This is a weekly series that will rank the best teams in the country based on their chances to make the College Football Playoff, or, if they fall short, the likeliness that they would reach one of the other major bowl games in the New Year’s Six. Here’s how things stack up heading into Week Six.
The Honorable 8
20. SMU Time to take the Ponies seriously. They’ve trashed everybody they’ve faced behind a high-powered offense. The Mustangs are easily the second-best team in the American.
19. Michigan Saturday’s showdown with Iowa is an eliminator game. Loser’s chances of the playoff go up in smoke, and their New Year’s Six chances drop to slim as well.
18. Utah Basically in a dead heat with Arizona State for Pac-12 South favorite and the inside track to the Rose Bowl that could be subsequent.
17. Oklahoma State Lots of other good candidates to get into the list for the first time this season, like Wake Forest, Memphis or Missouri, but nobody has a better spot in conference pecking order than the Cowboys. They beat Baylor, and they’re the third-best team in the Big 12, which might be enough for a big bowl or the Alamo Bowl at worst.
16. UCF They got back to smashing up inferior competition against UConn, and the offense is still electric. But they need help to get the Group of 5’s slot.
15. Washington They’re doing a pretty good job making the Cal loss look like an aberration. But there’s still another one-loss Pac-12 team beating up the rest of the opposition, and that team lost to an unbeaten SEC team.
14. Penn State Poor, sweet Maryland. The muscles have been properly flexed. If the Nittany Lions can play like they did in College Park against the real meat of their Big Ten schedule, they’ve absolutely still got a playoff case.
13. Florida Losing to Auburn won’t eliminate the Gators from the playoff conversation, let alone this list entirely. But Saturday is a chance for a serious statement. Which kind will Dan Mullen’s team make?
The Terrific 12
12. Boise State SMU and Tulane will work their way into this conversation at some point, and San Diego State and Utah State are teams worth taking seriously in conference play. But while the Florida State win gets worse and worse and the outside-chance playoff case gets thinner, the Broncos are firmly entrenched as the top Group of 5 team.
11. Notre Dame If Virginia wins out, the Irish would have to do the same to lose an Orange Bowl spot, and that’s a tall order for ND. But it’s also quite the ask of Virginia to not lose to anybody other than Clemson. The ACC will part the seas for Brian Kelly’s team and open the way to Miami.
10. Oregon The Pac-12’s favorite and very-last playoff hope gets pushed down one because, well, we forgot they have a head-to-head loss to…
9. Auburn Bo Nix has played and started all 5 games this season and yet still hasn’t thrown for 1,000 yards. This isn’t something the Tigers can keep up forever, maybe not even after this week.
8. Texas Probably should have Auburn ahead of the Longhorns as well because of the lack of a loss, but at the end of the day, losing to LSU isn’t going to hurt anybody.
7. Wisconsin So it was ugly against Northwestern. Every game featuring Northwestern is ugly. Badgers get back to a real, normal football team with (checks notes)…Kent State.
6. Georgia The embarrassment of losing to this particular version of Tennessee would be a new low for the ‘Dawgs. But rarely in this sport do we get what we want.
5. LSU If Georgia Southern was a terribly dicey Group-of-5 opponent that the Tigers still smoked, maybe Utah State’s not such a horrible idea (it definitely still is).
The Playoff 4
4. Oklahoma Big 12 still hasn’t quite shown the depth of the Big Ten, so it’s still a firm four.
3. Ohio State [Uses time allotted to instead just laugh at Nebraska fans]
2. Alabama 11 catches, 274 yards and 5 touchdowns for DeVonta Smith against Ole Miss. Jerry Jeudy’s not a slam dunk to win the Biletnikoff again if his teammates keep putting up monster games like that.
1. Clemson Escaping with wins against this year’s porous version of the ACC is not going to get the Tigers a one seed, and it certainly means they have less breathing room for a loss. Trevor Lawrence needs to stop throwing the ball to the other team, and he avoided that against North Carolina, but Dabo’s boys really can’t afford the season becoming defined by close calls like the one in Chapel Hill.