With the release of the first College Football Rankings tonight, the top teams in the country will find out where they stand in the eyes of the 12-member committee that will decide their fate.
But why wait? We’ve put together our list of the top six teams in the country ahead of tonight’s big unveil.
3. Ohio State
4. Michigan State
I’ll start this by saying that if Ohio State and one of the Big 12 teams not named Oklahoma wins out, those two teams will be guaranteed a playoff spot and would have strong arguments for the top overall seed depending on what happens in the SEC.
But we’re not at the end of the season right now. This is not a projection – it’s an assessment of the teams as they stand now. Ohio State has yet to play a ranked team, and none of the teams in the TCU/Baylor/Oklahoma/Oklahoma State quartet have played any of the others. By the end of the season, those four teams will all have played each other and Ohio State (in its best-case scenario) will have faced Michigan State, Michigan and the Big Ten West champion. As we found out last year, that will be good enough even with a loss.
For now, though, Clemson’s win against Notre Dame along with an impressive overall body of work is the one that impressed me most. It might have been LSU’s win against Florida, but the Gators were missing quarterback Will Grier. On top of that, I think it’s fair to say the Tigers’ early season wins against Auburn and Mississippi State weren’t as impressive as those teams’ rankings at the time would lead you to believe.
Ohio State showed against Rutgers that it might be the most talented and best team in the country, but again, I’ll withhold full judgment until Michigan State comes to town.
Although I don’t think MSU is one of the four best teams in the country, it still came out on the winning end against Michigan – and that counts, no matter how it happened. We’ll find out soon enough about TCU and Baylor, but that time has not yet come.
2. Ohio State
My only reason for having Clemson over Ohio State is the Tigers’ win over Notre Dame in a rainstorm.
Clemson was a solid No. 1 overall for me heading into Saturday, but after allowing 41 points to North Carolina State I am slightly skeptical of what their ceiling is. This weekend’s matchup with Florida State should be a good test.
The Buckeyes have shown that even with two quarterbacks, a depleted wide receiver room and poor performances early on, they are still capable of hitting the same stride they hit last season down the stretch.
However, the Minnesota game and the remaining regular-season schedule just took another turn with the citing and subsequent suspension of J.T. Barrett.
The loss of Barrett for the time being should not hurt Ohio State too much though, considering it has a national championship-winning quarterback in Cardale Jones coming back off the bench.
Hurting the Buckeyes right now is the fact that they have not yet beaten a ranked team. However, assuming they win out through the Big Ten title game, there is a good chance they would have three by the final selection committee meeting.
The big question for my No. 3 team in Baylor is whether or not backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham can play well when it matters.
With Heisman-caliber quarterback Seth Russell out for the season, Baylor will be tested with a road night game against Kansas State on Thursday, a good chance to see whether or not Baylor’s high flying offense can keep its momentum with a backup signal caller in.
Lastly, it would be hard to keep the LSU Tigers out of the conversation with the way Leonard Fournette is playing.
The Heisman frontrunner is tearing through defenses and has LSU primed for arguably the biggest game of the year so far against Alabama this week.
The winner of that game I believe is a lock for the playoff, assuming it wins out.
3. Ohio State
6. Michigan State
Ohio State fans probably won’t be thrilled since, you know, the Buckeyes haven’t lost, but looking at the body of work through eight games (seven for Baylor and LSU), Ohio State isn’t No. 1. That’s irrelevant, though, since an undefeated Ohio State would easily be in the playoff, possibly as the top seed come season’s end.
For now I have LSU in the top spot because, like the rest of my top six, the Tigers are undefeated and they have the highest quality win — a 35-28 victory over Florida — in my book. Clemson hops the Buckeyes as well thanks to its 24-22 win over Notre Dame, but these Tigers had a close call against Louisville, keeping them behind LSU.
TCU sneaks into the top four ahead of Baylor because you have to take into account the season ending injury to Seth Russell. The Bears still have a ton of talent, but I don’t seem them being a top-four quality team with Russell out of the lineup, and TCU certainly is with Trevone Boykin at the helm.
Last and probably also least of the top six is Michigan State — the only undefeated team remaining who actually lost a game but then didn’t. The Spartans are only ahead of Alabama because I see no reasonable reason to put an undefeated team with a win over a ranked team behind a team with a loss. Of my top six, that’s the only pick I see being different from what the actual committee will choose.
3. Ohio State
5. Michigan State
Last season the first college football playoff rankings didn’t exactly mirror the Associated Press poll and I don’t think this season will be any different, though I obviously think Ohio State will be much higher than its No. 16 ranking in the first CFP poll last season.
Clemson has been the most impressive team in the country to me. The Tigers are undefeated on the season and have had a more difficult schedule than any other unblemished squad. Clemson ranks in the top 20 in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The Tigers’ win over Notre Dame is their best of the season, but the 19-point win over Georgia Tech and the absolute thrashing of Miami show that Clemson is for real.
At No. 2 I have the other Tigers. LSU has the best running back in the country in Leonard Fournette (apologies to Ezekiel Elliott) and are perfect on the season. Their offense has been a bit one-dimensional, but the Tigers are still No. 28 in total offense and check in at No. 19 in total defense. They have a great chance to ascend to the top spot after a clash with Alabama this weekend.
The Buckeyes’ best win so far this season is over Penn State and that’s a big reason they check in at No. 3 and not No. 1 for me. Ohio State has looked more impressive lately, and will certainly make the playoffs if they win out, but its toughest games are still to come.
The bottom three of my top six all suffer due to poor schedules and I think we are splitting hairs deciding between the three. While I think the committee might put Michigan State in the four spot courtesy of its win over Michigan, it’s hard for me to truly count that as a victory. Baylor hasn’t played the meat of its schedule but has won its seven games by an average score of 61-25. I don’t care who you are playing, that’s impressive. And yes, I know that the Bears lost quarterback Seth Russell, but I am not willing to penalize them for that until I see a drop off without him.
As for the Horned Frogs, they’ve been impressive but the least so of these six teams for me. TCU would jump up this list with a win this weekend as a victory over Oklahoma State would be the best of any of the final three teams on my list.