CFP rankings set scope of race, show benefits of expansion

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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The first College Football Playoff rankings of the season will be unveiled Tuesday night, revealing the scope of the national championship race while also providing Exhibit A in the case for expanding the field.

The current four-team format is fine for crowning a deserving champion, but it has reduced interest in the rest of the non-playoff bowl games among fans, players and even coaches while also narrowing the focus during the final month of the season to fewer than 10% of all major college football teams.

Both the CFP selection committee, charged with rankings teams, and the management committee, responsible for putting together a format to determine a national champion, will be in North Texas this week.

The selection committee’s work is done by Tuesday afternoon. The management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, is scheduled to meet Wednesday and Thursday as it tries to hammer out the future structure of the CFP. There is a lot of support for a proposed 12-team format, but consensus needs to be unanimous and that is not yet the case.

When the 12-team model was made public in June, participation was touted as one of the main reasons for expansion.

“The practical effect of this will be that with four or five weeks to go in the season, there will be 25 or 30 teams that have a legitimate claim and practical opportunity to participate,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said back in June. “That should make for an extraordinarily good October and November.”

Without even seeing the committee’s rankings, a glance at the AP Top 25 and seven years of CFP selections make it easy to see which teams head into November with a realistic chance to reach the final four.

Unbeaten Power Five conference teams: Georgia, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Wake Forest.

Power Five teams with one loss and a chance to win a conference: Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Baylor.

History suggests that’s the list.

No team from a non-Power Five conference has ever made the playoff. No team with more than one loss has ever made the playoff.

However, the committee has shown some signs of warming up to schools from the so-called Group of Five conferences in recent years, so slide unbeaten Cincinnati on to that pile.

There is a first time for everything, so if you want to stretch the list – and the imagination – a little further, add a couple of SEC teams that are still in position to win the conference with two losses.

Add Notre Dame with one loss, because you never know.

That’s, at most, 14 of 130 FBS teams with CFP aspirations and five weeks left to play.

If the proposed 12-team format, with automatic bids for the six highest-ranked FBS conference champions, was in place this season, a conservative count of teams that would currently have playoff hopes would be more than double that.

That would include any team from a Power Five conference with two losses or fewer, but in reality even a team with three losses entering November would still be in play to make a run.

“When we did the analysis of this, one of the things that jumped out was in the current model … in four of the last five years, in the initial selection, no one has moved further than from seventh to the final four, which doesn’t promote the long-term interest over the season that we might like,” Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick said.

Using past final selection committee rankings to fill out a 12-team bracket with the proposed criteria, 12 teams with at least three losses – all from Power Five conferences – would have made the playoff from 2014-19.

Some fans cringe at the thought of a team with that many Ls reaching the playoff and worry about how that diminishes the importance of the very best regular-season games. Michigan-Michigan State would not have pushed the loser to the brink of elimination.

But a larger field raises the stakes on a game such as No. 12 Auburn at No. 13 Texas A&M on Saturday, and breathes life into November for dozens of teams that otherwise would, at best, be hoping for New Year’s Six bowl bids that their best players may or may not decide to play.

“We think that’s a model that keeps a lot more teams alive a lot longer into the season and generates interest,” Swarbrick said.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.