CFB PLAYOFF: Projecting the top 8 teams, in advance of the inaugural Nov. 5 rankings

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It's a simple proposition for unblemished Penn State: Just keep winning out ... and the Nittany Lions will finish no lower than No. 2 overall in the final Playoff rankings.

For the next six Tuesdays (or in this case, Wednesday), BATSBY Sports shall walk the plank of potential embarrassment … by projecting the College Football Playoff rankings.

And in case you aren’t aware, the inaugural Playoff listing becomes public next Tuesday night (between ESPN’s airing of college basketball’s four-team Champions Classic).

It’s worth noting: Our projections will only focus on the next batch of CFP rankings. In other words, we won’t be making a case for the final foursome … until maybe late November.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF PROJECTIONS

ALABAMA (8-0)

RANKING: 1

BREAKDOWN

**Let’s start with something direct: We don’t care that LSU leapfrogged Alabama for the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press poll. Bottom line: Until the Tigers can rectify the stench of last year’s 29-0 home drubbing … then the Crimson Tide deserve the head-to-head benefit of the doubt.

Especially with the Nov. 9 showdown taking place in Tuscaloosa.

**The Tide have hardly been threatened in the first eight games, posting an average victory margin of 39 points.

**We’re assuming quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (2,166 yards passing, 29 total TDs, 2 INTs) and his injured ankle will be ready for the LSU clash. If not, then we might have to rethink our prediction.

Lucky for us, though, that seems like a problem for Future Jay Clemons — not Present Jay.

**Alabama’s statistical dominance might not match that of previous seasons (an unfair comparison, for sure), but it’s still excellent across the board:

1st nationally in turnover margin
8th in total offense
10th in scoring offense
10th in scoring defense
19th in total defense

**The Crimson Tide’s slate has been decent to date (road wins over South Carolina, Texas A&M), but strength of schedule won’t be a concern in November, with Alabama encountering No. 1 LSU and No. 11 Auburn on the road.

LSU (8-0)

RANKING: 2

BREAKDOWN

**As stated last week, LSU likely has the best resume for a No. 1 Playoff ranking, collecting road wins over Texas, Mississippi State and outlasting Florida and Auburn at home.

However, until the Tigers can formally get revenge on the Crimson Tide for last year’s whitewashing … it’s hard to see the 13-person CFP committee choosing LSU over Alabama.

**Quarterback Joe Burrow (potential No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft) has brought the LSU offense out of the Stone Age, unleashing a vertical-strike attack that already entails a single-season school record with passing touchdowns (30).

**Check out these national rankings covering offense and defense. The Tigers are on a certifiable roll … and potentially have the requisite balance to upend Alabama.

2nd in passing offense
2nd in red zone offense
3rd in scoring offense
4th in total offense
8th in 3rd-down conversion percentage

22nd in scoring defense
24th in total defense
31st in turnover margin

OHIO STATE (8-0)

RANKING: 3

BREAKDOWN

The proverbial Eye Test tells us the Buckeyes — average victory margin: 40.5 points — should be ranked No. 1 in the nation.

The numbers suggest a similar notion, since Ohio State boasts top-3 statistical rankings for both scoring defense (1st nationally) and scoring offense (3rd).

However, the Buckeyes likely won’t make another dent in the national rankings until the LSU-Alabama showdown on Nov. 9.

Why is that?

Ohio State hasn’t been challenged by any heavy hitters to date, including Wisconsin from last week (31-point final spread).

Plus, the SEC has earned the right to curry favoritism from voters/committee members — short of any head-to-head battles.

The best strategy for Ohio State in the meantime: Just keep winning by large margins … and keep developing Justin Fields (33 total TDs, just one INT) into perhaps the country’s best dual-threat quarterback.

And before you know it, the season-ending monster matchups with No. 5 Penn State (home) and No. 19 Michigan (road) will be here.

CLEMSON (8-0)

RANKING: 4

BREAKDOWN

The Tigers don’t always resemble the fourth-best team, as the last-second victory over North Carolina (Sept. 28) might attest.

However, the Eye Test would also be irrelevant to the CFP committee, when observing Clemson in the following prisms:

**An undefeated Power 5 school has never been denied entry into the four-team Playoff.

**Clemson, which has reached five consecutive semifinal rounds, has captured two of the last three national championships.

**Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence (the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft) remains a top TV draw — something which can never be underrated, when determining the four semifinalists.

PENN STATE (8-0)

RANKING: 5

BREAKDOWN

**Fresh off back-to-back-to-back victories over ranked opponents (Iowa, Michigan) and Michigan State in wretched weather (trust me, I was there), you’d think Penn State’s schedule would ease up in the coming weeks.

However, the rubber truly won’t hit the proverbial road until November, when traveling showdowns with No. 13 Minnesota (next week) and No. 3 Ohio State (Nov. 23) define everything about this Big Ten campaign.

The upside here: An undefeated Nittany Lions squad (hypothetically factoring in a Big Ten title-game victory) would easily cruise into a top 2 seed in the four-team Playoff.

**The statistical categories say it all about Penn State’s stifling defense:

2nd in scoring defense
6th in team sacks
7th in team tackles for loss

9th in total defense
14th in third-down conversion defense
21st in fewest first downs allowed
23rd in fewest penalties per game

FLORIDA (7-1)

RANKING: 6

BREAKDOWN

**The Gators warrant major props for beating Auburn, losing to LSU and then rallying for a crazy road victory over South Carolina, spanning three consecutive Saturdays (Oct. 5-19).

Very few schools could weather a 14-day stretch like that; and as a result, we’re aligned with the Associated Press poll (No. 6 overall).

**With Georgia (this Saturday), Missouri and Florida State remaining on the schedule, along with the hypothetical berth in the SEC title game, a one-loss Florida squad would have a 99.9-percent chance of reaching the four-team Playoff as the SEC champion. (Thanks, Oklahoma!)

OREGON (7-1)

RANKING: 7

BREAKDOWN

**Oregon has been dynamic (and dramatic) in its last seven outings, enjoying an average victory margin of 25.1 points and knocking off Stanford and Washington on the road in league play.

The Ducks also held a vastly improved Cal squad to merely seven points.

As for the escape act against Washington State last week … well, a win is a win is a win.

Sometimes, it’s best collect the ‘W’ and never speak of this close call again.

**The Labor Day weekend defeat to Auburn was initially devastating to Oregon’s Playoff hopes, since the Pac-12 hasn’t been particularly strong in recent years.

However, the seven-game winning streak, along with huge road trips to USC and Arizona State, could potentially put the Ducks within shouting distance of the semifinals, in advance of Conference Championship Weekend.

In that case, to maximize its chances of impressing the CFP committee, Oregon would likely need a one-loss Utah team (currently 9th in the AP) to reach the Pac-12 title game.

**Quarterback Justin Herbert (a potential top-10 pick in next year’s draft) gets all the national press, but don’t fall asleep on the Oregon defense, which owns superb categorical rankings with turnover margin (3rd nationally), scoring defense (9th) and total defense (20th).

**As an aside, it’s imperative for Auburn to defeat either Georgia or Alabama during November. An upset of that proportion would indirectly boost Oregon’s Playoff viability.

GEORGIA (6-1)

RANKING: 8

BREAKDOWN

**Georgia hasn’t looked uber-dominant in recent weeks (pre-bye), losing to South Carolina at home and then posting a sluggish shutout of Kentucky in a downpour.

But here’s the empirical upside:

The Dawgs would still be healthy locks to reach the four-team Playoff if they run the table from here, presuming signature victories over Florida (Saturday in Jacksonville), Missouri, Auburn (road), Texas A&M and then either Alabama or LSU in the SEC title game.

**On the down side … Notre Dame’s blowout loss to Michigan last week would likely hinder Georgia’s hypothetical case as a two-loss, non-SEC champion (East winners).

In other words, it puts indirect, but eminently tangible pressure on the Dawgs to be letter-perfect from this point forward.

About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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