Conference championship week is complete, and the final College Football Playoff rankings of 2018 are upon us (to be announced on ESPN, with the selection show beginning at noon eastern). Per usual, there’s some controversy afoot.
The first three in the CFB Playoff is rather easy. They’ve been the same for weeks. But the No. 4 spot comes with a bit of jostling.
On one side there’s the one-loss Big 12 champion Oklahoma Sooners. On the other side there’s the one-loss Big Ten champion Ohio State Buckeyes. That’s not even including Georgia, which is lurking in the shadows as a two-loss team with an argument.
How’s it going to look? Let’s make some predictions.
Keep in mind, we’re trying to determine the four best teams in the country. When teams are “comparable” at the margins, we’ll follow the CFB Playoff committee’s protocol, which places an emphasis on these things: 1. Championships won. 2. Strength of schedule. 3. Head-to-head competition (if it occurred). 4. Outcomes against common opponents.
Remember, those tiebreakers and separators only factor in if the committee views two teams as even. Overall the eye test is the determining aspect based on the thoughts of the 13 committee members.
No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide
No change here. If anything, we know more about the Tide than we did coming into the week after a gutsy come-from-behind win over No. 4 Georgia. Alabama’s been so good that the SEC Championship is the first one-possession game it’s played all season. Often criticized for a weak SOS, the Tide will likely end the year with five Top 25 wins. That’s more than anybody on this list.
No. 2 Clemson Tigers
That was a good scrimmage you gave Clemson, Pittsburgh. Onto the playoffs. The Tigers’ win over the Panthers cemented what we’ve known all year – Clemson is one of the nation’s best four teams. If anything, Alabama and Clemson remaining unbeaten presents the opportunity for a historic Part IV of their series, this time matching unbeaten teams in the national championship game.
No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame secured its playoff spot last week. The Irish can claim the nation’s No. 8 defense in terms of yards per play and the nation’s No. 27 overall offensive unit in yards per game. Most importantly, Notre Dame is unbeaten against a schedule that includes 10 Power Five opponents with a trio of Top 25 wins (versus currently ranked teams).
No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma will be the fourth playoff team if the committee follows its own protocol. The Sooners’ offense is far and away the best in the country, working at a historic clip. Oklahoma can claim a potential Heisman winner (Kyler Murray), a trio of Top 25 wins, an avenged defeat versus its only loss (Texas) and a defense that showed signs of life Saturday.
Think of it this way: Ohio State’s defense is comparable to Oklahoma’s, but Oklahoma’s offense is significantly better than Ohio State’s. Additionally, the Buckeyes’ only loss came by 29 to a 6-6 Purdue while the Sooners’ defeat came by three against a Sugar Bowl-bound Texas. This shouldn’t even be an argument.
No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs
Yep, Georgia and Oklahoma will flip-flop. But the Bulldogs remain ahead of Ohio State despite their loss to Alabama. Why? Georgia just played the best team in the country to a possession and led the majority of the game. Ohio State, meanwhile, struggled to pull away from Northwestern until late on a Saturday in which it needed to make a major statement. The Bulldogs’ strength of schedule is tougher, its average margin of victory better and its overall resume rather similar. Georgia will win the eye test argument with the committee.
No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State had a great season, all thing considered. The Buckeyes, in the face of a preseason storm, won the Big Ten, beat Michigan and clinched a Rose Bowl berth. But Ohio State hasn’t been consistent enough to deserve a playoff spot. It struggled to beat non-bowl teams Nebraska and Maryland. It looked bad in big wins (Michigan State). It lost to a 6-6 Purdue by 29. There’s just too much working against Ohio State to make a pro-Buckeyes argument in a year where Notre Dame is a playoff crasher.