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 Ten.
Almost Famous: Iowa, Memphis, Boise St, Virginia, USC
The Honorable 8
20. Appalachian St If they go unbeaten and get an SMU loss, the Mountaineers are Cotton Bowl-bound.
19. Auburn The Tigers look like they’ll end up as the best 8-4 team in the nation, but mixing an upset in there against Georgia or Alabama would give them a shot at the New Year’s Six.
18. Michigan They now have a head-to-head win that could allow them to jump Notre Dame for a New Year’s bowl, but they’ll likely need to go 10-2 to ensure it.
17. Cincinnati They’re the presumptive favorite in the American for many, as the only loss was still a decent showing at Ohio State. But until the Bearcats actually beat SMU and App State loses a game, they’re still behind the 8-ball.
16. Wisconsin In a world of pure, insane chaos, the Badgers would be back in the playoff picture if they win out. In the real world? Probably just going to miss out a big bowl.
15. Utah While USC is fast closing and has the tiebreaker in the Pac-12 South, the Utes still have a slim playoff case and are still easily on track for the Rose Bowl.
14. Minnesota They just don’t stop winning. We’ll finally get to know how good the Gophers are when Penn State comes to town next week.
13. Georgia Beating Florida puts the ‘Dawgs right back in the playoff hunt and pretty well assures them of a NY6 slot, so in many ways the team who has the most at stake in the Cocktail Party might be Baylor. We’ll discuss more in a moment.
The Terrific 12
12. SMU The first of 3 major hurdles left in the front of the Mustangs comes Saturday night in Memphis. Beating the Tigers, winning at Navy and defeating Cincinnati in the American championship game seem like the last major threats to the Ponies’ unbeaten season.
11. Wake Forest The ACC Coastal continued to cannibalize itself this past week, meaning the Demon Deacons continue to be the only non-Clemson team in the league who stays on track for at least 9 wins and the Orange Bowl.
10. Notre Dame Like Wisconsin or Michigan, the playoff isn’t happening unless mass chaos ensues. But a 10-win Irish team is probably too tempting for a New Year’s bowl not to grab.
9. Baylor While they can’t lose this week, the Bears get dealt a big blow regardless of who wins between Florida and Georgia. Both teams would still be on track to win 10 games, and the prospect of playing (and losing to) Oklahoma twice still exists. I’d think bowl boosters would want an SEC team over Baylor, but consider this: if Georgia loses, they still have Auburn and Texas A&M. If the ‘Dawgs fall short of 10 wins, I think the Cotton Bowl would take an 11-2 local team to set up an All-Texas Showdown with SMU.
8. Florida The winner in Jacksonville has the inside track to Atlanta, where they could be playing, essentially, a playoff quarterfinal.
7. Penn State The Nittany Lions pretty well handled Michigan State, as one would expect. But, in years past, that trip to East Lansing was much trickier for PSU. Handling business after a big win over Michigan feels like the most impressive thing James Franklin’s team has done this season.
6. Oklahoma Yep, the Kansas State loss was that bad. No disrespect to K-State, but all the other major playoff contenders have either not lost or only lost to one of the top 3 teams in the SEC West. The Big 12 proceeded to eat itself alive in the wake of the Sooners’ loss, meaning they might play in the worst non-ACC Power 5 conference. They’ll need a little help.
5. Oregon Losing to Auburn by two is better than getting dominated most of the day against K-State. The Ducks survived Washington State, but that might be all they need to do going forward.
The Playoff 4
4. LSU Time to face facts, now that we know Oklahoma won’t go undefeated: if the Tigers’ only loss is the biggest game of the entire season at Alabama, it won’t be enough to keep them out of the playoff. The circumstance of divisions, an increasingly outdated set of regulations, is the only reason the Bayou Bengals wouldn’t have the extra game Oklahoma or Oregon get.
3. Clemson This is with the assumption that the LSU-‘Bama winner is going to go unbeaten, in which case they’ve had a clearly better season and should be the higher seed. But as long as the Tigers go unbeaten, the committee has the ammo it desperately needs to avoid the rematch happening in the semifinals, where Nick Saban would get a month to prepare. That exact scenario killed the BCS, so while the committee will never say it out loud, they’ll be trying to work around it.
2. Alabama The biggest question left: does Tua play against LSU? If he’s healthy, it might give the committee ammo to say they can evaluate the Tide like everyone else, and that’s why they’ll bump them down out of the top four in favor of Oregon.
1. Ohio State They’ve played a quality schedule and haven’t been pushed to a four-quarter game. The Buckeyes are the most complete team in the country, and we’re too deep into the season to act like they’ll lose a game. Penn State and the Big Ten title game are the only other major hurdles left.