The College Football Playoff Committee released their third set of rankings of the season on Tuesday night, and the ACC, as expected, was once again well-represented, especially in the top five.
It was a hectic Week 11 across college football, which saw three of the nation’s top four teams in the playoff picture entering the weekend, lose. As a result, the speculation leading up to the new release of the rankings on Tuesday was more rampant than usual.
Alabama was a sure-fire number one team as they have been all year long, only further solidifying their grasp on the nation’s top spot with their 51-3 throttling of Mississippi State over the weekend.
The real discussion and debate came thereafter. Was Ohio State the second-best team in the country? Where would Clemson and Louisville factor in, and would their head-to-head match-up matter in their slotting? Where would the nation’s top two-loss team, Wisconsin, end up? And finally, how far would Washington fall after their less-than-stellar effort against then-ranked #23 Southern Cal?
When the Committee revealed their top four, Alabama was first, Ohio State second, Michigan third, Clemson fourth, Louisville fifth, Washington sixth, and Wisconsin came in at number seven.
A couple of things to observe as far as the ACC is concerned with respect to Clemson and Louisville’s position in the rankings:
1) The Committee does not believe that Louisville has a particularly robust strength of schedule.
This, of course, is not a huge surprise. Louisville’s only marquee win is at home against Florida State back in September. Additionally, the Committee has seen Louisville struggle with teams like Duke and Virginia, which combined only have six wins on the season.
Louisville will have an opportunity to perhaps enhance their resume with a road win over Houston on Thursday, but at 8-2, Houston is not nearly the team many expected them to be heading into this season.
Couple the weak schedule with no ACC Championship shot for the Cardinals unless Clemson loses inexplicably once again, and the result is Louisville needing serious help to have a shot to get into the College Football Playoff.
2) The Committee values Clemson’s head-to-head victory over Louisville more than valuing the eye-test
Louisville’s only loss is to Clemson. In Death Valley. At night.
Other than one really, really close call against Virginia, Louisville has been very impressive overall this season in the majority of the games they have played. Additionally, the Cardinals have far-and-away the best player in college football this season at quarterback in Lamar Jackson, who is on pace to shatter records and take home a Heisman Trophy in just a few short weeks. Clemson arguably has the better team top-to-bottom, with better athletes and stronger recruits across the board.
However, one would be hard placed to find a team that has looked better all season long than the Louisville Cardinals, no matter what their strength of schedule actually looks like. The Cardinals went into Death Valley and was driving on the Tigers before coming up a couple of yards short of converting a crucial fourth down in the red zone late in the game, which ultimately decided the outcome.
Yes, Clemson won the game, and at the end of the day, that may be all that matters. However, there is a strong case to be made that Louisville was every bit as impressive in their narrow loss, as Clemson was in their narrow win. Additionally, how different would that game potentially look if the Cardinals got that contest at home? A loss is a loss, but that game is up there as perhaps the “best loss” in college football.
This however, becomes moot. Clemson won the head-to-head, and clearly that’s how the committee is going to judge these teams. Eye test does not matter nearly as much as results, and that is what makes all of the rankings debate so intriguing.
Don’t get me wrong, when at their best, Clemson is as good or better than any team in college football. Essentially the same Tigers team had Alabama on the ropes in the National Championship game last season.
That was no fluke.
If the Tigers win out, they’re in as a one-loss ACC Champion, and at that point in time, it will be tough for anyone to debate that their status in the top four.
There’s my two cents on the matter, and without further ado, here’s the full rankings (Note: Virginia Tech (14) and North Carolina (17), fell from the rankings following both of their losses to unranked opponents):
College Football Playoff Poll
1) Alabama (10-0)
2) Ohio State (9-1)
3) Michigan (9-1)
4) Clemson (9-1)
5) Louisville (9-1)
6) Washington (9-1)
7) Wisconsin (8-2)
8) Penn State (8-2)
9) Oklahoma (8-2)
10) Colorado (8-2)
11) Oklahoma State (8-2)
12) Utah (8-2)
13) USC (7-3)
14) West Virginia (8-1)
15) Auburn (7-3)
16) LSU (6-3)
17) Florida State (7-2)
18) Nebraska (8-2)
19) Tennessee (7-3)
20) Boise State (9-1)
21) Western Michigan (10-0)
22) Washington State (8-2)
23) Florida (7-2)
24) Stanford (7-3)
25) Texas A&M (7-3)