Q: Which team outside of the top ones will/could make it into the CFP?
The Big 12 will not be on the outside looking in this December. But after Week 10, in which TCU fell to Oklahoma State and Baylor struggled with Kansas State, this league isn’t so simple any longer. The old premise that the Nov. 27 winner of Bears-Frogs moves on to the final four had giant holes poked in it last Saturday. And with some clearance at the top, the Sooners are poised to bust through with a torrid November.
True, OU has that ugly loss to Texas, and it hasn’t beaten anyone of significance during the current four-game winning streak. But that dynamic changes this Saturday night in Waco. The Sooners have amassed a wicked head of steam over the last month, scoring at least 52 points in all four games. QB Baker Mayfield is on a tear, RB Samaje Perine will cause problems for Baylor and the defense is No. 5 nationally in yards per play allowed. Oklahoma is rolling. And teams that roll in October often carry that momentum into the pivotal month of November.
TCU and Baylor, the Big 12 co-favorites when 2015 began, were exposed a lot and a little, respectively, last week. Surging Oklahoma plays both of them over the next two weekends, with a chance to catapult into playoff contention with back-to-back wins before a potentially epic Bedlam matchup with the Cowboys.
Oklahoma is being overlooked, which is bound to happen when a team loses to a wonky Longhorn team. However, the Sooners have regrouped impressively, playing with the confidence and the execution that could carry them a long way this month. The Big 12 isn’t nearly as top heavy as it once seemed. OU is ready to catch a lot of folks by surprise in a year that expectations have been unusually tame for a Bob Stoops-coached squad.
If we’re defining the top teams as those being talked about ad-nauseum because they’re undefeated or seemingly in the driver’s seat going one-hundred miles an hour with just one-loss, then that eliminates teams like Notre Dame and Iowa that aren’t the first teams out of analysts noggins, but still are right there.
For me, the one team that nobody is talking about that is perched in a prime position is none other than the Florida Gators. Because they weren’t expected to do much this year and were outside of the polls, there really wasn’t a lot of buzz in the first place. Since then, however, they’ve chomped down on the competition, having just clinched a spot in the Atlanta as the SEC East champ – it’s all right there for the taking.
I know, I know, the West is where it’s at with Alabama and LSU tearing up the league, but if the Gators find a way to win in Columbia next week against South Carolina, and then beat Florida State and, say, Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, how do you keep them out? An SEC champ that has just one-loss and has a victory over the Tide who are getting hugs and pats on the rear-end from every commentator and analyst around, is a stone, cold lock to the CFP Committee.
Can the Gators do it? It remains to be seen, but the defense and athleticism is hanging out by the Swamp just waiting for their shot. Yet, nobody, and I mean nobody, is bringing it up because of big, bad Alabama.
Follow me … @russmitchellcfb
Clearly it’s Baylor, who still has a number of big games to play here in November and controls its own destiny with an offense that’s still unstoppable without Seth Russell. However, despite a respectable performance in his first start, can Jarrett Stidham and the team survive when they inevitably make costly mistakes.
Which takes us to Stanford. The Cardinal can’t have Northwestern drop to three losses – a distinct possibility at Camp Randall later this month, with Wisconsin coming off the bye week. Moreover, the Pac-12 is eating its own young this season, which could take a little luster off a championship run.
Oklahoma State would seem the likely bet if it wins out. Much of the college football landscape still believes the Pokes played the tougher schedule in 2011, and deserved the shot in the BCS Championship game versus LSU. So there could be a sense of payback if they’re on the bubble with the right team now and the right offense. However, the lack of a Big-12 Championship game will hurt again this year – and the rest of the Big 12 slate against Baylor and OU is nasty.
Florida has the hangover of the Vandy game, and the Ole Miss win is losing some steam, but if its only loss is on a fake field goal in Death Valley against LSU, and it beats Bama in the SEC Championship game, here you go. A one loss SEC champion isn’t going to be left out.
As for Iowa, it simply doesn’t have the brand to beat out a one loss Florida. Brands matter – just ask the TCU and Baylor teams from last year. Even if Iowa finishes the season by beating an undefeated OSU, the Buckeyes have rolled through a cupcake of a schedule, and hardly looked spectacular in the process. That would weigh negatively on an Iowa championship, as would the Hawkeyes strength of schedule, which is nearly twice that of the Gators.
Even so, no way an unbeaten Iowa isn’t in – it’s just not going to happen.