Here is the strangest part about Saturday’s final push toward the College Football Playoff: the only lock among the four currently atop the ranking isn’t either of the two unbeaten teams, nor the one that recently defeated defending national champion Ohio State.
The lock is the team that lost to seven-loss Texas.
Oklahoma is the team sipping an umbrella drink while everyone else scrambles for the final three semifinal spots.
The Sooners represent the Big 12 Conference, the same league that botched last year’s finish because, lacking a conference title game, it declared Texas Christian and Baylor co-champions.
This is why you always use a pencil, not a pen, to predict college football seasons. They are like snowflakes; no two are the same.
Last year, Texas Christian was third in the next-to-last ranking, then blasted Iowa State, 55-3, in its final game — and dropped to No. 6 in the final ranking.
The Horned Frogs’ only loss was by three points, on the road, against Baylor, another top-10 team.
Yet, this year, third-ranked Oklahoma has almost zero chance of missing the playoff, even though the Sooners own the worst loss of any team in the top eight.
The selection committee, in its final regular-season release Tuesday, all but spelled out how things were going to play out.
Any mystery is only being manufactured by members of the media who emphatically eliminated Stanford after it lost to Oregon and are now too embarrassed to acknowledge the Cardinal is on the doorstep of being back in.
This is why, in some places, you see “long-shot” and “praying for chaos” attached to Stanford’s portfolio.
True chaos only occurs if Clemson loses to North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game and Alabama loses to Florida for the Southeastern Conference championship.
If Clemson and Alabama win, well, any mystery is over.
The committee provided the clues in Tuesday’s ranking — you just had to find them.
It effectively eliminated Florida from contention, even as a two-loss SEC champion, by dropping the Gators six spots to No. 18. There is no way Florida gets to four from 18, even if it defeats Alabama.
Here is our final weekend playoff power ranking, in order of strongest playoff position:
1. Oklahoma. The Sooners have finished their regular season, earning a playoff spot. They are this season’s Ohio State, a team that rebounded from an ugly loss by streaking toward the finish line.
2. Big Ten Conference champion. The league is guaranteed a chance to repeat as national champion. The playoff entrant will be the winner of Saturday’s title game, Michigan State or Iowa. Put that in ink.
3. Alabama. The Crimson Tide overcame a home loss to Mississippi to win the SEC West. Alabama is an overwhelming favorite to beat Florida. Alabama is also lucky Arkansas converted on a miracle fourth-and-25 play to pull out a 53-52 win over Mississippi. Otherwise, Mississippi would be playing Florida in the SEC title game.
4. Clemson. The Tigers are No. 1 but possibly vulnerable as they face streaking North Carolina in the ACC title game. The Tar Heels have won 11 straight since an opening loss to South Carolina.
5. Stanford. The Cardinal is No. 7 in the ranking but in reality sits two spots higher. Defeating USC in Saturday’s Pac-12 title game would likely vault Stanford over the Big Ten championship game loser and also No. 6 Ohio State, which is finished playing. Stanford would then need Alabama or Clemson to lose.
6. Ohio State. The Buckeyes need help because they didn’t win their own division of the Big Ten. The committee puts a premium on conference championships. Ohio State’s best hope is that Stanford and Alabama lose.
7. North Carolina. The Tar Heels are hamstrung because they played two lower-level opponents in nonconference games. That would cost them in a head-to-head comparison against Pac-12 champion Stanford, which played Northwestern and Notre Dame. However, a win over Clemson probably would vault North Carolina over Ohio State.
8. Notre Dame. The Irish have suffered two crushing road defeats, against Clemson and Stanford. So in the end, it’s Notre Dame that needs to pray for chaos.