Fearsome four: The four college football teams you don’t want to play right now.

By: Spencer Bowen

It’s not entirely clear what criteria the College Football Playoff selection committee uses when selecting its top four. In our latest ESPN special-reveal-of-a-top-four-that-won’t-matter-for-five-more-weeks (but brings in ratings on a Tuesday!) we were graced with no. 1 Clemson, no. 2 Alabama, no. 3 Ohio State, and no. 4 Notre Dame.

The committee is clearly eschewing overall win-loss in their decision. That dull groan you hear are the collective fanbases of Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa, and (hey!) Houston.

Are we judging on impressive wins? Clemson has those, and to a degree Bama as well. But Ohio State’s best win is… at Virginia Tech? That blitzkrieg of a bad Rutgers team? Their miraculous escape against Northern Illinois? And Notre Dame’s biggest feather is a tight win over Temple. I know Temple is good this year, but it’s still Temple. Are you telling me you would bet on Temple if they played, say, Mississippi State this week? You wouldn’t? Exactly. The Irish’s next best win may be at home over 3-7 Georgia Tech. Next.

Are we judging on strength of schedule, regardless of wins and losses? Here Alabama (no. 1), Notre Dame (no. 5), and Clemson (no. 9) all have strong cases. Ohio State, however, languishes at no. 56. Hmmm.

As a side note, if we are judging on strength of schedule, let’s throw my beloved California Golden Bears (no. 7) into the playoff.

How about talent level and potential? This is Ohio State’s best argument for inclusion (besides the “amount of games in the 5:00 ABC slot” metric): they’re loaded. Ridiculously loaded. The parallels to last year’s Florida State team are unmistakable. Ohio State should be the best team in the country based on talent and depth. But they’re easing their way through a soft schedule, often playing down to mediocre opponents. Bama is also stacked with blue-chippers. Clemson and Notre Dame feel like they’re in a slightly lower tier, but all four schools recruit really really well and are perennial contenders for top 15 classes. Overall talent is a promising measure, but ultimately unsatisfying. If we are working off of that, one-loss teams like Florida, LSU, and Oklahoma may want a word with the committee.

Any reasonable person should say, “Spencer, it’s clearly an amalgam of metrics. You can’t judge a team based on one overriding factor. The committee has a broader, more nuanced view of college football” And any reasonable person would be right. But the real world of grey areas and power rankings and the ever-quixotic “eye test” is much less fun than the world I’m about to propose.

To fill the void and give you a more satisfying top four, we here at Antland (and by “we” I mean “me”) have decided to evaluate the college football landscape based on one thing and one thing only: which team you wouldn’t want to play right now.

This isn’t quite the same as the venerable “who would win on a neutral field?” No, here we delve into emotions of teams and fanbases. We want the teams that would inspire actual fear in the hearts of upcoming opponents because they just “have it going” or “look real talented” or “have that ‘it’ factor” (Mark May, you’re welcome to add any of these to your stable of clichés).

Who don’t you want to play this week? You’re about to find out – in no particular order.


North Carolina

Yeah, they lost to a bad South Carolina team. Yes, Larry Fedora continues to not wear an actual fedora on the sidelines. But this is a team hitting its stride just in time for an ACC Championship Game upset of no. 1 Clemson (did I jinx it?).

Consider:

  • Since the opening-week loss to South Carolina, the Tar Heels are averaging a balanced 502 yards per game (297 through the air, 205 on the ground).
  • QB Marquise Williams has a solid 66% completions percentage, but he’s averaging 9.85 yards per attempt. That’s efficiency paired with explosiveness.
  • The very same Williams uncorked this beauty after the Duke game: “I came to practice with a mindset this week that we were going to come out and win this football game.”

Enlightening. Lack of inspired soundbites aside, that Duke game was probably what inspired Kendrick to say “you wanna see a dead body?” in his appearance on Pusha T’s “Nosetalgia” (ignore the fact that the song came out over two years ago). What UNC did to Duke was downright disgusting – and they did it to a good Duke defense (ranked ninth nationally in total defense and tenth in scoring defense coming into the game).

Feast your eyes, especially the casual ease of Williams’ bomb at 1:07.

UNC had 704 yards of total offense and eased up on the throttle about six minutes into the third quarter. Williams already had 404 yards of passing at halftime. They smashed around a fundamentally sound and sneaky talented Duke team like they were Northern Illinois (hi, Ohio State!). They made it look way too easy.

And come on, that argyle is sweet.

Alabama

Alas, I think the committee pretty much got this one right. They’re inescapable and annoying and the Yankees of college football but right now I don’t think you want to the Tide’s army of four and five stars looming on the schedule.

But I say the biggest fear factor isn’t even Alabama’s talent – although it’s tip top in the country. It is always Nick Saban. It’s scary that he recruits so well. It’s scary that he wears dri-fit longsleeves underneath polos. It’s scary that he hasn’t smiled in seven years. And above all, it’s scary that he has married talent with scheme to a degree that only fellow football messiah Urban Meyer can match right now.

They’re holding opponents to 16 points per game – a number I’m pretty sure Lord of Back Squats Derrick Henry can score by himself versus 11 defenders. And they handed Leonard Fournette a cute little 31 yards on 19 carries stat line last week.

They’re great on the field. But it’s the guy just off to the side that makes Alabama a team you don’t want to see.

Stanford

It pains me to write, but pure momentum rankings would probably rank Stanford and Alabama 1-2 in some order.

Since the Northwestern incident, Stanford is averaging 245 yards a game on the ground, no doubt helped by wunderkid Christian McCaffrey (such a Stanford name) and his 6.1 yards per rush average. They’re manhandling people up front on offense, and the defense has disguised some depth issues and the loss of a lot of talent to play admirably.

Hogan is putting together a 2013-14 postseason Joe Fluke-o-esque (not a typo) performance so far. He strikes me as above average at best, but he’s smart and has a good arm and great protection up front. And according to some quick mental math, I think he’s finishing up his eighth year as the Cardinal’s starting quarterback so he’s got the always valuable “experience in the system” (Mark May, you still there?).

Through it all is soft-smile smirker David Shaw, whose bald head reflects everything that happens on the field. And right now it’s reflecting a legit national contender.

Oklahoma State

A week ago the Cowboys were that highly ranked team you would like to play – because they escaped K-State and Texas more than they beat them on their way to an undefeated record.

So then what happened in Stillwater this weekend?

Watch this and tell me you’re not a little surprised by how quickly it gets out of hand.

The Fighting T. Boone Pickenses steamrolled a really good (if banged up) TCU team coached by one of the better X’s and O’s guys of the past ten years. Their offense was opportunistic, explosive, and wildly efficient at the controls of quarterback Mason Rudolph. The defense forced turnovers. And this team has all the momentum in the world right now.

Could it be a mirage? Of course. When they go and face plant at Iowa State this week (a distinct possibility), you can throw this right back in my face. I can take it. I’m a man. I’m 40.

But right now, they have one of the five best wins in college football this year and hung 70 on Texas Tech a few weeks ago. The Pokes are rolling – and their fellow Big XII rivals (Baylor in two weeks, Oklahoma in three) may not be happy about it.

Random college football thought of the week:

If Oklahoma wins out, what kind of sorcery would keep them out of the playoff? The loss to Texas is bad, but they would boast wins over Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma State, Tennessee, and West Virginia all while playing a top-20 schedule. Would Oklahoma be shut out by a one-loss Florida winning the SEC over Alabama? Would a 12-1 Utah stand in their way if the Utes knock off Stanford in Santa Clara? This is why the playoff is fun – and why it’s really not that much different than the prognostication-crazy BCS.

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