We are two weeks into the college football season and outside of some close calls, and some head-to-head matchups of top-25 teams, there haven’t been a lot of shake-ups in the rankings yet.
There were fewer telling games in Week 2, but we did see some top teams rebound and a couple of other teams prove they are more pretender than contender.
We still don’t know precisely how the committee picks the final four teams, but we have learned a few things over the years. We know they like the SEC and Alabama. We know they generally prefer conference champions if most other criteria are in the same ballpark. And we know they don’t like to give bids to Pac-12 and Big 12 teams in the same year.
With what we have learned so far, we have some idea of what teams need to do to make the playoff. Below, we ranked the top 20 teams in the country based on their chances to make the playoff.
20. Virginia Tech
Record (AP Rank): 1-1 (13)
Last week’s result: Beat William & Mary, 62-17
Last week’s playoff rank: Unranked
Key games remaining: The Hokies have Notre Dame and Miami at home. The Miami game could decide the Coastal division rep in the ACC title game.
One thing to know: The win over Florida State looks less impressive now and yet, their AP ranking is still cashing in on that victory. Other teams that were considered for this final spot included, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon, and Iowa. These teams all feel interchangeable at this point.
19. Arizona State
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (23)
Last week’s result: Beat Michigan State, 16-13
Last week’s playoff rank: Unranked
Key games remaining: The Sun Devils have road games against Washington, USC, Oregon, and Arizona. They also have Stanford at home.
One thing to know: Arizona State looks a lot like the late 1990s Tampa Bay Buccaneers teams where Herm Edwards was an assistant coach under Tony Dungy. Those teams played good defence, were fundamentally sound, and they played conservative offence that loves to kick field goals. Those Bucs teams won a lot of games, but they were also often frustrating.
Record (AP Rank): 0-1 (21)
Last week’s result: Beat Savannah State, 77-0
Last week’s playoff rank: 20
Key games remaining: The schedule is in Miami’s favour this season, with Florida State at home. Their toughest road game is Virginia Tech late in the year.
One thing to know: It is easy to imagine that Miami would have put up more of a fight against LSU if they had played Savannah State first. The good news for the Hurricanes is the LSU loss might be their only blemish heading into the ACC title game.
17. GoF1 (UCF or Boise State)
Record (AP Rank): Both are 2-0 (Boise State is 17, UCF is 18)
Last week’s result: Boise State beat UConn, 62-7; UCF beat South Carolina State, 38-0
Last week’s playoff rank: 19
Key games remaining: Boise State plays Oklahoma State on the road this week. UCF’s toughest game is probably South Florida on the road to end the regular season.
One thing to know: We don’t know yet who the top team will be in the Group of Five. For now, we will group the two top contenders until one separates itself.
16. Mississippi State
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (16)
Last week’s result: Beat Kansas State, 31-10
Last week’s playoff rank: 18
Key games remaining: The Bulldogs have Auburn at home in early October and then play road games at LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss.
One thing to know: Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald returned from a one-game suspension and failed to impress. He was 11-27 for 154 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception against Kansas State.
Record (AP Rank): 1-1 (19)
Last week’s result: Beat Western Michigan, 49-3
Last week’s playoff rank: 17
Key games remaining: Michigan started the season on the road against Notre Dame and ends it on the road against Ohio State. In between, they have a three-game stretch against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State.
One thing to know: On the one hand, Michigan lost by seven on the road in a game that wasn’t that close against a Notre Dame team that might be on the path to the playoff. For the next few weeks, what the public thinks about the Wolverines will be based entirely on what the public thinks about Notre Dame.
14. West Virginia
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (14)
Last week’s result: Beat Youngstown State, 52-17
Last week’s playoff rank: 12
Key games remaining: If the Mountaineers can get past Texas on the road in early November, they might be undefeated heading into a 3-game stretch at the end of the season that includes TCU and Oklahoma at home and Oklahoma State on the road.
One thing to know: Will Grier is 6/1 to win the Heisman, and only Tua Tagovailoa (3/1) has better odds.
13. Penn State
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (11)
Last week’s result: Beat Pitt, 51-6
Last week’s playoff rank: 13
Key games remaining: Penn State has a 6-game stretch that includes Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
One thing to know: Is Penn State the team that needed OT to escape Appalachian State or the team that demolished Pitt? We’ll find out in three weeks against Ohio State.
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (12)
Last week’s result: Beat Southeastern Louisiana, 31-0
Last week’s playoff rank: 11
Key games remaining: LSU’s schedule is brutal. They have to play Georgia and Alabama, although both are at home. They also have road games against Auburn, Florida, and Texas A&M, and we haven’t even mentioned home games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
One thing to know: It is still not clear how impressive the Week 1 win over Miami was because it is still not clear how good Miami is. But LSU can show they are a legit contender this week on the road against Auburn.
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (15)
Last week’s result: Beat SMU, 42-12
Last week’s playoff rank: 10
Key games remaining: TCU’s schedule includes Ohio State in Dallas this week, and Texas and West Virginia on the road.
One thing to know: Oklahoma seemed vulnerable before the season, and TCU was a strong candidate to take the conference. But the Sooners are the class of the Big-12, so TCU’s path to the playoff now seems harder than it did two weeks ago.
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (9)
Last week’s result: Beat USC, 17-3
Last week’s playoff rank: 16
Key games remaining: Stanford has road games against Oregon, Notre Dame, and Washington.
One thing to know: USC was probably overrated before last week’s game. The good news for Stanford is that USC will likely improve as the season moves along and this win will look even better by the end of the season.
Record (AP Rank): 1-1 (10)
Last week’s result: Beat North Dakota, 45-3
Last week’s playoff rank: 9
Key games remaining: Washington’s toughest game remaining is Stanford at home. They also don’t have to face Arizona or USC.
One thing to know: There is a case to be made that Washington should still be ahead of Auburn in this ranking despite losing to the Tigers in Week 1. The Huskies’ path to the playoff is still a lot easier. But if Auburn takes care of business, their wins will be infinitely more impressive they still have the head-to-head “tiebreaker” over Washington.
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (7)
Last week’s result: Beat Alabama State, 63-9
Last week’s playoff rank: 8
Key games remaining: Auburn has LSU at home this week, and that is just the start. The back-half of the schedule is even worse with a home game against Texas A&M, and road games against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama.
One thing to know: Auburn has their second tough test of the season already this week. If they can survive again, they have a two-week break before the real fun starts again.
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (6)
Last week’s result: Beat New Mexico, 45-14
Last week’s playoff rank: 6
Key games remaining: If Wisconsin is going to run the table in the regular season, they will have to win games on the road against Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, and Penn State.
One thing to know: The Badgers have taken care of business so far, but the true tests are still coming.
6. Notre Dame
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (8)
Last week’s result: Beat Ball State, 24-16
Last week’s playoff rank: 5
Key games remaining: Notre Dame still has to face Stanford at home, but games against Florida State (at home) and USC (on the road) look less worrisome now. A trip to Virginia Tech also looms, but the Hokies are a tad overrated still because of their win over Florida State.
One thing to know: The win over Ball State was not as close as the score might suggest, but the 8-point win was still closer than it should have been. Notre Dame is not as good as Wisconsin or Auburn right now, but it feels like they are more likely to get into the playoff with one loss than Wisconsin, and Auburn’s schedule is just too rough.
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (5)
Last week’s result: Beat UCLA, 49-21
Last week’s playoff rank: 7
Key games remaining: The two biggest challenges to OU in the Big 12 could end up being TCU and West Virginia, and the Sooners play both teams on the road.
One thing to know: The Troy Aikman Bowl looked like it was going to be close for about a half-quarter. Then the Sooners took over and showed that they are still the class of the Big 12.
4. Ohio State
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (4)
Last week’s result: Beat Rutgers, 52-3
Last week’s playoff rank: 4
Key games remaining: Games against Michigan State and Michigan don’t seem as challenging now for an Ohio State team that appears to be firing on all cylinders. But TCU at home and Penn State on the road in two weeks is a tough stretch.
One thing to know: Ohio State was the wild card at the top to start the season as nobody knew how the team would react to the scandal or Urban Meyer’s 3-game suspension. So far, so good, but the real test comes this week against TCU.
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (2)
Last week’s result: Beat Texas A&M, 28-26
Last week’s playoff rank: 2
Key games remaining: Clemson is going to be heavily favoured in all their remaining regular-season games with their toughest games appearing to be Louisville and South Carolina at home and Florida State on the road. If looking for a game that could trip them up, Georgia Tech on the road in two weeks is a good candidate.
One thing to know: Beating A&M on the road by just two points is not a huge negative, but it is clear that Clemson is not as good as Georgia right now.
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (3)
Last week’s result: Beat South Carolina, 41-17
Last week’s playoff rank: 3
Key games remaining: Georgia’s schedule looked easier before the season, but road games against LSU and Kentucky suddenly look tougher. They also have Auburn at home.
One thing to know: Georgia’s demolition of South Carolina erased any doubt over whether or not they are in the same class as Clemson and Alabama. The Bulldogs are even making a strong case as the best team in the country right now.
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (1)
Last week’s result: Beat Arkansas State, 57-7
Last week’s playoff rank: 1
Key games remaining: Bama has three games remaining against teams currently in the Top 25. Mississippi State and Auburn are at home, but the game at LSU suddenly looks tougher.
One thing to know: The big question hovering over the Crimson Tide now is whether or not Jalen Hurts will redshirt after the fourth game setting up a transfer next season.
Now check out all the new uniforms for the 2018 season.
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