Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: Your College Football Playoff field if the season ended today.
Gene, the events of this past weekend felt like the first, true “break free from the pack” moment(s) of this 2022 college football season. Four losses by top-10 teams have suddenly created a little bit of separation between The Best and The Rest. And really, breaking free might be too aggressive of a term, but at least now I think we have a slightly better idea of who the true contenders are. As for the possible pretenders...
USC showed that they are probably a year – and a legit defensive coordinator – away, as their loss pushed them outside the current top-10. Same goes for Oklahoma State, who likely does not have the star power to contend with bluebloods this year. Penn State pulled a Penn State in a big game, and Alabama... Well, unless they suffer two losses, Nick Saban’s team will always receive the benefit of the doubt. So Bama is still very much in the conversation.
Said conversation will go on for the entirety of the season. There will continue to be highly-ranked matchups, upsets, injuries, and the whole nine (football pun) — meaning the College Football Playoff race is far from over. But this felt like a good tentpole moment for debate. So my co-host and I decided to rank our top four CFP contenders, in order, with a brief explanation as to why. I am sure we are the first to ever do this, and I cannot wait to see how deadly accurate I am in the end.
Oh yeah, I am going there! Call it an overreaction. Call me a prisoner of the moment. But I feel that Tennessee is deserving of the top spot right now. The Volunteers already have four wins over top-25 opponents, including roadies at Pitt and at LSU. They have a Heisman candidate in Hendon Hooker, an offensive mastermind of a head coach in Josh Heupel, and they just took down the vaunted Crimson Tide in an instant classic. I’m not overreacting, you’re underreacting!
The only reason Tennessee is not a consensus No. 1 or No. 2 is because they began the season unranked... That’s it. If they had been ranked inside the top-10 or top-15, I think Heupel’s team would be sitting atop the mountain – Ol’ Rocky Top – at this point. Will they stay at or near the top? No idea, because the SEC is tough. But the Vols currently have the most impressive résumé.
2) Ohio State
Homer pick, but the right pick. The Buckeyes opened their season with a victory over the fifth-ranked team in the country. That is fact. They have destroyed every team on their schedule without the services of Jaxon Smith-Njigba – the preseason favorite for CFB’s Biletnikoff Award – as well as a host of other players, at any given time. Also fact. And OSU’s defense seems to be legit after a few down years. You guessed it: fact.
Ryan Day’s team will face a few tests in the coming weeks, and that will tell us more about them. Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Michigan State were not all they were cracked up to be, so the Buckeyes need to clear a few taller hurdles before some voters crown them as any sort of favorite. And that’s fine. It they take care of business, a battle awaits on Nov. 26. It should all come down to that.
The Bulldogs are the defending champs, so I understand why they are considered one of the favorites. But outside of a Week 1 thrashing of Oregon – who was breaking in a new head coach and a transfer QB – their schedule was been garbage. And they haven’t exactly rolled over all of those opponents. A 17-point victory against Kent State and a four-point squeaker over Missouri do not scream “prohibitive favorite” to me. The defense is not as good as it was in 2021, nor is the running game — the two things that won UGA last year’s title. No offense to Stetson Bennett or Brock Bowers, but wake me up when they play a team with a pulse in the SEC.
Fine, whatever. TTUN might be good. I can tell you more after Ohio State plays Penn State, but Captain Khaki does not get the benefit of the doubt after games against Colorado State, Hawai’i, and UConn.
That’s my four, Gene. I have a feeling we might differ on order, but at the midway point, I would be surprised if we did not have the same group.
Well, Josh. Call me a hater, but you will soon see where my four teams differ from yours. I will also be going in a different order, but the top three teams from your playoff field are still included in my current College Football Playoff.
1) Ohio State
It may be a homer pick, but we’ve spent most of the season talking about how Ohio State has been the most consistently good team in the country. Outside of the first half against Notre Dame, when the Buckeyes unexpected lost the best wide receiver in the country to injury and were forced to adapt, Ryan Day’s crew has taken care of business. Sure, the teams on the schedule haven’t exactly been world-beaters, but Ohio State has won all of those games by multiple scores. You can’t control who you play, you can only win the games that are in front of you, and the Buckeyes have done that week in and week out despite missing seemingly half the roster each time out.
While Ohio State has been the most consistent team in the country, Tennessee without a doubt now holds the best win of any team in the country with their 52-49 upset of Alabama this past weekend. The Volunteers have definitely been consistent in their own right, with “ranked” wins over Pitt, Florida and LSU, but none of those teams are still ranked in the current AP Top 25. I don’t subscribe to the notion of “ranked win at the time” as I find it silly to give credit for wins against teams that we found out later simply aren’t very good. Same goes for Ohio State’s win over Notre Dame. Still, Tennessee deserves the No. 2 spot in my mind right now. They’ve taken care of business in a major way, and that win against the Tide is massive for their resume.
Like Josh alluded to, Georgia’s inclusion in this exercise has a lot to do with being the defending national champs. It looked earlier this year as if the Bulldogs were once again going to be untouchable, but the shine has long worn off that big win over Oregon. They struggled with the likes of Kent State and Missouri thus far, and they simply dont look as dominant as they did a year ago. That defense was other-worldly in 2021, but most of those players are now gone. Don’t get me wrong — this Georgia team is still very good. I just dont think they’re playing better football right now than either Ohio State or Tennessee. They’ll matchup up with the Volunteers in just a few weeks, and the winner of that game will almost certainly be a lock for the CFP regardless of what else happens.
It doesn’t bring me any pleasure to do this, but Clemson is my No. 4 team right now. Sure, Michigan has been impressive, but against who? Their non-conference schedule was among the worst in all of college football, and they struggled for at least a half against the trio of Maryland, Iowa and Indiana. They put together their most significant win of the season by far this past weekend against Penn State, but James Franklin literally ALWAYS does this in his team’s biggest games. On the flip side, the Tigers have not always looked good doing it, but they’ve knocked off the likes of both Wake Forest and NC State, and now appear to be hitting their stride at the right time.
Does the presence of those maize and blue winged helmets in this discussion influence my decision a little bit? Sure! I mean, I dont really like J.J. McCarthy or D.J. Uiagalelei as QBs, but what Clemson is doing right now feels a bit more sustainable than Michigan’s all-Blake Corum offense. Either way, it’s MY College Football Playoff right now, so let me have my fun. At the end of the day, I think whatever team winds up earning that No. 4 spot is going to be another yearly sacrifice to the top seed. There is a lot of football still to be played, and somehow we all know Alabama will work their way back into the top four by year’s end, but at this current moment, this is my field. Take it or leave it.