If last year’s College Football Playoff rankings are in any way a guide _ and there’s no guarantee that its is — this week might be the turning point.
The Nov. 18 rankings in 2014 had Nos. 1-2-3 lined up perfectly. Although Alabama, Oregon and Florida State would move around in the final three weeks, they’d end up exactly where they were on Nov. 18.
This was also the time last season when Ohio State started to make its ascent, which would end in the top four.
Should any of this matter in this year’s Playoff process? Probably not. Different teams. Different résumés. Different opponents in the final two weeks.
That said, what seems to be clear is that Clemson, Alabama and Notre Dame are in win-and-you’re-in territory.
Everything else is just a guess.
1. Notre Dame is going to be the great mystery
Many of the committee’s pet phrases — game control, body clock and so on — have come up in the spur of the moment, but in writing as one of the criteria is “conference championships won.” That, of course, is irrelevant to Notre Dame, and how much that will impact the Irish in the final rankings isn’t clear. True, the Irish lost to their toughest opponent — No. 1 Clemson on the road — but clearly the committee thinks highly of Notre Dame’s wins. No. 16 Navy has rocketed up the top 25, and No. 24 USC entered the rankings this week. If No. 11 Stanford and USC both reach the Pac-12 title game, and Notre Dame has victories over both, would the committee go so far as to give partial credit for a Pac-12 title?
2. Maybe Baylor’s not out of it after all
Dating back to last season, Baylor has vexed the selection committee with its lackluster non-conference schedule. The September schedule, which included SMU, Lamar and Rice, would seem to erase a margin of error for Baylor. Yet the Bears lost their first game of the season, 44-34 to Oklahoma in Waco, and fell merely to No. 10. With games remaining at No. 6 Oklahoma State, at No. 18 TCU and Texas, maybe the Bears can climb six spots — as long as the Sooners lose. Baylor’s strength of schedule is ranked 76th by Sagarin, and the Bears lost at home to the best team they’ve faced. A competitive game, however, “validated the strength of Baylor,” committee chair Jeff Long said.
3. North Carolina is going to have trouble
With blowout wins over Miami and Duke, the Tar Heels have climbed at least in public notoriety in recent weeks. In a vacuum, moving from unranked to 23rd to 17th is no small matter, but the Tar Heels are little more than a fringe contender. North Carolina lost to a 3-7 South Carolina team, played two FCS opponents and avoided Clemson and Florida State in the ACC schedule. That’s a good way to get to 9-1 and perhaps win the Atlantic, but not a good profile for the top 10. And with a semifinal in the Orange Bowl, the ACC doesn’t have an automatic tie-in for a host bowl. The Heels may have to beat Clemson in the ACC title game to guarantee a major bowl — and it won’t be a semifinal.
4. Right or wrong, Ohio State is getting the benefit of the doubt
This could have been noted in any of the first three weeks the Buckeyes were ranked No. 3, but the committee is going with the eye test on this one. Iowa has road wins over two teams that have been in the committee’s top 25, Wisconsin and Northwestern. Ohio State is the only team in this week’s top 16 that hasn’t even played another CFP top 25 team. Many of the same players who won last year’s championship are still in Columbus, but this isn’t exactly indicative of “starting with a fresh piece of paper,” as the committee likes to say.
5. The final spots are worth watching
The final 5-8 spots are always interesting, if only as a peek into strength of schedule. Three three-loss teams entered the rankings with No. 22 Ole Miss, No. 23 Oregon and No. 24 USC. And getting close to that territory is one-loss TCU at No. 18. A team that was ranked in the top 10 two weeks ago might be in danger of slipping out. TCU lost its only significant game in the committee’s estimation and escaped close calls with Texas Tech and Kansas State.
New Year’s Six Projections
Orange Bowl semifinal: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Notre Dame
Cotton Bowl semifinal: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State
Rose: No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 11 Stanford
Sugar: No. 6 Oklahoma State vs. No. 8 Florida
Fiesta: No. 7 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Michigan State
Peach: No. 16 Navy vs. No. 10 Baylor