The College Football Playoff committee is set to release their first rankings of the season at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday night on ESPN. Two traditional SEC powerhouses have taken most of the headlines through the month of October, last year’s finalist Alabama, and a Georgia team that has started 8-0, including a road win at Notre Dame. Thanks to some recent upsets, there are just five remaining unbeaten teams in FBS play: the two SEC teams, Wisconsin, Miami (FL), and Central Florida. Ahead of the inaugural rankings of 2017, the Spartan Red Zone crew offers their top four teams in the country.
Zachary Swiecicki (@zachswies)
- Notre Dame
- Ohio State
Bubble: Clemson, Wisconsin, Penn State, Oklahoma
Georgia and Alabama may very well end up undefeated and play each other in the SEC title game, but for now, they find themselves at the top of almost everyone’s rankings. And for good reason. The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide are both 8-0 and feature elite defenses, third and first in total defense, respectively. Besides the record and the stats, both of these teams pass the eye test. UGA gets the edge because of their strength of schedule thus far.
Notre Dame and Ohio State rounding out the top four makes sense, but is far from guaranteed. Notre Dame is in because of its schedule, even including its loss (by one point to top-four Georgia). The Fighting Irish, with wins over MSU, USC, and NC State, and Ohio State fresh off their thriller over PSU, both look like traditional powerhouses.
Wisconsin, Miami (FL) and Central Florida, all currently undefeated, will have to prove more than their records to earn a top-four spot. UW is hindered by their weak schedule. Miami will have the chance to vault up the rankings as they have two top 15 teams, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, in the next two weeks. UCF can put up points, first in the country at 51 points per game, but is not helped by their strength of schedule and their already canceled games early in the year — the Golden Knights could be in a similar situation as Western Michigan last season.
Any four of the bubble teams could easily be in, but all have A) a loss B) a weak schedule. Of note, every team in my top four has a Heisman contender: Nick Chubb, Jalen Hurts, Josh Adams, and J.T. Barrett.
Kyle Turk (@KyleTurk5)
- Ohio State
- Notre Dame
Bubble: Clemson, Wisconsin, one of Oklahoma/OK State/TCU, Penn State
The committee is a big fan of resumes, and at this stage, Georgia has the edge over the Tide thanks to their win over the Irish early in the season. Georgia’s solid offensive line has allowed senior running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to thrive. Case in point: they only needed to throw seven times all game in their most recent blowout against rival Florida.
Alabama hasn’t really needed to get out of first gear during their wins so far, but the problem is they haven’t really played anyone of note. Florida State is useless to Alabama’s schedule, Tennessee is about to fire Butch Jones, and the Tide’s best win right now is a 41-10 drubbing of a 5-3 Fresno State team. Wake me up after they play LSU this weekend.
Putting two one-loss teams in the opening rankings seems a bit out there, but Ohio State may be the nation’s best team. They basically spotted Penn State 14 points in their high-profile matchup last week, but their depth and skill wore down the Nittany Lions to the point where a fourth-quarter comeback win was inevitable. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s schedule is tough and will only get more impressive, but Ohio State is still the better team to me, at least for now.
TCU’s loss to Iowa State really throws the Big 12 into a mess, as their conference lacks an undefeated team and no one from the group I listed above really stands out to me. Clemson’s loss to Syracuse means their margin for error is razor-thin, and Wisconsin faces the same problem that Alabama does on a larger scale. Right now, UW’s best win is against a sneaky-good Florida Atlantic team. Penn State is still in the discussion, but will have to win out to have a shot at the Playoff.
Joey Ellis (@Jellis1016)
- Notre Dame
Bubble: Wisconsin, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State
Based on the eye-test, I believe through nine weeks of football, Alabama is the best team in the field, with seemingly no weaknesses to their team. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Bulldogs came in as the top ranked team, but in the meantime, I believe they’ll come in ranked just behind the Crimson Tide.
Despite Clemson’s loss to Syracuse, quarterback Kelly Bryant missed the entire 2nd half with a concussion, and I believe the committee factors key injuries, along with Clemson’s three top-15 wins, all coming in the month of September. Notre Dame’s four top-15 wins already, with a one-point loss to Georgia, is enough for me to place them in the top four.
I believe the Big 12 has serious qualms of missing the top four. Oklahoma seems to be the Big 12’s best hope of making the CFP, with one of the best wins in the country to Ohio State, and a loss against an Iowa State team that’s starting to look better and better. I’m not certain that a one-loss Oklahoma-State or TCU team, if they were to win out in the Big 12, is to be a lock in the Playoff.
The Pac-12 has the biggest reason of being excluded from the Playoff altogether. The Pac-12 South is guaranteed to have a two-loss winner and the North is hoping for Washington to win out, being the only remaining one-loss team in the conference.
Andy Chmura (@andy_chmura)
- Notre Dame
Bubble: Wisconsin, Ohio State, Clemson, Miami
What a surprise the Bulldogs are turning out to be. An elite defense backed with a veteran offensive line and a certain Nick Chubb has placed Georgia as the best of the unbeatens. In fact, the only reason why they aren’t No. 1 in the AP Poll is because their signature victory over Notre Dame didn’t look so signature at the time. The Bulldogs can win out in the regular season and lose the SEC Championship Game, and perhaps still make the Playoff.
Has Alabama played the most difficult schedule in the world? No. And the lack of such a schedule is exactly why they aren’t No. 1. Still, no team comes week in and week out with sheer dominance like Alabama. Nick Saban’s squad is always the most prepared team in the nation. Their defense and running game is the most bruising in the country. But let’s not forget they actually have a quarterback this year in Jalen Hurts. Although No. 2 in my ranking, ‘Bama is probably best set team to reach the Playoff.
Notre Dame’s schedule just hurts to look at. How Brian Kelly managed to turn things around from last year’s four-win catastrophe is beyond me, but things are definitely clicking for the Irish. With a one-point loss to Georgia combined with victories over Michigan State, USC and NC State, the Irish have secured their spots as the top one-loss team in all the land. Oklahoma may seem a bit of a head scratcher. But they have something that a lot of the bubble teams do not: a signature road victory. The Sooners seem to have fallen off a lot of people’s radar after their lone loss to Iowa State but as it turns out the Cyclones are actually pretty tough, and unquestionably a top-20 team.