We are now three weeks into the college football season, and the College Football Playoff picture is starting to clear up.
Three teams were effectively eliminated from playoff contention, with Arizona State, Ole Miss, and USC all suffering losses that erased any dreams they may have had. That leaves us with about 26 teams that are still on the playoff radar, with six or seven of those standing above the rest.
We have learned a few things over the years about how the committee picks the final four teams, and 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. Texas A&M
Record (AP Rank): 2-1 (22)
Last week’s result: Beat Louisiana-Monroe, 48-10
Last week’s playoff rank: Unranked
Key games remaining: A&M has Alabama (this week), Mississippi State, Auburn, and South Carolina on the road. All of those are before a season-ending home game against LSU.
One thing to know: Other teams that were considered for this final spot included Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Duke, Texas, TCU, and Oregon. These teams are all mostly interchangeable at this point. Not eliminated yet, but not quite on the radar either.
Record (AP Rank): 2-1 (18)
Last week’s result: Lost to BYU, 24-21
Last week’s playoff rank: 7
Key games remaining: Wisconsin still has games on the road against Iowa (this week), Michigan, Northwestern, and Penn State.
One thing to know: Two regular-season losses looked like a real possibility for Wisconsin because of their schedule, but now it seems probable after a loss to BYU. Iowa now has an easier path to the Big Ten title game.
Record (AP Rank): 3-0 (unranked)
Last week’s result: Beat Northern Iowa, 38-14
Last week’s playoff rank: unranked
Key games remaining: Iowa has Wisconsin at home this week. Their only other game against a ranked team is Penn State on the road in late October.
One thing to know: With Wisconsin losing to BYU, Iowa suddenly feels like a legit contender in the Big Ten West. If the Hawkeyes can beat Wisconsin this weekend, there is a possibility that Iowa is 11-1 heading into the B1G title game.
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (16)
Last week’s result: Game was canceled due to weather
Last week’s playoff rank: 17
Key games remaining: UCF’s toughest game is South Florida on the road to end the regular season.
One thing to know: UCF didn’t play because of Hurricane Florence, but they still got a big win when Boise State lost to Oklahoma State. That game established UCF as the top team in the Group of Five. If anybody is going to crash the playoff party, it will have to be UCF, and after they got snubbed last year, there could be more pressure to get them in this season.
Record (AP Rank): 2-1 (9)
Last week’s result: Lost to LSU, 22-21
Last week’s playoff rank: 8
Key games remaining: Auburn has already faced Washington and LSU. 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 is one of the ten best teams in the country, but the loss to LSU at home felt like a near-elimination game. They will probably have to run the table at this point, and that seems unlikely with their schedule.
15. West Virginia
Record (AP Rank): 2-0 (12)
Last week’s result: Game was canceled due to weather.
Last week’s playoff rank: 14
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: It was easier to feel like West Virginia had a shot at the playoff before the season. But since then, Oklahoma has proven they haven’t regressed, and Oklahoma State has entered the Big 12 picture a legit contender.
14. Mississippi State
Record (AP Rank): 3-0 (14)
Last week’s result: Beat Louisiana, 56-10
Last week’s playoff rank: 16
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: It is just hard to imagine Mississippi State being the last team standing in a division that also has Alabama, LSU, Auburn, and Texas A&M. But until they do lose, they are still in the picture.
13. Oklahoma State
Record (AP Rank): 3-0 (15)
Last week’s result: Beat Boise State, 44-21
Last week’s playoff rank: unranked
Key games remaining: Texas at home might be the only thing standing between OSU and being 9-0 heading into their matchup with the Sooners in mid-November on the road. They then finish the season with West Virginia at home and TCU on the road.
One thing to know: Oklahoma State took down a Boise State team that was actually favoured in Stillwater.
Record (AP Rank): 2-1 (21)
Last week’s result: Beat Toledo, 49-24
Last week’s playoff rank: 18
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: That opening week loss to LSU is still ugly, but it doesn’t seem as bad now.
Record (AP Rank): 2-1 (19)
Last week’s result: Beat SMU, 45-20
Last week’s playoff rank: 15
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: The Big Ten is never easy, but the path to the title game doesn’t seem as formidable for Michigan now with Wisconsin and Michigan State both looking like lesser teams so far.
Record (AP Rank): 3-0 (7)
Last week’s result: Beat UC Davis, 30-10
Last week’s playoff rank: 10
Key games remaining: Stanford has road games against Oregon, Notre Dame, and Washington.
One thing to know: The voters really love Stanford, pushing them all the way up to No. 7 this week in the AP poll despite no truly impressive wins yet. Ultimately, their path to the playoff is the same as Washington – win the head-to-head and win the Pac-12 title game. The difference is, Stanford has a couple of other games to worry about.
9. Penn State
Record (AP Rank): 3-0 (10)
Last week’s result: Beat Kent State, 63-10
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: The OT win over Appalachian State is starting to look more like an aberration than a sign that Penn State might struggle this season.
8. Notre Dame
Record (AP Rank): 3-0 (8)
Last week’s result: Beat Vanderbilt, 22-17
Last week’s playoff rank:
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: This was a decent Vandy squad, and a win is a win. But Notre Dame has not looked like a dominant playoff contender since their Week 1 win over Michigan, and the schedule is only going to get more difficult.
Record (AP Rank): 2-1 (10)
Last week’s result: Beat Utah, 21-7
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: Washington is either the worst team among the top group or the best team in the second tier.
Record (AP Rank): 3-0 (6)
Last week’s result: Beat Auburn, 22-21
Last week’s playoff rank: 12
Key games remaining: They have to play Georgia and Alabama, although both are at home. They also have road games left against Florida and Texas A&M, and we haven’t even mentioned the home game against Mississippi State.
One thing to know: LSU’s schedule is brutal, but so far, so good. They have already taken down Miami and Auburn, and neither game was at home. The Tigers are starting to build a resume that could get them into the playoff even if they lose to Alabama and don’t make the SEC title game. They would likely still need a win over Georgia. If Alabama and Georgia are both undefeated in the SEC title game, LSU is not getting into the playoff as a third SEC team with two losses.
Record (AP Rank): 3-0 (5)
Last week’s result: Beat Iowa State, 37-27
Last week’s playoff rank: 5
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. Oklahoma State also seems to be better than most were expecting before the season.
One thing to know: Iowa State is probably the best 0-2 team in the country and Oklahoma took them down rather easily in the Cyclones’ home opener. While the score was close, it never felt like OU was going to lose this one. Nothing happened that suggested the Sooners aren’t still the class of the Big 12.
4. Ohio State
Record (AP Rank): 3-0 (4)
Last week’s result: Beat TCU, 40-28
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 Penn State on the road in two weeks won’t be easy.
One thing to know: Ohio State survived their one big test of the Urban Meyer suspension, scoring 40 points against a good TCU defence.
Record (AP Rank): 3-0 (3)
Last week’s result: Beat Georgia Southern, 38-7
Last week’s playoff rank: 3
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.
One thing to know: If looking for a game that could trip Clemson up, Georgia Tech on the road this week is a good candidate.
Record (AP Rank): 3-0 (2)
Last week’s result: Beat Middle Tennessee State, 49-7
Last week’s playoff rank: 2
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: We could see a situation this season where Alabama and Georgia are both undefeated in the SEC title game with only seeding in the playoff on the line.
Record (AP Rank): 3-0 (1)
Last week’s result: Beat Ole Miss, 62-7
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: Last week there were some whispers that Georgia might be the best team in the country. Alabama quickly quieted those thoughts with an absolute thrashing of an Ole Miss team on the road.
Now check out what happened to college football’s best players.
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