The College Football Playoff committee has its work cut out for it, as the top teams from Michigan and Notre Dame are among those at risk of missing a bowl game. The good news is there’s plenty of time to make adjustments. Here are four fringe contenders that should be considered
The “college football playoff rankings” is a ranking of the top teams in college football. The rankings are based on polls and computer ratings. They are used to determine which four teams make it into the College Football Playoff.
It’s possible that Oklahoma State came up just “a few inches short” of making the College Football Playoff last season, but it’s also a stretch to believe that if Dezmon Jackson had grown a few inches on a desperate fourth-down dive against Baylor in the Big 12 title game, the selection committee would have picked the Cowboys over Cincinnati.
The only guarantee is that there would have been a heated argument. What we do know is that the late defeat knocked No. 5 Oklahoma State out of the race — an equally crucial lesson that will reverberate in the era of a four-team field.
“In most circumstances, if you lose from November 1 on, it has to be in a championship game against a team in the top four,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “Otherwise, the numbers tell you that you’re definitely out.”
Even though it’s not a stated rule, Gundy’s notion has some weight, particularly if it’s the Cowboys’ second defeat of the season. It emphasizes how tough it is for teams to go unbeaten or with only one loss, particularly if they make it to the conference championship game, which many coaches have labeled a quarterfinal under this format. Last season, the Cowboys came agonizingly close to finishing in the top four, but they’re in excellent company with numerous other teams who flirted with a top-four finish — or at the very least, won their conference — and have the chance to improve on that this season.
Gundy said of the Cowboys, “It motivates all of us.” “However, we must recognize that getting to that position is a step-by-step effort. And ideally, with the squad playing hard, not having letdowns, and staying healthy, we will be able to achieve the criterion.”
Here’s a look at a few hopes who fell short, as well as two teams that were in the playoffs but may struggle to remain there. They’re listed from best to worst in terms of chances to reach the playoffs:
Is it possible for them to take the next step?
Notre Dame (11-2) is ranked No. 5 in the final CFP rankings for 2021.
Defense, defense, defense is the case. With former Miami coach Al Golden as his defensive coordinator, first-year coach Marcus Freeman made a home run hiring, and the team will boast one of the strongest defensive fronts in the nation. Eight of the ten offensive linemen who saw at least 100 plays last season are back. Isaiah Foskey and Jayson Ademilola combined for 19 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. As the Irish look for a new starting quarterback, this might assist with some offensive growing pains.
The argument against: It’s just the first year with a new head coach. The pressure to win at Notre Dame is imminent, but Freeman, like his new starting quarterback, will have to learn on the job. Since starting as a graduate assistant with the Buckeyes in 2010, the former Ohio State linebacker has risen quickly through the coaching ranks. Now he’s supposed to win a national championship? Freeman recruited seven new assistant coaches, and although they can draw on Notre Dame’s winning tradition, they also want to create their own culture. Finding an identity on offense is a big part of it, and it’s been absent for a long time. Last season, Notre Dame evolved as the season proceeded, and the Irish improved, but offensive coordinator Tommy Rees can utilize this season to stamp his mark on some stability. While Freeman is dominating the press conference, no one knows how he’ll perform as an in-game coach after Oklahoma State’s bowl defeat.
The game against Ohio State on Sept. 3 will be a season-defining matchup. That’s correct, there’s just one game. Are you Irish playoff-worthy or not? This is the game that will disclose a lot about it. Notre Dame may still reach the playoffs if they lose, but it’s an all-too-familiar high-pressure position with no guarantees. The Irish would very certainly have to set the pace and look excellent while doing so. Last year, it wasn’t enough to overcome Cincinnati’s defeat. Ohio State is also expected to compete for a top-four place this season. Cincy’s triumph against the Irish in a head-to-head matchup aided them all the way until Selection Day. Unlike other teams who play back-to-back games against some of their hardest opponents, Notre Dame’s schedule is a touch more forgiving in that its two toughest games are the season opener against Ohio State and the season finale versus rival USC.
Utah (10-4) is ranked No. 11 in the final CFP rankings for 2021.
The argument for: This is about teams who ended well last fall and are capable of earning more serious postseason consideration, and although the shiny new item in L.A. has everyone’s attention, the Pac-12’s playoff chances should begin with Utah, not USC or Oregon, both of which have new head coaches. Utah is more experienced moving into the fall, and the reigning Pac-12 champion should be favorites to repeat as league champion. Despite the defeat to Ohio State, the Utes are coming off a great Rose Bowl, and expectations should rise. 70 of the 85 scholarship players from the Rose Bowl game, according to coach Kyle Whittingham, will be freshmen. Whittingham has already placed his team in position for a postseason berth, and the framework is in place to do it once again. They also have a good understanding of what it takes to beat Oregon and win the conference. There’s just one thing that has to be done.
“As a league, we’ve had an evident absence in the playoffs for numerous years,” Whittingham said. “I don’t think we feel any obligation or responsibility as a program to be the squad that succeeds. We’re just trying to be the finest squad possible. You won’t be able to make the playoffs unless you can handle things inside your own conference. Every year, our aim is to win the Pac-12. That would be fantastic if we could move things farther. I don’t believe we’re placing any more pressure or expectations on our players.”
#pac12afterdark is a good place to start if you want to make a case against it. This league is known for thrashing each other. When Utah and USC meet on Oct. 15, the same issue will arise. The Pac-12’s parity does not imply that it is not a strong football conference. It signifies that no one has yet shown to be a great squad capable of dominating the competition. Utah has had previous failures on the big stage. The one-loss Utes faced Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game in 2019 with their playoff aspirations on the line. Utah defeated 37-15 to Oregon in front of the full selection committee. The Utes defeated the No. 10 Ducks this time, but they were already out of the race. They must build consistency in order to bring it all together. It needs to begin in Week 1, since a defeat against Florida would put the Utes in a must-win scenario for the remainder of the season.
The season’s defining stretch is from Oct. 8 to 29. (at UCLA, vs. USC, at Washington State). If the preseason projections are correct (as they almost always are), the Utes’ home game versus USC will decide which team has the greatest chance of making the playoffs in the conference. After this, both USC and Utah have tough games ahead of them: USC faces Notre Dame on Nov. 26 and Utah faces Oregon on Nov. 19. The loser on Oct. 15 has very little, if any, leeway the rest of the way. However, that game is sandwiched between two difficult road trips, one of which is at UCLA. Utah must win on the road if it wants to finish in the top four this fall, something it failed to accomplish last year at BYU, San Diego State, and Oregon State.
Oklahoma State (12-2) is ranked No. 9 in the final CFP rankings for 2021.
The argument for: With so many concerns at rival Oklahoma with Lincoln Riley’s departure to USC, it looks to be the ideal opportunity to build on last year’s Bedlam victory and perhaps change the state’s power balance. Oklahoma State defeated Oklahoma and Notre Dame, but it lost two games by an average of eight points last season, coming agonizingly close to the Big 12 championship and playoff consideration. Spencer Sanders, an experienced quarterback, will lead a group of six returning offensive starters and one of the top defensive lines in the NCAA. Despite Sanders’ inconsistency, Gundy believes his quarterback has what it takes to lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl — provided he can stay on his feet.
“”If you look at his stats when we protect him properly, he has fantastic numbers,” Gundy remarked, “but we were dreadful in the championship game.” It wasn’t the fault of anybody. We may blame coaches, linemen, running backs, or anybody else, but we didn’t protect him.”
The argument against: Not only did the Cowboys lose defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, but they also had to replace two of their top linebackers and four of their top five defensive backs. The Cowboys must be worried about their overall schedule strength in addition to the defensive transformation. Oklahoma State could avoid getting into a résumé competition with another Power 5 conference champion with nonconference home games against Central Michigan, Arizona State, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. It’s probably a moot issue if Oklahoma State finishes unbeaten, but a loss opens the door for a legitimate dispute.
The season’s defining stretch is from November 12 to November 26. (vs. Iowa State, at Oklahoma, vs. WVU). If the Cowboys are in contention for the playoffs, November will determine their fate. If the Cowboys lose against Baylor on Oct. 1, it may turn into a must-win stretch. They should be unbeaten into that game, but given their previous history with Baylor and the Bears’ home-field advantage, it’s a coin flip. Oklahoma State’s most challenging game before the November stretch will be that one.
Baylor (12-2) is ranked No. 7 in the final CFP rankings for 2021.
The argument for: Last season, Coach Dave Aranda was able to demonstrate what he’s capable of, with a school-record 12 victories, a Big 12 championship, five wins over ranked opponents, and a first-ever New Year’s Day bowl victory since 1957. Aranda believes there is genuine momentum, which he aims to harness given the success he’s made in getting the players to buy into his personality and ideology. In his debut season in 2020, Aranda went 2-7, a year that was affected by COVID-19. The biggest outcomes came from investing time in developing connections and character.
“I believe the way we approached it in 2020, even absorbing the knocks and never really losing yourself and having blow-ups, not doing anything like that, I think it built the basis for ’21,” he added.
Despite some key losses, Aranda is optimistic about the returning potential, especially at wide receiver. It’s possible that this is the Bears’ most talented offensive squad. Baylor also returns four starters on the offensive line, which will help lessen the strain on whomever takes over at running back.
The argument against: Inexperienced players in critical positions will not have much time to develop. Two of the first three games will be played away from home (Sept. 10 at BYU and Sept. 24 at Iowa State). Taye McWilliams is the next in line to replace Baylor’s top two rushers from 2021, but he only got 17 carries last season. They’ll have to replace Terrel Bernard, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, and Jalen Pitre, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, on defense. Aranda described linebacker Matt Jones as a “rising star” who will take over for Bernard. Garmon Randolph, the outside linebacker, will have a “much, much greater” role, according to Aranda.
Sept. 24-Oct. 13 is a season-defining period. Baylor’s schedule is highly challenging, with six road games, including travels to BYU, Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Texas. There’s no assurance that the Bears will win their first game against BYU, a prospective Big 12 opponent. The Bears must survive this run, which includes Oklahoma State and a Thursday night game against West Virginia in Morgantown, even if they approach the Sept. 24 game against Iowa State unblemished. Baylor will have a bye week to prepare for the Mountaineers, but it’s one of the toughest venues in the nation to play in. They must overcome this in order to have a chance to beat OU and Texas in November.
Do they have the ability to last?
Michigan (12-2) is ranked No. 2 in the final CFP rankings for 2021.
The argument for Jim Harbaugh’s ability to concentrate intensely on the subject at hand. It’s currently winning a national championship, not the Super Bowl.
“We have a chance to win college football’s most prestigious prize, a national championship,” Harbaugh said. “Winning the Super Bowl would be fantastic, but I’m entirely focused on winning a national title.”
The fact that Michigan’s coach, Jim Harbaugh, went so far as to declare “it’s terrifying good,” should make the rest of the Big Ten nervous. Last season, Michigan won the Big Ten, and the Wolverines return four starters from an offensive line that earned the Joe Moore Award for finest offensive line in college football.
The argument against: The nonconference schedule and defensive problems… yeah, and Ohio State. Michigan kicks up the season with four home games against Colorado State, Hawaii, UConn, and Big Ten rival Maryland. Stop the CFP fodder yesterday if the Wolverines aren’t 4-0 coming into October. Even with one defeat, the Big Ten champion should be in the top four, but if Notre Dame and the Pac-12 champion are both in the top five, along with the SEC, Big 12 and ACC champions, Michigan’s nonconference schedule might backfire. What’s wonderful about the schedule? There will be plenty of time to address the defense questions. Aidan Hutchinson isn’t here. No David Ojabo, Josh Ross, or Mike Macdonald, the defensive coordinator. The list could go on and on. Jesse Minter, the first-year coordinator, is in charge of filling in the gaps.
The season’s defining stretch is from October 15 to November 29. (vs. Penn State, vs. Michigan State). Yes, it nearly always comes down to The Game, but if Michigan can’t defeat Penn State and Michigan State at home, with a bye week to prepare for the rival Spartans, the Wolverines will have to beat Ohio State twice to win the division. They’ll also raise doubts about their playoff chances with the selection committee, putting the nonconference schedule under the scrutiny once again. Before traveling to Columbus, Michigan must win its home games versus the East Division.
Cincinnati (13-1) is ranked No. 4 in the final CFP rankings for 2021.
The argument for: Following the most successful season in school history, Luke Fickell stayed on. There’s a reason Fickell has won eight national coach of the year accolades. He was the coach who guided the Bearcats to a school-record 13 victories and the AAC championship. The most difficult task, overcoming the stigma associated with the Group of 5 in the CFP, is now over. It is feasible for a Group of 5 conference winner to finish in the top four with an undefeated season that includes a victory over an elite opponent. This autumn, Cincinnati will have another such opportunity when it kicks off the season against an Arkansas squad that has a chance to finish in the top 25.
The argument against: A completely new roster, especially on defense. On offense and defense, a total of nine starters return from that historic season, with seven on offense and just two on defense. Although they must replace starting quarterback Desmond Ridder, the Bearcats’ defense, which constituted their identity, is likely the more pressing concern. Cornerbacks Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant, leading tackler Joel Dublanko, and top pass rusher Curtis Brooks must all be replaced for Cincinnati.
September is a season-defining month. No, the Bearcats should not lose at home to Kennesaw State and Miami (Ohio), but they aren’t in the postseason if they aren’t 4-0 by October. Cincinnati must win at Arkansas in the season opener and at home against Indiana in September. Last season, Cincinnati earned a berth in the top four, but the truth is that it had some assistance along the road, right up to the finish, when Baylor defeated Oklahoma State and Notre Dame ran the table. Cincinnati will have to follow the same plan to repeat as a semifinals, this time defeating the Razorbacks and hope for a decent winning season.
The “college football rankings” is an article that discusses the case for Michigan, Notre Dame and top fringe teams to make the College Football Playoff.
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