The College Football Playoff picture has taken shape as the selection committee prepares to meet this week for the first time.
Beginning Monday evening, the committee's deliberations will undoubtedly run into trouble when attempting to evaluate the wide spread of games played by many of the teams in Top 25 consideration.
That there are a few ways the committee could go in assessing these contenders makes this year's debut rankings perhaps the most interesting in the history of the postseason format. Then again, the committee could choose to shy away from embracing the debate in favor of a more conservative approach.
Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) dives over the top for a touchdown during the second half against Central Florida at the Bounce House in Orlando. (Photo: Reinhold Matay, USA TODAY Sports)
One subplot to Tuesday's rankings is how the committee seeds Cincinnati and Brigham Young, the two best teams from the Group of Five. Cincinnati has a strong case for the top eight and could even make an argument for coming in at No. 5, though the Bearcats are unlikely to be ranked ahead of Texas A&M and Florida.
Where they begin is important for the obvious reason: The higher Cincinnati and BYU are to start, the better the odds that one becomes the first team from the Group of Five to reach the top four.
Even in this strange season, that seems too hard to imagine. Still, the Bearcats pass the eyeball test and have the metrics to impress the committee.
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There is no debate over the top four, with just a sniff of intrigue over what order the committee ranks the current favorites for the national semifinals.
This is certain: Alabama will be No. 1. The Tide have steamrolled through the middle of the SEC season and will be an easy pick for the top of the playoff rankings. Notre Dame will very likely be No. 2 thanks to the overtime win early this month against Clemson.
There is a question of how the committee will rank the Tigers and Ohio State. The Buckeyes are unbeaten and the owners of a strong win against Indiana, though the team's remaining three wins have come against opponents holding a combined record of 2-12 (Nebraska, Penn State and Rutgers).
Clemson has that one blemish but seven wins, including a victory against Miami (Fla.) to rival the Buckeyes' win against Indiana to go with wins against Wake Forest, Virginia and Boston College. It might not be as cut and dry as simply slotting OSU into third due to the Buckeyes' unbeaten record.
Here’s how the top four would look today, followed by the four teams just on the outside:
1. Alabama: Questioned after the shootout win against Mississippi, the Alabama defense has given up 20 points in the last three games and hasn't allowed a touchdown in nine quarters.
2. Notre Dame: The Irish have already scored 40 or more points four times against Power Five competition. That's the most for the program in a single season since 2005.
3. Ohio State: Justin Fields had thrown three interceptions in the first 476 attempts of his college career before tossing three against Indiana alone. He's now averaging one interception for about every 84 throws, which remains ridiculous.
4. Clemson: While missing the chance to play Florida State could make the math a little tighter, 7-1 Clemson will likely win at least 10 games in 2020 to become the third program in history to notch double-digit wins in 10 consecutive seasons, joining Florida State (1987-2000) and Alabama (2008-present).
5. Texas A&M: The Aggies rank 116th nationally in allowing quarterbacks to complete 68.1% of attempts. The number was even higher (72.5%) before shutting down South Carolina's passing game in a 48-3 win on Nov. 7. But it's not all terrible: A&M is closer to the middle of the pack, tied for 76th, in giving up 7.7 yards per pass. It's still not great.
6. Florida: Quarterback Kyle Trask threw for 383 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-17 win against Vanderbilt, making this the first game this season in which he's failed to throw for at least four touchdowns.
7. Cincinnati: The Bearcats' defense held Central Florida to 359 yards of offense and 4.3 yards per play, the Knights' lowest totals in a single game since losing to LSU in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl.
8. Brigham Young: Zach Wilson won't touch Ty Detmer's program record for yards in a season (5,188) or Jim McMahon's record for touchdowns in a season (47). He does have a shot at unseating another legend from BYU's record book: Wilson is currently completing 73.4% of his attempts, which if it holds would break Steve Young's season record (71.3%). Either way, he's in elite company.
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