Critics of the playoff are on the verge of being silenced. Unlike last year, seeding may be the only controversy this go-around. That’s if all goes as planned. The real mystery happens if Clemson and/or Alabama suffers a shocking upset in the conference title game. If that happens, expect intense debate over Ohio State, Stanford, and (potentially) North Carolina.
25. Mississippi State (8-4)—It would have been a nice story for Dak Prescott to win his last Egg Bowl, but the Bulldogs are still a solid football team.
24. Utah (9-3)—The Utes enjoyed a strong season, but they were poised for even bigger things at the start of the season. Still, this team still plays for a conference title.
23. USC (8-4)—Is it just me or is the Clay Helton hire by the University of Southern California shockingly underwhelming. The Trojans finished strong, but I don’t see this program returning to the nation’s elite anytime soon.
22. Navy (9-2)—Losses to Notre Dame and Houston are the only blemishes on a stellar season for the Midshipmen.
21. LSU (8-3)—Les Miles is saved! A well-timed victory set up what could be a very awkward year down in Baton Rouge as the winning coach must deal with those who appeared set to push him out.
20. Temple (10-2)—This is a really solid football team with the American title on the line. Matt Rhule also appears set to give the program a further boost by sticking around.
19. Florida (10-2)—Yes, Florida has only two losses. Yes, they looked really good early in the season. But, dang they look bad now. It seems the longer Jim McElwain coaches this team the worse they become.
18. Houston (11-1)—Is any program riding higher than Houston? After an incredible season, it looks like Tom Herman unexpectedly sticks around.
17. Michigan (9-3)—One of the biggest surprises of the season came by how poorly Jim Harbaugh’s team played against the Buckeyes. An atrocious end to a strong season.
16. Oregon (9-3)—The Ducks ended the season one of the nation’s hottest teams. They will miss offensive coordinator Scott Frost next season, though. UCF made arguably the best hire of the offseason.
15. Ole Miss (9-3)—Owners of the nation’s most impressive win (over Alabama) also possess some of the most puzzling losses (Memphis, Florida, and Arkansas). Another strong season for Hugh Freeze leaves more questions than answers.
14. Oklahoma State (10-2)—It was a fun ride for the Cowboys, but the last two losses will be a sting that carries through the offseason.
13. Northwestern (10-2)—Few teams are as easily overlooked as the Wildcats. Remember, this two-loss team beat Stanford to start the season.
12. Baylor (9-2)—The Bears should manage a victory against Texas, but this season was doomed once Russell went down. As long as Art Briles remains at Baylor, the Bears will be among the class of the conference.
11. Florida State (10-2)—Earlier, this looked like the year Florida would begin to resemble the state’s power program. No more. The Seminoles remain firmly in control of that rivalry.
10. TCU (10-2)—Things did not go as the Horned Frogs planned, but they have to take comfort in beating Baylor. That provides some consolation for a team that entered with such high hopes.
9. North Carolina (11-1)—If not for Iowa, the Tar Heels would be the unqualified surprise team of the year. Despite a longer winning streak than anyone outside of the aforementioned Hawkeyes and their upcoming foe Clemson, there remains a question as to whether even an unexpected win would put the team in the playoff.
8. Notre Dame (10-2)—Games against Clemson and Stanford gave the Fighting Irish arguably one of the toughest schedules in college football. Unfortunately, it proved barely too much for a team that performed well all season.
7. Stanford (10-2)—The win over Notre Dame was, at one point, supposed to put the Cardinal in the playoff. Even though it failed to do that, it may have put the Cardinal in a spot to be the first two-loss playoff team if things get crazy this weekend.
6. Ohio State (11-1)—A dominating performance against Michigan left many wondering where such a performance was a week earlier. As it stands, the Buckeyes need substantial help to get into the playoff as UNC and Stanford both have the potential to leap-frog.
5. Oklahoma (11-1)—I’ll admit to being wrong about the Sooners for much of the early part of the season. It still may be a little “wrong” of me to have them at #5 given how far they’ve come since Texas. But other teams have earned higher spots. The good news for them? They are the only team assured of a playoff spot with at least one of the top four destined to lose.
4. Michigan State (11-1)—The Spartans have may have the best wins of any team in the country: Oregon, Michigan, and Ohio State. Can they close the deal by defeating undefeated Iowa for the Big Ten title?
3. Iowa (12-0)—Despite being doubted all season, the Hawkeyes are one win away from the playoff. Do they win? I doubt it, but every game there has been doubters, each time proven wrong.
2. Alabama (11-1)—It was closer at times than most expected, but the game was never truly in doubt against Auburn. The greater question than victory is whether Florida will be able to score at all against the Tide.
1. Clemson (12-0)—The Tigers may be in an awkward spot. Clearly #1, it seems unlikely the committee would provide them with forgiveness should they unexpectedly falter against the Tar Heels. As well as North Carolina is playing, I still do not expect that to happen.