Kramer’s Playoff Notebook: CFB’s Dream Matchup a Small Step Closer to Reality

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One can’t help but get lost in the possibility of it all. That the most robust, polarizing personalities in the sport may finally clash with a tremendous amount to gain or lose.

That is not to say Nick Saban vs. Jim Harbaugh is a given in January. Both programs have ample challenges that could prevent them from punching their playoff tickets—such as still having to win their conferences.

Heck, in order for this ratings bonanza to be realized, both might first have to win a College Football Playoff game.

With the hypotheticals and doubts fully appreciated, the College Football Playoff’s initial Top 25 for the 2016 season allowed us to ponder that what if. The selection committee provided that.

As it stands today—and again, today is not what matters—Alabama, the top seed, would play Texas A&M, a somewhat surprising No. 4.

Clemson, the No. 2 team, would take on No. 3 Michigan in the other semifinal.

The winners of these two games would then meet, and that sound you hear in the background is ESPN—the network with complete playoff ownership—breathing into a paper bag just thinking about the eyeballs and interest that would follow if those teams were Alabama and Michigan.

Want to boost those lowly ratings from last year? This will do it.

One enjoys satellite camps. One clearly does not. One drinks large glasses of milk with his steaks. One, to our knowledge, has more preferable options. One is a Twitter power and social media lightning rod; the other doesn’t have a Twitter account and likely never will.

One has won five titles and is arguably the greatest coach to ever walk this earth; the other is still looking for his first and pushing his evolving legacy rapidly forward.

Sure, it’s unlikely to happen. Not because Alabama and Michigan aren’t logical picks to make the playoff. Both look and feel like Top Four teams at the moment. It’s the reality that these two teams still have to make it that far.

Also, Clemson, Texas A&M, Washington, Ohio State and Louisville—talented teams with great players and coaches—would love to disrupt this idea. They don’t care what would be good for the business.

As for other thoughts on the first College Football Playoff Top 25 of the year, let’s dive in.


Relax, Restless Washington Fans; You’re in Lovely Shape

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Of all the drama to come from the selection committee’s initial efforts, no decision was more notable than Washington’s absence from the Top Four.

Texas A&M, even with a loss, earned the nod for the No. 4 spot over the undefeated Huskies.

It’s significant in a sense that it provided some spice to a night that figured to have minimal intrigue. But outside of that, it tells us little beyond the fact that the Aggies are in good standing with this group of humans.

“Washington is a well-balanced team, and they had a good win last week on the road against Utah,” new selection chair Kirby Hocutt said after the rankings were released. “But in the committee’s mind, Texas A&M has played a stronger schedule…beating four teams with winning records, and Washington has only beat two.”

Here’s the thing. If Washington continues to play like Washington, it will make the playoff with zero discussion.

Beyond the obvious—this is a really good team with a great coach and really good players in many areas—the committee would not leave out an undefeated Power Five team that wins its conference and a conference championship game.

That’s it. Done. Settled. Even a one-loss Huskies team with a Pac-12 title would make one heck of an argument.

Still, by all means, let’s funnel all collective angers together.


The Big 12 Isn’t Dead, but All Is Not Well

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One could look at the Big 12’s 2016 College Football Playoff rankings debut in two ways.

First, it was suboptimal. That’s probably the most accurate way to feel.

Oklahoma is the highest-ranked team in the conference, checking in at No. 14. Baylor and Oklahoma State are positioned at Nos. 17 and 18, respectively. West Virginia, after suffering its first loss of the season, checked in at No. 20.

It’s clear what the committee thinks of the conference as a whole. It’s all out there.

More significant than the initial placement of these teams is the reality that there is almost no room for error moving forward.

That being said, and this is a more optimistic mindset, the Big 12 has been here before.

Oklahoma was the No. 15 team in last year’s first College Football Playoff rankings, and it made the final Top Four. It’s actually closer to the top this time around.

That Sooners team had only one loss at this point last year, which is notable. Then the losses came in front of them.

Similar and perhaps even more chaos will be necessary, but let’s hold off on closing the doors on the conference for now. There will be ample time to shut it out if necessary, and we might.

But for now, let’s just say the Big 12 is not in an ideal spot and leave it at that.


So We Have a Top 4—Now, Which Team Is Most Likely to Be Bounced?

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This can change quickly, though the most logical answer at the moment is Texas A&M.

It’s not that the Aggies are somehow unworthy of the initial praise and committee love; it’s the reality that right now, they do not control their playoff chances.

Conference championships are the key cog to this system. The committee has stated as such, which is why these midseason releases provide little substance beyond entertainment.

Until Texas A&M is in a position to win its conference—and perhaps that time will come—it will have an uphill battle. (See: Washington minirant above.) All eight College Football Playoff teams to date have had a conference title.

That’s not to say it won’t happen; it will at some point. But it won’t be easy.

If the Aggies win out, they’ll state a compelling case to the committee. Wins over Ole Miss and more so LSU would only help their standing. It’s simply a matter of getting the help necessary to stay in the Top Four without a conference championship—if it comes to that.

And if it does come to that, the committee might finally be pushed into a difficult decision. As a card-carrying member of #TeamChaos, I say bring it.


A 2-Loss Team Could Really Make Things Weird

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The following theme will carry relevance in the next two sections of this piece: If an unexpected team lifts a trophy, wins a title, makes a stage speech, it could shatter this perfectly clean picture.

A contest late in the regular season or a conference championship game may unexpectedly turn sideways. There has not been enough of this in the first two years of the playoff.

That’s where Wisconsin (No. 8), Auburn (No. 9), LSU (No. 13), Colorado (No. 15) and Utah (No. 16) come in. Oh, it felt so good to type Colorado.

LSU will get its shot at Alabama this weekend. Auburn will get its shot in the Iron Bowl. Wisconsin could get another look at Michigan or Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. And either Colorado or Utah could derail Washington in the Pac-12 title game.

This is laced with hypotheticals, of course, though there is a common theme: late momentum matters. Being in the right division with a chance to beat a College Football Playoff hopeful at the right time could make one heck of a timely impression.

Having a shot, shockingly, is better than not. These teams have one.

In previous years, two losses signaled playoff death. This year, that might not be the case.


And, Finally, Look at the Calendar

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Trivia time: Can you name the first team to be ranked No. 1 by the College Football Playoff selection committee? Take a moment to think about it. It happened two years ago.

Alabama? Good guess, but no.

Ohio State? Nice try. Next.

Florida State? Oregon? Auburn? No, no and no.

That would be Mississippi State—yes, that’s the one. In 2014, the 7-0 Bulldogs were named the No. 1 team over Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss in the first installment of the playoff rankings.

Only one of those four squads—the Seminoles—ended up in the tournament. The point is, things happen. As defined as the picture seems, especially near the top, this process has proved to be remarkably fluid.

Losses come, chaos arrives unannounced and the picture changes. Then it changes again, perhaps more violently than the last time. It will all be made official mid-day Dec. 4.

Now is the time to overreact. There will be ample time to shed such emotion.

Patience, friends. While the season will move rapidly, there’s a long way to go.


Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter at @KegsnEggs.