Selection committee chair Rob Mullens laid out the mission statement Tuesday after Ohio State, LSU, Alabama and Penn State were revealed, in that order, as the top four in the first College Football Playoff poll.
Defending national champion Clemson was fifth, in easy striking distance considering LSU plays at Alabama on Saturday and Ohio State and Penn State are still to meet.
“The committee’s job is to enter the room with a blank sheet of paper, meaning we start with an open mind as we consider the strengths and weaknesses of every team, from opening day through this past Saturday,” Mullens said. “Nothing else matters.”
Well, one very big thing matters to a lot of fans around the country: knocking Alabama and Clemson off the championship seesaw. The Crimson Tide and Tigers have alternated as champs the last four seasons.
It’s all too predictable, isn’t it? Something — anything — different in Year 6 of the playoff might hit the spot.
By our realistic count — and that’s stretching “realistic” as far as it can safely go — there are seven other teams with shots at all the marbles. A quick look at each:
NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (8-0)
They’re in if: The last two regular-season games — at home against Penn State and at Michigan — must be successfully navigated. From there, the Big Ten title game is Easy Street.
They’ll win if: No team has dominated on both sides of the ball like this one. Just keep being the best team in the country.
Chagrin if: Rolling into Ann Arbor unbeaten and losing to the Wolverines for the first time since 2011 would be devastating.
NO. 2 LSU TIGERS (8-0)
They’re in if: Just beat the Tide in Tuscaloosa. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? We’ll worry about the rest from there.
They’ll win if: Joe Burrow is the Aaron Rodgers of the college game. Any defense, anywhere, any time can be had by this gunslinger and this offense.
Chagrin if: A ninth straight smackdown of the Tigers offense by Nick Saban and Alabama would send the Bayou into an all-time tizzy.
NO. 4 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (8-0)
They’re in if: A great defense can’t rest Saturday at unbeaten Minnesota, and it must shine like never before two weeks later at Ohio State.
They’ll win if: Realistically? This doesn’t seem like an Alabama- or Clemson-beating type of team. Though we’d love to be surprised.
Chagrin if: Getting (P.J.) Flecked in Minneapolis would be a horrible way to go out.
NO. 6 GEORGIA BULLDOGS (7-1)
They’re in if: Win out from here, including an Atlanta takedown of the champ of the powerhouse SEC West — which wouldn’t totally shock anyone — and everything is peachy.
They’ll win if: There’s a heck of a lot to be said for a team with an NFL quarterback, an NFL running back, an NFL-heavy offensive line and a defense that has yet to allow a single rushing touchdown. Keep being Georgia.
Chagrin if: Another heartbreak against Alabama in December or January would be just plain too much.
NO. 7 OREGON DUCKS (8-1)
They’re in if: Quack through the rest of the Pac-12 slate, root for a dominant stretch run by an SEC team and this happens.
They’ll win if: Quarterback Justin Herbert — right up there with the very best at his position — must find that next gear. A sneaky-good Ducks defense has to ascend, too.
Chagrin if: Losing the league title game would be catastrophic.
NO. 8 UTAH UTES (8-1)
They’re in if: Keep winning, upset Oregon in the Pac-12 title game and stuff gets real.
They’ll win if: The Utes have a defense that’s up there with the best in the land, and Tyler Huntley is the most underrated QB out there. Doubt coach Kyle Whittingham’s bowl history if you dare.
Chagrin if: Utah at Arizona, Nov. 23. It would be a sad way to fall off the map, but it might happen.
NO. 9 OKLAHOMA SOONERS (7-1)
They’re in if: Oregon has to lose, an SEC contender does, too, and hey — how about the Big Ten blows it?
They’ll win if: It’s funny, because coach Lincoln Riley’s go-go offense is good enough to outscore anybody.
Chagrin if: Getting beat by currently unbeaten Baylor would rock the senses of every man, woman and child in Norman.