Every week, I will play Selection Committee member, take a look at the College Football Playoff picture and offer what I believe the bracket should be if the season ended today. Call it Forde’s Fab Four, and feel free to disagree.
This week is the Blow The Whole Thing Up And Start Over Edition:
COTTON BOWL: No. 1 Utah vs. No. 4 Baylor
I’m elevating the Utes from fourth to first off a bye week – which tells you what kind of week it was for the other teams I had in the bracket. But Utah’s biggest victories continue to get bigger, as Oregon bounced back with a victory and Michigan won its fourth straight game. Scoring 24 points against the Wolverines now looks like a pretty major accomplishment, because they’ve only given up 14 points since. This sets up one of the more unlikely marquee games in recent years: undefeated California at undefeated Utah on Saturday. Yes, really.
Baylor makes its first appearance in the bracket after playing a succession of garbage non-conference opponents to open the season. The Bears stepped into Big 12 play Saturday and delivered another haymaker, blasting Texas Tech 63-35. Baylor had 49 points at halftime and was in complete command from late first quarter onward. The important part of that result was how it looks in comparison to Big 12 rival and playoff aspirant TCU, which needed a tipped-ball miracle touchdown to beat Texas Tech the previous week. Now the Bears go back to walkover opponents, visiting truly awful Kansas this Saturday. (For what it’s worth, any number of other teams could be in the fourth spot. Or in any spot in the bracket. This is crazily wide open at present.)
ORANGE BOWL: No. 2 Northwestern vs. No. 3 Florida
If it felt strange to type “No. 1 Utah,” it was equally odd to type “No. 2 Northwestern.” But the Wildcats have had a marvelous start. Their season-opening victory over Stanford is the only loss on the Cardinal’s schedule to date. The road win over Duke is the Blue Devils’ only loss to date. And then Saturday Northwestern opened Big Ten play by simply dominating Minnesota, 27-0. (That wins another compare/contrast battle with TCU, which only beat the Gophers by six.) Northwestern’s defense has been impenetrable, leading the nation in fewest points allowed per game at seven. Opponents have made 10 trips into the red zone against Northwestern and only scored one touchdown. Next up for Pat Fitzgerald’s team is a game that has rocketed up the Intrigue Scale: at Michigan on Saturday.
The third new team in the Fab Four is Florida, which didn’t compute at all preseason and seemed like a faux unbeaten until Saturday. That’s when the Gators smashed last week’s Fab Four No. 1, Mississippi, by four touchdowns. Florida didn’t overpower its two previous Southeastern Conference opponents, Kentucky and Tennessee, and frankly needed a great escape to beat the Volunteers. But with the stakes rising and the Rebels coming to The Swamp, Florida played its best game of the year and dominated for a full 60 minutes. The Gators’ calling card is defense – they rank second in the SEC to Alabama in rushing defense and third in scoring defense, and their six fumbles recovered lead the league. Florida now faces a challenging three-game stretch away from home, visiting Missouri on Saturday, LSU on Oct. 17 and Georgia in Jacksonville Oct. 31.
Dropped out: Mississippi, UCLA, LSU.
Also considered: Oklahoma, TCU, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan State, Texas A&M, Florida State, California, Stanford, Iowa, Temple, Houston.