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College Football Playoff Notebook: Dark-Horse Teams Inching Us Closer to Chaos


I have a confession to make: I love chaos. I want there to be so much chaos that the average fan taps out due to stress. There is never enough madness in college football; there can only be more. With my love of bedlam out in the open, I present the following statement. Two months into the season, undefeated Iowa yes, that Iowa, the one with a schedule more favorable than any other Top 25 team is very much in the College Football Playoff mix. But let s not stop there.

Let s throw in Oklahoma State for some added spice. While we re at it, toss in some Memphis. And sure, sprinkle in a little Toledo. Now, mix it all together, and what do we have? A delicious, potent dark-horse cocktail. While it s unlikely that any of these teams will still be standing at the very end, the possibility exists. And possibility, for those who abide by this theory, is all we need. For Iowa, with regular-season games against Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska, the formula is there despite sustaining massive injuries.

Oklahoma State, the most puzzling of the undefeated teams, will play TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma all at home. It is unlikely all three of those games will be wins, but what about just two of the three? And Memphis and Toledo present the most chaotic doomsday scenario of them all. The Tigers win over Ole Miss validates the resume a great deal, but things will have to break their way in order to push a Power Five team aside. And Toledo, with a win over Arkansas, will have to hope for this house of cards to collapse and deliver unprecedented style points along the way. ESPN wants no part of this theory. Ratings and underdog brands do not mix well with New Year s Eve semifinal games.

But more than halfway through the season, at a time when the underdog usually lies down after an ambitious run, a handful of unfamiliar logos are trudging right along. The chaos theory is still intact for a select few. How long they sustain this role is to be determined. Hopefully, it’s a while longer. As for other College Football Playoff observations including a Q&A with ESPN s Kirk Herbstreit, here s where we stand heading into Week 8.

Arrow Pointing Up: LSU

It s time to seriously consider Les Miles1 team as a playoff threat if you haven t already. No longer just a bulldozing, cheat-code running back, the Tigers suddenly have weapons well beyond Leonard Fournette. They showed that against Florida on Saturday, beating a feisty team with its backup quarterback, doing so with a familiar running game but also through the air and with defense. If quarterback Brandon Harris can continue to develop, the Tigers have a wonderful shot at making the playoff. And there is also that Fournette character. Did we mention him?

The issue with LSU, if one exists, is the schedule. The Tigers draw Western Kentucky this week, an underrated opponent. After a bye, LSU will travel to Alabama and Ole Miss. It will also play Arkansas and Texas A&M at home.

While many of these teams might seem down at the moment, not many have a more difficult closing gauntlet. Still, they are more than capable to handle it all.

Arrow Pointing Down: Michigan

There s not much to say, really. In 10 seconds, Michigan went from a trendy College Football Playoff pick to a team in need of a great deal of help. The margin for error even with this more inclusive system is still so marginally thin. One play can change an entire season, and it did just that for the Wolverines. The reality of this final botched punt still hasn t set in. (It will never set in.)

While it s an enormous setback, Michigan isn t dead. Not with so much time left. A lot will need to happen for the Wolverines to get back into the hunt, but a Big Ten championship can be had. They will need help, but it’s still there, hovering in the distance. Perhaps four undefeated teams will waltz into the playoff and eliminate teams like this; something tells me it will be slightly more complicated than that. Still, this was a major setback. There’s no other way to shape it.

Is Stanford Suddenly Ohio State 2.0?

The formula is familiar. Come in with high expectations, lose a really ugly football game early in the year, lose the interest of the football world and follow it up by playing dominant football for the foreseeable future. Last year, this was the blueprint Ohio State followed after its loss to Virginia Tech. The result was an appearance in the College Football Playoff and a national championship. This year, at least early on, Stanford seems to have grabbed the baton.

Since falling helplessly to Northwestern in Week 1 a game that prompted many to dig Stanford its grave the team has rebounded. Last Thursday s 56-35 win over UCLA followed a 55-17 win over Arizona. Suddenly, behind do-everything back Christian McCaffrey, this offense has life. This catch was pretty decent, too. The team is rolling. The defense should get better. The whole machine can still improve.

At No. 10 in the AP poll, climbing back up, the schedule sets up remarkably well. Stanford s remaining road games are Washington State and Colorado. David Shaw s team also plays Cal, Notre Dame, Oregon and Washington. It will likely be a favorite from here on out. Add in a potential matchup in the Pac-12 Championship Game against Utah a matchup that is looking more and more feasible and Stanford has newfound life. Win out, and it’s almost assured. There is a long way to go for a College Football Playoff bid to be realized, but an early loss will certainly help. That feels like ages ago for the team now ranked No. 10, and the selection committee will share a similar sentiment. After all, it did last year.

Talking College Football Playoff With ESPN s Kirk Herbstreit

Each Saturday night, after a long, exhausting, 18-hour day, ESPN analyst and College GameDay host Kirk Herbstreit unveils his updated College Football Playoff top four, and the football world usually loses its mind. His Twitter mentions at these hours are some of the Internet s darkest back alleys. But he always takes it in stride, and the man loves his job. (He s also fabulous at it.)

Although Herbstreit does not have any say in how the final field will ultimately look, the man knows plenty about the playoff. So late last week, before the Week 7 games were completed, I asked Herbstreit a few playoff-related questions regarding this season, the chaos and potential changes ahead.

Bleacher Report: Does it feel like the chaotic nature of this season could make life difficult on the selection committee?

Kirk Herbstreit: It does remind me a little bit of where we were heading in 2007, when we had such chaos toward the end. For me, however, it s still too early. Eventually, a lot of these teams will have to play each other, so there will be some separation. But I think it will go all the way down to that final week, and the committee will likely have a much tougher time this year than it did last year. There are a lot of good teams, but there don t seem to be a lot of great teams. Maybe that will change, but that s what I see right now.

If this thing finishes the way it potentially could, where you have, say, seven teams with one loss, that argument for the No. 4 spot is going to be as nasty as it has ever been. Again, it reminds me a lot of 07. I had coaches calling me that night telling me why his team deserved to be in over whoever else. I think it s going to be a lot like that. And you re going to have five, six or seven teams thinking this is a corrupt system wondering if there s a conspiracy. Twitter may implode when that committee comes out with its final decision in December. It could get nasty. And guys like us, who have to have our own Final Four, will just be pinatas. They re going to hate us if they don t already.

BR: You post your own playoff rankings each week. What is the typical response?

KH: Oh, I get a bit of everything.

I love your rankings, that was spot on!

You re such a moron, I can t stand you!

People think you re a genius if you include their teams. If you leave someone s team out, then you haven t watched them or you re not giving them the credit they deserve. It comes with the territory. To me, honestly, that s what makes this great. As crazy as it can get, I love that people care so much about the sport. I don t think you get this with college basketball, the NFL or the NBA. But man, you release your top four in college football in August, and it is game on. That s very unique, and it says a lot about the passion that we have these fans.

BR: There are a lot of parallels being made between Ohio State this year and Florida State last year. Do you think the committee will view the Buckeyes and teams with a lot of talent and perhaps a lack of style points differently following the Seminoles playoff struggles?

KH: Florida State last year just sort of flirted with disaster all of last year maybe seven or eight times. They showed the heart of a champion and found a way to win. Personally, if you have a team coming out of the Big Ten regardless of whether or not they re defending national champions and they run the table, it s hard for me to see the committee looking at a school like Ohio State and leaving them out of the Final Four.

I don t want to say anything is impossible, but if there s anything close to being impossible, it would be that.

BR: Is there anything with the selection process that you would like to see changed?

KH: Not yet. I think some metrics to help the committee with strength of schedule to help verify their rankings is something worth discussing, but I kind of like it right now. I like the way the committee votes. But I would lean to eventually getting this to eight. I still think we would maintain the regular season mattering, which is something I am very big on. I think if you go to eight, you still get these same arguments and have everything at stake week-to-week. If it got there, I would still be cool with it. That s the one thing I would probably bring up; the possibility of it expanding.

Herbstreit has teamed up with college football sponsor Allstate for the It s Good Sweepstakes, which will award one lucky winner and three friends with a trip to New Orleans for the 2016 Allstate Sugar Bowl before traveling to Phoenix for the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship.

Allstate and Herbstreit have been handing out #StreitCred on Twitter each week, spotlighting the strongest team performances and standout moments as they unfold on the gridiron. For more information, visit www.AllstateCFB.com2.

References

  1. ^ Les Miles (bleacherreport.com)
  2. ^ www.AllstateCFB.com (www.allstatecfb.com)


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