It’s time to start talking seriously about the College Football Playoff.
The first set of playoff rankings will be revealed on Tuesday night as college football tries to progress through its pandemic-impacted 2020 season.
What will they look like? We think they’ll resemble the AP top 25. At least at the top. After the top five or six, things could get different. The committee typically hasn’t ranked undefeated teams outside of the Power Five conferences too tightly to start. So Marshall and Coastal Carolina may find themselves a little lower than expected on Tuesday night.
Here’s how we think the top 15 of the rankings will look like on Tuesday.
15. Georgia (5-2)
JT Daniels made his first start of the season in Georgia’s win over Mississippi State. With double-digit losses to both Alabama and Florida, Georgia can boast two of the best losses in the country. But it also hasn’t been one of the most explosive offensive teams around either.
14. Oklahoma (6-2)
The Sooners put themselves squarely in the Big 12 title race once again with a convincing win over Oklahoma State. Wins over West Virginia and Baylor get the Sooners to the title game and a chance for a sixth consecutive conference title. A CFP spot is out of reach, however.
13. Iowa State (6-2)
The Cyclones absolutely destroyed Kansas State on Saturday. Iowa State gets the edge over Oklahoma because it beat the Sooners head-to-head. But ISU also lost to Louisiana. ISU could win its first Big 12 title. If it does, then a Cotton Bowl berth sounds about right.
12. Miami (7-1)
Miami was off on Saturday and is off again next week because of COVID-19 cases at the school. The Hurricanes likely aren’t going to make the ACC title game but could easily get an at-large berth to a New Year’s Six bowl with a 10-1 regular season.
11. Indiana (4-1)
The Hoosiers refused to go away in a 42-35 loss to Ohio State on Saturday. Indiana could even be higher in the rankings than this depending on how the committee treats the game. While Indiana did beat two teams that were ranked at the time of the game earlier this season, those two wins are over Penn State and Michigan.
10. Oregon (3-0)
The Ducks survived a late upset bid by UCLA to win 38-35 on Saturday. Oregon may be the wild card in the top 15. How is the committee going to view a three-game Pac-12 sample? It helps that Oregon’s other two wins came by 14 or more points. But there are also no ranked teams at all on the Ducks’ six game schedule.
9. Northwestern (5-0)
The Wildcats assumed the role of Big Ten West favorite on Saturday with a home win over Wisconsin. Northwestern doesn’t play the most attractive football, but you can’t argue with the results so far. The quibble here is that Northwestern’s won its last four games bu a total of 26 points after blowing out Maryland to start the season.
8. BYU (9-0)
The Cougars’ easy win over FCS North Alabama won’t do much in the eyes of the committee. And how will the committee view the patchwork schedule that BYU put together after its Power Five opponents had to cancel games because of conference-only schedules? BYU’s best win is a 51-17 win over Boise State that came with the Broncos playing their Nos. 2 and 3 QBs.
7. Cincinnati (8-0)
An undefeated season gets Cincinnati into a New Year’s Six bowl. The question then becomes which bowl that will be. The Bearcats beat UCF 36-33 on Saturday and held the Knights to a season low in yardage. The three-point victory was also Cincinnati’s first one-possession win of the season.
6. Florida (6-1)
Florida is just outside the top five because of a head-to-head loss to Texas A&M. Kyle Trask is the Heisman favorite at this point and threw a season-low three TDs in a 38-17 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. Florida does control its own destiny, however. An undefeated finish would include a win over Alabama in the SEC title game and a spot in the playoff.
5. Texas A&M (5-1)
Unlike Florida, A&M needs some serious help to make the playoff barring an unexpected and inexplicable Alabama meltdown. The Aggies didn’t play for a second-straight week on Saturday because of COVID-19 cases within the program. Even if A&M wins out and finishes 9-1 it’s going to need some assistance from teams both above and below it in the rankings.
4. Clemson (7-1)
The Tigers should get another shot at Notre Dame in the ACC title game. With Trevor Lawrence at QB this time too. Will Clemson have played Florida State by then? The Tigers didn’t play the Seminoles on Saturday after a backup offensive lineman at Clemson tested positive for COVID-19. A Clemson win in the ACC title game over Notre Dame gets the Tigers into the playoff.
3. Ohio State (4-0)
Ohio State had to sweat a bit in the fourth quarter against Indiana. But it’s a good sign that the Buckeyes survived their biggest test of the season in a game where Justin Fields threw three interceptions. Ohio State is in the playoff with an undefeated season and a Big Ten title. Where it gets fun is if the Buckeyes win the Big Ten but lose sometime in the next couple weeks.
2. Notre Dame (8-0)
The formula is pretty simple for the Irish. Wins get them in. An undefeated regular season and a loss to Clemson in the ACC title game could too. Especially if Florida loses to Alabama in the SEC title game. Notre Dame has games against North Carolina, Syracuse and Wake Forest ahead of the ACC title game. The Irish should go undefeated. And set up an epic title game.
1. Alabama (7-0)
The Crimson Tide dismantled Kentucky 63-3 on Saturday. Alabama’s closest game is a 15-point win over Ole Miss. Every other game has been by three or more possessions. The offense hasn’t missed a beat without star wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and the defense has given up 44 points in four games after giving up 48 to the Rebels.
Here are this week’s winners and losers
— Nick Bromberg
Iowa State: No. 17 Iowa State has quietly grabbed hold of first place in the Big 12. The Cyclones improved to 6-1 in conference play by trouncing Kansas State 45-0 at home. The defense limited K-State to only 149 yards of offense while the offense put up 539 yards. Breece Hall had another big game on the ground. Hall rushed for 135 yards and two scores, putting him at 1,034 on the season. Hall has rushed for more than 100 yards in all eight of ISU’s games and has been instrumental for the Cylones, who now have a clear path to the Big 12 title game.
Coastal Carolina: Coastal Carolina’s triumphant 2020 season continues. The 15th-ranked Chanticleers are in just their fourth year at the FBS level, and are now just one win away from clinching the Sun Belt East title after a 34-23 win over Appalachian State. App State is the four-time defending Sun Belt champion, so this game has been circled on the schedule for quite some time. It lived up to the billing. The game was back-and-forth throughout the second half before Coastal Carolina scored the decisive TD with 2:24 to play. And to put a bow on the program’s first-ever win over App State, CCU added another TD with a pick-six to improve to 8-0 on the year.
Cincinnati: The only Group of Five program that will be ranked ahead of Coastal Carolina on Tuesday is Cincinnati. The Bearcats, ranked No. 7 in the AP poll, overcame an early deficit and rallied past UCF on the road, 36-33. It was another big game for QB Desmond Ridder, who threw for 338 yards and had four combined TDs — two passing and two rushing. Now 8-0, the Bearcats are going to be a big topic of the CFP conversation as long as they keep winning. Two regular season games remain for UC: at Temple and at No. 25 Tulsa. Tulsa is also unbeaten in AAC play and can play spoiler.
Alabama: Alabama hadn’t played since Oct. 31, so it got its money’s worth against Kentucky. The top-ranked Crimson Tide walloped an undermanned Kentucky team 63-3, limiting the Wildcats to a measly 179 yards of offense in the process. DeVonta Smith led the way on offense, catching nine passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns. His second-quarter touchdown catch broke the SEC record for touchdown receptions in a career with 32. He added No. 33 late in the third quarter. Additionally, Najee Harris moved to No. 5 on Alabama’s all-time career rushing touchdowns with his two scores on Saturday.
Tulsa: On Thursday night against Tulane, Tulsa was down to its third-string quarterback and trailed 14-0 entering the fourth quarter. The Golden Hurricane tied the score at 14-14 with 3:16 to go, but quickly allowed Tulane to go ahead 21-14 at the 1:38 mark. From there, Tulsa miraculously forced overtime by tying the game with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Davis Brin to JuanCarlos Santana as time expired. And when the game advanced to double-overtime, Tulsa won the game when star linebacker Zaven Collins returned an interception 96 yards for a touchdown. With the win, Tulsa improved to 5-1 on the year with a perfect 5-0 mark in AAC play.
Nevada: Nevada’s strong start to the 2020 season continued on Saturday with a 26-21 win over San Diego State. The Wolf Pack, who improved to 5-0 with the win, overcame a 21-16 halftime deficit when Carson Strong hit Romeo Doubs for a 50-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Nevada later added a field goal and shut out the Aztecs offense for the entire second half to hold on for the win. Nevada and San Jose State are the lone unbeatens in the Mountain West and could be on course for a massive game on Dec. 11. Neither team has ever won a Mountain West title.
Buffalo RB Jarret Patterson: Jarret Patterson sure does like playing against Bowling Green. In three games against the Falcons in his Buffalo career, Patterson has rushed for an astounding 687 yards. He went for 88 yards and two touchdowns in 2018 as a freshman, 298 yards and six touchdowns last year as a sophomore and an even better 301 yards and four touchdowns in Tuesday night’s 42-17 win. Patterson is arguably the MAC’s best player, and now Buffalo is off to a 3-0 start in 2020. UB is averaging 44.3 points per game.
Army LB Andre Carter: Army eked out a 28-27 win over Georgia Southern on Saturday, and sophomore linebacker Andre Carter played a big part. Carter made his first career start and made two huge plays. First, after Georgia Southern took a 27-21 lead on a touchdown at the 4:17 mark of the third quarter, Carter blocked the extra point. That allowed Army to go ahead 28-27 when it responded with a touchdown of its own. And when Georgia Southern was back on offense, Carter came away with a clutch interception at the 2:07 mark. Carter also had two tackles and a sack in the win.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions fell to 0-5 (for the first time ever) with another ugly loss on Saturday, this time a 41-21 defeat at home vs. Iowa. PSU fell behind 31-7 midway through the third quarter before showing a bit of life and cutting the deficit to 31-21. Any hope of a comeback came crashing down when Sean Clifford threw two interceptions, including a 71-yard pick-six to Iowa’s Daviyon Nixon, a 305-pound defensive lineman.
Is this rock bottom for Penn State, or is there further to fall? Perhaps we’ll find out next weekend when PSU visits Michigan.
Penn State is the first team to start the season 0-5 after being ranked in the top-10 of the preseason AP poll (preseason poll began in 1950).
Dating back to last season, PSU has allowed 30+ points in 6 straight games, double any other streak in school history. pic.twitter.com/MU9pSbTsIb
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 22, 2020
Georgia: Georgia fans have to feel pretty disheartened. Sure the Bulldogs managed to pull out a 31-24 win over Mississippi State on Saturday night, but the fact that they came out with such little urgency and went into the fourth quarter tied with a lackluster team like MSU is not a positive sign. Coming off a two-week absence that followed an ugly loss to SEC East rival Florida, a slow start could be expected. But there’s no excuse to struggle that much with an MSU that had fewer than 50 scholarship players available for the game.
There’s also reason for UGA fans to question the coaching staff. All year long, fans and the media have wondered why USC transfer JT Daniels had not seen any action at quarterback. Daniels finally played on Saturday, and it was pretty clear that he’s the best QB on the roster as he threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns. The only acceptable reason is that Daniels’ knee wasn’t healthy. Otherwise, it’s more than fair to question the decision making of Kirby Smart, who kept playing former walk-on Stetson Bennett.
Virginia Tech: The anxiety is intensifying in Blacksburg. Back in 2018, Justin Fuente’s third season, Virginia Tech endured its first losing season since 1992. It could be on the road to another. The Hokies dropped to 4-5 with an ugly 47-14 road loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday. It was the third consecutive loss for the Hokies, and by far the ugliest of the year. The three previous defeats all came by seven points or less. This was a drubbing at the hands of a very mediocre Pitt team.
The Hokies have a bye next week before hosting mighty Clemson. Unless they pull off a major upset, the Hokies will drop to 4-6 with only the Virginia game remaining on the regular season schedule. Fuente’s seat is getting hot.
Syracuse: Entering Friday night’s game against Syracuse, the Louisville defense had been allowing 412.7 yards per game in ACC play. Syracuse could muster only 137 yards in a 30-0 loss. It was really ugly. The Orange finished the night 6-of-16 for 45 yards through the air between two quarterbacks. The rushing effort — 92 yards on 25 carries — wasn’t much better.
Perhaps the worst stat of the night was Syracuse’s 1-of-10 effort on third down. The only conversion came on the final play of the game, when Cooper Lutz had a 9-yard run on third-and-7 with four seconds left in the game. Yikes. The Orange dropped to 1-8 with the loss with two games (NC State and Notre Dame) remaining.
Nebraska: During a week where your president laments the lack of “credit” Nebraska has received for the Big Ten and Pac-12 bringing back football, you probably shouldn’t go out and get your butt kicked at home by Illinois a few days later. But that’s what the Huskers did. They lost 41-23 to an Illinois team that was averaging 17 points per game entering Saturday. The Nebraska defense made the Illini offense look like a juggernaut as they reeled off 285 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Nebraska fell to 1-3 with the loss.
Speaking to the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce by Zoom, NU President Ted Carter says Nebraska has “never really gotten full credit” for the Big Ten’s decision to plan football this fall. He says Nebraska’s efforts also brought back the Pac-12, too.
— Chris Dunker 🗞 (@ChrisDunkerLJS) November 18, 2020
Big Ten officiating: It was not a banner weekend for the Big Ten’s officiating crew. The conference’s replay center missed the chance to review a clear fumble in Ohio State’s win over Indiana. While that ultimately didn’t matter, the horrible call at the end of Minnesota’s win over Purdue did. The Boilermakers appeared to have a go-ahead TD with 52 seconds left but Payne Durham was inexplicably called for offensive pass interference before he caught the ball. It was hard to find where Durham got an advantage on the play and a play later QB Jack Plummer threw an interception that effectively ended the game and gave Minnesota the win.
Tennessee: Tennessee looked like it had a chance to upset No. 23 Auburn, and then a weekly issue for the Vols popped up again. Trailing 13-10 late in the third, Tennessee was down to the Auburn 12-yard line. Jarrett Guarantano, UT’s much-maligned senior quarterback, looked to the end zone and was picked off by Auburn’s Smoke Monday. Monday returned it 100 yards for a touchdown, flipping a potential Tennessee lead to a 20-10 Auburn lead. That play pretty much spelled the end of any hopes for a Vols win as Auburn cruised to a 31-17 win.
It was the fifth straight loss for Tennessee, all by a double-digit deficit. That’s the first time that has happened in the program’s history, according to SEC Network.
Arkansas State: Things are going poorly in Jonesboro. The season started with a huge upset of Kansas State. Since then Arkansas State has gone 2-5 and lost a fourth consecutive game on Saturday in a 47-45 defeat at Texas State. The defense has given up 27 points or more in each of those four games and hasn’t given up fewer than 23 all season. And there’s already been a change at coordinator too. Arkansas State outgained Texas State 654-to-505, but nine penalties and a turnover were a big factor.
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