The playoff committee did not change their rankings from last week to this week, with all four teams securing victories this past weekend. However, three teams still have conference championship games to play. With Oklahoma’s season over, the Sooners are all but guaranteed a spot in the final four.
No. 1 CLEMSON
Offensively, Clemson may have the best potential of all the playoff teams. Led by duel-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Tigers’ offense is explosive, talented, and almost unstoppable at times. Watson, who partially tore his ACL last season, has been a great signal caller for Dabo Swinney in 2015.
The sophomore has amassed 3,228 yards passing with 27 touchdowns and just 10 picks. On the ground, Watson has also racked up 756 yards and 9 scores. Running back Wayne Gallman, who has gained 1,132 yard and 9 touchdowns himself, joins Watson in the loaded Clemson backfield.
Completing the Clemson triumvirate is receiver Artavis Scott. Scott has been Watson’s premier target all season, catching 77 passes for 709 yards with 4 touchdown receptions. With a bevy of talent on the outside accompanying Scott, Watson has plenty of options to spread the ball around.
The Tigers also field a top 10 defense to go along with their explosive offense. The Tigers are allowing just 289 yards per game, ranking eighth in the country. Their 160 pass yards allowed per game are also fourth in the nation.
The Tigers have silenced doubts that their defense would not live up to the 2014 squad, who ranked second in total defense last season. While starting the year with only 3 returning starters back on D, the Tigers and defensive coordinator Brent Venables have developed tremendously, as they are the second most efficient defense in the nation.
Led by their linebackers B.J. Goodson and Ben Boulware, the Tigers rush defense is one of the best in the nation as well, allowing just 127 yards on the ground. With Shaq Lawson also rushing off the edge and Mackensie Alexander solidifying himself as one of the nation’s elite lockdown corners, Clemson has all the tools to win a close ball game.
Clemson’s resume is relatively weak in comparison to other schools, especially Oklahoma. The Tigers play in the weak ACC, with only Florida State truly able to contend on an elite, national scale.
The Tigers do rank first in terms of game control, a metric that determines how much control a team has from start to finish. The Tigers key wins are against Notre Dame and Florida State, though both were in Clemson.
Barring an upset by North Carolina in the ACC Championship game, Clemson should hang on to their top ranking through conference championship weekend.
No. 2 ALABAMA
Early in the season, Alabama had questions revolving around their stagnant attack. An early season quarterback battle between Cooper Bateman and Jake Coker had pundits and fans alike both wondering if Alabama could retain their elite dynasty.
However, Coker established himself as the head man under center and became a game manager akin to previous Bama quarterbacks Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron. Coker has thrown for just 2,285 yards and 15 touchdowns on the year but his real value is his ability to hand the ball off to the best running back in America.
Derrick Henry has been the entirety of the Alabama offense this year, especially the last month. The most statistically prolific SEC running back since Bo Jackson, Henry is the Heisman frontrunner heading into the weekend. Henry has carried the ball 295 times for 1,797 yards and 22 touchdowns, shattering school and conference records along the way.
With Henry rushing the ball, Coker’s play action is wide open, allowing the dangerous Calvin Ridley to run wild. Ridley is the leading receiver for the Tide and his counterpart ArDarius Stewart is not far behind.
The pair have combined for 117 catches, 1,327 yards, and 8 scores. With the nation’s top offensive line paving the way for Henry and protecting Coker, it’s hard to stop this Alabama offense when they’re rolling.
Another year, another top 5 defense for Nick Saban. The Tide have continued their elite defensive ways, ranking second in the nation by allowing just 265 total yards.
On the ground, nobody has found success against Bama. The Tide are stuffing opponents up the middle, allowing just 78 yards on the ground. After showing their true ability against then Heisman frontrunner Leonard Forunette, there’s no doubt Bama fields the nation’s top defense.
With an impenetrable front seven led by end A’Shawn Robinson and linebackers Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster, Alabama’s defense is as good as anyone in the country.
On paper, Alabama seemed to have the hardest schedule in the nation before the start of the year. However, just two opponents are now ranked, one of which defeated the Tide in Tuscaloosa.
While the Ole Miss loss sticks out like a sore thumb on Alabama’s resume, their talent is unquestionable. They showcased their abilities in key games against LSU, Georgia, and Texas A&M and while all three of those teams have proven they were not as good as initially thought, Alabama beat down whoever was in front of them.
All three of those programs were ranked in the top 9 when they faced the Tide and Alabama stomped all three, deflating the season’s of each program. Alabama will still need to beat Florida in the SEC championship game but, should they loss, there is no reason Alabama should not be in the top 4.
No. 3 OKLAHOMA
The Sooners have been the hottest team in America since they lost to Texas, averaging 52 points per game. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has been tremendous this year, establishing himself as a Heisman candidate.
The former walk on has thrown for 3,389 yards and 35 scores, while also rushing for another 7 touchdowns. Mayfield’s performance has been off the wall but the main reason for OU’s success the past two months have been because of their running attack.
The two headed monster of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon have torched Big 12 defense’s all season. The pair have amassed 2,040 yards and 22 touchdowns on the season, both averaging over 6 yards per carry.
On the outside, Mayfield’s main target Sterling Shepard has become the best receiver in the conference not named Corey Coleman, Shepard has caught 79 balls for 1,201 yards and 11 scores, blazing past opposing secondaries. With Mayfield and the backfield leading the way, Oklahoma can score on anybody in the nation.
The Big 12’s top defense has shown it has the ability to play in just about any condition against just about any scheme. The front seven of the Sooners has been tremendous applying pressure to the quarterback, as well as tackling in space.
Linebacker Eric Striker is the nation’s top speed rusher from the outside and with corner Zack Sanchez and safety Ahmad Thomas holding down the back end, Oklahoma is hard to beat right now.
The pressure that Striker and defensive end Charles Tapper provide upfront has been extremely disruptive this year, forcing teams into short passing attacks. This allows linebackers Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans to make plays in space, and the Sooners have shown themselves to be one of the better tackling teams in the nation.
The Sooners survived the Big 12 gauntlet, racking up 3 wins against top 20 opponents. With away victories against both Baylor and Oklahoma State, the Sooners have won key games both away from home and in Norman.
Although the loss against Texas is the worst loss of any top 10-team, their position is similar to Alabama’s in that regard. Both have lost to teams they shouldn’t have yet both have destroyed their remaining opponents. The Sooners benefit from not playing a Big 12 title game this season, unlike the controversy of last season.
No. 4 IOWA
There is no doubt that Iowa has the worst offense of all the playoff teams. Without a doubt, Iowa is an anomaly when it comes to today’s college football game.
With no explosive passing game and no 1,000 yard rusher, Iowa has somehow managed to win every game with the mentality of a true Big Ten team; by grinding out games. Iowa controls the tempo of every game they play simply by milking the clock, playing turnover free football, and conserving energy
The Hawkeyes are playing football like it’s 1980 and have been highly successful. Four Hawkeyes have found the end zone 6 or more times. With Iowa’s ground and pound attack working wonders all season, Kirk Ferentz’s offense is as portable as it comes.
Just like their offense, the Iowa defense has flown under the radar all year. The Hawkeyes have been a top 25 defense all season, ranking 22nd in terms of yards allowed with 332. Their rushing defense is extremely talented, allowing just 110 yards on the ground
Led by Cole Fisher and Desmond Lomax , the Hawkeyes have stifled the run all season. In the secondary, the Hawkeyes are fairly average. They rank 63rd in the nation in terms of passing yards per game, allowing 221 yards through the air.
Although corner Desmond King has picked off 8 passes and established himself as a good cover corner, the Hawkeyes often have miscommunications on zone coverages, allowing receivers to beat them deep more often than they would like.
With the rest of the playoff teams all possessing great deep threat receivers, the Hawkeyes secondary will need to step up their coverage.
Iowa has one of the weaker resumes in the nation, due in part to the Big 10 West. The Hawkeyes have one win against a current ranked opponent, a blowout of 14th ranked Northwestern.
Although Iowa’s schedule is not as impressive as Oklahoma’s or Clemson’s, they are in the same boat as Alabama regarding strength of schedule. Iowa simply dominated their competition, no matter who it was.
They defeated a then ranked Wisconsin team 10-6, with their defense shutting down the Badgers. Iowa has shown that their game is unique and efficient and if they can defeat their best opponent yet this weekend in Michigan State, Iowa could potentially jump the Sooners.