Written by George Schroeder at USAToday.com
We begin with the requisite public service announcement. We’re inching closer to the final set of College Football Playoff rankings — or the only poll that matters. By the selection committee’s own admission, they’re all meaningless until then. Unless, of course, the goal is to rile up everybody (or as they would put it, helping to drive the conversation about college football).
But even these preliminary rankings provide a window into the collective thinking of the committee.
We get a chance each week to see some of the factors that will matter on Dec. 4, when they produce that final Top 25, looking at complete bodies of work, applying the various tie-breakers if and when warranted, and setting the four-team field for the Playoff.
Each week’s ranking inevitably raises some questions. We’ll answer a few of them.
What should the rankings have been?
2. A Win is a Win
3. OK With That
4. This is fine
5. In Good Shape
6. Just Win
7. Angry About No. 2
8. Nightmares About No. 2
9. We’re No. 9? We’re No. 9!
10. A Loss is a Win, Too
Why is Ohio State ranked so far ahead of Penn State, and would it stay that way if Penn State won the Big Ten?
It’s clear the selection committee thinks Ohio State is a no-doubt No. 2. Although Penn State beat the Buckeyes, the teams’ résumés remain dissimilar (starting with records: Ohio State is 10-1, Penn State is 9-2).
“Does the selection committee see a small margin of separation this week between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 7 Penn State? We do not,” committee chairman Kirby Hocuttsaid.
Fair enough. But what happens if Penn State wins the Big Ten East (which happens if the Nittany Lions beat Michigan State and Ohio State beats Michigan this weekend) and then the Big Ten championship?
The committee would presumably be no less impressed with Ohio State, which would have beaten the team ranked No. 3 this week. But Penn State would be 11-2, with two supposedly important factors: a head-to-head win against Ohio State and a conference championship. Maybe the committee would decide both Big Ten teams deserved to be in the Playoff. But if there was room only for one? Hmmm.
All of which means some committee members might be very, very tempted to pull very hard for Michigan this week. A win against Ohio State would scuttle a potential controversy.
What about USC?
The trendy thing, at least on Tuesday, was to pose this question: Which team would you least like to play? The answer from many: Southern California. The Trojans have rebounded from a very rough start to win seven in a row. They’re clearly very talented, and after a change at quarterback, they’ve seemingly grown more formidable each week.
Put them in the Pac-12 championship (they’d need Utah to beat Colorado), watch them win the league and — well, what if?
Sorry, you can’t wash away those three losses (including a 52-6 loss to Alabama in the opener). These teams only play 12 or 13 games. The eye test is very important. But so is the actual body of work, the games you played and won or lost.
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