By Brad Carroll
The first College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday and, of course, there was a bunch of surprises near the top of the standings. First, the rankings will change drastically over the next several weeks, as the games get bigger and better and big-name and high-ranked teams will begin playing each other more often, creating ripple effects right down the top 25. Second, and more timely, the Playoff committee has proven for the second straight season they take themselves and their own though-processes way too seriously, discounting every poll and eye-test that has been used the entire season, building egos instead of a true ranking.
I don't care how tough a team's schedule is, if one team from a big conference has a loss and another doesn't, the one without a loss should be ahead every single time. So, there is no way Alabama should be in Playoff position right now with one loss, which came at home, to a two-loss team, mind you. If things sway and Alabama is matched up against other one-win teams at the end of the year, then sure, the Crimson Tide deserve to be in the final four. But not yet.
Clemson, LSU and Ohio State being the top three in any order makes sense, as all three are undefeated. But the next group of undefeated teams deserve to be ahead of Alabama and Notre Dame, the latter of which has one loss and is ranked No. 5. Baylor, Michigan State and TCU were 6-through-8, even though each are undefeated. A case surely can be made that right now Baylor is the best team in the nation. Yet here it is, ranked sixth and below two one-loss teams.
Luckily, there is still a ton of football left to be played and the group at the top of the rankings may not be there in a few short days, so while it's fun to argue and dissect the rankings, they will change over time. Hopefully the committee does wake up in time for season's end and puts together a Playoff that truly consists of the four best teams in the country, as opposed to whatever weird discussions they may have that lead to chaos.
This week, among the early games Saturday, there are five huge matchups that have College Football Playoff implications, with the big ones being No. 16 Florida State and No. 1 Clemson squaring off and No. 8 TCU playing at No. 14 Oklahoma State in a battle of undefeated teams. One team from the latter matchup will be eliminated from Playoff contention for sure. After that, No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 9 Iowa and No. 5 Notre Dame are solid favorites.
Below is our look at the early games Saturday. Check out our late Saturday game picks here and follow us on Twitter here.
Vanderbilt at No. 10 Florida, 12 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Vanderbilt +10; Florida -10
Analysis: Florida is on the outside looking in at the first rankings, with its lone loss to LSU and the season-ending suspension to its quarterback dropping it to No. 10 overall. Going forward, the Gators will be favored in every game on the schedule, with only a home game against Florida State posing a true challenge. Then it would be the SEC championship game against either LSU or Alabama, most likely, and if the Gators win that game as well, they should be in the College Football Playoff. Florida certainly won't get any competition from Vanderbilt Saturday afternoon, unless the Commodores suddenly flip a switch and play better than they have all season. Vanderbilt is 3-5 but was shut out by Houston last week, 34-0. Meanwhile, Florida was impressive in a 27-3 victory over Georgia. Florida should have no problem winning this game at the Swamp.
Brad's Score: Florida 31, Vanderbilt 3
Craig's Score: Florida 34, Vanderbilt 13
Glenn's Score: Florida 48, Vanderbilt 21
Matt's Score: Florida 52, Vanderbilt 7
No. 5 Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, 12 p.m., ABC
The Spread: Notre Dame -8.5; Pittsburgh +8.5
Analysis: Notre Dame has to be feeling pretty darn good about its position in the College Football Playoff rankings right now. The Fighting Irish, if they finish the rest of the season without a loss, will likely make the final four and play for a national championship. Notre Dame's lone loss of the year came at Clemson, which look mighty good considering the Tigers are No. 1 in the Playoff rankings. Notre Dame has three games it will be big favorites in before ending the year against No. 11 Stanford on the road. Win all and it would be a shocker if Notre Dame isn't playing in the Playoff. While Stanford will be the team's toughest challenge left by far, this game against Pittsburgh could be a huge challenge as well. The Panthers were 6-1 and ranked No. 23 last week before being upset at home by North Carolina, 26-19. That loss obviously dropped Pitt out of the rankings, but does make this a tricky game for the Irish, who can't overlook the Panthers or they will be out of Playoff contention completely. Notre Dame has had two weeks to prepare for the Panthers and even though it's going on the road, the Irish should have more than enough to win by double-digits.
Brad's Score: Notre Dame 31, Pittsburgh 21
Craig's Score: Notre Dame 24, Pittsburgh 10
Glenn's Score: Notre Dame 24, Pittsburgh 17
Matt's Score: Notre Dame 34, Pittsburgh 17
No. 16 Florida State at No. 1 Clemson, 3:30 p.m., ABC
The Spread: Florida State +12; Clemson -12
Analysis: Many had to be surprised to see Clemson's name come up as the No. 1 team in the first College Football Playoff rankings this week. After all, nobody is giving the ACC any credit when it comes to the best conferences in the land. But Clemson has been impressive this season, winning all eight of its games, including one which looks even better now, a 24-22 victory over Notre Dame. Since that close win over the Irish, Clemson has easily distanced itself in wins over Georgia Tech, Boston College, Miami and NC State. The Miami game was the eye-opener, as the Tigers won 58-0. This game against Florida State will be the team's toughest challenge by far, as Clemson will be big favorites in the three games following, and in the ACC championship game as well. Right now, Clemson would face unranked North Carolina in that title game. But Clemson is a team that has proven to stumble each season where it has a chance to make a run at a national title, and this game against Florida State could be this year's version. Florida State, however, isn't what it was when Jameis Winston was running the show, and the Seminoles have a loss and little respect around the country. Florida State lost a stunner to Georgia Tech on a late field goal block and return for a touchdown. If Florida State wins this game it will likely get in the ACC championship game, which would mean the conference won't get anyone in the College Football Playoff. The Seminoles have little to no chance of moving into the top four. Although, if they do win at Florida in the regular season finale, FSU might gain some attention. Clemson, however, will take the guess work out of that by beating the Seminoles Saturday afternoon. But it will be closer than the "experts" believe.
Brad's Score: Clemson 38, Florida State 28
Craig's Score: Clemson 38, Florida State 28
Glenn's Score: Florida State 24, Clemson 23 (upset pick)
Matt's Score: Clemson 28, Florida State 27
Arkansas at No. 18 Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m., CBS
The Spread: Arkansas +10.5; Ole Miss -10.5
Analysis: Ole Miss could be the most overrated team in the nation at this point, not because the team isn't good, but because the team still has a pretty darn good record despite having lost twice already. Certainly the win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa was huge, and I was trumpeting the Rebels as the No. 1 team in the nation following it, but with losses to Florida and Memphis since, Ole Miss shouldn't be in the top 20. To its credit, the Rebels did rebound from the Memphis loss to beat Texas A&M easily two weeks ago and then held off a challenge from Auburn to win that game by eight, a half-point cover. Ole Miss can still make a run at a College Football Playoff berth believe it or not. If the Rebels run the table, which would include a home game against LSU and a road matchup with Mississippi State, they would play in the SEC championship game. There, they would most likely play Florida. Now, the question would become, does a two-loss Ole Miss team deserve a final four spot since it plays in the SEC? Fans outside of the SEC would say a resounding no. I would agree with that as well. And for those that say Alabama would get the nod, how could that be when Ole Miss beat Alabama on its home turf. Either way, Ole Miss has as shot, and that's all you can ask for, especially with two losses. Against Arkansas, which has taken a step back this season instead of the step forward many expected, the Rebels will roll.
Brad's Score: Ole Miss 27, Arkansas 10
Craig's Score: Ole Miss 31, Arkansas 17
Glenn's Score: Ole Miss 42, Arkansas 30
Matt's Score: Ole Miss 56, Arkansas 21
No. 9 Iowa at Indiana, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Iowa -7; Indiana +7
Analysis: Iowa is still the most intriguing team in the nation, as it might have the easiest schedule of a Power 5 program in recent memory, and could play for a national championship if it finishes undefeated. Iowa doesn't have to play Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan this season, and doesn't have a game remaining where it should lose. Of course, Iowa will get one shot to truly prove its worth to the Playoff committee, likely against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. Win there and you would have to believe an undefeated Big Ten team would make the final four. Even strength of schedule might not be able to keep the Hawkeyes from crashing the committee's party. Indiana is having a better than usual season, with a 4-4 record highlighted by a close loss to Ohio State. The Hoosiers have lost four games in a row, however, including a 52-26 setback against Michigan State two weeks ago. Iowa won't be able to get anywhere near 52 points, but could see its offense put up some solid numbers against a suspect Indiana defense. Defense will be big on the other side, as Iowa's unit allows just over 15 points per game.
Brad's Score: Iowa 31, Indiana 14
Craig's Score: Iowa 28, Indiana 20
Glenn's Score: Iowa 35, Indiana 13
Matt's Score: Iowa 28, Indiana 10
No. 8 TCU at No. 14 Oklahoma State, 3:30 p.m., FOX
The Spread: TCU -5; Oklahoma State +5
Analysis: This is a statement-making game for both Big 12 teams, as TCU is getting little respect despite an undefeated record, proven by its No. 8 ranking, and undefeated Oklahoma State will play its first true game against a very good team this week, a chance to prove its worth as a possible Playoff team. The winner stays in the hunt, the loser will have no shot to make the final four. Oklahoma State was skidding by the early part of its schedule, barely beating Texas, Kansas State and West Virginia before finally breaking through with big wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. TCU has had its share of scares as well, needing a small miracle to beat Texas Tech and getting a close, comeback win over Kansas State. But the Horned Frogs have rolled over Iowa State and West Virginia the last two weeks. TCU also has the quarterback-wide receiver combo of Trevonne Boykin and Josh Doctson, which could be the best in the nation. With those two players, the Horned Frogs will never be completely out of a game. TCU is way out of the Playoff final four right now, but if it beats Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor, there should be no stopping the Frogs from making the top four. On the other hand, most thought the Frogs would have made it last year. Either way, on this day, TCU will make a statement on the road.
Brad's Score: TCU 56, Oklahoma State 49
Craig's Score: TCU 49, Oklahoma State 38
Glenn's Score: TCU 48, Oklahoma State 28
Matt's Score: TCU 63, Oklahoma State 56
Cincinnati at No. 25 Houston, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2
The Spread: Cincinnati +8.5; Houston -8.5
Analysis: Houston was a small favorite last week against Vanderbilt, and blew the Commodores away, 34-0, proving a very good mid-major can and will beat a bottom-dweller in the SEC. It also proves the SEC bias runs deep. The mega matchup for the Cougars will be next Saturday, when they take on fellow undefeated Memphis at home. The winner of that game could be in line for a major bowl bid, although it's unlikely either will get enough recognition to make the College Football Playoff. Of course, if it comes down to a two-loss Ole Miss team and an undefeated Memphis or Houston, it should be the latter two which are given the nod. Things are never that cut and dry, however. Cincinnati won't be a pushover in this game, however, as the Bearcats are 5-3, with huge victories the last two weeks coming against UConn and Central Florida. Cincinnati has lost to the three best teams on its schedule, however, to Temple, Memphis and BYU. Houston just might be the best of that bunch.
Brad's Score: Houston 38, Cincinnati 28
Craig's Score: Houston 40, Cincinnati 27
Glenn's Score: Houston 28, Cincinnati 21
Matt's Score: Houston 49, Cincinnati 28