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Monday, February 06, 2023

CFP picture gets fuzzier by the week

If it seems like there’s a logjam at the top of the AP rankings this year, it’s because there is. A remarkable 12 teams have made it through the first eight weeks of play without a blemish on their record. That’s the most undefeated ranked teams in college football since the AP Poll expanded to 25 teams in 1989.

With each passing week, the likelihood of having five undefeated teams at the end of the regular season swells. Should that happen, it would show the College Football Playoff Committee how ridiculous the four-team playoff system is. It would be the strongest argument for the implementation of an eight-team playoff with auto-bids for conference champions that could be made.

With that possibility looming large, it’s time to take a closer look at some of the potentially undefeated teams.

No. 1 Ohio State looks like it might be peaking at just the right time, guided by the steady arm and sweet feet of J.T. Barrett. Urban Meyer’s controversial decision to start Cardale Jones at the offset of the season led to a rocky start for the Buckeyes, who consistently underwhelmed in each of their victories.

The past three games, however, have seen a changing of the guard. Despite attempting 22 fewer passes than Jones over that span, Barrett has accounted for 12 total touchdowns to Jones’ two. Jones threw just three passes against Rutgers Saturday, his fewest in a game all year.

Barrett’s production in limited playing time this season has been phenomenal, as he’s scored a touchdown on 13.5 percent of his plays. Meanwhile, Jones has scored on just 3.9 percent of his plays. If Meyer is half the coach that he’s believed to be, he’ll make the switch to Barrett permanent and the Buckeyes will be serious threat to take home a second straight national championship.

There are very few things left to say about No. 2 Baylor that haven’t already been said. The Bears have the most dominant offense in recent memory, and while their defense isn’t among the nation’s best, it is just good enough. Leading wide receiver and Heisman candidate Corey Coleman is putting up obscene numbers every week, leading the nation in touchdowns and fourth in receiving yards. He has more receiving touchdowns than 110 FBS teams this year.

Unfortunately, Baylor’s romp through the college football season took a huge hit Saturday when it was revealed that star quarterback Seth Russell would miss the rest of the season with a broken neckbone. Russell is tied for the national lead in passing touchdowns, and his presence will be sorely missed by both Coleman and the Bears.

For whatever reason, No. 4 LSU scheduled a game against Western Kentucky in the middle of its conference schedule. It all turned out OK, but a game like that is an accident waiting to happen. The Tigers now head on a bye week ahead of their SEC West showdown with rival Alabama.

Leonard Fournette’s Heisman season has provided exactly the spark that this LSU team needed. But what makes this Tigers team special is the unexpected emergence of Brandon Harris as a dependable signal caller. He has been the perfect complement to Fournette, as he takes care of the football every game. Despite completing just 58.6 percent of his passes, Harris has yet to turn the ball over all season. This team can make some serious waves in the playoffs.

Michigan State moved up a spot to No. 6 purely because of USC’s thrashing of then-No. 3 Utah. The final score of the Spartans matchup with the Indiana Hoosiers was 52-26, but that score doesn’t come close to telling the story of the game. Indiana had an opportunity to take a lead late in the third, and trailed by just five points with just over five minutes remaining in the game.

For the fifth time this season, the Spartans survived despite an underwhelming performance. It’s easy to look back at Michigan State’s season and point out a few plays here and there that could have turned out differently and drastically changed the course of its season.

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Against Rutgers, it took a spike on fourth down by Rutgers quarterback Chris Laviano to stop a game-winning drive. The Spartans barely survived against bottom-feeding Purdue by just three points, and beat an incredibly disappointing Oregon team by the same tiny margin. Everyone knows what happened in Ann Arbor and, barring a few lucky breaks, this Michigan State team could easily be 4-3 or worse.

It’s starting to look like we’ll have more than one conference championship game between undefeated teams, and those championships will do a lot to clear up the playoff picture. Still, though, the door is open for more than four teams to finish the season undefeated, which should get the Playoff Committee thinking.

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