Stanford may or may not be the nation’s best college football team. Christian McCaffrey may or may not be the nation’s best college football player. But the Cardinal now have golden opportunities to prove worthy of the biggest prizes this season — and they’ll have to survive a nationally hyped showdown two nights after Thanksgiving.
Notre Dame moved into the top four in the second College Football Playoff selection committee rankings Tuesday night, which means No. 7 Stanford now has some definition for a possible road to the national semifinals. If the Cardinal beat the Fighting Irish on Nov. 28 at Stanford Stadium — and also take care of Oregon, Cal and a would-be opponent in the Pac-12 championship game — chances are good that Stanford would overcome a season-opening loss at Northwestern and reach the final four.
But in a system that thrives on chaos, it’s still too early for firm projections and anything but guesswork.
Clemson remained No. 1, with Alabama moving up two spots to No. 2, Ohio State staying at No. 3 and Notre Dame up a spot to No. 4. Notre Dame and Alabama each have one loss but have impressed the committee with schedule strength.
With LSU’s Leonard Fournette and TCU’s Trevone Boykin slipping as presumed leaders in the Heisman Trophy race, Stanford has launched an online campaign hyping the candidacy of the electric McCaffrey, the nation’s leader in all-purpose yardage. The website: Wildcaff.com.
“Wildcaff.com — with two F’s,” coach David Shaw said. “We want to support him. It’s a really good sidebar to what we have going as an entire team.”
With high-profile games ahead on national TV, McCaffrey has a chance to flash his credentials while on pace to break the all-time single-season record for all-purpose yards, held by Barry Sanders — father of McCaffrey’s Stanford teammate.
In the rankings, unbeaten Iowa received an eye-catching promotion, rising four spots to No. 5. Baylor is the highest-ranked Big 12 team at No. 6. Complicating Stanford’s dream is the chance that the Big 12 winner — Baylor or No. 8 Oklahoma State — will leapfrog the Cardinal in the final standings.
Iowa’s rise to No. 5 was shocking after winning 35-27 on the road against an Indiana team that is 0-5 in Big Ten play. Committee chairman Jeff Long pointed out the Hawkeyes have beaten two top-25 teams on the road (Wisconsin and Northwestern), and Iowa’s strength of schedule is No. 2 behind Clemson among the six remaining unbeaten teams.
“It’s a recognition by the committee that they were increasingly impressed by Iowa and their body of work,” Long said. “Three teams lost ahead of them, so we felt they needed to move up.”
Last week, Long said the committee had concerns about Iowa’s offense. “We recognize they are consistent on both sides of the ball,” he said Tuesday. “They aren’t flashy, but they are consistent.”
Barring upsets, Notre Dame’s promotion to No. 4 would cause the Big 12 to root for Stanford to knock off the Irish. That could create room in the top four for the Big 12 champ. Some analysts thought Oklahoma State would overtake Baylor, or move into the top four, after an impressive 49-29 win at home over previously unbeaten TCU. The committee still likes Baylor more, though the Bears have yet to beat a team with a winning record.