We are now five weeks into the college football season, and the College Football Playoff picture is clearing up thanks to an eyebrow-raising lack of chaos so far.
Three more teams on the fringe were effectively eliminated from playoff contention, with Cal, Duke, and Texas Tech all suffering losses that they won’t be able to overcome. That leaves us with 18 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 18 teams that still have a legit shot to make the playoff.
Record (AP Rank): 5-0 (13)
Last week’s result: Beat South Carolina, 24-10
Last week’s playoff rank: 18
Key games remaining: Road games against Texas A&M and Missouri and a home game against Georgia.
One thing to know: Kentucky and Florida are the biggest threats to Georgia in the SEC East. Both teams probably need to run the table – including wins over Georgia and presumably Alabama in the SEC title game – to make the playoff. But Kentucky has the advantage right now based on the head-to-head win. The Gators not only need to win out, but they also need Kentucky to lose twice.
Record (AP Rank): 3-1 (16)
Last week’s result: Did not play
Last week’s playoff rank: 17
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): 4-1 (14)
Last week’s result: Lost to Notre Dame, 38-17
Last week’s playoff rank: 10
Key games remaining: Stanford still has road games against Washington, Cal, and Arizona State.
One thing to know: The loss to Notre Dame was not an elimination game for Stanford, but it was close. A win over Washington could knock the Pac-12 out of the playoff picture completely.
Record (AP Rank): 4-1 (19)
Last week’s result: Beat Kansas State, 19-14
Last week’s playoff rank: 15
Key games remaining: A neutral site game against OU, a home game against West Virginia, and road games against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
One thing to know: Texas is an untimely rain delay away from being 5-0, but that won’t matter if they get blown out by Oklahoma this weekend. On the other hand, Texas could start getting some playoff buzz with a win.
Record (AP Rank): 4-0 (12)
Last week’s result: Beat Pitt, 45-14
Last week’s playoff rank: 14
Key games remaining: UCF’s toughest game is South Florida on the road to end the regular season.
One thing to know: UCF is starting to close in on the top 10 in the AP poll. They still need chaos at the top, but we haven’t had any yet.
Record (AP Rank): 4-1 (8)
Last week’s result: Beat Southern Miss, 24-13
Last week’s playoff rank: 14
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.
12. West Virginia
Record (AP Rank): 4-0 (9)
Last week’s result: Beat Texas Tech, 42-34
Last week’s playoff rank: 13
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: There is a scenario where West Virginia could play Oklahoma in back-to-back games if they meet in the Big 12 title game, and WVU might have to win both to get into the playoff.
11. Penn State
Record (AP Rank): 4-1 (11)
Last week’s result: Lost to Ohio State, 27-26
Last week’s playoff rank: 6
Key games remaining: Penn State is in the middle of a 6-game stretch that started with a loss to Ohio State last week and includes Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
One thing to know: After losing to Ohio State, Penn State’s best hope for the playoff is probably chaos as they are unlikely to get to the B1G title game now. But will there be enough chaos? There are still a lot of undefeated teams and good 1-loss teams in the picture.
Record (AP Rank): 4-1 (17)
Last week’s result: Beat North Carolina, 47-10
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: If Miami runs the table, including a win over Clemson in the ACC title game, they are probably in the playoff. Their one loss was ugly, but it was in Week 1 and to a team that is probably going to finish the season in the top 10.
Record (AP Rank): 4-1 (15)
Last week’s result: Beat Northwestern, 20-17
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: Michigan’s 20-17 win over Northwestern on the road was more impressive than the records might have suggested.
Record (AP Rank): 4-1 (10)
Last week’s result: Beat BYU, 35-7
Last week’s playoff rank: 8
Key games remaining: Washington’s toughest game remaining is Stanford at home. They also have road games against Oregon and Cal.
One thing to know: The Pac-12’s playoff hopes will probably come down to Washington’s game against Stanford. If Washington loses that game, the Pac-12 will be in serious danger of being left out.
Record (AP Rank): 5-0 (5)
Last week’s result: Beat Beat Ole Miss, 45-16
Last week’s playoff rank: 7
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: What if the final playoff spot were to come down to a 1-loss Miami that wins the ACC title or a 2-loss LSU team that was competitive in losses to Alabama and Georgia. Would the committee potentially take a third SEC team over the ACC champ?
6. Notre Dame
Record (AP Rank): 5-0 (6)
Last week’s result: Beat Stanford, 38-17
Last week’s playoff rank: 9
Key games remaining: The toughest game remaining might be Virginia Tech on the road this week. 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: If Notre Dame beats VaTech this week, the Irish could jump into the top-four. Notre Dame will have a legit shot to be 12-0 at the end of the season and won’t have a conference title game to worry about. They will be in the playoff under that scenario.
Record (AP Rank): 5-0 (7)
Last week’s result: Beat Baylor, 66-33
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: The matchup against Texas this week seemed like an easy one a few weeks ago but now it has national implications.
4. Ohio State
Record (AP Rank): 5-0 (3)
Last week’s result: Beat Penn State, 27-26
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.
One thing to know: It is hard to criticise a win on the road against a top-10 opponent, but a lot of people felt Penn State should have won that game. A win is a win, but this Buckeyes team feels like they are going to get picked off at some point.
Record (AP Rank): 5-0 (4)
Last week’s result: Beat Syracuse, 27-23
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: Ohio State is playing better than Clemson, and the Tigers needed their third-string QB to beat Syracuse, but their path to the playoff is still easier than the Buckeyes’ road.
Record (AP Rank): 5-0 (2)
Last week’s result: Beat Tennessee, 38-12
Last week’s playoff rank: 2
Key games remaining: In two weeks, Georgia starts a 4-game stretch against LSU, Florida, Kentucky, and Auburn.
One thing to know: Georgia is still the class of the SEC East, but Kentucky and Florida are starting to make a little bit of noise.
Record (AP Rank): 5-0 (1)
Last week’s result: Beat Louisiana, 56-14
Last week’s playoff rank: 1
Key games remaining: Bama has two games remaining against teams currently in the Top 25. Auburn is at home and LSU on the road.
One thing to know: It is hard to imagine a scenario where Bama doesn’t get into the playoff even if they have a loss. It is also hard to imagine a scenario where Bama loses twice.
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