On Halloween night, the first round of the College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings were revealed. The Ohio State Buckeyes sit at No. 1, the back-to-back reigning champion Georgia Bulldogs are No. 2, the Michigan Wolverines are No. 3 and the Florida State Seminoles have taken the No. 4 spot.
The first two out are Pac-12 juggernauts No. 5 Washington and No. 6 Oregon.
History shows that college football is filled with parity and is prone to being shaken up. This can be due to teams losing games later in the schedule or sleeper teams becoming a contender by year’s end. Just last season, Tennessee and Clemson opened up at No. 1 and No. 4 in the first CFP rankings but eventually fell out of the playoffs completely while non-conference champion TCU and Big 10 champion Michigan swooped into the playoff.
In 2014, Ohio State was initially ranked as the 16th-best team. They went on to shut out Wisconsin 59-0 to win the Big 10, snuck into the playoffs to knock off Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and win the national crown against Oregon.
The initial rankings have always caused controversy and should be viewed through a skeptical lens.
With less than a month left in the season, there is still plenty of time for surprises. Frankly, this is a three-way race between the teams sitting at four, five and six. In my opinion, the committee got it wrong putting Oregon at No. 6.
Even though they lost to Washington earlier this season, if they were to match up again, it would be a much safer bet that the Ducks would win. A large part of the loss was Oregon’s critical coaching errors such as not punting while up 33-29 and failing to convert on a 4th down giving Washington star quarterback Michael Penix Jr. the ball at midfield.
Washington’s recent struggles, especially with Arizona State on October 21st, have shown potential vulnerabilities. At home in their new purple haze uniforms, the Huskies produced minimal offense and only a 4th quarter pick-six by cornerback Mishael Powell put the game on ice, winning 15-7. This certainly puts a wet blanket on Washington's resume and may cost them a playoff spot even if they get back to form.
Oregon silenced a defensive-minded Utah team in Salt Lake City, allowing just six points and scoring 35 of their own, further bolstering their resume that a rematch with Washington would not go the same way.
Along with Washington, No. 9 Oklahoma has also been extremely shaky. After beating Texas, the Sooners have embarked on a landslide, first escaping a game against UCF via the Golden Knights failing to convert a two-point conversion to win, then losing a 38-33 high scoring last-minute heartbreaker to Kansas.
Coming into the latter half of the season is when premier matchups with large implications start to happen.
Assuming Ohio State, Georgia and Michigan are who they show to be against better competition and remain strong through the end of the season, the three powerhouses will not be going anywhere.
Despite No. 2 Michigan being in the middle of a sign-stealing scandal and still having yet to play their toughest rivals in No. 11 Penn State and No. 1 Ohio State, the Wolverines are unlikely to face any punishment that will hinder their season due to the 90-day allotted response time Michigan has to report to the NCAA.
No. 4 Florida State has the clearest path to the playoff, it’ll be tough to argue them over Oregon. If both win out, the Ducks will have wins over No. 24 USC, No. 16 Oregon State and possibly a Washington rematch. On the other hand, the toughest challenge presented by the Seminoles is unranked Miami (FL) and a possible ACC championship against No. 13 Louisville.
Mathematically, the top 13 teams are still alive. Only four make it to the end. By season's end, we could see Ole Miss battling it out with Michigan. Depending on the outcomes of these high-end matchups, 2023 will send us into the CFP with plenty of thrills.