It’s here. The CFP is risen. Well, it has been for a few weeks now, but for the sake of this exercise, let’s imagine we’re just leaving the time capsule of Week 2. Oh my god, Alabama lost to Ole Miss you say? And is ranked in the top 4 of the College Football Playoff? Let’s sort all of this out, starting with the aforementioned top 4 and where I think they stand.
- Clemson (10-0, 7-0 ACC Atlantic)
Y’all did, it Tiger fans. You swept away the doubters, you did not “Clemson” any games, and you brought your own guts! All that’s left now is a slam dunk finish to a season for the ages; take care of business against Wake Forest and South Carolina and you’re an ACC Championship game away from the finish line. Your path is the clearest and the least complicated of any of the contenders; win and you’re in, lose and you’re…well, of no use? But they’re in.
- Alabama (9-1, 6-1 SEC West)
Yes, we know already. The CFP is showing clear and disrespectful SEC bias by having the Tide all the way up here, over undefeateds like Oklahoma State and Iowa. But hear me out for a second. We can assume at this point that the Committee puts a much greater “tax” on late-season losses than they do with early season slip-ups. We saw this last year with Ohio State, which snuck into the CFP despite a baffling loss to the lowly Virginia Tech Hokies. Since Bama’s loss to Hotty Toddy, has there been a more consistent performer than the hated Tide? They shut down Heisman candidate and Greek God Leonard Fournette, stomped into Athens, Georgia and demolished a (albeit incorrectly) favored Georgia side, and made quick work of a trendy Mississippi State squad in Dak Prescott’s penultimate home game. That defensive line of theirs is frickin’ fearsome. The one caveat; like Clemson, or any team left in at this point, Bama cannot afford to drop any more games. The Tide finish up against an FCS opponent and Auburn in an always unpredictable Iron Bowl matchup. Alabama should have no problems dispatching Florida in the SEC Championship game, after which they await their final seeding.
- Ohio State (10-0, 6-0 B10 East)
Although undefeated, the defending champs have had their share of ups and downs over the course of the season. The Buckeyes have just seemed…lackluster? It seems odd to make that #analysis about an undefeated and supremely deep squad, but we haven’t quite tapped into the Death Star Ohio State we witnessed in last year’s postseason run. J.T. Barrett’s run-in with the law certainly didn’t help, but I imagine he’s fine with the 10 extra pushups Coach Meyer made him do as punishment. (Real talk, he lost summer aid as a result of his OVI charge, but that’s another story). The Buckeyes’ remaining road to the playoff is no joke; first up are the Michigan State Spartans, who are vying to resuscitate their own faint playoff hopes. After that, Michigan welcomes Urban and crew to the Big House for the latest renewal of the Big Ten’s finest rivalry. Assuming the Buckeyes get through those two unscathed, they still have to face the winner of the Big Ten West, which will likely be undefeated Iowa. It’s possible the Buckeyes could drop one of those and still make it into the playoff, but it’s an iffy proposition, especially given how they’ve looked so far. In short, THE Ohio State still has to prove they are truly the cream of the Big Ten, and there will be no ambiguity in response to that after December 5th.
- Notre Dame (9-1, INDEPENDENT)
This is where it starts to get hairy. The Fighting Irish have the looks of a playoff-caliber team, dropping just one game to the top-seeded Tigers. But what about their resume? A closer look finds that their most impressive win to date is on the road at Temple. Temple? The Owls have been one of the great stories in College Football, but is that all we need to see from a playoff candidate? A general consensus seems to be emerging that the winner of the Big 12, should it be Baylor, Oklahoma, or Oklahoma State, will usurp Notre Dame as the fourth and final spot should everything else hold true. Notre Dame’s final opportunity to add a marquee win is at Stanford, which just lost to end its own playoff dreams. And even if Clemson loses in the ACC Championship game, the team that beats them will hold the advantage over the Fighting Irish in having a win over the Tigers. It’s looking like it would take the Big 12 shooting itself in the foot, which remains a distinct possibility, to allow Notre Dame to round out the top 4. But let me entertain one more, shamelessly homer, possibility…
North Carolina beats Clemson in the ACC Championship Game
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to ordinary college football fans. It is a dimension as vast as ESPN’s love for the SEC and as timeless as the sport itself. This is the dimension of imagination beyond shooty-hoops, or the month of March. It is an area which we call North Carolina being good at football.
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? Carolina, the chronically underachieving program that racks up talent and leaves it rotting on the shelves, has put together a fantastic season! Since that opening-day snafu against South Carolina, the Heels have not looked back, winning 9 in a row and putting themselves at the door of an ACC Championship Game. If we assume, which is a big word when talking about Carolina football, that the Heels make it to Charlotte and upset Clemson, what are the chances it makes the playoff? Realistically, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would each need to lose one more, and Ohio State might have to cede a game to either Michigan or Michigan State, before beating Iowa in the Big 10 Final. The ugly loss to the Gamecocks still looms large, but there is a chance the committee takes a generous approach with regarding early season mishaps. There are many possibilities up in the air, and UNC is far from controlling its own destiny, but for once, this program has shown signs of life and that Tobacco Road Football is here to stay! Yeah! We will be taken seriously!
So there you have it. Chaos will rule supreme. But no matter who you root for, what crazy upsets you want to see, we can all unite in the common prayer that Ohio State and Alabama take this year off, leaving some crumbs for the rest of us mere mortals to snatch up.