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Buying or Selling Every Top 10 Team as Playoff Championship Contender

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2014

Buying or Selling Every Top 10 Team as Playoff Championship Contender

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    After one week of the season, is it too early to buy and sell teams as contenders for the College Football Playoff?

    A little bit yes, and a little bit no.

    We don't know enough to make fixed, conclusive judgments, but we do know more than we did the entire summer. Each team in the national Top 10 has played and won a game, but not all wins are created equal—and neither are all schedules.

    So why not make some impulse reactions? Here is a post-Week 1 judgement of the Top 10 squads, a verdict based on the skill of their roster, the way they looked last weekend and the road they face to make the CFP. The outlooks range from strong, moderate or reluctant "buy" to strong, moderate or reluctant "sell."

    Also listed is the pre-Week 1 judgement, so you can see which direction they've moved after the first game.

    Sound off below and let me know where you disagree.

10. Baylor

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Pre-Week 1 Verdict: Strong Buy

    The Baylor team that took the field against SMU Sunday was decidedly un-Baylor, a fitting sight for the first game at McLane Stadium.

    The offense gained "only" 5.92 yards per play, a steep departure from last year's average of 8.93 against nonconference opponents, but the defense allowed an FBS-best 1.07 yards per play, a similarly steep departure from last year's 4.70 in nonconference play.

    Quarterback Bryce Petty left the game with a scary injury, but the diagnosis (two cracked transverse processes in his lower back) was relatively benign. Players come back from this injury all the time, and according to Shehan Jeyarajah of The Dallas Morning News, Petty plans to play against Northwestern State in Week 2. 

    "It’s like a pinkie," Petty said. "You can’t do much except just brace it up and wait for it to heal. Football is football, you have pain. Might as well get rewarded for it. I’ve watched for too long, put on the headset too many times for me to sit if I can be out there."

    Assuming Petty comes back fine, we know this offense is playoff-worthy. Unless Saturday's game was an out-and-out mirage, the defense should be, too. You'd be hard-pressed trying to find a scarier defensive lineman than 6'9" Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman, a future first-round draft pick who had two sacks against SMU.

    Especially now that David Ash's season looks to be in jeopardy at Texas, Oklahoma feels like the only viable obstacle between the Bears and a Big 12 Championship. Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech might be pitfalls along the way, but for the most part, this team should be feeling pretty good about its lot.

    Post-Week 1 Verdict: Strong Buy

9. Texas A&M

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Pre-Week 1 Verdict: Strong Sell

    It would easy to pretend this wasn't true, ex post facto, but I did not have Texas A&M ranked on my preseason ballot. I thought the offense would be great but not outstanding, and I thought the defense would be one of the two or three worst in the SEC.

    There's a slight chance I might have been wrong.

    The Aggies were the most impressive team in the country during Week 1, boat-racing South Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium by putting up 680 yards of offense and 52 points. Even the beleaguered defense looked a lot better than expected, despite a nasty habit of letting receivers get behind the secondary.

    Still, as much as I wouldn't want my own team to have to play Texas A&M this season, it's hard to buy the Aggies as a legitimate playoff contender—at least this early, that is. Kevin Sumlin's squad still has the sixth-hardest schedule in the country, per Brian Fremeau of BCFToys.com, and the defense still has questions to answer.

    Road trips to Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn and home dates with Ole Miss and LSU all stick out as potential losses, and it doesn't seem prudent to (a) bank on Texas A&M to go 4-1 in those games or (b) buy a multiple-loss team's chances of making the playoff.

    If the Aggies burn me again, though: shame on me.

    Post-Week 1 Verdict: Moderate Sell

8. Ohio State

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Pre-Week 1 Verdict: Reluctant Sell

    Braxton Miller's injury did not eliminate Ohio State from the playoff discussion. Did it hurt? Profoundly. But this team is well-stocked and well-coached enough to make a run without its star quarterback.

    The Navy game was disconcerting, though, and not just because of the score after two-and-a-half quarters (14-13, Navy). J.T. Barrett looked solid under center, but the showing from the Buckeyes offensive line, which is replacing four starters from one of the best units in the country, played out like a worst-case scenario come to life.

    Line play and the secondary were the two biggest question marks coming into fall camp (pre-Miller's injury), and the first one gets a near-failing grade through one week.

    The second gets an incomplete after playing a triple-option offense, but on aggregate, that means the Buckeyes still take a slight fall. I'm not ready to sell hard because of the schedule and the upside of the defense, but tOSU is trending in the wrong direction. 

    Post-Week 1 Verdict: Moderate Sell

7. Michigan State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Pre-Week 1 Verdict: Moderate Buy

    Michigan State's first string looked great against Jacksonville State—a supposed-to-be-plucky FCS team—and didn't have to play much in the second half of its season-opening victory.

    Connor Cook rebounded from an early injury scare to post a QB rating of 352.61 (!!!) on 13 pass attempts, connecting with his likely top receiver, Tony Lippett, for a couple of long touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, the defensive line was as wolfish and unblockable as advertised, and Darian Hicks passed his first test as the new starting cornerback for a defense that relies so heavily upon them.

    As great as Sparty looked, though, the performance did not move the needle on its playoff stock. What's the point of adjusting the buy-sell verdict when Saturday's game at Oregon will promptly change it?

    The Spartans are exactly what we thought they were: a blue-collar team with a great defense, a potentially very good offense and a manageable schedule that got a lot more manageable once Miller went down at Ohio State.

    A win this week would pump this up to a (very) strong buy.

    Post-Week 1 Verdict: Moderate Buy

6. Georgia

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Pre-Week 1 Verdict: Reluctant Sell

    No team swung further on this scale after Week 1 than Georgia, which not only proved its own merits with a 45-21 beatdown of Clemson but also benefited from the apparent doomsday at South Carolina.

    The Gamecocks were favored to win the SEC East over the Bulldogs at conference media days, but after imploding against Texas A&M, it's difficult (though not impossible) to think Steve Spurrier's team will regroup in time to beat UGA in Week 3.

    The jury is still out on Florida, which admittedly looked good on the one pre-rained-out play of its season-opener against Idaho, but elsewhere in the division, reigning champion Missouri struggled to put away FCS South Dakota State. Even if and when they improve, the Tigers are plainly not the same team they were last year.

    Tennessee looked surprisingly feisty against Utah State, but for the most part, Georgia's own performance, combined with the performance of its direct competition, made it feel like a strong favorite to reach the SEC Championship Game. From there, it would (probably) only take one more win to reach the CFP. 

    After seeing what Todd Gurley did against Clemson, would you really want to be the one who bets against him in a must-win game?

    Post-Week 1 Verdict: Strong Buy

5. Auburn

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    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Pre-Week 1 Verdict: Moderate Sell

    I had Auburn ranked No. 3 on my pre-Week 1 ballot.

    I have Auburn ranked No. 3 on my post-Week 1 ballot.

    I think this is the third-best team in the country.

    But I'm still selling the Tigers as a playoff contender.  

    Yes, Auburn has the most fun-to-watch offense in the country and a defense that, while troubling against the run, should be commended for its halftime adjustments versus Arkansas.

    No matter how it looked in Week 1, though, that doesn't change the fact that it has road trips to Kansas State, Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama and home games against LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M remaining on the schedule.

    Fremeau tweeted Tuesday that an "elite" team would have a harder time going 10-2 against Auburn's schedule than it would going 12-0 against Iowa's. Fair or not, that has to be taken into consideration.

    This is an "elite" team that will probably go 10-2.

    Post-Week 1 Verdict: Moderate Sell

4. Oklahoma

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Pre-Week 1 Verdict: Reluctant Buy

    I am dubious of Oklahoma as a top-four team in the country, but that doesn't mean I'm selling it as a playoff contender.

    It's the diametric opposite of Auburn.

    Bob Stoops' team looked fine dispatching Louisiana Tech, 48-16, in Week 1, and it showed the world how high its ceiling goes in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. There's a case to be made that it has the No. 1 defense in the country, and quarterback Trevor Knight—when he's on—is an intriguing dual-threat weapon.

    Regardless, the main reason to buy Oklahoma is the schedule, which shapes out favorably (and that's giving it a mild spin). Road games at West Virginia and TCU and a home date with Tennessee look harder now than they did pre-Week 1, but neutral-field games against Texas (potentially without Ash) and Texas Tech (only beat Central Arkansas by one score) look a little less-hard. All in all, it evened out.

    The stock here remains what it was.

    Post-Week 1 Verdict: Reluctant Buy

3. Oregon

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    Ryan Kang/Associated Press

    Pre-Week 1 Verdict: Moderate Buy

    As is the case with its Week 2 opponent, Michigan State, it doesn't seem prudent to move the needle on Oregon's playoff chances before a game that will change things regardless of the outcome.

    We might as well wait and see.

    The Ducks' offense looked predictably great—and Marcus Mariota's knee looked propitiously healthy—against South Dakota, which sets up a grand battle Saturday. Oregon's offense versus Michigan State's defense isn't just the best unit-to-unit matchup on the actual 2014 schedule; it might be the best matchup theoretically possible.

    The opposite side of the ball, however, might be what ultimately decides the game—and, in turn, Oregon's season.

    New defensive coordinator (but longtime Ducks assistant) Don Pellum did not get off to a perfect start in Week 1, allowing an FCS team to rush for 172 and finish with 370 yards of total offense. Michigan State will prove a much tougher opponent, and if Oregon is not up to task, it could suffer a playoff hope-crippling defeat.

    Until the final whistle blows, though, it holds firm as a moderate buy.

    Post-Week 1 Verdict: Moderate Buy

2. Alabama

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    =042011000133=/Associated Press

    Pre-Week 1 Verdict: Strong Buy

    Alabama made it out of the Georgia Dome unscathed, an outcome that seemed certain before kickoff but was thrown into doubt when West Virginia showed up with a smart game plan and fought to within seven points in the middle of the fourth quarter.

    The Crimson Tide should be a better team for facing—and passing—an early test, especially since the rest of their nonconference slate is so weak. But it's hard to ignore some of the weaknesses WVU exposed. On the back end of the defense in particular, it looked more vulnerable than any 'Bama team in, what, three years?

    "There’s not an immediate sense of urgency," wrote Bleacher Report's Marc Torrence. "But Alabama opens up SEC play with Florida and Ole Miss, two teams with physical wide receivers. It can’t survive all season with the cornerback play it got Saturday night."

    This team has too much raw talent to sell—at cornerback as much as any other position—but the defense looked beatable enough against West Virginia to force a hedge off the strong buy.

    At this point, going moderate feels safer.

    Post-Week 1 Verdict: Moderate Buy

1. Florida State

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Pre-Week 1 Verdict: Strong Buy

    Florida State showed some unexpected flaws against Oklahoma State, weaknesses that last year's team did not have.

    The offensive line could not get a push for the running backs. The defense could not rush the passer. Jameis Winston could not get out of his own way. It was a stark contrast from last season.

    Still, the Seminoles survived and advanced, and they did it against a squad that might, for all we know, turn out to be a Big 12 contender. Remember that South Carolina vs. UCF game last season? The one we knew was good in the moment but only realized in hindsight it featured two of the 10 best teams in the country?

    I'm not saying that's what this was...but who knows?

    Either way, the major facts about Florida State's season have not changed. It still returns a lot of the personnel that led it to the national title in 2013-14, and it still returns Jimbo Fisher on the sideline. Its biggest competitor, Clemson, does not look like a great biggest-competitor. It's quarterback has never lost a game in college.

    Consider me un-wavered on the Seminoles.

    Post-Week 1 Verdict: Strong Buy

     

    Note: All ranking info refers to the Week 2 Associated Press Poll.

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