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 Thirteen.
Almost Famous: Michigan, Virginia, Navy, Texas A&M, Pitt
The Honorable 8
20. Memphis The Tigers having to play Cincinnati on Black Friday could mean back-to-back weeks facing the Bearcats, so even winning the first time doesn’t book your trip to the New Year’s Six. It seems like too tall a hill to climb.
19. App St The Mountaineers have a more-impressive Power 5 win and a less-worse loss than Boise State…
18. Boise St …but the Broncos have history and an established reputation on their side (and a potentially more lucrative brand in the eyes of a New Year’s bowl).
17. SMU The Mustangs control their own destiny. Beating Navy and winning the American championship game will punch their ticket to the Cotton Bowl.
16. Wisconsin The Badgers are alive and well in the Big Ten West, and even if they would promptly get blown out by Ohio State, a big bowl would consider them at 10-3.
15. Notre Dame For the first time all year, I’m willing to embrace the idea that the Irish could win 10 games and still get snubbed from the NY6. But we’ll talk more about that later.
14. Baylor The Bears still have a playoff shot or a trip to the Sugar Bowl in sight, but ask yourself this: what happens if they see Oklahoma again in the Big 12 title game and don’t start fast?
13. Utah At this point, the Utes either need to go to the playoff or hope Oregon gets to the playoff. It’s likely the only way they’re playing in a New Year’s bowl.
The Terrific 12
12. Cincinnati They don’t do a good job of convincing you when they hit the road, but the Bearcats had been the most consistent team in the Group of 5. Finish strong, and they’ll be in the Cotton Bowl.
11. Virginia Tech In the ever-random generator of ACC teams that could go to the Orange Bowl, we’ll never really know until the team gets picked on December 8th. But if you have to guess, take the team that’s on a roll; has a history of winning the Coastal and moving on to Miami; and hasn’t lost since the early 2000s to their chief competition in Virginia.
10. Penn St The committee loves the Nittany Lions in a way that just doesn’t make a lot of sense when you watch them. They’re a fine team who still likely wins 10 games, but their high standing in the rankings from the outset is the only reason I have them edging Notre Dame for the New Year’s Six. Maybe getting blown out by Ohio State shuffles them way down the list, but we’ll see.
9. Florida If we end up with a bunch of teams with 2 defeats, the highest-ranked team that isn’t playing in a conference champion will be the Gators. Nobody’s 2-loss resume is better.
8. Minnesota The Gophers have 2 high-profile wins still in front of them. Knocking off Wisconsin would at lest secure a big bowl, even if Pasadena passes on them for Penn State.
7. Georgia Like Penn State, the committee has an affinity for the ‘Dawgs that doesn’t translate to their on-field performance, particularly on offense. But unlike Penn State, there’s at least 2 more high-quality wins left to enhance their resume.
6. Oklahoma Jumping back into the driver’s seat in the Big 12 gives the Sooners renewed playoff life. They really only need an Alabama loss and a multi-loss Pac-12 champ to get in if they do their job.
5. Oregon The latter part of that Oklahoma checklist likely isn’t happening thanks to the Ducks. The question becomes how much the extra opponent will help their case against…
The Playoff 4
4. Alabama The weight of Tua Tagovailoa’s injury on the Tide’s playoff chances actually boils down to one game. Is losing your Heisman-candidate quarterback enough for Auburn to pull an upset? If they lose, they’re 10-2 and taking a trip to the Sugar Bowl. If they win, I think the committee chooses not to penalize them for something (mostly) out of their control. They are still ‘Bama, after all. Quarterbacks as good if only slightly better than Mac Jones have won titles before.
3. Clemson You see how easily the Tigers dispatched of Wake Forest, who might be the second-best team in the ACC? It will take a monumental upset in one of their final 2 games to knock them out.
2. LSU If the Tigers go 12-0, that’s probably enough to lock up their playoff spot. While they’ll absolutely still try to win the SEC championship, there is added intrigue should that occur, as that would open the door to Georgia stealing ‘Bama’s spot if the ‘Dawgs win.
1. Ohio St Not only is the committee just wrong is declaring any team better than the Buckeyes right now, but if Alabama does get in, they’ll do everything in their power to avoid a rematch with LSU right away in the semifinals.