SQ College Football Playoff Panel: The Calm Before the Storm

Up until now, the rankings that have been put out by the AP and USA TODAY Coaches Poll have been meaningless. Sure, they give us a picture of where teams stand, but Tuesday will reveal what rankings really matter: the top 25 as decided upon by the College Football Playoff selection committee. These rankings will ultimately decide who gets to play for college football's biggest prize.

With that being said, here at SQ, we've put together a panel of some of our best college football writers to discuss the teams, issues, and players leading up to the final selection of the top four teams for the College Football Playoff. Here are the panel's thoughts before the rankings are released.

Last year’s initial College Football Playoff outcome was surprising to say the least. With that being said, do you expect this year to have as much hype surrounding it as the first rankings are revealed?

Geoffrey Hammersley: Not as much as last year, but there will be hype. We will find out how much the committee likes Ohio State, a team that has struggled to find their identity for a better part of the season, and how they view the Baylor/TCU dynamic. Last year, Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn, and Ole Miss were the top four teams. The SEC-dominance narrative isn’t here this year, but there is still intrigue as you could make a case for any of the top eight teams to be included in the playoff.

Alex Koslow: I have to disagree with Geoff--I think this year may be more hyped than last year. Last year, there were five or six teams who could legitimately say they had a shot, while this year any team in the Top 10 right now could make it. The only reason I say that is that so many teams that are in the Top 10 still play each other, which could create chaos for the selection committee.

Ohio State plays Michigan State, Baylor plays TCU, Stanford or Notre Dame could make an appearance after they play, and Alabama against LSU could determine the SEC West winner. So much could happen right now. A one-loss team could easily make it into the Top 4.

Brian Peel: I think it will be a different type of hype, as I agree with Alex that the selection process will be more intriguing because there might be as many as eight teams deserving a shot by early December. The hype surrounding the actual games should be similar to last year because, simply put, it is exciting to watch good football teams play each other with a championship on the line.  

Sean Berger: Brian, you bring up a good point. This season has a different feel to it. Not one team has proven themselves to be that true No. 1 that's head and shoulders above the competition. As Geoff notes, the SEC-dominance narrative is not present, last year's national champion, Ohio State, has looked questionable at times, and smaller schools like Memphis and Houston are on the doorstep of breaking through. There will be hype, as most people want to know where everyone stands; however, I think people know that these rankings are likely not to be the same as the final one in December.

As it currently stands, the College Football Playoff is limited to four teams. Is that enough? Or should the Playoff be expanded to more teams?

Geoffrey: The playoff system will expand when conflict arises. Like any good system, why fix it if it isn’t broken? The CFP isn’t broken, yet. We’ll get an eight-team playoff a few years after 1) Notre Dame gets in and causes either the Big Ten/SEC/Pac-12 to miss a spot or 2) a mid-major gets in and gets thumped in the first semifinal game or 3) a 2007 scenario occurs where anybody in the top 10 has a legitimate case to be included.

Alex: I said it last year, and I’m sticking with it--the CFP needs to be Top 8 teams. There’s always going to be controversy; that’s unavoidable. With the BCS, arguing between No. 2 and No. 3 was the big debate. Now with the CFP, No. 4 vs. No. 5 is the big debate. With four teams, a team or two is going to get spurned, like we saw last year with TCU and Baylor. Of course, the new debate will be between the eighth and ninth spot, but that be between a one-loss team and a two-loss team which makes it a little easier to decide.

Brian: As a fan of college football, of course I want to see the field expanded to eight teams, but that's probably a lot easier said than done. There are so many logistics and details that go into the making of these things, and you have to remember how long it took just to get a four-team playoff.

Will it take as long to expand the playoff as it did to create it in the first place? Probably not, but you have to think that potentially adding another game to a college student's schedule won't make some schools happy. Going back to the original question, yes, I want to see more teams because there is such great parity in college football every year.

Sean: For now, four is enough. Eventually, the Playoff will expand to either six or eight teams, but as it stands, four is a good starting point. It creates more drama and also a barrier to entry that isn't easy to overcome. Whenever you have a product that's in high demand and in short supply, you create a buzz that makes people want more. Keeping the number of teams at four is a smart move for the NCAA for the next couple seasons.

Is there any chance that a non-Power Five team could sneak into the College Football Playoff when all is said and done?

Geoffrey: Low key, Houston has the best shot. Tom Herman has a national championship pedigree as an offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes--that could play a role if Houston continues to steamroll past everyone. Especially if the Power 5 conferences cannibalize themselves in November, Houston has the best chance--but they would still be a long shot.

Alex: Like Geoff said, Houston, and I’d even say Memphis as well, have the best shot at getting in from a non-Power Five conference, but they won’t. They just don’t play a schedule that makes me think they can compete with the likes of Ohio State, Baylor, or Clemson. I’d rather take a one-loss Alabama or Stanford than an undefeated Houston or Memphis.

Brian: If Temple can run the table, I believe they would deserve a look if a team like Alabama and a few other one-loss teams slip up again. An undefeated Temple team would have beaten Penn State, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Memphis, and potentially Houston. That is highly unlikely to happen, but if it does, they would have the best shot of any Group of Five team. Don’t forget the Toledo Rockets either. (Was written before Temple's loss to Notre Dame on 10/31).

Sean: Both Memphis and Houston should be considered dark horses to reach the College Football Playoff. Justin Fuente has done wonders since taking over the Memphis program and has them ranked in the top 15 in the AP Poll for the first time ever, and Tom Herman is using the magic he had at Ohio State to turn Houston into a surprise contender. However, if I had to choose one of these teams, I would go with Houston, simply because their path to the Playoff is a lot easier than the one Memphis has to go through.

Do you think that this could be the year the College Football Playoff sees two teams from the same conference finish in the top four?

Geoffrey: Absolutely. In the BCS Era, we saw LSU-Alabama play in a rematch in 2012, shutting out Okie State. In 2006, Ohio State and Michigan came close to a rematch in the title game. With the pl ayoff field, there is a good chance we’ll see two teams from the same conference get in. I don’t see both Baylor and TCU getting in because the Big 12 doesn’t has a championship game.

The best shot, this year at least, is for Ohio State and Michigan State to both represent the Big Ten. Picture this: Michigan State sits at No. 4 or No. 5, while the Buckeyes sit at No. 1; a Sparty loss by less than a touchdown allows them to still be in the picture, if that’s their only loss of the season.

Alex: It could happen, but it won’t. If it does happen, Baylor and TCU have the best shot at going together. I’d love to see a TCU-Baylor rematch in the CFP. Unfortunately, they play each other late in the season, and the loser will probably drop too low to comeback in a week. Ohio State and Michigan State won’t make it together because, again, they play each other late, and it will also determine the BIG 10 East division, allowing the winner to play an extra game. 

Brian: I don’t see it happening unless a few current one-loss teams lose again. The losers of the TCU-Baylor and Ohio State-Michigan State games will likely fall behind the likes of Stanford/Notre Dame or Alabama if those teams win out, not to mention a few lower-ranked undefeated teams like Oklahoma State and Iowa. 

Sean: Of course it could happen. Will it happen? I don't think so, but there are a couple possibilities in which it could. If TCU's only loss is to Baylor, or vice versa, and both teams are playing extremely well, there's a chance the committee could take both. Likewise, the same could happen with Ohio State and Michigan State or LSU and Florida. As Geoff notes, we did see two teams from the same conference play in the national title game not too long ago, so I won't rule two teams from the same conference being placed in the Playoff.

Which four teams do you think will be atop the rankings when the initial College Football Playoff ranking is released?

Geoffrey: For me, it will be 1) Ohio State 2) LSU 3) Clemson 4) TCU. The bye week doesn’t hurt the Buckeyes stock as No. 1. LSU and Clemson is a toss up, but they are definitely in the initial batch. With Baylor losing quarterback Seth Russell, they will have a tough time staying in the hunt for a playoff spot. I think TCU overtakes them for that reason when next week rolls around. 

Alex: Right now, based on current performance, which is what the committee said its basing it on right now, I have to go with 1) Ohio State 2) Baylor 3) Clemson 4) LSU. TCU right now is my next one, and it’s very close with LSU. It’s possible that Baylor and Clemson could be flipped, especially with the way they destroyed Miami. Either one of these teams could lose in the coming weeks, and we could be looking at four completely new teams.

Brian: Depending on this week’s performances I think it will be 1) Ohio State 2) Baylor 3) Clemson and 4) TCU. The only team I see being hurt by the bye week is LSU only because TCU played so well again on Thursday. Baylor might also be at risk because of voter’s hesitancy regarding Seth Russell’s injury. 

Sean: Well at least we can all agree that Ohio State will be the No. 1 team when the rankings are released. But, from No. 2-4, we're all different. As things currently stand, the rest of my top four are as follows: 2) Baylor 3) Clemson 4) LSU. Baylor has been lights out, while Clemson has been really impressive lately, and LSU is the only SEC team without a blemish on its record. There's a chance TCU sneaks in ahead of LSU, but I think the committee will put the Tigers ahead of them, based on the tests that the team has survived thus far.

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