Commentary

If only the playoff began this year

Originally Published: October 11, 2013
By Chris Low | ESPN.com

The selection committee for the College Football Playoff is supposed to be announced next week.

I have a small ask of that 13-member panel and a suggestion.

First, the suggestion: Make sure your phone number is unlisted and that you've taken on an assumed name. You also might want to have a disguise handy when you venture out in public.

And the ask: Is there any way you could start a year early?

As we approach the midway point of this season, imagine the possibilities if there were a playoff looming.

Not only that, but imagine the headaches the committee would face in having to pare it down to four teams.

Sure, we say every year that this looks like the year when chaos would reign. But the landscape always looks different in late November, after a few upsets along the way that nobody sees coming.

But if you were handicapping who would comprise the four-team field right now, whom would you pick?

Granted, that's a loaded question.

Picking the four best teams as we sit here today and/or the four teams who've been most impressive to this point is one thing. But looking ahead and gauging schedule strength and trying to figure out who would be the four best teams following the conference championship games is a totally different undertaking.

Maybe I'll give Condi Rice a quick call and see if she would be kind enough to provide some early insight, a test run so to speak to get us ready for next year.

On second thought, she might be busy breaking down film.

So I'll play committee member and make my case for the four teams who would make up the most compelling playoff this season.

With this being the final year of the BCS, it would probably be fitting if that armageddon scenario everybody seems to predict every year finally comes to fruition.

You know the one -- five or six teams finishing unbeaten.

For argument's sake, let's say Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma and Louisville all run the table without a loss.

Good luck with that one, although Brad Edwards, ESPN's BCS guru, thinks Alabama and Oregon would be in a tier all by themselves. In other words, all they have to do is keep winning, and they're going to finish in those top two spots in the final BCS standings. It doesn't matter how impressive they are, and it doesn't matter what anybody else does.

[+] EnlargeOregon Ducks and Tennessee Volunteers
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesHow much fun would it be to watch Oregon take on Clemson in a playoff semifinal?

If Alabama and Oregon are both unbeaten and win their conference championship games, they're going to meet in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game.

But we've also done this BCS thing far too many times to know that it's never quite that simple.

My four teams right now, if I were doing the selecting, would be Alabama, Oregon, Clemson and Stanford.

Of the four, Oregon has probably been the most impressive overall, while Alabama probably has the most impressive win (at No. 9 Texas A&M). Clemson has the second-most impressive win (No. 7 Georgia at home).

And of the four, Stanford might be the most versatile. The Cardinal are physical and can beat you up in both lines of scrimmage, but they can also spread you out and be multiple on offense.

The team that was the hardest for me to leave out of my four was Florida State, especially seeing the way the Seminoles destroyed Maryland last week.

Don't get too worked up, though, FSU fans. You get your shot at Clemson in two weeks. I just hope they remember to put fresh batteries in the scoreboard there in Death Valley before that game.

The most difficult task the selection committee will face is evaluating teams who don't play each other and play different competition.

For instance, would you put an unbeaten Ohio State team in this season over a one-loss Georgia team that goes on to win the SEC championship or a one-loss Oregon team that goes on to win the Pac-12 championship?

Of all the teams that are unbeaten right now, I'd say Ohio State has the best chance to finish unbeaten because the Buckeyes play in a weak league.

But if we were launching the College Football Playoff a year early, would you put the Buckeyes in simply because they managed not to lose?

As one SEC coach told me, if Ohio State manages to get into the BCS title game this season, "it will be Notre Dame all over again" from a year ago.

Welcome to the dilemma the selection committee will invariably face.

As for this season, we'll have a better handle on the top two teams after these next four or five weeks.

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMIHow would an unbeaten Ohio State team fare against Alabama?

Florida State plays at Clemson on Oct. 19, and despite who wins that game, both teams have to go on the road to end the regular season against bitter in-state rivals. Florida State plays at Florida on Nov. 30, and Clemson travels to South Carolina that same day.

The second week in November also has a chance to be epic.

It starts with a Thursday doubleheader on Nov. 7. Baylor (yes, don't sleep on the unbeaten Bears) plays host to Oklahoma, and later that night, Oregon takes on Stanford in Palo Alto.

Two days later, Alabama faces LSU in Tuscaloosa, and if the Crimson Tide are going to lose in the regular season, that's the game to circle.

Like Georgia, LSU is a one-loss team in the SEC that could also work its way back into the national championship equation. And when you survey how brutal the Tigers' schedule has been, if they somehow found a way to win out, how could you keep them out of the title game if most of the unbeatens fell?

With a four-team playoff, the Tigers' chances would be significantly better in that scenario.

Everybody keeps waiting for the axe to fall on the SEC's national championship streak.

This may be the year.

The odds are against anybody being unbeaten in the SEC once we get through the league championship game in Atlanta.

In all those years where the SEC sent a one-loss team to the BCS National Championship Game, the ball happened to bounce just right with other teams losing. This may be the year where that bounce isn't so fortuitous for the SEC and a handful of teams from other conferences are sitting there unbeaten when the final BCS standings are released.

Either way, too bad we can't start the College Football Playoff a year early.

Oregon vs. Clemson in one semifinal and Alabama vs. Ohio State in the other sounds awfully inviting.

Our call? Oregon advances to face Alabama. Then Oregon takes home the title.

• • •

[+] EnlargeSarkisian/Shaw
Stephen Lam/Getty ImagesStanford's David Shaw (left) wasn't pleased with Washington coach Steve Sarkisian's comments suggesting the Cardinal faked injuries.

Stanford coach David Shaw is still steamed over the accusation by Washington coach Steve Sarkisian that the Cardinal were faking injuries in last Saturday's game to slow down the Huskies' offense. Sarkisian's not backing down, either.

Sarkisian is hardly the first coach to suggest that players might be faking injuries. It's just that coaches rarely go public with those claims. It's a fine line, indeed. But I've had several coaches tell me that they instruct their players to stay down if they think they've injured something and let the training staff come to them instead of trying to limp off the field.

But the faster offenses go in the future, the more you're going to hear coaches complaining about players faking injuries to slow the pace, and that's whether those injuries are legitimate or not.

• • •

The three unbeaten teams in the ACC -- Clemson, Florida State and Miami -- have generated plenty of buzz, but Virginia Tech has quietly gone about its business after a rough start against Alabama and won five in a row. The Hokies haven't been overly impressive in their wins, but they're going to be in every game because of their defense. They're ranked fifth nationally in total defense and tied for 12th in scoring defense. They're good enough in their front seven on defense, especially if quarterback Logan Thomas continues to play as consistently as he has the last two weeks, to win the Coastal Division.

• • •

Speaking of Florida State, I've had more than one NFL scout tell me that the Seminoles' roster was as talented as any they've seen in college football this season. That's counting everybody, too, and not just draft-eligible players.

• • •

Florida's defense has already been branded as one of the best in college football this season, and the Gators are one of the few teams that could lose a player the caliber of Dominique Easley and not drop off considerably. Easley was playing as well as any defensive lineman in the country. The matchup everybody will be watching Saturday at Tigers Stadium is Florida's cornerbacks (Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and freshman Vernon Hargreaves III) against LSU's receivers (Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry). But even without Easley, the Gators are good enough up front to get pressure without having to sell out and blitz a whole lot.

• • •

The more Alabama fans watch Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston put up big numbers, the more their stomachs must be turning. Winston is from Hueytown, Ala., and would have fit in nicely in that Alabama offense next season after AJ McCarron is gone. Some Alabama fans have already gone on record as saying that Winston was the Tide's biggest recruiting loss in-state since Bo Jackson. That may be a stretch. But as fate would have it, Jackson was from nearby Bessemer.

• • •

Can anybody hold Baylor under 69 points?

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsArt Briles' offense at Baylor is not only explosive, but it's operating at warp speed.

The Bears have feasted on a soft schedule to this point, but that doesn't diminish how explosive they've been on offense. They get their toughest test of the season so far this weekend at Kansas State after scoring 69 or more points in their first four games. The Bears' offensive numbers are outrageous. They're averaging 780 yards per game, and their average touchdown drive lasts all of 1 minute and 18 seconds. That's a three-and-out for a lot of teams.

Coaches keep telling me that you simply can't appreciate how fast the Bears play by simply watching them on tape. Here's the other thing: They have big-time playmakers on the perimeter who would make a lot of defenses look silly. So it's not just the system.

• • •

It's looking more likely that Jadeveon Clowney will be healthy enough to play Saturday at Arkansas. Nobody inside that South Carolina program had questioned Clowney's commitment to the team until the Kentucky game last week when he showed up at the stadium and only told coaches then that he couldn't play. That's after not getting any treatment for his muscle strain during the week. Steve Spurrier was right when he said nobody handled the situation very well, and that goes for Clowney and Spurrier. One thing you get universally when you talk to anybody who's coached Clowney is that he's a fierce competitor. Assuming he stays healthy, here's betting you see his best football the rest of the season.

• • •

Alabama is prepared to play its second straight game Saturday without safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who's waiting to have his eligibility restored by the NCAA after accepting a loan from an assistant strength coach this summer and then paying it back before the start of the season. The Tide hope to get Clinton-Dix back for the Arkansas game next week or the Tennessee game on Oct. 26 at the latest.

Chris Low | email

College Football

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