From November 3rd to December 6th, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will release its rankings each Tuesday. Over the course of those five weeks, teams will slip into the coveted “four in” with significant victories and fall from the standings after surprising defeats.
With a few weeks of regular season football left and conference championships on the horizon, here is our look at the teams most likely to make a run at the National Championship.
Ohio State (9-0)
The Buckeyes, ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP and coaches’ polls, were expected to be a juggernaut this year, but have yet to look the part. Ohio State has had a cakewalk thus far, leaving their fate to the back end of their schedule with road games against Michigan State and Michigan to finish the regular season.
Even with inconsistent play from returning quarterbacks J.T. Barrett (sat out vs. Minnesota due to suspension) and Cardale Jones, Urban Meyer’s squad has enough talent to remain amongst the top four teams.
Even with a difficult SEC road to traverse, Alabama is likely to end the year as the top-rated one loss team, earning a coveted spot in the committee’s final four. The Tide already has quality wins against LSU, Wisconsin, Georgia and Texas A&M, and its lone loss came in a wild contest against Ole Miss. Nick Saban’s program has the pedigree of a Playoff regular and talent to become the second team to hoist the Playoff’s 24k gold trophy.
Winner of Baylor (8-0) v. TCU (8-1)
Back-loaded Big 12 schedules have made early rankings difficult to sort out. However, the dust will settle when Baylor travels to TCU on November 27th for one of the most anticipated games of the year. No college football team has looked more dominant than the Bears, who have scored 60 or more points five times this year. The Horned Frogs have two quality road wins – at Minnesota and at Texas Tech – while Baylor has none, but TCU’s recent 49-29 loss to Oklahoma State is a significant hurdle.
The Tigers have played one of the strongest schedules amongst undefeated teams and boast a victory against Notre Dame. Clemson topped the Selection Committee’s initial rankings after beating Miami and NC State by a combined score of 114–41. Dabo Swinney’s program also looks different than in years past. We feel safe in betting on Clemson to remain undefeated and make its first College Football Playoff appearance.
Notre Dame (8-1)
The Fighting Irish already have three strong wins against Georgia Tech, USC and upstart Temple. The Golden Domers’ sole loss came on the road, against a Clemson team that is currently in the top four of the committee’s rankings. Brian Kelly’s squad faces a tough matchup at Stanford on Nov. 28, but should be in the top 10 for the foreseeable future.
Despite a recent road loss to Alabama, the Tigers have a good win vs. Florida and play in what is possibly the toughest conference in the country. The committee showed last year with Florida State that it was willing to rank one-loss teams ahead of undefeated teams who played weak schedules. Look for LSU in the Sugar or Orange Bowl this winter.
The Jim McElwain led Gators have a couple nice wins – blowouts of Ole Miss and Georgia – and their only loss of the season came on the road against LSU, a team that will be near the top of the final rankings. The committee showed last year that it appears to value good wins and quality of play more than anything else. Florida checks off both of those boxes and will represent the SEC East in the league’s Championship Game.
Winner of Oklahoma (8-1) v. Oklahoma State (9-0)
In one of the most inexplicable games of the season, Texas beat Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown, putting a damper on Boomer Sooner’s national title hopes. However, don’t count out Oklahoma. They’ve been fantastic on both sides of the ball as of late and have a shot at running the table and advancing to a New Years Eve bowl. The Cowboys already have an upset win against TCU will host the Sooners on November 28th at T. Boone Pickens Stadium. Look for the victor to jump up in the committee’s standings.
Although the Hawkeyes don’t have a marquee win, they do have good wins over Pitt, Northwestern and Wisconsin, and are likely to finish the regular season undefeated. At the time of those games, both the Badgers and Wildcats were ranked inside the top 20 in the AP poll. They key for Iowa remains simple: just win, baby.
Michigan State (8-1)
The Spartans haven’t looked great thus far, including posting a controversial loss at Nebraska. Michigan State’s most impressive win of the season – at Michigan – came on one of the flukiest plays in college football history. Its other nice win – a home match-up with Oregon – looks significantly less impressive than it did more than a month ago.
POTENTIAL UPSET ALERT: Houston (9-0)
We didn’t learn much from last season’s rankings. Last year, unbeaten Marshall finally made the committee’s rankings in Week 14. But that Thundering Herd team had a terribly weak non-conference schedule. Houston, on the other hand, has wins over Louisville and Vanderbilt. Moreover, it has the second-highest margin of victory in the country, which warrants a spot in the rankings. The Cougars host Memphis on November 14th in what should be a terrific matchup.
Orange Bowl, Dec. 31
No. 1 Ohio State v. No. 4 Clemson
Cotton Bowl, Dec. 31
No. 3 TCU v. No. 2 Alabama
at University of Phoenix Stadium – Glendale, AZ, Jan. 11
No. 1 Ohio State v. No. 2 Alabama
No. 2 Alabama