Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Four playoff teams is fine, but eight would be great

Quarterback Kelly Bryant and Clemson are No. 1 in the rankings and figure to be in this season’s four-team college football playoff.
Quarterback Kelly Bryant and Clemson are No. 1 in the rankings and figure to be in this season’s four-team college football playoff. AP

The latest college football playoff rankings come out Tuesday and that’s always an exciting time.

Except that it’s a little tough to get all that excited about the playoffs this year. Am I right? Am I wrong?

It’s sacrilegious, I know, to utter negative thoughts about football in this country. But are there any powerhouse college football teams this season?

Last year gave us memorable and highly-anticipated semifinals between Oregon and Florida State as well as Ohio State vs. Alabama. And then we had a great championship game in which the Buckeyes prevailed, 42-20, over Oregon. You can make the case that the championship game didn’t live up to its hype, but Ohio State wowed everyone with its performance.

I anticipate Clemson, Alabama, Notre Dame and Oklahoma filling the top four spots in Tuesday’s rankings with No. 3-ranked Iowa, who along with Clemson are the nation’s two unbeaten teams, being left in the fifth spot, on the outside looking in. It wouldn’t shock me, though, if Iowa and OU flip-flopped in the CFP poll.

There are huge games coming up this week and in conference championship games the following week that almost assuredly will muddle the picture. But do these potential semifinal games make you yearn for New Year’s Eve?

No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma or Iowa

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 2 Notre Dame

The problem this season is that the best teams don’t have great resumes.

To make that case, here’s a rundown of the top eight teams in the Associated Press poll released Sunday:

No. 1 Clemson has beaten Notre Dame and Florida State, but the ACC Atlantic is pretty terrible. Clemson does have a date with 10-1 North Carolina in the ACC championship game on Dec. 5. But are the Tigers a scary No. 1 team? Do we hold them in awe?

No. 2 Alabama plays, of course, in the SEC. And the SEC is still a beast of a conference, although perhaps with a fewer number of sharp teeth than in past seasons. The Tide dropped a 43-37 game to No. 19 Ole Miss early in the season. And would you believe that only one of Alabama’s other 10 wins are against a team currently ranked in the Top 25? It’s true; No. 23 Mississippi State lost 31-6 to Alabama two weeks ago.

Iowa, ranked No. 3, has just one win over a current Top 25 team, a 40-10 win over No. 17 Northwestern. The Hawkeyes, who are at Nebraska this week, are in the soft Big Ten West, so they’ve escaped playing Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan in the regular season. Iowa will play one of those teams in the conference championship game on Dec. 5, though.

Notre Dame, No. 4, was unimpressive in a narrow win over Boston College at Fenway Park on Saturday. But ND does have wins over No. 16 Navy (41-24) and No. 25 Temple (24-20). The Irish’s hopes of a semifinal playoff spot could go down in flames Saturday at 9-2 Stanford, however.

Fifth-ranked Oklahoma stubbed its toe against Texas earlier this season. And that’s a tough one to get past because the Longhorns have been wholly “meh” this season. But OU has found something in recent weeks — namely a superb quarterback in Taylor Mayfield, who left Saturday’s win over TCU after taking a blow to the head. The Sooners don’t have a Big 12 championship game to potentially help them, but they do have Bedlam — it’s OU at Oklahoma State this Saturday in a game both teams badly need to win.

Michigan State vaulted to the No. 6 ranking after its win over Ohio State on Saturday. The Spartans have beaten No. 18 Oregon, No. 12 Michigan and No. 8 Ohio State. But they lost to Nebraska, 39-38. Still, if Michigan State can get past Penn State on Saturday and then defeat Iowa in the Big Ten championship game, the Spartans’ resume will shine.

No. 7 Baylor is struggling with quarterback-injury issues of its own. But the Bears did hand No. 9 Oklahoma State its first loss Saturday in Stillwater, a week after dropping its first game to Oklahoma. OU’s loss to Texas is, of course, much worse than either the OSU or the Baylor loss, proving once again that it’s not about whom you loss to, it’s about when. The Sooners have had time to rebuild since being torn down by the Longhorns. Baylor has TCU on Friday, but can’t do enough at this point to get into the playoff.

Finally, No. 8-ranked Ohio State is coming off a terrible offensive performance against a Michigan State team that we’ve established is pretty darn good. But the Buckeyes, who play at Michigan on Saturday, nonetheless plummeted six spots in the rankings. It’s always more harmful to lose a game in November, even to a quality opponent. Also, Ohio State has no wins over a team currently ranked in the Top 25. None, zilch.

Let’s dream a little bit and use the AP rankings to fill the playoff spots. Oh, and let’s increase the number of spots from four to eight, shall we? Because eight is better than four.

What, then, would we have if the season ended today?

No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 8 Ohio State

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 7 Baylor

No. 3 Iowa vs. No. 6 Michigan State

No. 4 Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Oklahoma

Semifinals

Winner Clemson-Ohio State vs. winner Notre Dame-Oklahoma

Winner Alabama-Baylor vs. winner Iowa-Michigan State

Wouldn’t that be more fun than a four-team field, especially in a season in which there are no great teams? And isn’t it a better group of matchups than the ones we’re likely to get with just four in the mix?

Thanks for reading.

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