Top three in CFP ap­pear set, but who is No. 4?

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - Paul Woody pwoody@Times­Dis­patch.com (804) 649-6444 @World_of_Woody

Ev­ery year when the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­offs end, some “ex­pert an­a­lyst” de­clares that, see, the com­mit­tee got it right. That is true.

And false.

In re­cent years, and this year is no ex­cep­tion, Alabama’s su­pe­ri­or­ity makes it so easy to get the No. 1 seed right. Even a bunch of sleep-de­prived sports writ­ers could put the Crim­son Tide at No. 1. Alabama could give a few NFL teams — Oak­land, Buf­falo and Ari­zona, we’re look­ing at you — a com­pet­i­tive game.

Clem­son has gone from out­stand­ing to be­ing a “su­per” pro­gram. Un­til OPIN­ION that changes, there’s your No. 2 and in some years No. 1 if Alabama shows hu­man-es­que ten­den­cies and loses one or two games dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Whether you love Notre Dame or stand with the ABND crowd — Any­body But Notre Dame — Notre Dame plays just about any­one any­where. This year, the Fight­ing Ir­ish are beat­ing ev­ery­one ev­ery­where.

Un­less it loses to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Florida State or Syra­cuse, Notre Dame, with an un­de­feated record, is the clear No. 3.

But at No. 4? This is where the com­mit­tee of­ten gets things wrong. This would be less of an is­sue if the play­offs ex­panded to eight teams. But that is years away, if it ever oc­curs.

Michi­gan moved into No. 4 this week.

Michi­gan has just one loss, to Notre Dame in the sea­son opener. His­tory shows that if a play­off team is to lose, it’s best to do it early. Mem­o­ries are short as we be­come fas­ci­nated with a new shiny ob­ject or what­ever is stream­ing on Net­flix, Ama­zon Prime or Hulu.

If Michi­gan wins out and no one ahead of it loses, it will re­main No. 4.

But if Michi­gan loses to Ohio State, as it of­ten does?

What if Michi­gan beats Ohio State but loses in the Big Ten cham­pi­onship game?

It’s not re­ally fair to play an ex­tra game, lose and be elim­i­nated from the CFP while a team that isn’t in a cham­pi­onship game has a week off, avoids an­other loss and gets the love from the CFP com­mit­tee. Un­for­tu­nately, that is not likely to change.

If Ge­or­gia beats Alabama in the SEC cham­pi­onship game and Michi­gan ab­sorbs an­other loss, Ge­or­gia will get the No. 4 spot.

If Ge­or­gia loses, we have to look else­where, and the Big 12 is the place.

Specif­i­cally, watch the Ok­la­homa-West Vir­ginia game on Nov. 23. Both teams should en­ter the game with one loss. Ok­la­homa cur­rently is No. 6 in the CFP stand­ings, West Vir­ginia an un­der­rated No. 9.

No mat­ter who wins that game, both are likely to play in the Big 12 cham­pi­onship game. To get the fourth spot, if Michi­gan takes an­other loss or Notre Dame is upset, one team has to sweep those two games in the Big 12.

Split the games and Michi­gan and Ge­or­gia are back in the mix. Or maybe, just maybe, Cen­tral Florida fi­nally gets a lit­tle re­spect and the No. 4 spot. Don’t count on that. West Vir­ginia and Ok­la­homa can make this sim­ple with no great de­bates about who did what and when dur­ing the sea­son. Win two games, and you’re in ... if Michi­gan, or maybe Notre Dame, loses.

Some­one is go­ing to point out that Iowa State beat West Vir­ginia, and the Cy­clones are the hottest team in the Big 12. Iowa State also has three losses and has games left with Kansas State and In­car­nate Word.

Yes, there is a Uni­ver­sity of In­car­nate Word in San An­to­nio, and it plays in the South­land Con­fer­ence. Beat­ing In­car­nate Word never should get a three­loss team into the play­offs.

But a team that can beat Ok­la­homa or West Vir­ginia in back-to-back games? That’s a very good team, wor­thy of com­pet­ing for the na­tional cham­pi­onship.

And, by the way, West Vir­ginia, we’re look­ing at you.

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