If you just look at the top three teams in college football, you might think that things are business as usual in 2017. Georgia and Alabama are undefeated, and Notre Dame has just a loss in their second game to that same Georgia team. While Georgia and Alabama have hovered near the top of the rankings since the beginning, Notre Dame took a little while to get to their position near the top. The way things look for the rest of the season, there is a chance that these same three teams will be in the same position when the playoff teams are announced.
If 2017 has shown me anything in college football, it is to expect the completely unexpected.
So far, in 2017, we have seen losses by top ten teams such as Texas Christian, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Washington, Washington State, Clemson, Ohio State (twice), Penn State (twice), Florida State, Southern California (twice), Virginia Tech, and Michigan. Moreover, there is still a month left of football to play.
Just when you think you have a team figured out, such as Penn State after beating Michigan or Ohio State after beating Penn State, they go out the next week and lay an egg on national television. It has been a frenzy of football results, the likes of which I have not seen in ten years. While the unpredictable results have been fun to watch, it has made following the rankings very tedious.
The 2017 season does bear many similarities to the 2007 season in question. During that year, an astounding 59 games ended with a lower ranked or unranked team defeating a higher ranked team. That includes 13 occurrences of a Top 5 team losing, and 10 times where a team ranked either first or second fell to a lesser ranked team.
So far in 2017, we have not yet seen that same incredible level of parity, as only 23 upsets have taken place with a month of football left to go. However, we have already seen six teams ranked in the Top 5 lose so far, with plenty of competitive matchups yet to be played. Here are just a few examples of what I am talking about within some of the key conferences in college football.
We thought we knew it all about the Big 10 going into the season. Ohio State and Penn State were going to dominate, Michigan State was going to improve but struggle, and Michigan was going to be stronger than expected. We were right, until we were wrong.
Within the span of a month, Michigan lost to Michigan State at home, Michigan’s top tier defense was embarrassed at Penn State, Penn State’s impenetrable defense allowed a sluggish Ohio State offense to make a ferocious comeback to win, and Ohio State looked foolish at Iowa.
Take a moment and catch your breath after all of that.
Through everything, only one team in the Big 10 has survived unscathed, and Wisconsin is not receiving any respect in spite of their success. Granted, Wisconsin still has yet to play Iowa and Michigan, and will have to face a potential Top 10 team in the Big 10 Championship game, but their best wins so far are against Northwestern at home and a struggling Brigham Young at home. Victories such as those are typically the big wins for the season of a middle of the road team, not a national championship contender.
Now, if Wisconsin continues to win, and picks up those victories against Iowa, Michigan, and the Big 10 East Division winner, then their schedule should end up being strong enough to grant them entrance into the College Football Playoff. I do not see any scenario where an undefeated Wisconsin is denied a Playoff spot, no matter what happens outside the Big 10. Their schedule would be as imposing, if not more so, than top ranked Alabama’s schedule, and an undefeated run against that schedule would almost assuredly signify a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Just do not get your hopes up, Big 10 fans, seeing as the Big 10 Champion failed to make the Playoff last year.
Similar to the Big 10 and their crazy season thus far, the Big 12 went from zero to 60 at the drop of a hat. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were the clear favorites to win the conference, although nobody would have been caught off guard if Texas Christian (TCU) were in contention. Oklahoma’s status as a true contender was solidified with their impressive victory over Ohio State early in the season, and Oklahoma State’s offense was putting up unthinkable scores right out of the gate.
Enter Iowa State. The Cyclones have not won a conference championship since they won the Big 8 Title in 1911 and 1912. They had not won before, and they have not won since. Iowa State has already defeated top contenders TCU and Oklahoma, with Oklahoma State still on their schedule. The problem for the Cyclones is that they have already lost to two mediocre Big 12 teams in Texas and West Virginia, currently leaving them outside of the Big 12 championship game with a few weeks left to go.
Perhaps Iowa State will be aided by the fact that the Big 12 is a giant round robin tournament when it comes to football. All ten schools will play each other once, with the two best teams after the regular season meeting in a rematch to determine the Big 12 champion. Iowa State has their victories. In addition, Oklahoma has beaten Oklahoma State, TCU has to play Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and even West Virginia is not out of the race having already beaten Iowa State.
There is a possibility that both teams in the Big 12 Championship Game has two losses going into the game. If that is the case, then the Big 12 Champ will once again miss the College Football Playoff. Unfortunately, for the conference, I see that scenario as the most likely to occur.
Going into the 2017 season, I was under the impression that the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) would be a formidable conference with two true National Championship contenders. To be fair, I was partially right. I was correct in that Clemson would be in position to defend their Title and that their stiffest competition for an ACC Crown would be a team from Florida. I thought it would be Florida State, and wow, was I wrong.
Florida State lost their quarterback for the season during their opening game against Alabama, and the Seminoles have yet to recover. Florida State is in a position where they will not win the ACC in 2017, and unless a miracle happens, they will not even make a bowl game. Having started the season so highly ranked, it is astonishing that the loss of one player has had such a profound impact on the team. Not to mention, the argument that losing your star quarterback will make any season difficult was proven unreasonable once Ohio State won the National Championship with their third string quarterback in 2014.
Even Clemson has not been immune from the chaos. With their quarterback sidelined due to injury, the defending champion Tigers lost to a significant underdog in Syracuse. Syracuse is no slouch, but they do not have nearly as much talent as Clemson all around the field. While the loss has not harmed Clemson’s chances of making the Playoff, especially considering their dominance over the rest of their scheduled opponents so far, it has taken away any margin for error should Clemson lose another game.
As far as the team for the state of Florida, I am of course talking about the Miami Hurricanes. Having been resurrected from college football obscurity, the Hurricanes are currently undefeated, with a marquee matchup on Saturday with third ranked Notre Dame. Miami, until now, has only played one ranked team (Virginia Tech), and struggled to beat several inferior ACC teams (Georgia Tech, Syracuse, North Carolina). Even with their unblemished record, Miami is currently out of the College Football Playoff due to their weak schedule until now. To be fair, though, if they win the ACC, odds are they will have beaten Clemson to do so, which would qualify them for the Playoff in my book.
The ACC has slowly morphed into a formidable football conference, routinely featuring teams ranked in the Top 10. While Clemson seems to be the most consistent of the bunch, it appears to be a roulette wheel as far as who will be the next best in the conference from week to week.
It is scary to think that there is still a month left in the college football season. We have yet to see several of the traditional rivalry games, many of which will feature two ranked teams. There are also conference championship games left to be played, and most of those will have a direct impact on who is featured in the College Football Playoff.
On top of it all, what happens if Notre Dame runs the table? The Fighting Irish still have to play Miami and Stanford, both of whom are highly ranked. However, Notre Dame does not play in a conference, therefore will not play for a conference championship. How will that affect them? Granted, we have seen, just last year in Ohio State’s case, a team not win their conference championship and still make the Playoff. I think their body of work will be enough to propel them into the college Football Playoff when it’s all said and done, but it will not be an easy road for the Irish.
The ACC, the Big 10, the Big 12, as well as the Pac 12 all have their fingers crossed that their champion will make the Playoff. The Pac 12 has by far the slimmest odds of getting their champion into the tournament, with an underwhelming Washington representing their best option now. Clemson and Miami appear poised to meet for the ACC Title, with a Playoff trip possibly in the balance for the winner. In the Big 10, now it looks like Wisconsin or bust for a Playoff opportunity. Finally, the Big 12, plain and simple, has to stop beating each other up, or else everyone will have too many losses on their record to make the College Football Playoff. Only the SEC has assured themselves a Playoff team, with both Georgia and Alabama leading the nation with undefeated records and dominant victories all season long.
Therefore, the road to the College Football Playoff continues through the month of November. As rocky as the road has been, I do not see the road getting any smoother as we move forward. If anything, the journey to the Championship game will become even more obscure as the season concludes.