Less than 48 hours before the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings, it’s time to see who still has a legitimate path. Teams fall into one of four categories: playoff-bound, in the hunt, all but done, and eliminated.
The Bulldogs continue to make it exceedingly obvious they are the best in college football. Prior to this weekend, Kirby Smart’s club had vanquished three consecutive ranked opponents by an average score of 34-8. Fittingly, the Dawgs handled Florida over the weekend, 34-7. Georgia has not been tested since beating Clemson 10-3 in the season opener. A trip to Tennessee in two weeks seems to be the biggest obstacle remaining, but none of the four opponents left on the schedule are above .500. Remaining games: Missouri, @Tennessee, Charleston Southern, @Georgia Tech
The Sooners rolled Texas Tech over the weekend, 52-21, and now get the off week to prepare for a monster stretch in November, which includes two road games against playoff contenders Baylor and Oklahoma State as well as a home game against always plucky Iowa State.
Ohio State 7-1
The Buckeyes looked quite sloppy for stretches last night but did enough to dispatch Penn State, 33-24. November is anything but a cakewalk for Ohio State as the schedule appears to be backloaded. Remaining games: @Nebraska, Purdue, Michigan State, @Michigan
The Crimson Tide were off this week and are preparing for a brand-name-packed November. If Alabama can escape unscathed, it will have earned its ninth SEC Championship Game appearance in Nick Saban’s 15 years as head coach. Remaining games: LSU, New Mexico St., Arkansas, @Auburn
In the hunt
The Bearcats survived another first half scare this weekend before finally pulling away from Tulane, 31-12. Add even more concerns about the strength of schedule in light of Houston’s win over previously unbeaten Southern Methodist, the only remaining ranked team Cinci will face. There’s no shame in losing to 7-1 Houston, but Luke Fickell’s bunch might need all the help it can get given the history of mid-majors with respect to postseason play qualification. No non-power 5 has ever been ranked higher than twelfth (UCF, 2018) in the first release of the CFP rankings, but Cincinnati holds a victory over Notre Dame, far more impressive than any win Central Florida had to date. That alone should garner more respect from the committee. How much remains to be seen.
Michigan State 8-0
Things have never looked finer for Sparty. Coming off a massive 37-33 victory over Michigan, the Spartans could easily rank as high as no. 2 Tuesday night. The distance they put between themselves and Michigan is substantial. State could theoretically lose a game and still wind up in Indianapolis. If MSU can avoid a letdown against the Spoilermakers this week, the rest of November could prove magical. Remaining games: @Purdue, Maryland, @Ohio State, Penn State
Oklahoma State 7-1
The Cowboys bounced back from the loss to Iowa State with a 55-3 romp over Kansas. They currently sit tied with Baylor for second place in the conference, but Oklahoma State beat the Bears four weeks ago and own the tiebreaker. November will be a challenge, but if Mike Gundy’s group can win out, they could easily play its way into the playoff. Remaining games: @West Virginia, TCU, @Texas Tech, Oklahoma
The Bears kept its playoff hopes alive this weekend with a 31-24 comeback win over Texas. The Big 12 race is one of the year’s most intriguing ones. With the matchup with Oklahoma looming just two weeks away, running the table would ensure Baylor no worse than a second place finish and a shot to play for the conference title. Remaining games: @TCU, Oklahoma, @Kansas State, Texas Tech
The Ducks mauled Colorado over the weekend and still have an outside shot at the playoff inasmuch as the committee has yet to keep a one-loss Pac-12 conference champion out. That being said, the race for the top 4 seems crowded at the moment. The good news for Oregon is many contenders are set to play each other before the dust settles. The bad news is the Pac-12 race is one of the year’s least interesting and winning it may not hold as much weight as the Ducks would like. However, there are few résumés out there with a win more impressive than what the Ducks boast.
Wake Forest 8-0
This is a longshot, but eliminating the Demon Deacons from contention was premature. Of the nine contenders currently better positioned, there will be three games that pit one against the other: Oklahoma @ Baylor (Nov. 13), Michigan State @ Ohio St. (Nov. 20), and Oklahoma @ Oklahoma St. (Nov. 27). You must also consider the Big 12, Big Ten, and SEC championship games, all three of which could serve to eliminate one. If all six of those games that will take place happen to provide the maximum damage to six separate teams, that would be all Wake needs. And that’s assuming there are no upsets that take place in the last third of the season. What was thought just a week ago to be its Achilles Heel, the strength of schedule, is potentially in for a significant upgrade. Wake Forest still plays NC State (6-2), which will probably be in the CFP’s top 25, and Clemson (5-3), a team seemingly everyone wrote off by late September when it lost to the aforementioned NC State. Clemson’s only other losses are to no. 1 Georgia and a ranked Pitt. The Deacons have a legitimate path.
All but done
The Wolverines lost control of their own destiny over the weekend in East Lansing, falling to Michigan State, 37-33. Even if the maize and blue were to win out, its only hope of backing into the conference championship game is if the Spartans lose twice in their last four games. With Penn State and Ohio State still on the schedule, that’s certainly possible, but the reality has to have settled in by now in Ann Arbor: Michigan’s title hopes are on life support. Remaining games: Indiana, @Penn State, @Maryland, Ohio State
Notre Dame 7-1
I was tempted to elevate the Irish to “all but done” status after the weekend if only for the fact many of the teams ranked ahead of them still have to face each other. The strength of schedule is an issue on the surface, but that all depends on whom you ask. Jeff Sagarin rates theirs the ninth toughest in the country. The next toughest schedule of among contenders is Alabama’s at eighteenth, while the average contenders’ strength of schedule is nearly 40 spots below Notre Dame’s. In the end, though, it’s hard to ignore the double-edged sword of having played Cincinnati. The good news is the Bearcats are ranked (one of only two opponents ranked the time they played). Nevertheless, it was a loss to a non-power 5 that might miss the playoff despite an unblemished record. If the Bearcats should stumble, potentially freeing up a playoff spot, you still have matching records and lost the head-to-head. For those reasons, it’s hard to see a path. Such is life in a system where 97 percent of teams miss the playoff.
Ole Miss 6-2
Texas A&M 6-2
No two-loss team has ever reached the final four. That will not change this year.
San Diego State 7-1
The Aztecs were never really in contention, but Fresno St. made sure of it this weekend, setting the sun on their perfect season, 30-20.
Texas at San Antonio 8-0
Sagarin rates UTSA’s schedule the one hundred twenty-fourth toughest in the country, which the CFP rankings will illustrate Tuesday night.
by Keith Eichholz, Oct. 31, 2021