“They’re the only team in the nation with that,” committee chairman Rob Mullens said on ESPN.
From there, the list of teams that might deserve No. 4 but don’t quite is long. You could sit up nights trying to figure out who warrants No. 4 at this point. You shouldn’t, but you could.
The committee’s blasé choice for No. 4, Georgia (8-1), lost at home to South Carolina, an act illegal in its civic code of conduct, and some of its fans want one of those must-have gorgeous offenses but haven’t been getting one. No. 5 Alabama (8-1) had a tepid slate of victims before LSU came to Tuscaloosa and operated across its cherished field like a pretty bulldozer. No. 6 Oregon (8-1) and No. 7 Utah (8-1) lack any ranked victim.
No. 8 Minnesota (9-0), so impressive in beating Penn State, can’t quite get there based on an ancient college football adage: We’re not used to Minnesota yet. Also, Minnesota’s nonconference victims — South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern — should hold a meeting to try to figure out how Minnesota eluded all three, all with saving touchdowns inside six minutes to closing time.
No. 9 Penn State (8-1), No. 4 last week, just lost to Minnesota.
No. 10 Oklahoma (8-1) has looked kind of blah lately and almost took a 44-43 loss to Iowa State that would have been storybook, instead getting a 43-42 win over Iowa State that wasn’t storybook.
No. 11 Florida and No. 12 Auburn have two losses each, and while it’s considered bad etiquette to put a two-loss team in the top four at this point, at least that might have been novel.
No. 13 Baylor (9-0) has, as nonconference victims, Stephen F. Austin (2-8), Texas San Antonio (4-5) and Rice (0-9). None of those is ranked.
On a week when the committee had the kinetics to move all 25 teams on the list, and to practice originality by giving No. 13 Baylor the lowest ranking a 9-0 Power Five Conference team has gotten in the six seasons of the playoff concept, it went ahead and pegged a No. 4 team.
That’s Georgia, and while Georgia should get a ranking of No. 5, with Alabama at 5.1, at least Georgia’s presence above Alabama made sense. Georgia has the better array of wins, including those over No. 11 Florida and No. 16 Notre Dame. On ESPN, Mullens, the Oregon athletic director who recuses himself during Duck discussions per committee policy, credited “the two big wins that Georgia had.”
Minnesota, of course, made the longest leap in the six years of committees convening near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. When it vaulted nine spots from No. 17 to No. 8, it went past the six — six! — two-loss teams that lurked ahead of it last week: Notre Dame, Michigan, Wisconsin, Auburn, Florida and Kansas State, which took a third loss (at Texas) and fell from No. 16 to No. 24.
(That Texas win over Kansas State helped Texas enter the list at No. 19, which lent further shine to LSU, which also went to Texas and also went all Ferrari on Texas.)
In a matter known only to those with excessive spare time, the Minnesota program did turn up in four of the seven rankings in 2014, the inaugural year of the playoff. It got as high as No. 18 and finished in the mix at No. 25. P.J. Fleck, the third-year Gophers coach, popped up quickly on ESPN and said, among other things, “It’s a privilege and honor to represent the University of Minnesota and the state of Minnesota on a national level.” It’s all so unfamiliar.
And then, similar to the No. 4 issue, the ordering of the Group of Five teams contained a possible glitch. The Group of Five is that second tier of 65 teams that battle for one New Year’s Six bowl spot, where each year the little guy goes up against a snooty opponent. In this ranking, five Group of Five teams appeared.
No. 17 Cincinnati (8-1) leads the way, with its American Athletic Conference brethren Memphis (8-1) right behind. Boise State (8-1) holds down No. 21, Navy (7-1) holds down No. 23, and a 2019 debutant, Appalachian State (8-1), snared No. 25. Of that whole mix, only Appalachian State has two wins over Power Five schools.
If the committee were puckish about things, of course, it could have placed Appalachian State at No. 4, then cupped its ears and listened for all the caterwauling. As a bonus, the Mountaineers’ deservingness of that spot would have been identical to everybody else’s.