Enter the bureaucrats. The true rulers of the Republic.
The time has come for the people with the final say on college football’s postseason to hold their first meetings in that swankiest of spots, the Gaylord Texan Resort. The time has come for the 13-person College Football Playoff selection committee to reveal its first rankings of the 2017 season (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN App). That means the time has come for us to yell and scream and overreact to whatever list it hands to us from on high. And by on high, I mean a conference room on the third floor of the hotel.
But before the committee lights the fuse that will eventually take us to the final powder keg of the Dec. 3 announcement of the CFP’s fourth set of four title contenders, allow us one last chance to speculate on what it will tell us Halloween night, what it should tell us and what will alter what it tells us each Tuesday between now and December.
Here are the results of the meeting of our one-man CFP selection committee. That would be me. Technically, it’s a three-person committee. But while Captain Morgan and Captain Crunch are certainly in the room with me, neither of them has an official vote.
The top four will be …
3. Notre Dame
Alabama wins the eye test. The CFP committee loves the eye test, especially the five former coaches in the room. Like the Tide, Notre Dame is annihilating everyone it sees, except for one. That one is undefeated Georgia, who won at South Bend by a scant point. It’s the fourth spot that will cause the most gnashing of committee teeth, but Clemson wins out over Ohio State because the room has always believed that quality wins outweigh bad losses. At least, that’s what they say …
The top four should be …
3. Notre Dame
If that was really the case, then Georgia should have the top spot and it shouldn’t be that much of a debate. The Dawgs’ win at Notre Dame continues to look more impressive, while Bama’s win over Florida State in “the greatest opening weekend matchup ever!” isn’t really that anymore, is it? Meanwhile, in the beauty contest between one-loss teams, Oklahoma’s loss to Iowa State doesn’t look so bad anymore, does it? And despite the Big 12’s overall issues, the Sooners’ bulldozing of the Horseshoe remains one of the year’s most impressive victories.
The four to make the playoff will be …
2. Notre Dame
Alabama beats undefeated Georgia in the SEC championship game, but the Bulldogs, with one loss to the No. 1 team and a win over the No. 2 team, remain in the top four. How does one conference land two teams for the first time in CFP history? Because the Pac-12 has already eaten itself, and the Big 12 and Big Ten will follow. The ACC waters will once again part for one-loss Clemson, handing them just enough ranked competition down the stretch, added to a schedule that includes resurgent South Carolina. What about independent Notre Dame? Keep reading.
The top four regular-season games over four weeks with the most CFP impact will be …
1. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Saturday): Back in the summer, we all circled Bedlam as a possible playoff-predictive contest. Heck, even the Big 12 acknowledged as much when it moved Bedlam out of the game’s traditional end-of-season time slot and moved it up an entire month. Now, thanks to TCU’s unforeseen Iowa State loss, this game, while never unimportant, is back on the national radar. The winner is still in the CFP hunt, the loser is not. Should Oklahoma win and TCU win at home vs. Texas, then the Frogs’ visit to Norman on Nov. 11 should be on this list, too.
2. Georgia at Auburn (Nov. 11): Nope, not the Iron Bowl. Not yet. The CFP impact of that game and even the true importance of the SEC championship game depends in no small part on what happens on The Plains on Nov. 11 in a game that has already been overshadowed by those other two.
3. Michigan at Wisconsin (Nov. 18): Wisconsin has had no problem winning over AP or Coaches’ Poll voters. But if the Badgers are ever going to convince the CFP selection committee that they are better than their woeful strength of schedule/record, this visit from the Wolverines — coming one week after a home date with Iowa — is their chance. The real impact here reaches beyond Madison. The Big Ten’s other playoff hopeful, Ohio State, needs Wisconsin and Michigan to be at their best at the season’s end, as the Buckeyes will be looking for wins to add to their Penn State victory and water down the memories of their Week 2 loss to Oklahoma. Then again, if Ohio State stumbles at Iowa or against Michigan State in the next two weeks, Wisconsin will be the conference’s lone shot. So, yeah, beating Michigan is important either way for the Badgers and the Big Ten.
4. Notre Dame at Stanford (Nov. 25): There are a lot of “ifs” attached to this one. But if they fall the way of the Irish, their regular-season finale will be ginormous. If Notre Dame continues with its practice up to this point of not merely beating teams, but decimating them, then even their lack of the mysterious 13th data point — a conference title — won’t matter if they’ve soundly whipped a pack of teams all competing for their conference titles, namely USC, NC State, Miami and the Cardinal. Remember, their only loss was by one point to a team likely playing in the SEC title game, the Dawgs. So, stomping Stanford the weekend before they might be playing in the Pac-12 championship could — could — be quite the closing statement while they are sitting at home watching everyone else play.
The top four things you need to keep in mind as we go forward are …
1. Being ranked in the first top four can be dicey: Let’s call this the State of Mississippi Rule. Remember the very first CFP rankings that dropped on Oct. 28, 2014? The people of the Magnolia State certainly do, no matter which side of the Egg Bowl they prefer to sit. Mississippi State was ranked first and Ole Miss was fourth, with Florida State and Auburn stuffed in between. The following week, the Rebels dropped out of the top four, joined by the Bulldogs a few weeks later. By the time the final rankings were released on Dec. 7, FSU was the only one of the first four to make the playoff field. Likewise, two of the first four in 2015 didn’t make the final group. LSU debuted at No. 2 and wound up ranked 20th. Last year, eventual title combatants Alabama and Clemson held down the first top two spots, but the second pair — Michigan and Texas A&M — both missed the playoff. A&M ended up losing the Texas Bowl to Kansas State.
2. Being ranked outside the first top four isn’t the end of the world: If all those teams fell out, someone had to replace them, right? Last year was the least volatile of the three CFP seasons. Clemson and Washington each picked up a loss in the weeks after the first rankings but finished in the top four. Ohio State started at No. 6 after losing to Penn State but crept into the top four by season’s end. The two years prior were more crazy. In 2015, eight teams rolled through the four spots over the five weeks of the rankings, including Oklahoma, which made the final group despite being ranked 15th in the first ranking. In 2014, eight teams showed up in the top four over seven weeks, but Ohio State, which wasn’t among the top four until the final rankings, was all the way down in 16th in the initial standings and wound up winning the national title.
3. The College Football Playoff bracket has already started: As I watch every TV show and listen to every radio show, the annual, late-October “this is why we should expand the playoffs now!” arguments are at full volume. But the reality is that the elimination bracket has already started. Really, it begins this weekend with the ACC doubleheader (Clemson at NC State, Virginia Tech at Miami), Bedlam and the Tide’s first real post-Labor Day test (vs. LSU). I say this every autumn, so allow me to say it again: Don’t let your screaming about wanting a 16-team playoff cause you to miss the 16-team playoff that’s already happening right before your angry, bloodshot eyes.
4. We know nothing: But it is fun to speculate, right? In the end, we can do all the guessing and surmising and pontificating we want. But — and this goes for both one-man selection committees and actual 13-person committees — our mutual homework is the same. It’s the greatest assignment ever. Take your seat or turn on the TV and watch to see how it all plays out. How does the saying go? That’s why they play the games.