Pat Higgins | Sports Editor
In the first season of college football sans the BCS, things are the way they should have been for half a decade with the institution of a four-team playoff system. Last week the panel of experts released its first ever Playoff Rankings. Atop the rankings are undefeated Mississippi State and Florida State, followed by Auburn, Oregon and Alabama, respectively. Conveniently, Boise State, the mid-major for which the rule was instituted, is unranked this season.
The first year of the College Football Playoff has provided a highly competitive environment across college football, where early November conference games are essentially play-in games for the four-team bracket. Last week, after Tuesday’s rankings saw three SEC teams (Miss. St, Auburn, Ole Miss) in the top four teams, but No. 3 Auburn held off No. 4 Ole Miss 35-31 on Saturday night in what was essentially an elimination game of top SEC teams, at least in terms of the playoffs.
Jameis Winston pushed No. 2 Florida State past No. 25 Louisville to avoid an upset 42-31 last week, but Florida State doesn’t look as invincible as they did last season on its way to the national championship. Luckily for the Seminoles, their remaining schedule is void of a ranked opponent, though they still need to beat Virginia, Miami and Florida before season’s end. If they can do that, they’ll obviously be in the conversation. If they slip up against just one opponent, their top-four spot may go to a team that already burned its loss. Perhaps Notre Dame, but more likely Alabama, TCU or Kansas State.
Without Chip Kelly, Oregon is 8-1 and right on pace to make the playoffs at No. 4. With only one loss to Arizona, the Ducks have a number of impressive wins on their schedule, including an early season matchup with No. 7 Michigan State on Sept. 6, a 42-30 win over UCLA in early October and most recently wins over Cal and Stanford. They face No. 17 Utah on the road this weekend and will end the season against archrival Oregon State on Nov. 29. If Marcus Marioto can win three more games, he’ll prove the decision to stay in Eugene for another season was the right one.
No. 5 Alabama gets a crack at No. 1 Mississippi State next Saturday, but not before they face off against No. 16 LSU this weekend. Then, there’s the Iron Bowl against No. 3 Auburn two weeks after that on Nov. 29. The Tide can roll and keep the dynasty going, but Auburn is just as tough this year as last and Miss. St. Dak Prescott has impressed many this year. There are certainly advantages of being an SEC team with one or maybe two losses, but the disadvantage is that your schedule is loaded with ridiculous top-10 matchups from the beginning of October to the end of November.
There’s still plenty of football left at the collegiate level, with four weeks to go, and the top four we see today will look nothing like the ranks released on Tuesday.