Welcome to a weekly series ranking college football teams based on their likelihood of making the playoff and/or a New Year’s Six bowl
Almost Famous: Kansas St, Coastal Carolina, Syracuse, Maryland, UCF
The Not-Quite-Elite 8
20. Cincinnati Central Florida hops into this conversation if they knock off the Bearcats. But, even with the obvious downgrade from Desmond Ridder to Ben Bryant at quarterback, Luke Fickell keeps winning. The receivers are arguably better than a year ago, with Tyler Scott morphing into a star. And the defense doesn’t get lit up by opposing offenses. If they could just blow someone out (last 3 wins are by 10 points or less), we’d talk a lot more highly about UC. Imagine the world where they beat Arkansas in Week One. Oh, the playoff takes!!!
19. LSU As the Tigers were putting the finishing touches on their convincing victory over Ole Miss, Gary Danielson said on the CBS broadcast that if they win out, the Bayou Bengals will make it to the playoff. How far-fetched is that? Well, that would include beating Alabama and eliminating the Crimson Tide from the discussion. It would also feature an SEC Championship Game victory over either Georgia or Tennessee, who is likely already playoff bound at that point. If it’s Georgia, and Tennessee otherwise wins out, that’s basically two playoff spots sewn up, with the Ohio State-Michigan winner getting another. Does an 11-2 conference champion that found a way to lose to Florida State to open the season get the edge over a one-loss, non-conference-champ version of either the Buckeyes or Wolverines? And is Clemson still unbeaten in the midst of all of this? It’s a spicy gumbo of a conversation. But it’s likely not to be had, even if Brian Kelly’s team beats the last ranked opponent on their schedule on a Saturday night in Death Valley. LSU’s on a roll at the moment, but this is the team that made Auburn look competent for a hot minute. They’ll probably trip up again, or, even if things break their way, the FSU loss is something that can’t be overlooked by the committee.
18. North Carolina Miami turned it over 8 times and lost by 25 to Duke this past week. It doesn’t matter if they are incompetent on defense, nobody’s keeping the Tar Heels from winning the ACC Coastal, and that mathematically keeps them alive and well to make the Orange Bowl.
17. Illinois Purdue getting walloped by Wisconsin means the Illini remain in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten West. Winning the coming showdown with the Boilermakers assures that you claim the division and stand one win away from the Rose Bowl. But, hey, let’s get really weird. What happens if they win out, which would include beating Michigan in the Big House? Do you have to take BERT seriously as a playoff team?!?!?
16. Ole Miss The playoff is not out of the question, but if Jaxson Dart can’t make a few throws to keep you in it when the other team starts picking up steam, you’re probably not beating Alabama. The Sugar Bowl will still need an SEC team, though, and the Egg Bowl might be a battle for that slot.
15. Utah The Utes are very much in position to take the Pac-12 South, which includes getting the help they need to get back atop the division. Losing to Florida dooms any playoff chances, but the Rose Bowl will be there if Dalton Kincaid continues to dominate.
14. Wake Forest In discussing some interesting dark-horse playoff cases, let’s get hypothetical again: say we work ourselves into a position where only one SEC and one Big Ten team get in, with the others all suffering multiple losses. If an unbeaten Clemson is also there, who has a better resume than the high-scoring Demon Deacons, who have only stumbled in an overtime thriller with the Tigers? No one in the ACC can slow them down. Bottom line, the Orange Bowl is extremely in play.
13. UCLA The carnage has been such that getting walloped by Oregon doesn’t completely doom the Bruins, so long as they can get to a Pac-12 Championship Game rematch.
The Terrific 12
12. Tulane The Green Wave was crashing down on Memphis in the first half. More stretches like that will firmly put them in the Group of 5’s New Year’s Six slot. Just for fun, let’s ditch the contracts with the SEC and Big 12 for one year. Put them in the Sugar Bowl in a quasi-home game against one of those conference champions, throw a party!
11. Penn St Ohio State will almost certainly shut the door on their playoff hopes. But is someone going to deny the Nittany Lions of the NY6? Maryland seems like the best chance for another loss.
10. USC UCLA is the last major hurdle currently on the schedule. After that, the Trojans need to win the Pac-12 and get some help, both of which can definitely still happen.
9. Oklahoma St We were very close to having the Cowboys be out of the big-bowl picture entirely. But the Pokes survived Texas, meaning their gauntlet of a schedule will give them a fascinating playoff case. What if they win out? Who else will have had to work harder for it?
8. Oregon THE PROPHECY IS REAL. It’s not just Good Bo, it’s the Best Bo Ever that is leading the Ducks on a waddle back into the ring with the likes of Georgia.
7. Alabama The Crimson Tide are actually not that far removed from a playoff spot, that’s just how slim the margins are at the moment.
6. TCU There are two major hurdles to multiple teams getting into the playoff from the SEC and/or Big Ten. The Horned Frogs are one, as going unbeaten in a deep Big 12 will not be denied…
5. Clemson …and the Tigers are the other. Even if the offense putters out again, Dabo has built a Capital-B Brand that gets the benefit of the doubt for going undefeated.
The Playoff 4
4. Tennessee 2019 LSU didn’t have a schedule as tough as the Vols do, with 2 more ranked opponents now on the schedule to go with the looming mega-matchup with Georgia. And that’s before they get to Atlanta.
3. Michigan Again: imagine what happens if the Wolverines lose to Illinois. Make peace with your gods and pray they not be vengeful.
2. Georgia What exactly do the Bulldogs struggle with? We’ve seen them be sleepy, but is there a fatal flaw that someone can expose? Mizzou maybe came closest by showing that, along with constant pressure on Stetson Bennett, you can get the ‘Dawgs behind the chains because they’re not an elite rushing team like in the past. We’ll see if a star running back emerges.
1. Ohio St Jaxon Smith-Njigba just now returned for the Buckeyes. We’ll see if the coming weeks expose a flaw that would beat OSU come playoff time, because it feels like it will take a lot of extraneous circumstances to keep them out.