We're almost through a very choppy 2020 football season, and the CFP race is coming into focus.
For the record, we should have an 8 team CFP playoff. The BCS was basically a two team playoff, which wasn't actually as bad as the whiners thought. 16 teams is too many, there are not 16 teams with a reasonable chance to run through a 4 team playoff in CFP. Making undefeated conference champions out of a brutal SEC, ACC, or Big 10 schedule have to play 4 games just so a team with a couple of Power 5 losses or that ran the table against Group of 5 competition can pretend to be contenders makes no sense. But 8 makes sense. Especially if conferences did away with unneeded championship games. There are usually 8 teams that can legitimately beat each other on any given Saturday, and more than that, the 3rd through 6th spots are rarely an obvious call anyways.
#6 Florida. You're out. Playing for pride and a spoiler now. You've taken two losses. Is Florida dangerous? Hell yea. But having no defense is not good for a playoff team. Having no running game as well? Well. Where do you think you are, the Big 12? LSU v Florida. But seriously, LSU is not a bad team. Despite massive injuries, defections, and an inexperienced line, it's still top 10 level talent, that has underperformed in a weird 2020. They are quite good underneath, just inexperienced, with both new coordinators, no offseason and no warmup games. In a normal year with a nonconference warm up schedule this LSU team would been very solid and Top 20 ranked. 3 of their 5 losses are to ranked, SEC teams (incl #1 Alabama and #5 A&M, the 4th to a good Auburn team, and the 5th to a Mississippi State air raid team that they would have likely beat in November. And yes, A&M holding defending LSU to 7 in garbage time, the lowest LSU score in years, was a bigger deal than people gave the Aggies credit for, and LSU bouncing back by edging Florida in December doesn't reflect that badly on Florida, but does highlight it's a very good, dangerous, but not a playoff team this year.
#5 Texas A&M. This is not a flashy offensive team, and frankly, the national media hates the Aggies, but keep in mind, they lost their top 4 receivers: Baylor Cupp (#1 tight end recruit in history) and WR Cameron Buckley to injury before the season, as well as expected #1 WR Jhamon Ausbon and defensive back Elijah Blades and starting linebacker Anthony Hines to optout, then Caleb Chapman, the remaining deep threat and #1 WR in the 3rd game. Despite that, they are winning, held Najee Harris to 43 rushing yards, their offensive and defenses lines are both among the best in CFP and they have one of the top run defenses, and top rushing offenses in football. And only a fluky Old Miss shootout put up more points on Alabama. The team has only two weaknesses, downfield passing, and earlier in the season, defending the deep ball. Outside of Alabama and arguably Notre Dame and Clemson, this is the most balanced team in football. After each team's first 3 games, they've allowed an average of 15 points in conference play - only Alabama is better among Top 10 teams, and are playing some of the best ball in the country. Running backs Spiller, Achane, and Smith are all gamebreakers who would each likely start on all but a dozen teams in the country. One Top 10 win and one early season loss on the road to the best team in football in an SEC schedule? Since Jimbo Fisher arrived, it has taken very strong ranked and top 10 teams to beat the Aggies. This year, they've shown they can finish those games, and win. If Clemson and Florida both got second shots at their main CFP competition, I'd be excited to see this A&M team get another shot at Alabama in the playoff.
#4 Ohio State. This is a very, very good, balanced team with great talent, and an exciting offense that would be in the mix in a full season. They're averaging 46 ppg and haven't scored less than 5 touchdowns yet this season. I've got a lot of problem however, with a team getting in without playing games. The season grind is a big deal. You have to win games. Just because your conferences chose to start late with shorter seasons does not give you a pass. A 5 or 6 win team should not make a 4 team playoff. Period. I also cannot help but consider that Ohio State has only played 1 team with winning record, but has allowed more points than Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, or A&M with only 5 games played. Could Ohio State really stop Clemson, Florida, Notre Dame or Alabama's air attack or handle A&M (Spiller, Achane, Smith), Alabama (Harris), Clemson (Etienne), Notre Dame (Williams) on the ground? Justin Field is a monster, but would they be putting up these points and be undefeated with the schedule of any of those teams? Maybe, but their schedule is what it is. Ohio State is why we need an 8 team playoff.
#2 Notre Dame. #3 Clemson. Both excellent teams. Undefeated and 1 loss to the other in the Power 5 conference. Deep top 10 in talent, well coached, balanced, able to score, and able to play defense. Amazing QBs, strong running attacks, very good defenses. I'm predicting Notre Dame takes the ACC championship and in that case think Clemson should be out of the playoff. I'd consider it highly unequitable if Notre Dame beats Clemson twice, to make them have to play Clemson again in a playoff, or make another playoff team have to face a 2 loss Clemson that failed in its two shots at a top 10 win. If Clemson wins the conference championship and they split? Different story. The ACC could well earn two spots this year.
#1 Alabama. Yes it still has to play a very dangerous Florida team that will be well prepared and out for blood. But with no running game and no defense, they have no chance against Alabama, even if they score enough to make it close. This Alabama team is undefeated and averaging 50 ppg in the toughest division of the toughest conference, and solid across the board with two Top 10 wins (A&M and Georgia). They are balanced, have the best defense of the Top 10 teams, and two of the top 3 Heisman candidates, even after losing their best WR. Even with a Florida loss, Alabama is at least a top 4 team in the country, and should be in.
Group of 5: Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina, BYU, Louisiana. Y'all got some game this year, and I love watching. But no, you should not make a 4 team playoff, probably not an 8 team, and maybe not even a 16 team. Strength of schedule matters. Talent level matters. Sorry the pandemic screwed up your non conference schedule. If it hadn't or if you had to play a Power 5 schedule, you would not have that record. Period. Playing all patsies and a couple of mid level ranked teams does not equate. Take any one of you and make you play South Carolina's SEC East schedule below, and tell me you'd still be in the discussion for the playoff or as a Top 10 team. The most talented team in this well coached group is Cincinnati, which comes in at the 59th most talented team in the country, 5 spots behind perennial SEC doormat Vanderbilt. Could you win some games? Sure. Could you go 7-4? Doubtful. Hell, not only are you not ranked after playing South Carolina's schedule, you're well below .500. Go ahead. Make the case you're a Top 10 team after playing this schedule. You don't have the talent, you don't play the schedule, and you don't have wins against top talent or top teams.
So here's where I'm at.
Assuming all teams win out, and Notre Dame beats Clemson twice: Notre Dame, Alabama, A&M, Ohio State (by 2020 default, as I don't see a 2 loss ISU, Georgia, Miami, OU, or Florida as an equitable top 4 pick given the top 5, or an undefeated USC a better choice than a Justin Field led OSU, or a one loss to OSU Indiana, or Northwestern, as better teams than Ohio State. And I do not think a two loss Clemson should have a third shot at beating a Top 4 team).
Assuming all teams win out, and Clemson gets revenge on and splits with Notre Dame: Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, A&M, for an all SEC and ACC final complete with revenge games from 4 of the most talent teams in the country, all who played a full season undefeated or with only 1 loss to other top 4 teams.
Either scenario would make for great football.
If Florida somehow beats Alabama, and Notre Dame and Clemson split, I can then make a strong case for Clemson, Alabama or Notre Dame, and consider a toss-up for either Ohio State or Texas A&M: if Ohio State has a very convincing final championship with vs. Northwestern, and A&M struggles vs Tennessee, indicating the SEC is weaker and more even than previous years.
But a 1 loss A&M to #1 or 2 Alabama should have them in the playoff in this field.
So it still likely comes down to the selection committee's views of A&M v Ohio State.
Can Ohio State can beat A&M in a play-in? Yes it could. Would it? Maybe. Which team would do better against the other's schedule or the other top teams in the CFP? Probably A&M given the performance this year. Justin Fields is a Heisman caliber quarterback, and OSU has the talent edge on A&M but not by a lot (#3 vs #11 for A&M). However A&M has already beat 2 of the 3 top 10 most talented teams ranked above it (Florida and LSU). Ohio State has not faced anywhere near the level of talent or strength of schedule that A&M has. After Tennessee, A&M will have played 8 of Top 25 most talented teams in the country. OSU will have played 3, Penn State, Michigan, and Nebraska, all ranked below the Aggies in talent and struggling on the field. It's best win at Indiana is not in the Top 50 in talent, just above the Northwestern it's about to face at #48. Hell, Kellen Mond is probably in the Heisman conversation this year if he's facing the OSU schedule.
The maligned "boring and inconsistent" Aggie offense even with a decimated receiving corps, put up 3 TDs, 450 yards, and outrushed and scored the 2nd most points #1 Alabama has given up this year. It averaged 4.5 touchdowns against the 2 Top 4 teams it has faced (same as it has averaged all season), beat MSU, Arkansas, Auburn and defending champ LSU in the SEC West for the first time ever, is outrushing its SEC opponents 2 to 1 featuring its pick of 3 top tier backs and a dual threat QB. It has held its last 3 SEC opponents to an average of 10 points, has a QB who doesn't turn it over or take sacks, and is playing it's best ball right now.
Fields is a stunningly good QB, with a 78% completion ratio and over 10 YPA (well above than Mond), averaging 4 TDs per game including 1 on the ground, and no defense in their right mind wants to face him. This is the heart and soul of the argument for OSU, undefeated with a strong Heisman candidate putting up amazing numbers. But he's not outperforming Mac Jones and Kyle Trask, both of whom the Aggies have already faced and spit with, and he's also thrown 3 INTs and taken 15 sacks in 5 games against mostly weak defenses. Kellen Mond has thrown 2 INTs and taken only 4 sacks in 8 games against a very solid 20 TDs (18 passing), and has proven he can protect the ball, match scores when need be, and put a game away against more talented competition in 60% more games than OSU. The Aggie defense is one of best in the country. The Aggies have 21 sacks, and a 2:1 turnover ratio, and has already faced the top 2 Heisman QB candidates (Jones and Trask), as well as 3 of the top 20 running backs in the country (Najee Harris, Kevin Harris, Tank Bigsby). No other defense can say that.
The heart and soul of the Aggie argument? You win with defense and in the trenches, and the Aggie O and D line play has ben world class, combined with good coaching and good skill players who make plays when they need to, and has delivered a 1 loss record to the best team in the nation, and against the top talent in the country.
OSU beat a ranked Penn State, which promptly collapsed into 5 losses and probably could not handle Auburn, Arkansas, or LSU right now, then edged a very good currently #12 ranked Indiana, which has been feasting on a weak Big 10. It will another chance to shine vs a ranked Northwestern. But as mentioned above, it's getting those wins against struggling talented teams, and teams with a lot less talent. Let's put this talent into perspective. OSU is extremely talented with 14 5 stars and 52 4 stars on its roster of 85. A&M has over 40 4 and 5 stars, along with Alabama, LSU, Florida, Auburn. Even South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky. Indiana? It has only four 4 star players total. And against this schedule OSU is allowing over 23 ppg. A&M, Alabama, Notre Dame, and Clemson have each held 4 teams to two TDs or less in Power 5 conferences. OSU has done that once.
It's hard to like a 5 or 6 win OSU Big 10 resume this year over a 8-1 win A&M resume, unless you're unfairly dinging the Aggies for prior years, or simply think Alabama and the SEC are overrated this year, which they aren't.