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CFP rankings: Tide rolls while Gators & FSU still in playoff hunt

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For those in the chorus that sings about SEC bias in punditry and polling, you have some sheet music before you. The College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings are now out and if the playoffs were to begin today, two Southeastern Conference teams would be among the four playing for a championship.

The on again, off again, on again romance between college football pollsters and Alabama is back on again. After a fall from grace prompted by a home loss to Mississippi earlier this year, the Crimson Tide has risen again to claim the fourth spot in the initial CFP rankings.

At 7-1, Alabama has parachuted into playoff position ahead of 7 unbeaten teams. The Big 12 must feel completely dissed with AP No. 2 Baylor (8-0) earning only a No. 6 ranking in the CFP. TCU (8-0) the fifth-ranked AP team, could only reach No. 8 in the CFP.

With Big 12 teams falling, the Tigers are rising. Those joining Alabama on the upswing are the Clemson Tigers (8-0), who earned the top spot in the CFP rankings, followed by the LSU Tigers (7-0) at No. 2. Clemson and LSU are ranked third and fourth, respectively, in the most recent AP Top 25 poll.

Notre Dame, whose only loss was at Clemson by two points, improved three positions from AP, coming in at No. 5. Alabama, ranked No. 7 in the AP poll, also leaped over unbeaten Michigan State in the CFP rankings. Perhaps the Big 10 also needs some love.

The Florida Gators (7-1) are No. 10 in the CFP, one spot better than their AP ranking. Florida State (7-1), who travels to Clemson on Saturday, came in at No. 16, also one spot better than their AP rank.

Clemson may be a surprise No. 1, but not when looking at the circumstances which got them there. No. 3 Ohio State (8-0), the consensus top team in other polls, has often struggled against inferior competition. Baylor’s fall might be explained in part by the loss of their record-setting quarterback, Seth Russell, for the season due to injury.

Clemson trailed Baylor by only a few points in the AP poll, so with the Russell injury factored in, Clemson need not apologize for being at the top. At the same time, Baylor did not deserve to be dropped out of the top four. Compounding their angst is the thought of being replaced by a team that lost at home and struggled mightily just to beat a Tennessee team in Tuscaloosa that a top four team should have handled convincingly.

The Bears should have been given the chance to keep winning in order to maintain their spot, injury or not. What if Russell’s backup, freshman Jarrett Stidham, pulls a Cardale Jones, the freshman who led Ohio State to the national title in January over Alabama and Oregon? Some say he has the talent to keep Baylor rolling.

Keep in mind the Gators destroyed the same Ole Miss team (by four touchdowns) that humbled the Tide. More than likely, none of the Big 12 powers will be allowed to lose one game, home or away, by even a single point to another Big 12 power. Despite a season of impressive wins, either unbeaten Baylor, or TCU or Oklahoma State must finish 13-0 in order to have their conference represented in the playoffs.

Things will start to shake out this week. Alabama hosts LSU on Saturday. Even if the Tide wins, they might not make the SEC Championship Game. Mississippi would assume control of the Western Division.

TCU goes to Oklahoma State to start the Big 12’s November to Remember. Then, of course, there is FSU’s trip into Death Valley.

There is still 25 percent of the season remaining. A lot can happen, including clear scenarios that could vault either the Gators or Seminoles into playoff picture.

Why not add a little home state controversy to the playoff rankings?

The complete CFP rankings can be found here.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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