USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down the latest Amway Coaches Poll.
It’s taken Ohio State just two weeks to turn the race for the Big Ten championship into a mere formality.
The Buckeyes have put together easy wins against Nebraska (52-17) and Penn State (38-25) as quarterback Justin Fields has surged into prime Heisman Trophy contention.
Even the 13-point edge over the Nittany Lions, if impressive on its own, doesn’t do justice to the Buckeyes’ dominance of a projected Big Ten championship contender.
Combined with what’s happened elsewhere in the conference — namely Michigan’s stunning loss to rival Michigan State — this high level of play has Ohio State on a clear track for the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson (5) runs past Nebraska safety Deontai Williams during the second half at Ohio Stadium. (Photo: Joseph Maiorana, USA TODAY Sports)
Typically released in early November, the debut playoff rankings were scheduled for Nov. 17 but then moved back to Nov. 24 to accommodate this unique regular season. With the Pac-12 not beginning play until this weekend, the one-week delay was suggested by commissioner Larry Scott as a way to give the conference an additional data point with the selection committee.
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The Pac-12 may factor into the postseason debate. Oregon in particular has the talent and depth to go unbeaten in conference play, though it’s impossible to predict how the committee will perceive and compare teams with varying numbers of games played — in fact, that may end up being the defining issue of the championship race.
While awaiting the entry of the Pac-12, the playoff race has started to take focus. Unsurprisingly, three national powers have already staked a spot in the field.
Here’s how the top four would look today, followed by the four teams just on the outside:
1. Alabama: Want one example of Alabama’s SEC supremacy? Senior DeVonta Smith has more receiving yards (203) than Mississippi State had total yards (200) in the Crimson Tide’s 41-0 shutout.
2. Clemson: D.J. Uiagalelei isn’t the only five-star freshman making a difference for the Tigers. Defensive linemen Myles Murphy and Bryan Breese have combined for 46 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 6½sacks and 10 quarterback pressures.
3. Ohio State: Fields has six touchdowns and seven incompletions. Two of those incomplete throws were drops in the end zone by Ohio State receivers.
4. Notre Dame: With surprisingly little attention, the Fighting Irish own the nation’s longest active winning streak at 12 games.
5. Georgia: Coach Kirby Smart will again be forced to answer questions about his choice at quarterback after Stetson Bennett threw two interceptions in a sloppy 14-3 win against Kentucky. At the least the Georgia defense is playing at a championship level.
6. Cincinnati: And speaking of good defenses, the Bearcats rank fourth nationally in yards allowed per play (4.22) even after facing two teams (SMU and Memphis) ranked in the top 11 nationally in total offense.
7. Texas A&M: Sophomore running back Isaiah Spiller ranks third in the SEC in yards per game (102.4) and leads the conference in yards per carry (6.02).
8. Florida: After making 16 interceptions a season ago, Florida has allowed eight touchdowns against one pick in 156 attempts. The Gators are also allowing opponents to complete 66% of their attempts, which ranks 82nd in the Bowl Subdivision.
The projected playoff rankings are almost identical to the Amway Coaches Poll, with one key distinction: Alabama and Clemson swap places at the top.
The reasoning for this change has little to do with the Tigers’ close call with Boston College, which would not be viewed negatively by the committee due to Clemson’s missing personnel for Saturday’s 34-28 win. Instead, the committee would likely look favorably on Alabama’s strength of schedule, which includes wins against two of the SEC teams listed above (Georgia and A&M).
Two games this coming Saturday will have a tremendous impact on the playoff race. Clemson goes to Notre Dame in what may be the first of two meetings this season between the two programs, should the loser reach the ACC championship game. The loser will remain a contender for the top four.
It’s a different scenario in the SEC East, as Georgia and Florida meet in Jacksonville with win-or-go-home stakes. A win for the Bulldogs would set up the expected rematch with Alabama for the conference title. Beating Georgia would make Florida tough to unseat from atop the division.
And with two losses and an unlikely path to the conference championship, the loser would be eliminated from playoff consideration.