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 Nine.
Almost Famous: Cincinnati, Iowa, Memphis, Iowa State, Appalachian State
The Honorable 8
20. Minnesota We’re getting deep enough along in the season that the possibility of the Golden Gophers winning at least 10 games needs to be considered. Enough things could break to where that’s also good enough for a New Year’s Six bowl.
19. Utah They emerged on top against Arizona State and now take pole position in the Pac-12 South, which means the door to the Rose Bowl is always still open.
18. Boise State The loss to BYU is not great, but the Broncos have built a strong enough reputation that, as long as they don’t lose again, they still stand a chance at being the Group of 5’s representative in the NY6.
17. Michigan You move up in a loss when you impress, and I liked the fight the Wolverines showed after a dreadful start. The playoff is out of the question, but winning out until the Ohio State game gives the Maize ‘n’ Blue a chance at a big bowl.
16. Texas Beating Kansas by two points in a home shootout isn’t a great sign. But the Longhorns have one of the nation’s best offenses, and that can be enough to get to the Sugar Bowl.
15. Wisconsin How the mighty have fallen. Georgia now has competition for the worst loss among playoff contenders, and the Badgers don’t seem to have enough dynamic weapons on offense to win out. Ohio State likely ends their playoff chances this week, but a New Year’s bowl isn’t completely out of the question.
14. Auburn Still a lot of quality wins left on the schedule. But the Tigers are also pretty well stepped in win-out territory, and LSU is on deck right away this weekend.
13. Georgia Weather aside, the ‘Dawgs still lacked the big play on offense against Kentucky. They’ll need it to avoid a second loss and their playoff chances going up in smoke.
The Terrific 12
12. SMU Welcome to the new leader in the Group of 5 clubhouse. The Mustangs took it to a good Temple team, and while the American schedule in front of them provides no respite, it’s a good sign that the Ponies handled such a quality opponent with ease. The march to the Cotton Bowl rolls on.
11. Wake Forest If we have to send an ACC team to the Orange Bowl, let’s at least send the most entertaining. The Demon Deacons also stayed on pace to win 10 games, so they’re making their own case pretty well.
10. Notre Dame It’s make or break time for the Irish. The playoff isn’t out of the question, but one more loss likely breaks the ice, and two more would knock them out of the New Year’s Six. Good timing that they have to go to Michigan Stadium at night this week, huh?
9. Baylor They need a signature victory, but the Bears never go to Oklahoma State and win, so pulling away late in Stillwater was certainly a statement.
8. Florida The only other signature win on the schedule that the Gators can get is Georgia. But if they get out of Jacksonville with a win, there’s a good chance they get to a winner-take-all SEC Championship.
7. Oregon The Pac-12’s reputation puts the Ducks behind the 8-ball, but evaluate this team on its own terms, and it’s hard to say they don’t have a great playoff case.
6. Penn State Nearly blowing a 3-score lead at home against Michigan isn’t great for confidence, but the Nittany Lions have just one ranked opponent prior to their showdown with Ohio State. Get to Columbus unbeaten, and you’re in prime playoff position.
5. LSU They’ve passed every test but two. Don’t quite look ahead to ‘Bama with Auburn coming to Baton Rouge.
The Playoff 4
4. Oklahoma The Big 12 is stronger than you’d think, but not nearly as deep as the SEC and Big Ten. And that will hurt the Sooners should they lose a game.
3. Ohio State While this week’s showdown with Wisconsin seems to have gotten a little easier, the best opponents for the Buckeyes are ahead of them, and that means a potential first loss is still in play.
2. Alabama A bum ankle and knee lingered in the second half of last season for Tua Tagovailoa. It will likely have some impact this year as well.
1. Clemson Trevor Lawrence can seemingly make any mistake he wants, because the rest of the ACC refuses to capitalize on his errors. While the rest of the nation still has dicey matchups left, nobody’s beating the Tigers.