Ness Notes: Wednesday, Nov 25

by Larry Ness

This column will be available Monday through Friday (posted no later than 1:00 ET), EXCLUSIVELY at I like to call it my daily 'random thoughts' on the sports betting world, although I'll pass along that my therapist refers to it as "thoughtful commentary."

The initial CFP standings of the 2020 season were released last night and there were no surprises in the top-four. 7-0 Alabama is No. 1, 8-0 Notre Dame No. 2, 7-1 Clemson No. 3 and 4-0 Ohio St  No. 4. That's the same top-four as both the current AP and Coaches' poll, with only a minor change. Ohio St is No. 3 and Clemson is No. 4 in both of those polls. Let me begin with this reminder. The first CFP rankings/standings began in 2014 and the first four teams in the initial rankings have NEVER all made it to the final four. Alabama earned the No. 1 spot in the CFP standings for the 19th time, more than double the amount of any other school. However, is that good or bad news for the Tide? Over the past FIVE seasons, NO team ranked No. 1 in the initial CFP rankings has gone on to win the national championship. As for Clemson claiming the No. 3 spot over Ohio St, which is No. 3 in both of the traditional polls, the Buckeyes may think they 'won' by avoiding that No. 3 spot. After all, NO team ranked No. 3 in the initial CFP standings has ever gone on to win the national championship.

The "close but no cigar" spots of No. 5 and No. 6 went to 5-1 Texas A&M and 6-1 Florida, respectively. The Gators surely can't complain, as they lost at A&M 41-38 back on Oct 13. Florida is on a roll and if the Gators win their final three regular season games plus win the SEC title game (Alabama is the likely opponent), Florida will surely make the school's first-ever 'Final Four' appearance. Rounding out the top-10 are 8-0 Cincinnati at No. 7, 5-0 Northwestern at No. 8, 5-2 Georgia at No. 9 and 7-1 Miami-Fl at No. 10. The Bearcats are the highest ranked Group of Five team at No. 7 and made some history. Over each of the previous six years, the highest any Group of 5 team has been ranked in the initial standings was UCF's 7-0 team of 2018 at No. 12! If the Bearcats remain the highest-ranked Group of 5 team, they will get an invitation to a New Year’s Six Bowl. Is there a chance for Cincinnati to get into position to make the playoffs? Cincy would HAVE to finish 11-0 and would need the teams ahead of them like Clemson, Florida, and Texas A&M to finish with two losses.

Speaking of two losses, how does Georgia come in at No. 9? The Bulldogs lost 41-24 at Alabama and 44-28 to Florida in Jacksonville. 9-0 BYU, ranked No. 8 in both the AP and Coaches' poll, came in at just at No. 14. The Cougars are led by QB Zach Wilson (74.3% for 2,724 yards with 26 TDs and just two INTS in 237 attempts), who owns the nation's top passer rating of 205.3. The Cougars are averaging 47.6 PPG and their nmargin of victory sits at a nation-best 33.7 PPG. Selection committee chairman Gary Barta, the AD at Iowa, told ESPN that BYU’s schedule was the key reason the Cougars were ranked so low. BYU’s schedule was decimated when the Pac-10, the Big Ten, and the SEC went to conference games only. BYU’s original schedule included Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State, Minnesota, and Missouri but the Cougars were not able to put together a revised schedule in 2020 (on short notice) that included a Power Five team. BYU tried to hastily schedule a game with Washington for this Saturday, after the Huskies' Apple Cup game against Washington St was canceled but Washington decided to play a Pac-12 game with Utah. Who can blame Washington? BYU has had a terrific season but with only a home game with San Diego St on Dec 12 remaining, BYU's only realistic hope is to earn an at-large berth in a New Year’s Six Bowl.

The 2019-2020 college basketball season was abruptly shut down back on Mar 12 but the 2020-21 season, with COVID-19 issues still very much looming, opens on Wednesday. The AP's preseason college basketball poll was released back on Nov 9 and Gonzaga barely edged Baylor for the No. 1 spot. Gonzaga held the No. 1 spot for four weeks last season and was 31-2, finishing No. 2 in the AP's final poll in a season that was never completed. The Bulldogs received 28 first-place votes and its 1,541 points was just ONE point clear of Baylor, which received 24 first-place votes after going 26-4 last season and finishing as the nation's 5th-ranked team. Villanova (24-7 last season) received 11 first-place votes and its No. 3 ranking is the school's highest preseason ranking since the 1995-96 season. Virginia, coming off back-to-back 30-win seasons (and a national championship in the 2018-19 season), got ONE first-pace vote after going 23-7 last season and is ranked 4th. Iowa went 21-11 last season (was ranked 25th in the final poll) but with the preseason player-of-the -year (Luke Garza) deciding to stay, the Hawkeyes will open the season ranked No. 5.

Kansas was 28-3 when last season was called off due to COVID-19 but earned 63 of the 65 first-place votes to claim the No. 1 spot. The Jayhawks open the 2020-21 season as the nation's 6th-ranked team, followed by No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 8 Illinois, No. 9 Duke and No. 10 Kentucky. Creighton checks in ranked No. 11, the highest preseason ranking in school history. Houston is ranked No. 17, its highest preseason ranking since the 1983-84 season. The Dayton Flyers went 29-2 last season (finished ranked No. 3) but will open the current season unranked. San Diego St went 30-2 last season (finished No. 6) but also opens unranked, as do Louisville (24-7 and ranked No. 14) and Seton Hall (21-9 and ranked  No. 15).

Just like in college football, COVID-19 issues will continue to force postponements and cancellations until a vaccine can be distributed. At last count (this morning at 10:00 ET), 25 scheduled Wednesday games have been postponed (five) or canceled (20). The most notable cancellation was No. 2 Baylor and No. 18 Arizona's tourney game being played at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. Three other ranked schools fall into that category as well, as No. 9 Duke and No. 20 Oregon postponed their respective games, while No.12 Tennessee canceled its game. 

Top-10 schools that are playing on Wednesday include, No. 3 Villanova (-14) vs Boston College, No. 4 Virginia (-18.5) at home to Towson, No. 5 Iowa (-26) home to NC Central, No. 7 Wisconsin (-20.5) at home to Eastern Illinois, No. 8 Illinois (-29) vs NC A&T and No. 10 Kentucky (-25) home to Morehead St.

With three NFL games scheduled for Thanksgiving, Thursday's Notes will feature my NFL Week 12 preview, with my college football preview moving to Friday.

Good luck...Larry

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