have a chance to claim the division title, with November-capping victories over LSU and Mississippi State.)
For history’s sake, Florida State and Auburn proffered Rivalry Weekend victories over Florida and Alabama two years ago. Of course, the Seminoles and Tigers were on the eventual path to meeting in the national championship game.
The stakes are slightly lower for this go-round; and both the Seminoles and Tigers are struggling at the quarterback slot.
5. ‘Chaos Theory’ fans should fully support North Carolina, Baylor and Stanford down the stretch
At No. 17, it’s good to see North Carolina getting plenty of love. But the Tar Heels are still long shots to reach the Playoff next month, even if they upend top-ranked Clemson in the ACC championship.
That rationale is two-fold: During the regular season, North Carolina didn’t have conference crossover clashes with Clemson, Florida State or Louisville — the undisputed kings of the Atlantic division; and for non-league play, the Tar Heels incurred the out-of-their-control misfortune of facing bottom-feeding clubs from power conferences (South Carolina and Illinois).
That aside, ESPN announcer Rece Davis might have been a little harsh to the Tar Heels on Tuesday night, terming the season-opening loss to the Gamecocks as “inexplicable.” Heading into the opener, I believe Vegas installed South Carolina as the slight favorite.
In Baylor’s case, it’s pretty simple: Beat Oklahoma State … or run the risk of the upcoming TCU showdown being irrelevant to the conference- and national-title pictures. That’s a tough pill to swallow, considering how TCU-Baylor might have ranked as the Most Anticipated Game Of The Year back in August.
(Regardless, Kansas-Kansas State — both woeful and winless in conference action — will remain as the least anticipated clash of Thanksgiving weekend.)
Regarding Stanford … the Cardinal can still capture the Pac-12 North title with a Saturday win over California (or an Oregon loss to Southern California), which should always rank as a major achievement. But the Chaos Theory supporters are happy to look past Stanford vs. Cal … and focus on Notre Dame at Stanford the following week.
If the No. 4 Fighting Irish (who travel to low-scoring Boston College on Saturday) should prevail on the West Coast, they’re relative shoo-ins for the Playoff semis.
And frankly, that’s a boring notion … considering how anxious college fans could conceivably encounter a hum-drum, status-quo Big Four of Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame for the final five weeks.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.