The College Football Playoff Committee released its first rankings of the 2015 season on Tuesday night, creating a firestorm of criticism on social media and around the internet this week. Clemson topped the rankings at No. 1, followed by LSU, Ohio State and Alabama to round out the top four. The Crimson Tide at No. 4 was easily one of the biggest points of contention by many fans and media members after Tuesday’s rankings release.
While the rankings are good for television and discussion, there’s one valuable tidbit to keep in mind – rankings generally sort out over time. In last year’s first rankings release, Mississippi State, Auburn and Ole Miss – three teams that missed the playoff at the end of 2015 – were in the top four. Additionally, Ohio State ranked No. 16.
While the outrage and debate over rankings is good for college football, there are plenty of remaining games that will have an impact on the playoff. Let’s forget about the upcoming clashes between Alabama-LSU, Michigan State-Ohio State and Baylor-TCU and focus on 15 potential upsets that could shake up the rankings the rest of 2015. These may not happen, but this should provide a good detail of why the season and playoff rankings are far from complete.
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
Notre Dame went 3-1 under Brian Kelly against Pat Narduzzi when he was the defensive coordinator at Michigan State. Narduzzi is off to a good start (6-2) in his first season with the Panthers and has a few extra days to prepare after playing last Thursday against North Carolina. Can Pittsburgh’s defense (22.1 points per game allowed) find a way to slow down the Fighting Irish’s offense? If Notre Dame knocks off Pittsburgh, it should be 10-1 headed into the Nov. 28 game at Stanford.
Florida State at Clemson
It’s rare to see Florida State listed as a double-digit underdog. However, that’s the task facing coach Jimbo Fisher’s team on Saturday. Winning in Death Valley is going to be a challenge for the Seminoles, especially with a handful of injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. However, this is Clemson’s toughest remaining opponent, and Florida State has won four out of the last five in this series.
TCU at Oklahoma State
The Big 12’s schedule is back-loaded this season. TCU faces the top three teams in the Big 12 in November, starting with a trip to Stillwater on Nov. 7. Oklahoma State (8-0) hasn’t faced the toughest of schedules, but the Cowboys will present problems for the Horned Frogs on both sides of the ball. Oklahoma State is 2-1 against TCU since it joined the Big 12.
Arkansas at LSU
Alabama-LSU is usually a black-and-blue, heavyweight matchup. If LSU beats Alabama, matching up against Arkansas’ massive offensive line and running back Alex Collins will be a challenge.
Related: Post-Week 9 Bowl Projections
Alabama at Mississippi State
Same theory on Arkansas-LSU applies to Alabama-Mississippi State. Regardless of which team wins, both programs are going to have trouble matching the intensity and physical nature of the Week 10 matchup in Tuscaloosa. Last year’s meeting between Mississippi State and Alabama was decided by only five points. Starkville is a potential trap for the Crimson Tide.
LSU at Ole Miss
Lost in the Alabama-LSU debate within the SEC West is Ole Miss. The Rebels control their own destiny within this division thanks to a victory over the Crimson Tide in September. Ole Miss won the last matchup in Oxford against the Tigers and lost by only three in Baton Rouge last season. With a defensive line led by Robert Nkemdiche and rising star Marquis Haynes off the edge, the Rebels have enough talent up front to slow LSU running back Leonard Fournette.
Baylor at Oklahoma State
The projected top three teams in the Big 12 – Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor – all visit Stillwater in November. The Bears’ last trip to Oklahoma State (2013) didn’t go so well in a 49-17 defeat. This matchup comes at bad time for Baylor too, as it's one week before the anticipated showdown at TCU.
California at Stanford
The Golden Bears have lost five consecutive matchups in this rivalry. But there’s plenty of hope for the Golden Bears. Stanford gave up 354 passing yards against Washington State, and its secondary will be tested by California quarterback Jared Goff. This matchup is also one week before the potential playoff elimination game against Notre Dame. The Cardinal can’t afford to look ahead.
Ole Miss at Mississippi State
If Ole Miss beats Arkansas and LSU, it will likely need a victory over rival Mississippi State to clinch the SEC West. It’s the last home game for standout quarterback Dak Prescott. Don’t count out the Bulldogs from defeating their in-state rival in the Egg Bowl.
Ohio State at Michigan
Urban Meyer versus Jim Harbaugh. That’s more than enough in terms of must-see value for this matchup. But there’s plenty of other intrigue with this game. Ohio State takes on Michigan State the week prior, making this matchup in Ann Arbor one of the toughest two-game stretches for any team in the nation. Is Michigan the team that ends Ohio State's unbeaten season?
Iowa at Nebraska
Barring a few major injuries, Iowa should be favored to win each of its last four games. Nebraska is in the midst of a disappointing debut under new coach Mike Riley, but the Cornhuskers could salvage some pride by playing spoiler with a win over Iowa on Nov. 27.
Notre Dame at Stanford
Both teams have tough opponents to overcome before this game, but the odds suggest Stanford and Notre Dame will enter their matchup on Nov. 28 at 10-1. But here’s the worst-case scenario for both teams: What happens if Notre Dame loses to Pittsburgh and then knocks off Stanford? It’s hard to see either team making the playoff in that scenario.
ACC Championship: Clemson/Florida State vs. Coastal Champion
With a month of games remaining, it’s hard to project which teams will end up in the conference title game. However, it’s safe to assume either Clemson or Florida State will represent the Atlantic. The Coastal Division is a wide-open race, with North Carolina owning an edge over Pittsburgh and Duke. Let’s assume the winner of Florida State/Clemson wins out until this game. A loss to North Carolina/Duke/Pittsburgh would certainly knock that team out of the playoff picture.
SEC Championship: Florida vs. Ole Miss/Alabama/LSU
As mentioned above, it’s important to keep in mind Ole Miss controls its destiny in the SEC West. While the Rebels haven’t looked as strong as Alabama or LSU on a weekly basis, coach Hugh Freeze’s team has a shot to play in Atlanta. But here’s a nightmare scenario for the SEC. If Florida loses to Florida State and beats the SEC West champion in Atlanta, could the SEC get left out of the playoff picture? It sure seems that way.
Big Ten Championship: Iowa vs. Michigan State/Ohio State
The Hawkeyes could be 12-0 and out of the top four on the final Saturday of action. However, a win over Michigan State or Ohio State would be enough to vault coach Kirk Ferentz’s team into the top four. Iowa would be an underdog in this matchup. But anything can happen in a one-game scenario.