What will the College Football Playoff rankings be in the third unveiling on Tuesday night?
As always, a few things to keep in mind …
1. This is simply a snapshot. We can see how the committee is thinking early on, and we can get a first look at what it seems to like, but it gets thrown out next week and the process starts over.
2. In general, the committee over the first five years of this thing loves big wins and hates ugly losses. You can lose, but don’t get wiped out. At the end of the day, the committee can like any team it wants to, just because. However … big wins, big wins, big wins.
3. Each spot in the order is argued over. It’s not just a random list thrown together in a room. Everyone has to agree that team X needs to get put ahead of teams Y and Z. You might not agree with the rankings, but each spot in the top 25 has been meticulously debated.
And after all of that, it’s about feel, eye-test, and resumé.
So what will they be? Here’s the best guess for what the third College Football Playoff rankings will be on Tuesday night.
25. Virginia Tech Hokies 7-3 (NR)
Here’s your answer for the ACC’s problem of who’ll end up in the Orange Bowl. Assuming Clemson is in the College Football Playoff, the next highest-ranked ACC team will be in the big game, and Virginia Tech is two wins away – Pitt, at Virginia – from getting there.
24. Texas A&M Aggies 7-3 (NR)
It’s finally time finally recognize Texas A&M for its horrible, horrible schedule break. Yeah, it’s 7-3, but those three losses were to CFP No. 3 Clemson, No. 5 Alabama, and No. 12 Auburn. The blowout win over South Carolina will have to be enough to move into the rankings.
23. SMU Mustangs 9-1 (NR)
The Mustangs were 25th in the first round of rankings, dropped out after struggling to get by East Carolina 59-51, and will slide back in after a week off. The win over TCU is still a key part of the puzzle, but the record and the offense will be enough to be ranked.
22. Appalachian State Mountaineers 9-1 (25)
Now the Mountaineers will move up after getting into the top 25 last week. The wins over North Carolina and South Carolina are still great for a Group of Five program, and blowing away Georgia State 56-27 was terrific. Don’t be stunned if ASU is deep in the chase for the Cotton Bowl at the end of the process.
21. Oklahoma State Cowboys 7-3 (22)
The committee liked Oklahoma State enough to put it in the top 25 from the start. Now on a three-game winning streak, and after a blowout win over Kansas – everything sets up for a big finish. Get by West Virginia on the road, and the Oklahoma game will be for a chance to screw up the Sooners’ CFP hopes.
20. Boise State Broncos 9-1 (21)
Shhhhhhhhh. This really might be your Group of Five representative in the New Year’s Six Cotton Bowl slot. Watch out for Cincinnati and Memphis screw each other up – they’ll likely have to play twice – and Boise State will keep on moving up. But for now, being in the top 20 is fine.
19. Iowa Hawkeyes 7-3 (20)
Is it possible to leapfrog the one-loss Group of Fivers? Iowa should – the three losses are to CFP No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 15 Michigan on the road, and to No. 9 Penn State in a close battle. And now they beat the unbeaten No. 8 Minnesota team, but they’ll still likely be behind …
18. Memphis Tigers 9-1 (18)
The Tigers won four straight with a convincing win over Houston on the road. They have to keep winning, though. Lose, and the door is open for SMU to jump into the AAC West lead. Everything for MU is steamrolling towards a showdown against …
17. Cincinnati Bearcats 9-1 (17)
Some will argue that the Bearcats should be higher than this, but they struggled WAY too much with a mediocre USF team in a 20-17 win. All that really matters is that they’ll still be the top-ranked Group of Five team, giving it the inside track for the Cotton Bowl.
16. Auburn Tigers 7-3 (12)
Yeah, the Tigers now have three losses, but remembering that the committee argues the merits of each team and each position, they can’t – and likely won’t – drop too far after a close loss to last week’s CFP No. 4 team, Georgia. Remember, the other two losses came to CFP No. 11 Florida and, or course, No. 1 LSU.
15. Baylor Bears 9-1 (13)
Remember, these rankings aren’t like other polls. It’s not as simple as win and move up, lose and move down – there’s an outside shot the Bears don’t move down at all. The committee will like the first half against Oklahoma just enough to not punish the Bears too much – they won’t be any lower than 14, if they don’t move up.
14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish 8-2 (16)
The Fighting Irish can’t and won’t move ahead of Michigan, but after obliterating the CFP No. 23 Navy team 52-20, they’ll slide into the top 14 and hang around enough to be in range for a New Year’s Six bowl consideration.
13. Michigan Wolverines 8-2 (15)
Unlike the other rankings, the College Football Playoff committee is old enough to remember when the Wolverines were blasted by Wisconsin. A New Year’s Six game is still possible by winning out, finishing up with a win over Ohio State. At the very least, now they’ve positioned themselves up for a solid Big Ten bowl slot.
12. Wisconsin Badgers 8-2 (14)
This is actually too high for a team that’s shakier than it might seem, but the convincing win over Nebraska on the road – combined with the now-stronger looking win over Iowa two weeks ago – will move the Badgers up a few spots.
11. Florida Gators 9-2 (11)
The Gators should actually be ranked higher than this considering their two losses came to CFP No. 1 LSU and No. 4 Georgia. The win over Auburn will matter more and more – technically, Florida should be ahead of Oregon in this. A spot in a New Year’s Six game will be a near-lock if it beats Florida State convincingly.