You could probably hear the gasps of surprise when LSU emerged at No. 7 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings.
The Tigers got manhandled 29-0 by No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, and yet LSU, at 7-2 overall, slipped only four spots in the eyes of the CFP selection committee.
The committee meets each week in the vast Gaylord Texan hotel in Grapevine, Texas. The question is, where were the committee members Saturday? Were they watching? Or were they like me when I attended last month's CFP mock selection exercise — lost somewhere in the hotel?
Believe me, the committee members were watching. They have reams of information at their disposal, and they consider each and every ranked team from numerous angles. Do you know what LSU’s opponents’ opponents’ strength of schedule is? The CFP committee does.
LSU’s CFP ranking leads me to draw two conclusions:
1. The committee is mighty and properly impressed with Alabama. If the Crimson Tide were to win out in the regular season and then somehow be upset by Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, I firmly believe Bama would still finish in the final four.
2. The committee is also mighty impressed with LSU’s body of work. Last week, CFP committee chairman Rob Mullens was quick to say the reason the Tigers were then at No. 3, ahead of unbeaten Notre Dame, was because LSU was the only team with wins over six winning teams.
And the Tigers’ 36-16 signature win over then-No. 2 (now No. 5 Georgia) remains one of the best wins anyone in the nation can claim.
“LSU has three wins against current CFP top-25 teams,” Mullens said, “at Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State. Their defense is extremely strong. Their two losses come against No. 1 Alabama, on the road to Florida.”
So the question of the day regarding LSU is suddenly, surprisingly, this: Could the Tigers, with a lot of help, of course, still work their way back into the top four and claim one of the CFP semifinal spots?
It is unlikely, of course, but not impossible. The Tigers would need to win out against Arkansas, Rice and Texas A&M to get to 10-2, then start scoreboard-watching, theoretically needing three teams right ahead of them to tumble.
Let’s start with Georgia. The Bulldogs are No. 5 this week and sit in the classic must-win spot. If they win out and beat Alabama in Atlanta, they’re definitely in the semifinals. But if they lose to Alabama and finish 11-2, well, the committee is not going to forget their blowout loss to LSU.
No. 3 Notre Dame has struggling Florida State, upstart-but-dangerous No. 13 Syracuse in Yankee Stadium and finishes at USC.
No. 4 Michigan has Rutgers and Indiana, then the season-ending showdown with No. 10 Ohio State.
No. 6 Oklahoma is an interesting case. The Sooners have rival Oklahoma State on Saturday, then Kansas, then close at No. 9 West Virginia. The Sooners and Mountaineers will then likely turn around and meet again the next week in the Big 12 title game. If they split, they could cancel each other out of the CFP race.
No. 8 Washington State is also in play and could win out and win the Pac-12. But the 8-1 Cougars couldn’t jump LSU this week after the Tigers’ blowout loss. Washington State's résumé out of the less-than-impressive Pac-12 is clearly an issue.
Again, it is a tough hill for LSU to climb, maybe an impossible one. The Tigers will have no chance to add a conference title to their résumé, and in the CFP's first four years of existence, it has yet to admit a two-loss team to the semifinal party.
But “crazy” is college football’s middle name, and who knows what the final four weeks of the season will bring?
One more thing to consider: If LSU somehow gets in at No. 4, it would likely face a rematch with No. 1 Alabama in the Cotton or Orange bowls.
Enter at your own risk.
WEEK 2 CFP RANINGS
Rank Team Last week
1. Alabama (9-0) 1
2. Clemson (9-0) 2
3. Notre Dame (9-0) 4
4. Michigan (8-1) 5
5. Georgia (8-1) 6
6. Oklahoma (8-1) 7
7. LSU (7-2) 3
8. Washington State (8-1) 8
9. West Virginia (7-1) 13
10. Ohio State (8-1) 10
11. Kentucky (7-2) 9
12. UCF (8-0) 12
13. Syracuse (7-2) 19
14. N.C. State (6-2) 21
15. Florida (6-3) 11
16. Miss. State (6-3) 18
17. Boston College (7-2) 22
18. Michigan State (6-3) NR
19. Texas (6-3) 21
20. Penn State (6-3) 14
21. Iowa (6-3) 16
22. Iowa State (5-2) 24
23. Fresno State (8-1) 23
24. Auburn (6-3) NR
25. Washington (7-3) NR