We are now four weeks into the college football season, and the College Football Playoff picture is starting to clear up.
Five more teams were effectively eliminated from playoff contention, with TCU, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Iowa, and Mississippi State all suffering losses that they won’t be able to overcome. That leaves us with 20 teams that still have a legit shot to make the playoff.
We have learned a few things over the years about how the committee picks the final four, 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 Tech
Record (AP Rank): 3-1 (25)
Last week’s result: Beat Oklahoma State, 41-17
Last week’s playoff rank: unranked
Key games remaining: West Virginia and Oklahoma at home, Texas at AT&T Stadium, and TCU on the road.
One thing to know: Other teams that don’t have a legit shot at this point, but are still on life-support: Texas A&M, Oregon, Michigan State, Cal, and Oklahoma State.
Record (AP Rank): 4-0 (22)
Last week’s result: Beat North Carolina Central, 55-13
Last week’s playoff rank: unranked
Key games remaining: The Blue Devils have to go on the road against Miami and Clemson.
One thing to know: This is not a typo. Duke is 4-0 and playing well.
Record (AP Rank): 4-0 (17)
Last week’s result: Beat Mississippi State, 28-7
Last week’s playoff rank: unranked
Key games remaining: Road games against Texas A&M and Missouri and a home game against Georgia.
One thing to know: According to ESPN, this is the first time Kentucky and Duke were in the AP Top 25 in the same week since 1957. It has happened 547 times in men’s basketball during that same stretch.
Record (AP Rank): 3-1 (15)
Last week’s result: Beat Iowa, 28-17
Last week’s playoff rank: 19
Key games remaining: Wisconsin still has games on the road against Michigan, Northwestern, and Penn State.
One thing to know: The Badgers righted the ship against a tough Iowa team on the road and re-established themselves as the favourites in the Big Ten West. Still, they can’t afford any more slip-ups, and the schedule is not easy.
Record (AP Rank): 3-0 (13)
Last week’s result: Beat Florida Atlantic, 56-36
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 is the top team in the Group of Five. If anybody is going to crash the playoff party, it will have to be them, and after they got snubbed last year, there could be more pressure to get them in this season. But there is a growing problem – most of the top contenders keep winning. UCF needs chaos, and so far the other teams aren’t helping.
Record (AP Rank): 3-1 (18)
Last week’s result: Beat TCU, 31-16
Last week’s playoff rank: unranked
Key games remaining: Home games against Oklahoma West Virginia and road games against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
One thing to know: Texas now has impressive back-to-back wins over USC and TCU. Are they back? We’ll find out in two weeks when they face Oklahoma. Win that game, and people will start paying attention to the Longhorns again.
Record (AP Rank): 3-1 (10)
Last week’s result: Beat Arkansas, 34-3
Last week’s playoff rank: 16
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.
13. West Virginia
Record (AP Rank): 3-0 (12)
Last week’s result: Beat Kansas State, 35-6
Last week’s playoff rank: 15
Key games remaining: If the Mountaineers can get past Texas Tech this week and 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 one of four players to receive first-place votes for the Heisman in a poll of ten ESPN experts. However, he was still well behind Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and in a virtual tie with Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins for second place.
Record (AP Rank): 3-1 (16)
Last week’s result: Beat Florida International, 31-17
Last week’s playoff rank: 12
Key games remaining: The schedule is in Miami’s favour this season, with Duke and Florida State at home. Their toughest road game is Virginia Tech late in the year.
One thing to know: Freshman N’Kosi Perry replaced senior Malik Rozier against FIU and threw three touchdowns. Head coach Mark Richt has not announced who will start this week against UNC, but it would be surprising if it is not Perry.
Record (AP Rank): 3-1 (14)
Last week’s result: Beat Nebraska, 56-10
Last week’s playoff rank: 11
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 Wolverines have seemingly righted the ship since their opening-week loss to Notre Dame on the road. We still don’t know how good the Irish are, so it is hard to know how bad that loss was. We won’t learn more until Michigan faces Wisconsin in three weeks.
Record (AP Rank): 4-0 (7)
Last week’s result: Beat Oregon, 38-31
Last week’s playoff rank: 10
Key games remaining: Stanford has road games against Notre Dame this week and Washington in early November. They also have a road game against Cal.
One thing to know: Bryce Love, who was considered a Heisman favourite before the season, has just one 100-yard game so far and 254 yards and 2 touchdowns overall.
9. Notre Dame
Record (AP Rank): 4-0 (8)
Last week’s result: Beat Wake Forest, 56-27
Last week’s playoff rank: 8
Key games remaining: Notre Dame still has to face Stanford at home this week, but games against Florida State (at home) and USC (on the road) look less worrisome now and a schedule that seemed brutal to start the year now looks beatable.
One thing to know: This week’s game against Stanford is not likely to be an elimination game, but the team that loses will have a tough time getting back into the race.
Record (AP Rank): 3-1 (11)
Last week’s result: Beat Arizona State, 27-20
Last week’s playoff rank: 7
Key games remaining: Washington’s toughest game remaining is Stanford at home. They also have BYU at home and road games against Oregon and Cal.
One thing to know: The Pac-12 is not deep and is not going to get any benefits of the doubt from the playoff committee. U-Dub likely needs to run the table, and that means the season could come down to the game against Stanford in early November.
Record (AP Rank): 4-0 (5)
Last week’s result: Beat Beat Louisiana Tech, 38-21
Last week’s playoff rank: 6
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.
One thing to know: LSU has already taken down Miami and Auburn, and neither game was at home. But they need to go at least 1-1 against Georgia and Alabama. 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 and no conference title.
6. Penn State
Record (AP Rank): 4-0 (9)
Last week’s result: Beat Illinois, 63-24
Last week’s playoff rank: 9
Key games remaining: Penn State has a 6-game stretch that starts with Ohio State this week and includes Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
One thing to know: The overtime win over Appalachian State is starting to look more like an aberration than a sign that Penn State might struggle this season.
Record (AP Rank): 4-0 (6)
Last week’s result: Beat Army, 28-21 (OT)
Last week’s playoff rank: 5
Key games remaining: OU has TCU, Texas Tech, and West Virginia on the road, Texas at a neutral site, and Oklahoma State at home.
One thing to know: Oklahoma may have been caught looking past Army to the start of the Big 12 schedule. We’ll assume for now that this was just a hiccup and that the Sooners are still the heavy favourite to win the conference. But suddenly, the matchup against Texas in two weeks looms large.
4. Ohio State
Record (AP Rank): 4-0 (4)
Last week’s result: Beat Tulane, 49-6
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 this week could ultimately decide the Big Ten East.
One thing to know: Ohio State won their first four games by an average score of 55-17.
Record (AP Rank): 4-0 (3)
Last week’s result: Beat Georgia Tech, 49-21
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 Duke at home and Florida State on the road.
One thing to know: One season after Kelly Bryant led Clemson to the College Football Playoff he has lost his job to freshman Trevor Lawrence and announced he will transfer.
Record (AP Rank): 4-0 (2)
Last week’s result: Beat Missouri, 43-29
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: Missouri outplayed Georgia for about three quarters and the outcome still never felt in doubt. On the one hand, Georgia caught just about every big break in the game. But it is also a good sign that Georgia can have an off-day and still easily beat a good team on the road.
Record (AP Rank): 4-0 (1)
Last week’s result: Beat Texas A&M, 45-23
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: It looks like Jalen Hurts won’t take a redshirt season after all as Nick Saban said he plans to keep using the backup quarterback.
Now check out what happened to the Heisman winners.
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