Quick Reactions: Florida’s College Football Playoff rankings drop could ultimately bring doom to SEC
Here are five off-the-cuff reactions to Tuesday’s fourth release of the College Football Playoff committee’s Top 25:
1. SEC Nation (minus Florida, Ole Miss and Auburn folks, for obvious reasons) should pray that Alabama wins the league championship … otherwise, the conference could get bumped from the Playoff
Assuming the Playoff format remains at four teams over the next 10-12 years, it stands to reason the SEC will be absent from the national semifinals at least once or twice.
And yet, it borders on blasphemy for the nation’s best conference of the last 10 years — and frankly, there’s no close “second” — to miss out on the upcoming New Year’s Eve doubleheader party (cue Jimmy Kimmel crooning in a crumpled tuxedo).
But after viewing Tuesday’s rankings shift, No. 12 Florida suddenly has marginalized odds of vaulting eight spots in the coming days, short of routing Florida State and Alabama (SEC championship) by 30 points apiece over the next two weekends.
Think about it: Last week, the Gators were comfortably stationed at No. 8; but that waterlogged overtime victory over Florida Atlantic obviously rubbed the Playoff committee the wrong way. As such, it’s palpable to imagine prospective candidates like two-loss Stanford (No. 9), two-loss Michigan (No. 10) and even one-loss North Carolina (No. 14) eclipsing Florida on the day after Championship Saturday — hypothetically presuming league titles for each program.
Now for the reality check.
If Florida had trouble taking down Vanderbilt (by two points) and Florida Atlantic (overtime) at home, then Alabama should be a heavy favorite for next week’s SEC championship. Of course, the No. 2 Crimson Tide (10-1 overall) still need to take care of business this week (at Auburn), before booking a trip to Atlanta.
An Iron Bowl defeat would also open the door for No. 18 Ole Miss (8-3 overall, 5-2 SEC; tiebreaker advantage over Alabama) potentially claiming the SEC West title. In that scenario, a Gators-Rebels championship bout probably wouldn’t thrill the Playoff committee too much.
If anything, it would make their immensely difficult task a little easier.
One more note: If my research is correct … in the brief history of the College Football Playoff rankings, only two top-15 teams — Oklahoma and Michigan State this year — have vaulted eight or more slots in a two-week period.
2. It’s crazy how Oklahoma jumped four spots to No. 3 — after nearly blowing a 17-point lead on Saturday
Give TCU head coach Gary Patterson credit for shirking overtime and going for the jugular against Oklahoma, with the Horned Frogs attempting a go-ahead, two-point conversion with just 51 seconds left.
In hindsight, TCU might have been better served to pursue overtime, with Oklahoma surrendering 16 unanswered points in the final quarter and playing without starting quarterback Baker Mayfield (concussion).
But it’s still hard to fault Patterson for his aggressive actions and unwavering confidence in the Horned Frogs offense; and keep in mind, TCU didn’t have the services of injured quarterback Trevone Boykin (ankle) — a Heisman candidate for most of the season.
Back to the Sooners: As the No. 7 team last week, Oklahoma somehow leapfrogged Notre Dame and Iowa on Tuesday, despite Week 12 wins from the Fighting Irish and Hawkeyes. The Notre Dame slight can be rationalized somewhat, given its sloppy, close-call victory over Boston College at iconic Fenway Park; but the momentary snub of 11-0 Iowa makes little sense, given how the BC Eagles rank as one of the lowest-scoring teams among FBS schools.
In other words, Purdue (2-9 overall, 1-6 Big Ten) is slightly less of a trainwreck than Boston College; and the Hawkeyes beat the Boilermakers by 20!
On the plus side, Oklahoma still holds a perfect mark (2-0) against the Big 12’s Elite Four — also counting Oklahoma State, TCU and Baylor; and a Saturday road win over OSU would logically put the Sooners into the four-team playoff. Regardless of how No. 6 Notre Dame fares against Stanford later in the day.
But then again, this time last year, No. 3 TCU also seemed like a Playoff lock.
3. Big 12 officials missed a golden opportunity to move Baylor vs. TCU to Championship Saturday
Regarding last season’s TCU debacle, the Horned Frogs magically dropped three spots in the final Playoff countdown (from third to sixth) … despite their 52-point drubbing of Iowa State on the first Saturday of December.
Fast forward to the present: Even if the Big 12 (round-robin schedule among its 10 members) doesn’t have a true conference title game, the Playoff committee would probably accept, in consolation, a high-profile league clash on Championship Saturday — Oklahoma versus Oklahoma State, TCU versus Oklahoma, Baylor versus TCU, etc.
Instead, Baylor will likely throttle Texas (4-6 overall) on Dec. 5, a crucial in-state victory, but one that wouldn’t dramatically alter the Bears’ Playoff standing … unless Oklahoma falls to Oklahoma State this weekend.
Simply put, college fans would be left with another anticlimactic finish to the Big 12 race — even if Saturday’s Bedlam clash ranks among the greatest in series history.
Of course, maybe powerful Texas (on the politics side, at least) leveraged an annual, season-ending date with Baylor a few years ago, during the tense negotiations with Big 12 officials — as a means of not bolting for the Pac-12. Perhaps the Longhorns would garner blame for the Big 12 missing the Playoff for a second straight time.
4. Technically, the ACC has a chance at squeezing three (pseudo)member teams into the national semifinals
The following scenario goes beyond the so-called Chaos Theory, but it could have merit if either No. 4 Iowa (at Nebraska) or No. 5 Michigan State (vs. Penn State) slip this weekend (prior to the Big Ten championship):
Say Clemson beats South Carolina on Saturday and ends up as the Playoff committee’s No. 1 team again next week. That would mark the Tigers’ fifth straight occurrence of commanding the top spot. As such, Would a loss to North Carolina in the ACC title game really drop Clemson out of the semifinals picture?
If the committee only believes in putting conference champions in the Playoff … the answer would be a firm yes.
Outside of that, it would resemble a cruel trick to play on the Tigers — the only school to be No. 1 in every Playoff ranking — considering how every other top-10 stalwart had stumbled at some point (including Iowa in this hypothetical).
Which brings us to the next domino: If No. 6 Notre Dame thumps No. 9 Stanford on the road (Saturday) and UNC topples Clemson a week later … the committee would be forced to at least consider the Playoff-worthy resumes of North Carolina, Clemson and Notre Dame (contractually obligated to play five ACC teams every year).
Of course, the ACC’s 14 full-time members wouldn’t be jumping for joy, if the Fighting Irish somehow made the national semis and subsequently bumped a one-loss Clemson and one-loss North Carolina (the hypothetical conference champ) from the Playoff field.
It would likely create a sizable rift between the independent Irish (for football-only) … and every other ACC school.
5. Among the two-loss clubs, Michigan has the most plausible path to a surprising Playoff invite
Stanford (9-2, 8-1 Pac-12) and Michigan (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) are the only two-loss teams in the College Football Playoff top 10; but between the schools, only the Wolverines could potentially upend two top-10s over the next two weekends (Ohio State, Iowa).
Of course, Stanford (North champs) has already clinched a spot in the Pac-12 title game, taking on the winner of Saturday’s UCLA-Southern California clash, whereas Michigan needs to beat Ohio State this weekend … and then hope for a Penn State road upset of No. 5 Michigan State.
But even if the Cardinal prevail as league champs, with a victory over Notre Dame (Saturday) also preceding that, the Pac-12 still doesn’t have any other conference reps among the Playoff top 15 — complicating Stanford’s case to leap from No. 9 to No. 4 over the next 12 days.
(In the land of common opponents, Stanford also lost to Northwestern back in September … and a month later, Michigan walloped the Wildcats, 38-0.)
On the flip side, could you imagine a one-loss Florida — with hypothetical victories over Florida State and Alabama — getting bumped by a two-loss champion from the Pac-12 (Stanford) … with Playoff committee chair Jeff Long doubly serving as Arkansas’ athletic director?
Yeah, that’s not happening.
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.