FOX Four: Oregon-Alabama would be the ultimate playoff showdown
Welcome to the FOX Four.
To prepare for the inaugural College Football Playoff, we’ve assembled our own 13-member committee that will present its ranking of the top teams after each week from now through the end of the season.
How it works: Each member will submit an individual top 10, which we’ll compile to get an average score and then publish our official FOX Four rankings from highest to lowest (average score in parentheses). Though this ranking puts special emphasis on the first four teams – our current playoff picks after the most recent week of the season – we’ll list a top 10 so you can see how the committee has prioritized the second batch of teams that could impact the playoff discussion.
Number of first-place votes will break ties. If two teams have the same number of first-place votes, we’ll proceed to the subsequent place until the tie is broken.
Our 13-member committee: Tim Brando, Charles Davis, Bruce Feldman, Joey Harrington, Joel Klatt, Matt Leinart, Stewart Mandel, Ryan Nece, Petros Papadakis, Brady Quinn, Rob Stone, Clay Travis and Dave Wannstedt.
"We know fans want transparency in their playoff rankings," said committee chairman Stewart Mandel. "Not only will you see our Top 10 each week but you’ll get explanations from our committee members why the teams are ranked where they are."
Below the top 10, look for brief analysis from college football analyst Coy Wire on one team primed to rise and one ready to fall in the rankings.
Monday on FOX Sports 1 (8 p.m. ET/5 PT): FOX College Football: Playoff Preview. Feldman, Mandel, Travis, Papadakis, Stone, Klatt, Davis and Wannstedt hold a roundtable discussion of the current playoff race and break down every playoff angle that could play out over the next week. Here’s a clip from the show.
Next week on FOX & FOX Sports 1 (all times ET): Pac-12 Championship Game (Friday, 8 p.m., FOX); Big Ten Championship Game (Saturday, 7 p.m., FOX); Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., FS1).
1) OREGON DUCKS (9.18)
Oregon crushed Oregon State on the road, 47-19, in Week 14 to win the Civil War.
Feldman: “The Ducks went to archrival Oregon State and won by 28. They played five Pac-12 road games and won by an average of nearly 18 ppg. The Ducks have three strong wins (over Mich. State by 19 and on the road at UCLA and Utah, and neither of those were close, either). I give Oregon a slight edge over Bama. I think the Tide have the better D, although it didn’t look very good against Auburn this week, but I think Mariota is the best QB in the country and I have more faith in Oregon’s offense on a neutral field than Alabama’s.”
Mandel: “The Ducks’ ‘bad’ loss turned out to be against a 10-2 division champ and they’ll get a chance to avenge that next week. I could see Oregon going in as the No. 1 seed if it wins.”
Papadakis: “The reason I keep the one-loss Ducks ahead of one-loss Alabama is based on a phrase playoff chairman Jeff Long uses every week in his stale media rounds: game control. The Ducks have controlled more games than the Crimson Tide. Oregon makes short work of every opponent. The interesting twist this coming Friday in the Pac-12 title game in is that Oregon is playing Arizona for the third time in a third state just over a year. Even more interesting is how Zona’s 3-3-5 amoeba defense has smothered the Ducks in the first two games. If the Ducks lose to Arizona on Friday, they would certainly drop out of playoff contention.”
Leinart: “Mariota is the frontrunner to win the Heisman and his game against Oregon State was the icing on the cake. Special year for a special player. Oregon’s defense is playing really well. The Ducks are so dangerous on offense, and it all starts with Mariota. We are witnessing one of the greatest QBs to ever play the college game. And their loss (Arizona) looks really good right now compared to (losses by) others.”
Nece: “On a cold night on the road in a rivalry game, Oregon stayed on fire. Once again, Heisman frontrunner Mariota put on a show (406 total yards and six total TDs) and Oregon’s offense looked like a well-oiled machine. Defensively, the Ducks have made big strides. They are playing with a chip on their shoulder and are doing a much better job tackling (which will be key in next week’s matchup).”
Quinn: “There’s no better QB than Mariota. He is a shoe-in for the Heisman after accounting for six total TD’s against Oregon State. Royce Freeman continues to give the Ducks offensive balance, rushing for 135 yards vs. the Beavers. The Ducks will need all the production they can get considering their defense is giving up 436 yards per game (93rd in total D). Are the Arizona Wildcats their kryptonite? We shall find out in the Pac-12 championship game.”
2) ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (9.09)
Alabama came from behind in Week 14 to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl, 55-44.
Wannstedt: “When the Crimson Tide play at home, they’re the best team in the country, and they’re still pretty good away from Bryant-Denny. They will be in Atlanta this week to face Missouri in the SEC title game. Conference championship games could cause a flip in the ranking’s top two teams after this week.”
Leinart: “I don’t look at game control — I look at how you finish football games. Alabama’s finish against Auburn was impressive. Blake Sims struggled but made some huge plays and found arguably the best player in CFB multiple times in Amari Cooper, who has emerged as a legit Heisman candidate and should have a seat there in December. The weapons they have on offense are scary, and I think Lane Kiffin has done a good job getting everyone involved. Defense was shaky and that could be instrumental as they move forward but, all in all this team and Oregon are by far the two best teams in the country.”
Harrington: “We all know Nick Saban can coach a little defense, but did you see what Sims and Cooper did in the second half against Auburn? Wow! This team has shown it can win a defensive battle (LSU) and a good old-fashioned shootout (Auburn). This is probably the most well-rounded team in the country.”
Brando: “Anyone thinking Alabama coming off the Iron Bowl is just gonna need to show up and beat the Show Me State guys in the SEC title game should think again. Mizzou’s defense is much better than Auburn’s, and this is the Tigers’ second straight trip to Atlanta. Alabama’s perimeter issues could be exposed by Maty Mauk. The running game for the Tigers is severely underrated, as well.”
Klatt: “Sims looked totally lost for the majority of the first half against Auburn, and the Tide still hung 55 on the Tigers. This is not the best team Saban has had at Alabama, but it is good enough to win a national championship. I speak for everyone in CFB when I say I would love to see Mariota and Oregon play Alabama. That would be heaven!”
Travis: “The Tide are clicking on all cylinders on offense, and the defense has been pretty consistent up until Nick Marshall played the best game of his career in the Iron Bowl. How many teams in the country can score 55 points despite its starting quarterback throwing three interceptions? Now the only question left in Bama’s season is would Nick Saban strangle Lane Kiffin to death if Missouri pulled off the upset in the SEC title game?”
3) FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (8.64)
FSU did what it does — play sloppy football and figure out how to win, beating Florida, 24-19.
Feldman: “Jameis Winston was dreadful throwing four picks, but rising star Dalvin Cook was superb again. Yeah, FSU had its hands full with archrival Florida, but I’m keeping the Noles No. 1 because no one else in the country has managed to find a way to win EVERY game.”
Papadakis: “As the only undefeated FBS team remaining, it’s clear that Florida State deserves my No. 1 ranking. I know it’s a crazy concept — but I actually use wins and losses as the most important factor when figuring my poll. Game after game the Seminoles have walked a tight rope without falling off. But if the Noles lose to Georgia Tech in the ACC title game, then I would most likely drop them out of my top four.”
Mandel: “The Noles deviated from the script a little against Florida. This time, it won in spite of Jameis Winston, who threw for 125 yards and four interceptions. It’s a significant milestone to get to 12-0 but this is not a better team that Bama, Oregon or TCU.”
Wannstedt: “The Seminoles are still the undefeated defending champs, but they’re different than my top two teams. I’m a little disappointed that FSU has not corrected its flaws.”
Harrington: “To borrow from coach Jimbo Fisher: Last I checked, this was football and not team figure skating. The point of this game is to win, not to be judged based on how your performance looks. As much as everyone outside of Tallahassee wants the Seminoles to lose, they haven’t! They are the only undefeated team in college football. End of discussion. If you want Winston to put on a tutu and knock out a triple-axel, triple-toe loop combination, I’m sure he’d do that. But until college football has a short program and a free skate, stop acting like the angry judge from the Eastern Bloc!”
Nece: “They trailed to an inferior opponent early but the comeback kids pulled it together and got another big win in a rivalry game. If they don’t start fast — and they haven’t all year — next week in the ACC title game against GT, I predict an upset.”
Quinn: “The Seminoles continue to win in spite of themselves. Winston became the first QB this season to win a game while throwing four interceptions. This doesn’t bode well for FSU moving forward, but they remain undefeated. With a win in the ACC championship game against Georgia Tech, the Seminoles are in the College Football Playoff. This won’t be easy considering the Yellow Jackets rank third in rushing averaging (328 yards/game), while FSU is 45th in the country giving up 158 yards/game. Georgia Tech will be able to control the clock and the football. If they get up early, the Seminoles might not be able to mount one of their typical comebacks.”
Davis: “They’re still my top team, but they make it hard to defend ranking them at the top because of how many of their own errors they have to overcome each game.”
Klatt: “Winston has thrown 13 INTs in the first half of games this season, which is most of any QB in the country. Fortunately for the Seminoles, they haven’t played anybody explosive enough on offense to take advantage of those mistakes. That is going to change starting this week when they face Georgia Tech, which just beat a very good Georgia team on the road. If they get beat, they will not make the playoff as a one-loss team.”
Travis: “The Seminoles overcame four Winston interceptions to beat Florida by five. Now FSU faces its toughest test of the season — which isn’t really saying much — Georgia Tech in the ACC title game. I assume FSU will win by three or four and wait until the playoff when they’re crushed by Alabama or Oregon.”
4) TCU HORNED FROGS (7.09)
TCU played on Thanksgiving night and dominated Texas in Austin, 48-10.
Feldman: “I know that Baylor has the head-to-head over the Horned Frogs, and maybe I’ll flip them above TCU next week if the Bears handle K-State. TCU thumped Texas on the road while Baylor got all that it could handle at home from a shaky Texas Tech team. I suspect this weekend gave a lot of folks pause on automatically having Baylor ahead of TCU.”
Mandel: “TCU played one of its best games of the season on Thanksgiving night at Texas. Take a look at its resume: Blowout wins over 9-2 K-State and 9-3 Minnesota, win over 8-3 Oklahoma and in its only loss, on the road to a 10-1 team, it never trailed until the final play.”
Quinn: “If there was any doubt whether the Horned Frogs were worthy of the No. 4 spot, they squashed those reservations after pounding Texas in Austin. The Longhorns were playing some of their best football before getting throttled on all three phases by TCU. The loss by Mississippi State helps their case, but TCU will have to hope the committee favors them as an 11-1 "co-conference champion" over Baylor (even though they lost head-to-head) or a 12-1 Big Ten champion Ohio State for the final playoff spot. Expect TCU to roll next week vs. Iowa State and leave this decision up to the committee. Don’t forget the Horned Frogs have three wins vs. Top 25 teams in the committee’s current rankings.”
Davis: “So impressive at Texas that I’ve flipped TCU back ahead of Baylor, breaking my head-to-head rule. One of two Big 12 teams that deserve every consideration for the Playoff Four.”
Klatt: “This is going to be the best team that misses the playoff. It is pretty simple for me, because the Horned Frogs did lose to Baylor and that loss should knock them out. Let’s put it a different way: If this was the old Big 12 South, TCU would not even win its own division, in which case this conversation would end. TCU had a terrific season, but it will end with a berth in a New Year’s bowl.”
Travis: “TCU smoked Texas and will finish 11-1 after it beats Iowa State this coming weekend. But the only way I leave TCU above Baylor in my final top four is if Baylor loses to Kansas State. Otherwise TCU gets jumped. But could the Big 12 get two teams in the playoff? It sure could if Alabama, Oregon or FSU lose conference title games. Would that make people question why we’re playing conference title games at all? Yep.”
5) BAYLOR BEARS (5.73)
Baylor got by Texas Tech, 48-46, but QB Bryce Petty suffered a “minor concussion” and his status this week is unknown.
Papadakis: “I will move Baylor into my top four if the Bears beat Kansas State this week, but that game now becomes more difficult with Bryce Petty’s concussion status. If Baylor defeats K-State with Petty’s backup, Seth Russell, I wouldn’t hold Petty’s absence against Baylor moving forward. If Baylor wins, I hope the committee factors in that Petty would be healthy to play in five weeks for the playoffs.”
Wannstedt: “I had Baylor as my No. 4 team last week and have not lost any positive feelings for the Bears, but TCU has just done more to this point. Let’s revisit after Baylor faces Kansas State this week.”
Harrington: “Injuries have been a problem for Baylor all year. On the opening drive of the season, All-American wideout Antwan Goodley went down and it snowballed from there. However, Baylor weathered the storm and is now one win away from making a strong case that it should be the fourth team in the playoff. Unfortunately QB Bryce Petty left last week’s game with a concussion. His availability against Kansas State will determine the Bears’ fate. As I’ve said for the last month, beat the Wildcats and Baylor is in, but that may be tough to do if it doesn’t have its senior leader.”
Quinn: “The Bears squeaked by Texas Tech after Petty left in the third quarter with a concussion. He will have to pass concussion protocols this week in order to play verses Kansas State. This is a ‘must-win’ for Baylor if they want to convince the committee they are the best team to represent the Big 12 in the playoff. I had Baylor higher in my rankings last week but dropped it after seeing how vulnerable the Bears are without Petty behind center. If he doesn’t play vs. Kansas State, I don’t believe the Bears will win.”
6) OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (5.27)
Ohio State beat Michigan, 42-28, but the question now facing the Buckeyes: How good are they without J.T. Barrett?
Papadakis: “Even with a victory in the Big Ten title game over Wisconsin AND one of my higher teams losing, I would have trouble voting the one-loss Buckeyes into the playoff. With starting QB J.T. Barrett out for the season with a broken ankle suffered Saturday, new quarterback Cardale Jones will have one game to impress me and the playoff committee.”
Mandel: “Putting Barrett’s injury aside, the Buckeyes’ defense has been backsliding the past few games. They are at the bottom of the one-loss pack.”
Wannstedt: “Despite key injuries, Ohio State has kept its focus so far and had good road wins against ranked teams in Michigan State and Minnesota. All eyes will be on them this weekend against a Wisconsin team with the best running back in the country and one of the nation’s top 10 defenses. Winning the Big Ten championship with a first-time starting QB would put the Buckeyes in consideration for the fourth playoff spot.”
Leinart: “I still think they are playing as well as anybody. I’m not going to drop them because of the injury to Barrett. I am going to wait and see how they play with their third-string QB in the title game against Wisconsin. If they win convincingly, I would put them ahead of both TCU and Baylor.”
Brando: “Ohio State should be given the benefit of the doubt, in my opinion, by the committee on whether losing Barrett makes the Buckeyes less acceptable to the top four. If Urban Meyer works his magic again next week, with what is really his third-string QB, the Buckeyes may deserve to be in.”
Quinn: “The playoff committee discussed taking injuries into account when deciding the fate of the top four teams, and I believe the loss of Barrett seals the fate of the Big Ten getting left out of the playoff — if my current top four win out. It’s such a shame considering Barrett’s accomplishments in his first season starting for the Buckeyes.”
Davis: “Will play a second backup in the Big Ten title game after the season-ending injury to Barrett. Can Cardale Jones carry the Buckeyes to a conference championship — and more? Beat Wisconsin and Ohio State makes a tremendous case for inclusion in the Playoff Four.”
Klatt: “The great unknown is now Jones at QB for the Buckeyes. The one key for the committee is that it will get to see Ohio State play with him in the game this week. Until we see that game, we have no idea who Ohio State is.”
Travis: “The Buckeyes beat Michigan but lost their second quarterback of the season. Now they’ll be underdogs against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they still need at least two losses from the teams above them to make the inaugural playoff.”
7) ARIZONA WILDCATS (3.73)
Arizona handled ASU last Friday, 42-35, and now prepares for another shot against Oregon in the conference title game.
Feldman: “After beating ASU, the Cats vault to the top spot among two-loss teams. No one has a better win this season on their resume than winning at Oregon. Beating the Ducks twice — and for a third time in less than 13 months — would be a heckuva statement. Still, they’re going to need plenty of help to sneak into the Final Four. Most viable scenario for them: beating the Ducks, having OSU lose and having K-State beat Baylor.”
Leinart: “They need some help, but with a win over Oregon in the Pac-12 title game we could see them sneak into the playoff. Crazier things have happened, and this team continues to play well week after week. Its offense is explosive and the Wildcats have the best defensive player in CFB in Scooby Wright, who should be in New York!”
Harrington: “The team nobody thought would last the length of the season is sitting here at the end. Rich Rodriguez has done an incredible job with a group of young pups. Arizona is playing with a freshman quarterback in Anu Solomon, a freshman running back in Nick Wilson and four of its top five receivers are sophomores! If it weren’t for a timeout called by USC to ice the kicker, this team would be 11-1 and making a very strong case to be included in the playoff. As it is, the Wildcats have a chance to sneak in with a second win against Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.”
Davis: “What a year for the Wildcats! Coach Rich Rod’s ’60 Minutes of Arizona’ rallying cry has them 60 minutes away from a Pac-12 title. Beat Oregon, a team ranked in the top three, for a second time this season, and the pressure on the committee to consider a two-loss team is sky high — and it should be in that case.”
8) KANSAS STATE WILDCATS (2.00)
K-State wasn’t challenged in Week 14, beating Kansas, 51-13. That changes this week with a road trip to Baylor.
Harrington: “In typical Bill Snyder fashion, this team has quietly put together a wonderful season and, with a win Saturday against Baylor, can claim a share of the Big 12 championship. A quality win against Oklahoma put the Wildcats in the discussion, but it’s the narrow loss to Auburn at the beginning of the year that is keeping them out.”
Brando: “Kansas State has a chance to end Baylor’s playoff chances this week in Waco, and were that to happen how high could the Wildcats go? Likely not as far up as Arizona if the Wildcats of the Pac-12 beat Oregon for a second time, but it’s worthy of discussion.”
Quinn: “Kansas State had a convincing win over Kansas and will set its sights on Baylor in next week’s showdown. Knowing how tough Petty is, I suspect him to find a way to play in this one, but if he doesn’t I think Jake Waters and the Wildcats are capable of slowing down the Bears and pulling off the upset. A win by KSU would also hush any conversation of Baylor deserving to be ahead of TCU in the rankings (considering Baylor won their head-to-head matchup and TCU has been ranked ahead all year long).”
Klatt: “Still alive for a share of the Big 12 title if they can beat Baylor on the road this week. However, they were exposed by TCU the last time they traveled into the Lone Star State. Their run game has to get better if they want to win this game, and Jake Waters has to become a more dominant runner battling that shoulder injury.”
9) WISCONSIN BADGERS (1.91)
The Badgers won Paul Bunyan’s Axe by beating Minnesota 34-24 last Saturday and now play for a conference crown.
Papadakis: “Even if the Badgers win the Big Ten title, I can’t vote them into my top four. This is where I draw my line. I would place two-loss teams like Oregon and Alabama — if they lost their conference title games — ahead of a two-loss Wisconsin team.”
Feldman: “The Badgers, behind the fantastic Melvin Gordon, have won seven in a row with good wins over Nebraska and Minnesota and only one of those opponents has a losing record.”
Harrington: “Ever since Joel Stave was put back into the lineup at quarterback, this has been a different Wisconsin team – and by different I mean the same team we’ve come to expect every year in Madison. They throw the ball sparingly, but effectively, they play good defense and they run the ball like crazy. If it weren’t for a guy named Marcus Mariota, Melvin Gordon would be running his way to a Heisman Trophy. The Badgers have a chance on Saturday to sneak into the playoff discussion with a win against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship and a couple losses by teams ahead of them.”
Davis: “Tough, tough team that gets to play Ohio State for the Big Ten championship with the pieces in place to get it done — a dominant runner in Melvin Gordon and one of the better defenses in the country.”
10) MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (1.45)
The Spartans beat Penn State in Week 14, 34-10, but sit outside of the playoff picture with a week to go.
Mandel: “Outside of beating 9-3 Nebraska, the Spartans had a pretty soft 10-2 record, but they did win almost every one of those games decisively.”
Quinn: “The Spartans really don’t have any signature wins besides beating Nebraska, which is no longer ranked in the top 25 (were No. 19 when they played). Their two losses were to Ohio State and Oregon, which aren’t bad losses, but they don’t have a case to make the playoff.”
Klatt: “Still dominant, but they don’t have the marquee wins that the other two-loss teams have in front of them. Coming into last week, they were one of three teams to have a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard receiver and 1,000-yard rusher this season with Western Kentucky and USC.”
Other teams receiving votes: Mississippi State (0.45), Georgia Tech (0.09), Missouri (one ninth-place vote).
Teams with top-four votes: Alabama (13), Oregon (13), Florida State (13), TCU (12), Baylor (1).
COY WIRE’S ONE UP, ONE DOWN
Trending up: Baylor
In every ranking up until this point, the Bears have been kicked to the curb while TCU — a team they beat — has enjoyed more national respect as the Big 12’s highest-ranked team. Perhaps it has been justifiable since TCU had played a more respectable schedule outside of the clash between the two teams, including an early-season victory over Minnesota, which may or may not still be ranked in the top 25 after last week’s loss to Wisconsin. Now, Baylor will get the opportunity to bolster its resume as it finishes the season at home against Kansas State — a team the committee will have in its top 10. If the Bears pull off the win, it would make sense if the committee decides to leapfrog them over the Horned Frogs, as they would be Big 12 co-champions with a team they beat in head-to-head competition.
Tending down: Ohio State
While the Buckeyes’ defense is ranked 40th in the nation in allowing 145.6 yards per game on the ground, they’ve allowed an average of 199.5 in their last four games. Now, they face the nation’s second-most prolific rushing team in the Wisconsin Badgers led by Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon, who has run through defenses like a bowling ball through a wet paper bag to the tune of 2,260 yards and eight yards per carry. With the injury to Barrett — the player who had almost single-handedly put Ohio State back into any sort of playoff conversation — it should be no surprise the Buckeyes are pegged as a team that may drop down in the rankings after this week’s games.