<
>

State your case for a spot in the top four of committee rankings

play
CFP committee close to finalizing top four teams (1:25)

ESPN CFP reporter Heather Dinich reports from Grapevine, TX, where the College Football Playoff committee is examining the top teams in the nation. (1:25)

The first College Football Playoff Committee rankings of the season are set to be announced Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, and it is anyone's guess as to which teams will be voted into the top four. There are 11 undefeateds and nine one-loss teams in the AP Top 25. Many of those teams have legitimate cases for top-four selection. Over the next five weeks, that group will get thinner, but for now here's the skinny on every serious playoff contender.

Ohio State Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten)

AP ranking: 1

Why they deserve a spot in the top 4: The narrative is that the defending champions haven't looked dominant most of the season, but they are outscoring opponents by more than 23 points per game. They're also rounding into form at the right time, winning their last two games by a combined 70 points. The Buckeyes are still one of the most talented teams in the country and should pass the selection committee's eye test with flying colors, especially with J.T. Barrett running the controls at quarterback. This is a very balanced offense, one that averages 247 yards rushing and 217 passing per game, and the defense is allowing just 15 points per game. Ohio State is currently No. 4 in ESPN's Football Power Index and its biggest games - and best chances to truly impress - remain ahead.

Why they won't get it: Strength of schedule is the biggest knock on these Buckeyes. They haven't yet played a ranked team and won't do so until Nov. 21 against Michigan State. The committee may ding them for that, and for close calls against Northern Illinois and Indiana early on. Barrett's one-game suspension for a misdemeanor arrest does not help matters. -- Brian Bennett

Baylor Bears (7-0, 4-0 Big 12)

AP ranking: 2

Why they deserve a spot in the top 4: The Bears have featured a historically prolific offensive attack, becoming just the second team in the modern era to score at least 50 points in five straight games. Wideout Corey Coleman is a bona fide Heisman candidate, and is on pace to break the FBS season receiving touchdown record. Shock Linwood leads the Big 12 in rushing and the offensive line is one of the most imposing in the country. The Bears also boast a pair of studs on the defensive line in Andrew Billings and Shawn Oakman, who are future first-round draft candidates. As a result, the Bears have yet to be challenged this year, with an average margin of victory of more than five touchdowns; they have been dominant in every outing.

Why they won't get it: Baylor will have a different offense down the stretch due to the season-ending neck injury to Seth Russell, who was playing as well as any quarterback in the country. True freshman Jarrett Stidham is talented, but he's yet to take a meaningful snap in his college career. The Bears also played another cupcake nonconference schedule, comprising SMU, Lamar and Rice. That haunted them last year, and figures to haunt them again. -- Jake Trotter

Clemson Tigers (8-0, 5-0 ACC)

AP ranking: 3

Why they deserve a spot in the top 4: Clemson ranks No. 1 in ESPN's strength of record metric, which measures the impressiveness of each team's record. According to FPI, the Tigers have played the No. 18 schedule in the country, the hardest of any team that remains undefeated. The average top 25 team would have a 9 percent chance of starting 8-0 against Clemson's schedule. These three stats combined should do away with any argument that the Tigers have played a "soft" schedule. Their 24-22 win over then-No. 6 Notre Dame stands as the best victory any undefeated team has to date. And Clemson has the most complete team, with quarterback Deshaun Watson now hitting his stride (437 yards, 6 TDs against NC State) and the No. 5 defense in the country behind standouts Shaq Lawson, Ben Boulware and Mackensie Alexander. Clemson is outscoring its opponents by 23 points per game. Only two games this season have been decided by three points or less.

Why they won't get it: ACC misperception. There is only one ranked ACC team on the schedule right now, and that's Florida State, the team the Tigers play this weekend. The committee only judges teams based on the schedule they have played to date, so not having Florida State on just yet could hold Clemson back in the committee's eyes. The "eye test" in the Notre Dame victory - surviving on a failed 2-point conversion after building a 21-3 halftime lead -- might play a role as well, especially since the committee has many unbeaten teams to sort through. -- Andrea Adelson

LSU Tigers (7-0, 4-0 SEC)

AP ranking: 4

Why they deserve a spot in the top 4: There is a lot to like about LSU, and it's not just that the Tigers have arguably the best player in the country, Leonard Fournette. From the eye test alone, they have a better-than-average defense, a rapidly improving passing game led by first-year starting quarterback Brandon Harris and no glaring holes in the lineup. On paper, Les Miles' team has even more points in its favor. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, LSU is No. 3 nationally in Strength of Record and No. 2 in Game Control. Without question, those factors will help the Tigers reach the playoff if they keep winning.

Why they won't get it: The biggest question is whether they can keep winning. Starting with Saturday's visit to face No. 7 Alabama, LSU faces a daunting November schedule - one that the FPI rates as the nation's most difficult. After facing the Crimson Tide, LSU will host Arkansas, visit No. 19 Ole Miss, and host No. 25 Texas A&M. The FPI gives LSU only a 5.6 percent chance of making it through the month unscathed. As long as Fournette stays healthy, the Tigers have to like their chances against anyone, but they'll need to become a much more consistent team if they are to win the SEC West. -- David Ching

TCU Horned Frogs (8-0, 5-0 Big 12)

AP ranking: 5

Why they deserve a spot in the top 4: Dating back to last year, the Horned Frogs have reeled off 16 straight victories, including an 8-0 start to this season. Trevone Boykin has been the best quarterback in the country, and figures to give LSU running back Fournette a serious run for the Heisman Trophy. Even after Boykin, the Horned Frogs have no weaknesses offensively, with a deep running back stable, an overpowering offensive line and one of the two-best receivers in college football in Josh Doctson, who leads the nation with 1,250 receiving yards already. After dealing with some early-season injuries, the TCU defense is coming around, too; on Thursday, the Horned Frogs held West Virginia to its lowest yardage total in 28 games. In place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom and returner KaVontae Turpin, the Horned Frogs are tremendous on special teams, as well.

Why they won't get it: The Horned Frogs have some decent wins so far, but no great ones, due to a backloaded conference schedule. Though better of late, the defense has also been suspect at times, giving up 52 at Texas Tech and 45 at Kansas State. TCU will have a chance to pad its profile in November with games against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor. But at the moment, there's work to be done. -- Jake Trotter

Michigan State Spartans (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten)

AP ranking: 6

Why they deserve a spot in the top 4: The Spartans have two good wins: at Michigan and vs. Oregon. The Week 2 victory over the Ducks may have faded in significance after the expected Pac-12 power is having a down year, but Michigan State still has a better nonconference scalp than most teams. The Michigan win was fluky - Michigan State, of course, blocked a punt to score on the game's final play - but don't forget that the Spartans outgained the Wolverines that day on the road. Mark Dantonio's team has a proven winner at quarterback in Connor Cook, who's 31-3 as a starter, and championship-caliber talent in the trenches. Michigan State has battled a slew of injuries this season but is expecting to get healthier at key positions down the stretch. Coming off Rose and Cotton bowl victories in the past two seasons, this is a program that knows how to win big games.

Why they won't get it: If "game control" is a factor for the committee, Michigan State might not fare well. The Spartans struggled to put some teams away in the second half earlier this season, only beat Rutgers by a touchdown and of course needed one of the craziest finishes ever to escape Ann Arbor without a loss. -- Brian Bennett

Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1, 4-1 SEC)

AP ranking: 7

Why they deserve a spot in the top 4: Alabama's playoff resume isn't bulletproof. At this point in the season, no one's is. But the Tide have a lot going for them when you consider a prime-time win against a Power 5 opponent (Wisconsin) and not one, but two dominant performances against teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the time of kickoff (Georgia, Texas A&M). What's more, none of those games were played from home. And if that's not enough to convince you, just remember that Alabama will host No. 4-ranked LSU, allowing for yet another signature win.

Why they won't get it: Ole Miss is the wild card. That 43-37 loss at home to the Rebs in September might be Alabama's ultimate undoing. If Ole Miss wins out, Alabama gets shut out of the SEC title game -- and no SEC championship likely means no trip to the playoff. Why? Because Alabama's three big wins look less impressive with each passing week as Wisconsin, Georgia and Texas A&M have all dropped out of serious contention. On top of that, the loss to Ole Miss isn't a good one anymore. Not when you consider that one of the Rebs' two losses is to a non-Power 5 team in Memphis. -- Alex Scarborough

Stanford Cardinal (7-1, 6-0)

AP ranking: 9

Why they deserve a spot in the top 4: Should the Cardinal close out the year by winning 11 in a row, they would have done so with wins over USC (No. 6 at the time), UCLA (No. 18 at the time) and Notre Dame and Utah - schools which project to be in the top 10 if each keeps winning. The Cardinal are drawing comparisons to the national champion Ohio State Buckeyes of 2014 - which lost early and rolled through the rest of its season en route to the national title. Plus, committee members like teams that end with a bang. And winning 11 consecutive games in a major conference qualifies as a bang. The Pac-12 is putting a lot of faith in the fact that the nine-game conference schedule will boost its overall strength, and the hope is that resonates with committee members. If the Cardinal can close out the year 11-1, with wins over Notre Dame and presumably Utah in the Pac-12 championship game, that would make a strong statement that the Cardinal are deserving of a playoff spot.

Why they won't get it: For a while, Stanford's Week 1 loss to Northwestern might not have been as bad as it initially looked. But as Northwestern's stock drops (they've lost two of three), so does the "quality" of that loss. And it was a pretty bad loss to begin with. Even if Stanford wins out, the math might not be there if multiple undefeated teams are in front of them in the pecking order.

Iowa Hawkeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten)

AP ranking: 10

Why they deserve a spot in the top 4: Everyone wants to criticize the Hawkeyes' schedule, and it is indeed soft as Charmin in the final five games. But the committee should only concern itself with what teams have accomplished to this point, and Iowa has a strong résumé. It includes wins on the road against Wisconsin (7-2) and Northwestern (6-2), and both were ranked in the top 20 when the game was played. It also includes a home victory over 6-2 Pitt, which was ranked in the Top 25 last week. Or how about this: Stanford, the Pac-12's leading playoff contender, lost to Northwestern 16-6. Iowa beat those same Wildcats 40-10. There's nothing fluky about what Kirk Ferentz's team is doing, either, because it has been stout along the lines of scrimmage, stingy on defense (just 15.3 ppg allowed) and excellent in ball security and takeaways (plus-10 in turnover margin).

Why they won't get it: Wisconsin, Northwestern and Pitt were solid wins, but none are currently ranked and there's not much marquee value in any of them. The Big Ten West Division is still viewed as the conference's soft underbelly, and there's a healthy skepticism toward a surprisingly undefeated team that had been very mediocre the past few seasons. -- Brian Bennett

Florida Gators (7-1, 5-1 SEC)

AP ranking: 11

Why they deserve a spot in the top 4: Have you seen that suffocating defense? The Gators might trudge along on offense from time to time, but there's no doubt that this is one of the nation's most elite defenses. Florida has a top-15 defense that barely allows 300 yards and 15 points per game. The Gators are second nationally with a turnover margin of plus-13 AND lead the SEC with 19 takeaways. Florida's lone loss came to arguably the nation's best team in LSU on a fake field goal and without starting quarterback Will Grier. Backup Treon Harris is a win away from directing the Gators to their first SEC East title since 2009. Oh, and Florida is doing all of this with new head coach Jim McElwain. Florida should slide into its regular-season finale against Florida State with just one loss and would definitely be playing for a playoff spot with a trip to Atlanta for the SEC title game.

Why they won't get it: Well, for as good as the defense has been, the offense still has hiccups here and there. The biggest issue is the composure of Harris, who has trouble throwing when in the pocket. Also, a loss to either Florida State or the SEC West chance would eliminate the Gators. -- Edward Aschoff

Oklahoma State Cowboys (8-0, 5-0 Big 12)

AP ranking: 12

Why they deserve a spot in the top 4: The Cowboys have won every game on their schedule so far, including road victories at Texas, West Virginia and Texas Tech. Oklahoma State features one of the best defensive lineman in the country in end Emmanuel Ogbah, and an offense that has thrived with a two-quarterback attack featuring the arm of Mason Rudolph and the wheels of J.W. Walsh. The Cowboys will also have the chance to clinch the Big 12 title inside Boone Pickens Stadium, with TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma all traveling to Stillwater in November. If the Cowboys win those three games, and thus the Big 12 championship, they will boast a resumé about as robust as any team in college football.

Why they won't get it: The Cowboys could wind up in the playoff, but it's difficult to justify them holding a spot in the top four at this point. While undefeated, Oklahoma State hasn't been dominant, trailing in the second half against Central Michigan, Texas, Kansas State and Texas Tech. Oklahoma State also has yet to defeat a team currently ranked in the top 25. The Cowboys will have a chance to change that beginning this weekend against TCU. But until they do, they can expect be on the outside looking in on the top four. -- Jake Trotter