1. Poll Position, Take 1: That didn’t take long.
The College Football Playoff selection committee had just posted its first Final Four when Fox Sports’ Stewart Mandel tweeted: “And Kirk Herbstreit sets the tone with his first two words: “No way.”
It was that kind of night Tuesday as football writers took to Twitter and traditional media outlets to debate, challenge, praise and criticize the committee’s initial ranking. The committee, of course, ultimately will determine the four teams that play for the national championship.
The Blitz has played along for several weeks, making the case for three SEC teams in the Final Four and noting that the Big Ten didn’t have enough quality wins to offset its bad losses. (The committee echoed those thoughts, particularly as it applied to Ohio State and its crippling home loss to Virginia Tech.) The big surprise in Tuesday’s rankings was that the three SEC teams were not named Alabama.
Notre Dame’s low ranking (No. 10) raised eyebrows, given its narrow and controversial loss at then No. 1 FSU, but Mandel explained that in another tweet: “If your main argument for a higher ranking is who you lost to, not who you beat (as with ND), you don’t have legs to stand on.”
The rankings are fluid and will change, and all four SEC teams in the top 6 still have at least two games against other ranked SEC teams. No. 1 Mississippi State still plays Alabama and Ole Miss. No. 3 Auburn still plays Ole Miss on Saturday, then Georgia and Alabama. No. 4 Ole Miss gets Auburn and Mississippi State. No. 6 Alabama faces LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn.
That doesn’t even include the SEC title game.
Oregon, ranked No. 5 in the poll, clearly has the best chance to slide in. Strength of schedule matters, and the Ducks will get several more chances to impress voters. They face Stanford on Saturday but also would have to win at a ranked Utah and beat another highly ranked team in the Pac-12 title game.
The good news is the initial poll sparked a lot of debate and, afterward, the committee explained how they arrived at their ranking. That’s a good start.
Heisman watch: Who says if you have two quarterbacks, you have none? It’s a two-player race to the finish between Mississippi State dual-threat Dak Prescott and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. They have separated from the pack. Prescott has passed for 1,694 yards and 15 touchdowns, and rushed for 664 yards and 10 more scores. Mariota has better pure quarterback numbers (2,283 yards and 24 touchdown passes to just one interception).
Tracking the AP Top 25
Saturday’s games ... comments where deserving.
No. 1 Mississippi State (7-0) vs. Arkansas (4-4), 7:15 p.m.: All four of Arkansas’ losses have been against top 10 teams.
No. 4 Auburn (6-1) at No. 7 Mississippi (7-1), 7 p.m.: Auburn is No. 3, Mississippi No. 4 in the committee’s poll, the one that counts. Has the feel of an Elite Eight game.
No. 5 Oregon (7-1) vs. Stanford (5-3), 7:30 p.m.: Oregon handled one physical team in Michigan State, but the Cardinal has used a similar ground-and-pound approach to win the past two meetings.
No. 6 Notre Dame (6-1) vs. Navy (4-4) at Landover, Md., 8 p.m.: Unlikely a big win against Navy will move the CFP needle. Fortunately for the Irish, two games against ranked teams remain.
No. 9 Georgia (6-1) vs. Florida (3-3) at Jacksonville, Fla., 3:30 p.m.: Bulldogs won’t have Todd Gurley, but they won’t need him, either.
No. 10 TCU (6-1) at No. 20 West Virginia (6-2), 3:30 p.m.: TCU is No. 7 in the CFP poll. Its three-spot improvement is tied with Ole Miss for the biggest jump forward among contenders. A win Saturday sets up a huge opportunity next week against visiting Kansas State. Win that, and its resume is as impressive as anybody’s.
No. 11 Kansas State (6-1) vs. Oklahoma State (5-3), 8 p.m.: K-State’s lone blemish was costly: a 20-14 home loss to Auburn.
No. 12 Baylor (6-1) vs. Kansas (2-5), 4 p.m.: Kansas allowed a season-high 41 points to Duke. Baylor’s challenge: Topping that by the third quarter.
No. 13 Ohio State (6-1) vs. Illinois (4-4), 8 p.m.
No. 14 Arizona (6-1) at No. 25 UCLA (6-2), 10:30 p.m.: Arizona’s home loss to an unranked USC team hurting more than its win at Oregon.
No. 15 Arizona State (6-1) vs. No. 18 Utah (6-1), 11 p.m.: Winner takes control of the Pac-12 South, a division loaded with four teams in the CFP poll.
No. 17 Nebraska (7-1) vs. Purdue (3-5), 3:30 p.m.: Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah ranks second in the country with 17 rushing touchdowns.
No. 19 Oklahoma (5-2) at Iowa State (2-5), Noon
No. 21 East Carolina (6-1) at Temple (4-3), Noon: Pirates control their destiny in the bid to be the highest ranked non-Power 5 team, but they could use some style points by blowing out a modest opponent.
No. 24 Duke (6-1) at Pittsburgh (4-4), Noon: Blue Devils wouldn’t face a ranked team until the ACC championship game, meaning an 11-1 regular season isn’t out of the question.
Number to know
$3.1M Cost of Nick Saban’s 8,759-square-foot house, which Alabama boosters paid off this week.
“It’s not all that unusual in the world for universities to provide the housing. We want to keep him happy. We think he’s the best coach in America.” – Alabama booster Scott Phelps, explaining to AL.com, why they paid the remainder of Saban’s mortgage.
Compiled by Chris Wright, with help from AP and team websites