16. 2017 Clemson (12-1)
The Case For: Based on the eye test, good luck finding a better defensive front. The Tigers destroyed a great Auburn (7) team that went on to play for the SEC Championship, followed it up with a win over Louisville on the road, and was solid in a 31-17 win over Virginia Tech (22) for a strong September – but one that turned out to be a bit overblown.
In all, there were eight wins against teams that went bowling, and that was before stomping all over Miami (10) 38-3 in the ACC Championship. South Carolina isn’t ranked, but that was a solid rivalry win on the road, and taking down NC State (24) looks strong on paper.
The Case Against: Of all the 24 College Football Playoff teams, no one had a worse loss than the 27-24 misfire on a Friday night at Syracuse. The Orange not only didn’t go bowling, they didn’t win another game the rest of the way finishing 4-8. Overall, the ACC was good, not amazing. Florida State was down, and Louisville was just okay.
Final Decision: The Kelly Bryant injury issue against Syracuse is taken into account, but that was still a loss to an eventual 4-8 team. Those September wins – except for Auburn – zzzzzzzzzz. They were fine. However, this team was rocking at the end of the regular season.
Okay, What Happened? College Football Playoff Results: (4) Alabama 24, (1) Clemson 6 (semifinal)
15. 2016 Ohio State (11-1)
The Case For: The resume wins are staggering. The Buckeyes beat a Tulsa team that had a great season, but it was the 45-24 win the week after on the road against eventual Big 12 champion Oklahoma (7) that was the key to the season.
They survived Wisconsin (8) in overtime in Madison, and they destroyed a solid Nebraska team 62-3. They followed that up with another 62-3 win over a Maryland team that went bowling.
Finish it all up with a gut-check win over Michigan (6), and that’s three wins over top eight teams, with the one loss came in miracle fashion on the road.
The Case Against: The Buckeyes didn’t even win their own division, much less their own conference. The overall body of work is fantastic, and the 24-21 loss to Penn State on a blocked kick for a score was forgivable, but no conference title = big problem.
Final Decision: Conference championships really do matter. However, when it comes to the top-line of the resume, it’s hard to beat what the Buckeyes did, especially with the two wins on the road over Wisconsin and Oklahoma.
Okay, What Happened? College Football Playoff Results: (2) Clemson 31, (3) Ohio State 0 (semifinal)
14. 2017 Georgia (12-1)
The Case For: Being able to avenge an earlier loss matters. The defeat on the road at Auburn (7) hurt, but getting the job done later in a 28-7 pounding for the SEC Championship made up for it.
Beating Notre Dame (14) on the road really makes a difference. That was a good Irish team at the time, and taking down rival Georgia Tech on the road should count, even if the Yellow Jackets didn’t get bowl eligible. The Bulldogs also stomped Mississippi State (23) 31-3.
The Case Against: There are losses, and there are 40-17 losses, even on the road. While the Dawgs pass the eye test, there were a whole lot of wins over mediocre teams. Mississippi State wasn’t that great. Tennessee – awful. Florida – awful. Vanderbilt – awful. There were a few great wins, but there’s not enough meat on the schedule bone.
Final Decision: The debate is on. The NFL talent was there in several spots, and the team certainly looked and played the part in a lot of ways. but the way it lost to Auburn was scary. It seemed to expose the Dawgs a bit, even if they were able to avenge the defeat a few weeks later.
13. 2018 Notre Dame (12-0)
The Case For: The Irish played decent team after decent team and kept on improving. The offense rose up and rocked once Ian Book took over the starting quarterback gig and RB Dexter Williams kicked it all in – the offense was terrific, and the D good enough.
And the team was 12-0, destroying Syracuse (20) with the spotlight on, and beating Big Ten West champ Northwestern (22) in Evanston. The money was made, though, with a win over Michigan (7) in the opener.
The Case Against: Yeah, the Irish beat a slew of good teams, and Michigan was great, but … it got USC in a bad year, Virginia Tech when it was down, Florida State when it was way down, and Stanford and Navy when they were underwhelming. 12-0 is 12-0 – if it was so easy, everyone would do it, but .. meh.
Final Decision: The lack of a conference championship game or win keeps the Irish down a little bit, but the 12-0 record gets enough respect to push for just outside of the top 20.
Okay, What Happened? College Football Playoff Results: (2) Clemson 30, (3) Notre Dame 3 (semifinal)