The College Football Playoff selection committee does not have an enviable job. While the BCS was a highly flawed system that lacked the inclusivity of the playoff, much of the blame could be put on the computers that chose the two teams that would compete in the national championship. Now, humans will once again be selecting the the four participants, and based on these first two weeks, it won't be an easy task.
Through the next few months, teams will leap onto the national radar with big wins, and fall off with unexpected losses. However, even after two weeks, things are already beginning to shake out. One of the five power conferences has already been bumped from the picture, at least for the time being, with the Big Ten suffering numerous big defeats, while the SEC and Pac-12 continue to prove why they are the two strongest conferences in the sport.
It may seem a bit early, but the playoff picture becomes more focused every week. If the committee had to announce the four team field today, here's how we would see things shaking out.
No. 4 Seed: Oklahoma -
The Sooners are yet to face a quality opponent, but they have look very strong in weeks one and two, easily putting away Louisiana Tech and Tulsa without breaking much of a sweat. Trevor Knight has looked okay, but he is yet to have a performance like he had in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, the game that put him on the map as a Heisman contender entering this season. Luckily, Oklahoma hasn't needed that type of game from Knight yet, as the team has outscored its two opponents 100-23.
Oklahoma's main competition for a Big 12 title is Baylor, and with the Bears' injury issues, the Sooners feel like a safer choice here. The rest of the Big 12 looks to be a tier or two behind Oklahoma and Baylor, and if the committee can choose four schools from four different major conferences, that will likely be an attractive option. If Oklahoma wins its conference and adds a few "style points" along the way, they should be a good bet for the playoff.
No. 3 Seed: Auburn -
Alabama fans probably won't appreciate this, but after two weeks, Auburn just seems to have a stronger identity as a program. Malzahn's offense doesn't look like its missed a beat from last season, and with the development of Nick Marshall and the utilization of quarterback Jeremy Johnson, who seems like the more natural passer of the two, the Tigers may even be more versatile on that side of the ball. While Johnson's role in the offense is unclear going forward, the fact that Auburn is still growing and becoming more comfortable in its offensive system is terrifying. The SEC West is as strong as ever—Alabama is always strong, Texas A&M is an unexpected power, LSU is young but talented, and the Mississippi schools are both very intriguing—but Auburn seems like the safest pick of the bunch, at least as long as there is uncertainty with the quarterback position in Tuscaloosa.
Auburn's defense is still untested after being very spotty at times in 2013, but it did lock up an improved Arkansas attack, shutting out the Razorbacks and only allowing 61 yards in the second half of a 45-21 win. They will face far stronger offenses than Arkansas down the road, but holding an offense to 61 yards in a half is very impressive.
No. 2 Seed: Georgia -
Georgia only has one game under its belt, but it was a convincing win over what is expected to be a pretty good Clemson team. Clemson entered the year with extremely high expectations on the defensive side of the ball, and Todd Gurley and Georgia's amazing slew of running backs diced it up in every possible way. Gurley is an early leader for the Heisman, and if he stays injury free, the Dawgs will be able to set the tempo in just about any game. Georgia also entered the year with one of the SEC's most established and talented defenses.
Georgia's schedule is also fairly manageable, at least as far as the SEC goes. The Bulldogs face South Carolina on the road, a team that is still finding itself, and travel to Missouri on October 11. The November 15 game with Auburn at Sanford Stadium may very well decide the fates of both of these SEC powers. Hutson Mason will probably need to prove that he can beat a defense, which was not required against Clemson, so there are still questions that Mark Richt's team needs to answer, but after just two weeks and one game, Georgia looks very, very good.
No. 1 Seed: Oregon -
Oregon's 46-27 win over Michigan State at home is the best win any team has picked up this year, and for that, Oregon takes this top seed fairly easily. Marcus Mariota continues to be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, and proved it against one of college football's best defenses. Against the Spartans, Mariota was 17-for-28 for 318 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for an additional 42 yards.
Oregon's Michigan State win also works to dispel the notion that it can't win a tough game. The Ducks have struggled against Stanford in recent seasons, and many (myself included) viewed the Spartans as a similar threat to Oregon because of their defensive prowess and ability to play power football. Connor Cook is also a very good quarterback, which can't be discounted. Michigan State looked to have control of the game coming out of halftime, when they took a 27-18 lead, but ultimately Oregon hit another gear that Michigan State could not match.
If the Spartans couldn't slow down Oregon, there doesn't seem to be a ton of hope for other teams on the Ducks' schedule. UCLA has looked very shaky through two weeks, as has Washington, which gave up 52 points to FCS power Eastern Washington over the weekend. Oregon's nemesis Stanford lost to USC on Saturday, and don't look quite as strong as they have in years past. While there are a number of teams in contention for the playoffs after two weeks, Oregon has a better win than any of them, and have a schedule that looks quite favorable as well.
As mentioned in the Auburn section, Alabama hasn't quite found its identity yet. The vaunted Crimson Tide defense struggled with a West Virginia team that wasn't highly thought of, and the offense is still looking for a quarterback to lock up the job, although Blake Sims was very impressive in the second week win over Florida Atlantic. Nick Saban is still an elite coach, and Lane Kiffin admittedly seems to be doing a decent job as offensive coordinator so far. Alabama usually seems like a finished product out of the gate, and that isn't quite the case this year, but we all expect the Tide to be a factor down the stretch.
Baylor could very well steal that Oklahoma spot if Bryce Petty and company prove that they are 100% healthy as we near the meat of the schedule. Baylor's system is incredible, and the defense has some solid playmakers who should sure up that side of the ball this year, but without the offensive stars healthy, it is hard to call them one of the four best teams just two weeks in.
Florida State -
Florida State has as good a chance as any to make the playoff, but through two weeks the Seminoles haven't looked like the juggernaut that they were in 2013. Oklahoma State very nearly upset the defending champs in Dallas, and FSU just coasted through its game against the Citadel, a 37-12 win. If we had to bet, Florida State will probably run through the ACC without much of an issue, but this is definitely a team that seems to be suffering from some of the symptoms of a championship hangover.
Michigan State -
Michigan State has a loss, which puts it behind the eight ball here, but if the Big Ten get back into the playoff conversation, the Spartans will be its representative, in all likelihood. A loss to Oregon is probably the best loss a team can have right now. Michigan State would need a number of other teams, like a Florida State, Oklahoma, and/or Baylor to suffer a loss or two each, but college football has a tendency to get weird like that.
Texas A&M -
No offense has looked better than the Aggies' so far this season. Assuming that there is a chance that South Carolina turns it around and wins 10 or so games again this year, the win at Williams-Brice Stadium will look great come the end of the year. The biggest concern for the Aggies is still the defense; that unit definitely looks upgraded from 2013, especially in the front seven, but Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson was able to beat Texas A&M down the field repeatedly. USC just couldn't keep up with A&M's offense, which will likely be the case for most teams, but the secondary is still a legitimate concern for Kevin Sumlin's club.
Few would have guessed that USC would be in legitimate contention for a playoff spot just two weeks into the Steve Sarkisian era, but here we are. The Trojans, like Oregon, helped itself by knocking off a physical team to help change the narrative about their own toughness. While Stanford's penchant for punting in Trojan territory helped matters, USC still looked every bit as willing to win a grind-it-out, low scoring affair against a program that specializes in that. Cody Kessler looked fantastic in USC's first game, and managed the game well enough to win against Stanford. If he's healthy, the Trojans have a shot to beat anyone.
Virginia Tech -
Virginia Tech may even be a bigger surprise than USC on this list. The Hokies finally aided a stellar defensive performance with a solid offense, and it resulted in a huge upset of Ohio State in Columbus. Michael Brewer is still figuring things out at quarterback, but he made big plays against a talented Ohio State defense, and should only get better as the year goes along. Virginia Tech won't face a tougher road environment than it did against Ohio State, and they avoid games with Florida State, Clemson, and Louisville altogether. Pitt and Duke both look strong in the Coastal Division, but neither of them have an impact win like Virginia Tech. A Seminoles-Hokies ACC Championship with a playoff spot on the line would certainly be something.