The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt Hustler College Football Playoff Roundtable: Who’s in?

With the first iteration of the College Football Playoff rankings set to come out on Tuesday, learn who our staff has in and out of the four-team championship.
Vanderbilt+vs.+Georgia
Mattigan Kelly
Georgia sits at the top of the AP football rankings and beat Vanderbilt on Sept. 25, 2021. (Hustler Multimedia/Mattigan Kelly)

The calendar has flipped to November, which means it is time to see who sits at the top of the College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings.

In what has been a wonky 2021 season, a couple of non-blue bloods teams have risen to the top of the rankings, while CFP stalwarts Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma have had their fair share of struggles. We polled the staff of the Vanderbilt Hustler to find out who they have as their top four at the midway point of the college football season. 

Justin Hershey, Sports Editor – Georgia, Alabama, Cincinnati, Michigan State

Georgia is the best team in the country and I’m actually not sure it’s that close (and that has nothing to do with the 62-0 beatdown I witnessed over Vanderbilt). Other than that, the remaining three spots are totally up for grabs. There are plenty of worthy teams that our staff will make a case for below but I’ll start this off by saying: hey NCAA, expand to eight teams.

Bryce Smith, Deputy Sports Editor – Georgia, Everyone else

In all seriousness, I have undefeated Cincinnati, Alabama and Michigan State. Georgia has looked head and shoulders better than any other team in the country—I’m just worried about whether they can finish in January for the first time since 1980. I went chalk for No. 2 and 3 in my rankings and gave the nod to Michigan State— who is tops in the Big Ten— over Oklahoma, who has looked shaky at times throughout the year.

Sam Curtis, Assistant Sports Editor – Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Michigan State

Is Cincinnati slotted at No. 2 on the current AP polls? Yes. Do I care? No. While it would be fun to give a bid to a team in the all-mighty American Athletic Conference, it would make for absolute carnage against a team like Georgia or Alabama. I’m aiming for the best matchups here, and that means proven powerhouses. Now, Oklahoma and Michigan State will have to prove they’re worth their salt with their closing schedules, but if they emerge unscathed, they should certainly round out the four horsemen of college football.

Andrew Wilf, Assistant Sports Editor – Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State

In the 2022 College Football Playoff, I expect there to be a pair of SEC teams, a soon-to-be SEC team and a Big Ten powerhouse. The No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs will face off against the Ohio State Buckeyes. In this game, the robust Georgia defense will look to stop the high-flying C.J. Stroud-led Buckeye offense. So far this season the Bulldogs have outscored their opponents 303-53. In the other matchup, Alabama will look for ways to confuse Oklahoma’s offense, commanded by true-freshman Caleb Williams. Alabama has an 8-3 record in the CFP, while Oklahoma’s record is 0-4 in the playoff.

Kavi Jakes, Copy Editor – Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, Cincinnati

It’s pretty simple. Give me the leaders in scoring defense—Georgia and Cincinnati—and scoring offense—Ohio State and Alabama. Oklahoma and Michigan State, while undefeated, don’t deserve to make the CFP at this point. The Sooners have often played down to their competition, and the Spartans have struggled to dominate inferior Big Ten schools the same way Ohio State has. Within my rankings, there’s a significant drop-off from Georgia to Alabama and an even greater one from Ohio State to Cincinnati. The Bearcats’ lone statement win over Notre Dame sneaks them into my top four, but they would get absolutely demolished by UGA in a semifinal matchup.

Hunter Lee, Staff Writer – Georgia, Alabama, Cincinnati, Ohio State

Georgia is obvious. Cincinnati will likely go undefeated and the committee will feel the pressure from the Group of Five teams to give the best one we have seen in the CFP era a shot, even if it is as a 4-seed to get blown out by Georgia. Alabama beats Georgia in the conference championship, but even if they lose they might deserve a spot. Finally, Ohio State wins out, including a win over Michigan State at home, earning themselves a place. Oklahoma loses 2 down the stretch, and so do Wake Forest and Michigan State, playing themselves out of contention.

Aiden Rutman, Staff Writer – Georgia, Alabama, Cincinnati, Ohio State

To me, Georgia and Alabama are the two best teams in the country. They’ve played the toughest competition, and outside of Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M, both have been dominant. The two are on a collision course to face each other in the SEC Championship, in a game where a loss would knock Alabama out of the playoff. Cincinnati has been excellent all season, with their best win coming against Notre Dame, and it would be pretty surprising to see them lose any of their remaining games. Ohio State gets in by virtue of their past dominance of Michigan and Michigan State and the assumption that that will continue this year. 

Frankie Sheehy, Staff Writer – Georgia, Oklahoma, Cincinnati, Michigan State

Georgia’s the clear No. 1 and should win the last four games on their regular schedule. Oklahoma’s survived a few big tests including beating Texas, and I think they fully merit the second spot. Cincy has posted some impressive wins as well, but they may just be the odd one out if both Michigan State and Alabama win out. I’m not taking for granted that the Spartans will win the Big Ten, but I think they deserve the fourth spot if they do. As for Alabama, I have them on the outside now, but they’ll surely make it if they can knock off Georgia in the SEC Championship.

Jack Bukovnik, Staff Writer – Georgia, Cincinnati, Michigan State, Alabama

Georgia has been an absolute wagon this year, and by far has the most impressive resume in college football. They’re a playoff lock. Cincinnati, despite being in the AAC, has done everything the committee could possibly ask of them (including a win over No. 8 Notre Dame). No reason the Bearcats shouldn’t be in the top four. Coming off of their win over Michigan, Michigan State jumps into the top four. We’re looking at an undefeated Big Ten team with a signature win. They still have Penn State and Ohio State on the schedule ahead, but if the season ended today, Sparty should make the cut. Lastly, Alabama gets the nod over Oklahoma. Sure, the Sooners are undefeated, but few of their wins have been impressive, and none have been over teams currently ranked. Compare this with an Alabama team that’s looked very strong (aside from a close loss to No. 13 Texas A&M). Oklahoma is the college equivalent of the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers last year—they’re going to crash and burn soon, and it’s not a matter of if, but when. 

Andy Carr, Staff Writer – Georgia, Cincinnati, Oklahoma, Michigan State

The Bulldogs are clearly the best team in the nation. Aside from a seven-point victory over the then No. 3 Clemson Tigers, they have won each game this season by 17 points or more. The Bearcats’ only loss over the past two seasons is a three-point defeat in last year’s Peach Bowl at the hands of the Bulldogs. The Sooners remain undefeated in a challenging Big 12 conference – in my mind, that is more impressive than the one-loss Crimson Tide. The Spartans are coming off a win against the then No. 6 Michigan Wolverines and have run the table so far in Big 10 play – I just don’t see how they could be left out of the playoff. 

Matthew Shipley, Staff Writer – Georgia, Oklahoma, Alabama, Michigan State

There’s no debate here: Georgia is the best team in the country. Behind freshman Caleb Williams as quarterback, the Sooners are resurgent and seem like one of the most dangerous offensive teams in college football. With their loss to Texas A&M, ‘Bama showed they’re vulnerable. However, they’re still Alabama and can never be counted out with Saban at the helm. They have to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship to stay in the playoff though. For now, the Spartans sneak into the playoff off of their huge top-10 win versus Michigan. They have a lot ahead of them, however, to stay in the race for the playoff with Ohio State and Penn State still left on their schedule. Honorable mention: Cincinnati. While ranked as the second-best team in the AP Poll, Cincinnati wouldn’t stack up against the top teams from the Power Five conferences. Their victory versus Notre Dame doesn’t give them enough to make up for their otherwise dismal strength of schedule.

Basim Naim, Staff Writer – Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Cincinnati 

The second-best scoring defense in the FBS, Cincinnati’s, has allowed 14.25 points per game. Georgia’s defense, the best, has allowed a formidable 6.6 points per game; Georgia is this ranking’s top Dawg. The foe the Bulldogs haven’t beaten, Saban’s Alabama, is fully back to its regular frightening form after its Texas A&M loss. Oklahoma’s Caleb Williams is beginning to play to the level overhyped Spencer Rattler was hyped to. Michigan State is tempting for the fourth spot, but solely in the spirit of positioning a G5 team to make CFP history, let’s rest our hopes on a different team: Cincinnati.

Bowman Talbot, Staff Writer – Georgia, Alabama, Michigan State, Cincinnati

I mean is this even a question? The Dawgs have dominated just about every opponent they’ve faced and don’t appear to have any weaknesses. No reason the CFP has them any lower than No. 1. As painful as it is to put the Tide this high, they seem to be the only team capable of putting up a fight against Georgia. Despite their loss to Texas A&M, Alabama has taken care of business and is once again putting up record offensive numbers. Unfortunately, they deserve a slot. Last time the Spartans made the playoffs, they got crushed by Alabama. This Michigan State seems different. They demonstrated the ability to win big games and fight to the end, although there is a massive gap between No. 2 and No. 3. I debated putting Oklahoma or even Ohio State at No. 4, but alas. It’s hard to look past the Bearcats’ 8-0 record, even though they play in the AAC and have only played one ranked opponent all year. If Cincinnati played any team listed above them today, they’d get blown out. However, the CFP has been accused of overlooking Group of Five teams in the past, and at No. 4 the Bearcats at least have a chance to make it to the National Championship.

Bobby Kent, Staff Writer – Georgia, Cincinnati, Alabama, Ohio State

This will be the year a Group of Five team finally makes the playoff. The Cincinnati Bearcats have shown they deserve a spot, having handled every team that they have faced this season, including a rout of a top-10 Notre Dame team. The Bearcats now have the weight of all future Group of Five teams’ playoff chances on their shoulders. As for the rest? Georgia’s historic defense makes them a shoo-in, Alabama deserves a shot despite the close loss and the reason for an Ohio State over a Michigan State, Oklahoma or an undefeated Wake is the resume they will have compiled by the time they are Big Ten Champs. 

Jonah Crist, Staff Writer – Georgia, Cincinnati, Michigan State, Oklahoma

All four teams have navigated their respective schedules with at least one ranked win and no losses, which should make the committee’s job simple. There are weaknesses in the eye test from everyone besides Georgia but until proven otherwise, the Bearcats, Spartans and Sooners belong as undefeated teams. Of course, looming matchups between MSU and Ohio State, Alabama and Auburn, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State as well as the conference championship games will likely cause the kind of drama so familiar to the playoff. And in that chaos, perennial one-loss contenders like Alabama and Ohio State tend to rise.

Jayce Pollard, Staff Writer – Georgia, Oklahoma, Oregon, Cincinnati

Georgia is clearly the best team in the country and might have one of the best defenses of all time—definitely the best since the start of the CFP. Oklahoma is undefeated and looks a lot better right now with Caleb Williams under center than it did with Spencer Rattler. Oregon has either the best or second-best win in the country with its Week 2 victory against Ohio State, and it’s not like UCLA and Fresno State are slouches either. Cincinnati at No. 4 is definitely a “put some respect on their name” type of selection, as the Bearcats own wins over Notre Dame and Indiana despite being in a Group of Five conference.

Connor Campbell, Staff Writer – Georgia, Alabama, Michigan State, Cincinnati

Georgia and Alabama, assuming there are no “Kick-Sixes” or “Prayers at Jordan Hare” (funny how both of those historical losses are to Auburn), are locks for the CFP. Georgia’s proven that they’re well and beyond the best team in college football, and Alabama’s a lock because they’re Alabama. Cincinnati would be a fun team to see in the Playoff because they’ve been improving year after year for so long. It’d be nice to see it finally pay off with a seat in the top four. That last spot, I believe, could go to either MSU or Ohio State, who play each other on Nov. 20 in a do-or-die game. Ohio State has made the dance four times to the Spartans’ one, and I’d personally rather see the fresher face this year.

Jaime Pérez, Staff Writer – Georgia, Cincinnati, Alabama, Oklahoma

Georgia has been the most dominant team in the country, having outscored opponents by 250 points through eight games, and I expect that to continue until the SEC Championship. Cincinnati is not the second-most talented team in the nation, but they are continuing last year’s incredible run as they look to break into the CFP as a non-Power Five squad. Despite the one loss, Alabama might still be the team everyone else fears the most. The fourth spot is a toss-up between Oklahoma and Michigan State in my opinion, but I will give OU the edge based on them having upgraded at the QB position halfway through the season. Despite my chalk rankings, I am rooting for chaos and new teams in this year’s Playoff.

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About the Contributors
Mattigan Kelly
Mattigan Kelly, Former Deputy Multimedia Director
Mattigan Kelly ('22) was Deputy Multimedia Director for The Vanderbilt Hustler. She has been on the staff since her freshman year. Mattigan majored in chemical engineering in the School for Engineering. In addition to shooting for The Hustler, she was the Development Coordinator for Camp Kesem at Vanderbilt, works in a research lab on campus and plays Club Tennis.
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