Every week, I will play Selection Committee member, take a look at the College Football Playoff picture and offer my bracket: Forde’s Fab Four. Feel free to disagree – and there will be plenty to disagree with this week.
Cotton Bowl: No. 1 seed Mississippi vs. No. 4 Utah
The Rebels kept a shaky hold on the top seed by beating Vanderbilt, 27-16. This was a scary game for a long time for Ole Miss – it was tied at 13 late in the third quarter. The Rebels racked up 150 more yards than the Commodores but were a minus-two turnover margin and were held to less than half their season scoring average. Their selling point for the No. 1 ranking remains the single biggest victory of any team in the nation, the wild upset of Alabama in Tuscaloosa Sept. 19. Next up: at Florida Saturday in a suddenly very big Southeastern Conference game.
Say hello to the Utes, who make their first appearance in the Fab Four and boot out the No. 1 team in the polls, Ohio State. If the Buckeyes weren’t the loaded defending national champions, and if they hadn’t started the season No. 1, where would they be? The signature victory to date is over a Virginia Tech team that just lost to East Carolina. The other victories are over a pair of Mid-American Conference opponents and a Mountain West team. And thus far Ohio State really hasn't aced the "look test" either, rarely resembling a dominant team. So I'm saying no to poll inertia and name brands and going with Utah. Compare Ohio State's and Michigan State’s resumes to that of the Utes, and it seems like an easy choice. Utah destroyed Oregon in Eugene by 42 – certainly stronger than the Spartans’ three-point home victory over the Ducks. And that season-opening win over Michigan has gained luster with three straight dominant Wolverines victories. So with the Big Ten suddenly searching for a quality win, I’m fighting poll inertia and throwing that league out to replace it with two from the Pac-12.
Orange Bowl: No. 2 seed UCLA vs. No. 3 LSU
Speaking of the Pac-12: The Bruins went to Arizona for a much-anticipated South Division game and turned it into a mismatch, jumping to a shocking 42-14 halftime lead and reducing the second half into a mop-up operation. The 26-point loss was easily Rich Rodriguez’s worst in three-plus seasons at Arizona, and it rounds out a very solid month for UCLA. Jim Mora’s team easily handled Virginia, then handed BYU its first loss, and now have a road rout of a quality Pac-12 opponent on the books as well. Given the major injuries to UCLA on the defensive side, a 4-0 September is an excellent accomplishment.
There are 29 unbeaten teams left in college football, but only one of them has scored all its victories over Power 5 conference opponents. That would be LSU, which has two SEC wins and one over an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent – 34-24 at Syracuse on Saturday. Aside from the weekly excellence of running back Leonard Fournette (244 yards and two touchdowns, plus another long TD run that was called back due to an illegal formation), the victory over the Orange and their backup-backup quarterback was nothing special. But road wins over teams from power conferences are worth something, and now LSU has a pair of them (Sept. 12 at Mississippi State is the other).
Dropped out: Michigan State, Ohio State. The Spartans have two weeks of underwhelming opponents coming up in Purdue and Rutgers. The Buckeyes get a game Saturday that looks decent in terms of record – at 4-0 Indiana – but they should roll easily over the Hoosiers and Oct. 10 opponent Maryland.
Also considered: Northwestern, Michigan State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, TCU, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida State. (Teams have to have at least one victory over a Power 5 opponent to be considered for the Fab Four.)
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