Who still has a realistic shot at the College Football Playoff? Sorting out the CFP contenders seems like a great idea at this point to reset our focus for the remainder of the season. Currently, it appears as if there are 14 teams who have at least an inkling of a chance. Let’s break this down to achieve the goal of sorting out the CFP contenders.
If the Season Ended Now, These Are Your Four:
Alabama: The resume honestly is not the most impressive. Alabama’s best win is against Texas A&M. Overall, Alabama simply has not been tested. However, when an SEC team is 8-0 while scoring over 50 points six times with the nations best offense, they are in. Soon, they will finally be tested as they play LSU who’s defense is ranked 25th in the country. Following that, they play the nations 6th ranked defense in Mississippi State before essentially getting a bye against The Citadel. Then the Iron Bowl arrives where they play an Auburn team ranked 34th in defense, but only 80th in offense.
Clemson: Do not kid yourselves, Clemson is just fine. Simply ask Wake Forest and NC State, who they beat by a combined score of 104-10 the last two games. Granted, the schedule thus far and moving forward does not allow for a premier win, especially with Florida State down. A road win at Boston College certainly would help. Whoever they face in the ACC title game will have no less than two losses, which is not ideal. That means the margin of victory and eye test will mean everything for Clemson. With an offense led by Travis Etienne and Trevor Lawrence as well as the nations fourth-ranked defense, yes they are fine.
Notre Dame: Currently, the Irish are a playoff team. Their win over Michigan at the beginning of the season is one of the best wins for any team in the country. As of now, wins over Stanford and Virginia Tech look solid. As for what is upcoming, wins over a down Navy and three loss Northwestern will not be helpful. Normally a win over Florida State would be gigantic, but not this year. Syracuse has a record of currently 5-2, so Notre Dame needs them to keep winning. Finally, they make a trip to USC, who already has suffered three losses. With all of that being said, if Notre Dame goes undefeated, they will be in.
Michigan: The Wolverines have the best resume thus far out of the Big Ten teams in contention. Sure, they lost to Notre Dame by seven the first game of the season. The next five games were not very challenging, although the three-point win at Northwestern is significant. Michigan has boosted their resume the last two weeks by destroying Wisconsin by 25 points and beating Michigan State on the road by two touchdowns. Those games successfully showcased their number one ranked defense as well as their running game. Impactful games at home against Penn State and at Ohio State remain with a trip to Rutgers and a home date against Indiana sandwiched in between.
Who is Close?
LSU: The most surprising team in the SEC this year is likely LSU. Up to this point, they might have the best resume in the conference as well. They took down Miami (FL) at the beginning of the season, although the Hurricanes have lost a second game since. The Tigers got another victory at Auburn and while it looked great at the time, the luster has worn off of that one as well with Auburn’s struggles. They lost at Florida, but then followed that with a massive win against Georgia as well as a victory over defensive-minded Mississippi State. They play Alabama next, which clearly will determine LSU’s fate, not only in the SEC, but nationally. Following that, they make trips to Arkansas and Texas A&M, while facing Rice in between.
Texas: The only blemish on the Longhorn resume is losing to Maryland by five to open the season. Clearly, Texas has become a much better, more well-rounded team since that game. Unfortunately, the quality of the wins over USC and TCU have been diminished considering those are three and four loss teams respectively. However, the win over Oklahoma gives them a high profile win that should remain as such. Clearly, their only chance is to win out, which would include victories over one loss West Virginia and two-loss Texas Tech. Then, they need to face and defeat Oklahoma a second time in the Big 12 championship game.
Florida: The Gators claim to fame is beating LSU in The Swamp. They lost to Kentucky this year, while their next best win is at Mississippi State, who is strong defensively. Florida has a championship level defense, ranked 22nd in the country, but an offense that is only ranked 67th nationally led by iffy quarterback Feleipe Franks. They can significantly boost their profile with a win over Georgia in week nine. After that, the schedule does not allow for another high profile win as Missouri, South Carolina, Idaho, and Florida State remain prior to a potential SEC title game appearance. Plus, they have to hope Kentucky loses to have a chance.
Oklahoma: The OU has an incredibly fun offense to watch led by Kyler Murray. That alone will keep them alive in the Big 12 race and possibly the playoff race. However, as it stands now, the resume is not overly fantastic. FAU is down and UCLA is obviously struggling. Moreover, TCU is a four-loss team while Baylor is in the process of rebuilding. Army took OU to the brink of a loss while Iowa State gave OU fits as well. Not to mention the loss to rival Texas. With all of that being said, their pathway to the playoff is open. Games at Texas Tech and West Virginia will determine whether OU can work their way to a potential rematch with Texas. They cannot afford a slip up against Kansas State or Oklahoma State though.
Georgia: Coming off the 20 point loss at LSU and a bye week, Georgia has three tough games approaching. First, they tackle Florida down in Jacksonville. Next, they visit Kentucky, who already has secured a win over Florida. These games will determine whether Georgia wins the East or not. If they make it through that stretch, while defeating Auburn afterward, their path to the CFP becomes much more clear. They will finish the season against UMass and Georgia Tech, both at home. If they can somehow get past Alabama in the SEC title game, they are clearly in the CFP at that point.
Ohio State: Before losing by 29 on the road at three loss Purdue, the Buckeyes resume was already a bit questionable. Sure they beat TCU, but they sit at 3-4 currently. They got a tough road win at Penn State, however, they are clearly not what they were last season. The rest of the wins are not impressive whatsoever against bad teams like Oregon State, Rutgers, Tulane, and Minnesota. The Indiana win is somewhat decent. They have home games remaining against Nebraska and the big one against Michigan. Ohio State makes road trips to Michigan State and Maryland as well.
Staying Alive… Barely
West Virginia: Currently, the resume for West Virginia is rather uninspiring. They were thoroughly dominated at Iowa State their last time out. Their best win so far is at Texas Tech. However, their defense is much improved and they have the conferences best quarterback in Will Grier. Plus, they have the games remaining that would boost their resume. After playing Baylor this week, they hit the road to face Texas in Austin. Next, they play TCU, which will not help much before heading on the road to face Oklahoma State. The last game, a home date on Black Friday against Oklahoma, could be the piece that puts them in a potential Big 12 title game. Win that, get some help and who knows.
Washington State: WASU is the only Pac-12 team remaining without two or more losses so far, which makes them the conferences only hope. So far, they have two impressive wins over Utah and Oregon at home. They lost by three at USC. They control their destiny with games at Stanford and Colorado remaining plus their Apple Cup showdown with Washington. California and Arizona are obviously must wins. Their path is to win out, beat USC or Utah in the Pac-12 title game and hope they can get help.
Iowa: Admittedly, this one is a long-shot, but the window of opportunity is open. The wins so far are frankly unimpressive. They have already lost at home to Wisconsin. Quite frankly, the next two weeks would give Iowa decent, but not great wins at Penn State and Purdue. Following that, they face Northwestern at home with games against Illinois and Nebraska to finish the year. The only path is to go 11-1, beat a one-loss Ohio State or Michigan in the Big Ten title game and hope for help.
Kentucky: Surprisingly, Kentucky is the fifth SEC team with an outside shot at the playoff. A loss at Texas A&M hurts the resume a bit, however, their win at Florida is carrying them to this point. Wins over Mississippi State and South Carolina are helpful. They have road trips at Missouri, Tennessee, and Louisville remaining. Additionally, they face Georgia, which could be for the East title and Middle Tennessee at home. Although this team struggles to pass the ball, Benny Snell makes them viable on offense while their defense ranks 12th nationally.
Noticeably missing while sorting out the CFP are teams like one loss NC State in addition to undefeated AAC teams UCF and USF. NC State’s path is blocked by their loss to Clemson, thus keeping them from the ACC title game. UCF and USF will not have the quality wins necessary to put themselves in contention.
Other quality teams that unfortunately will not have the resumes from the group of five are teams like Houston, Fresno State, Utah State, San Diego State, and UAB. All of those teams, in addition to UCF and USF, are still in play for a New Years Six bowl game, however.
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