New Playoff Rankings Challenged: We Pick Our Top 4 College Football Contenders

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, November 26, 2015 2:11 PM GMT

The new College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night saw two big changes, with Oklahoma jumping up to No. 3 and Iowa now in the national semifinals at No. 4. 

Top 2 Likely To Stay That Way
To no surprise, unbeaten Clemson (11-0) remained No. 1 in the new rankings and Alabama No. 2. I don't expect either to move out of its current position barring an upset loss. The unbeaten Tigers are at state-rival South Carolina on Saturday and Clemson hasn't won in Columbia in years but it is a 17-point favorite on college football odds. The Gamecocks are way down this season and actually lost last week to FCS school The Citadel. Clemson should be challenged, however, by red-hot North Carolina next week in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte. Still, the Tigers will be solid favorites.

Alabama (10-1) is a 14-point favorite for the Iron Bowl at Auburn on Saturday. The last time the Tide played there in 2013, their national title hopes were dashed on perhaps the greatest ending in college football history, simply known as the Kick-Six. The Tide were favored then, too, although not by this much. Assuming a win over the disappointing Tigers, Alabama would then likely be at least a touchdown favorite over East Division champion Florida in next week's SEC title game in Atlanta. It might be a double-digit spread if the Gators, who have really struggled the past couple of weeks,  lose Saturday's home game against Florida State. The Noles are 2-point favorites, and I actually like them on my college football picks.

At Bovada, Alabama is the +150 favorite to win the playoff with Clemson at +350. That's simply an SEC/Alabama bias.

 

Battle For Final 2 Spots
As for Oklahoma (10-1), it would now appear to control its fate for the national semifinals after rising from No. 7 to No. 3 on Tuesday. And it's  hard to argue that any  team is playing better than the Sooners are since their surprising loss to unranked Texas in Dallas in early October. They have won six in row since then and only one was close: last week's 30-29 escape against TCU. OU's profile will only rise with a win at No. 11 Oklahoma State on Saturday night. It does appear that Sooners starting QB Baker Mayfield, a Heisman Trophy candidate, will be able to play as he has passed all concussion tests. That's OU's regular-season finale with no Big 12 title game. OU is +700 on college football odds to win the playoff.

Iowa (11-0), the only unbeaten other than Clemson, rose one spot to No. 4. I believe the Hawkeyes are on major upset alert on Friday at Nebraska, which comes off a bye week and needs a win to get bowl eligible. Iowa is only a 1-point favorite. The Hawkeyes will be underdogs in the Big Ten Championship Game next weekend against Michigan State, Ohio State or Michigan. Iowa is +1800 to win the playoff so clearly oddsmakers don't have much faith in them.

The first two teams out of the playoff right now are No. 5 Michigan State and No. 6 Notre Dame. The Spartans rose from No. 9 following their shocking upset win at Ohio State last Saturday. MSU fans shouldn't worry, though. Sparty will surely be in the playoff with a win Saturday vs. Penn State, which would clinch the Big Ten East, and then a victory over Iowa in the conference title game. It would only help MSU's resume for Iowa to stay unbeaten by winning at Nebraska. Michigan  State is +1200 to win the playoff.

The Irish are the big losers in the newest rankings, dropping from No. 4 after a very ugly win over a bad Boston College team last Saturday. So now even if Notre Dame wins at No. 9 Stanford on Saturday it's likely out of luck if Oklahoma and Iowa/Michigan State win out. The injury-ravaged Irish are also 3.5-point underdogs at the Cardinal, and I don't see them winning in Palo Alto. That's why I'm surprised Notre Dame  is the +1000 fourth-favorite to win the playoff.

No. 7 Baylor is at +1200 with Michigan State. The Bears must likely crush TCU this week, Texas next week and have Oklahoma, Notre Dame and one of Iowa or Michigan State all lose at least once to reach the playoff -- even better for the Bears if both the Hawkeyes and Spartans suffer a defeat.

No. 8 Ohio State is +1800 to repeat as national champion and it needs a win over Michigan on Saturday and a Michigan State loss to Penn State to Ohio State to reach the Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes also need Oklahoma and Baylor and probably Notre Dame to each lose a game. Finally, OSU has to have Iowa beat Nebraska and then the Buckeyes steamroll the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten title game like OSU did to Wisconsin last year.

College Football Picks: Final four will be Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Michigan State (as long as QB Connor Cook is healthy) probably in that order.