With college football now over halfway over, it’s as good as a time as ever to examine the current state of the playoff race. This weekend, we saw Utah and Florida State leave the ranks of the unbeaten and several other teams make their case to be among the top four. So who’s in?
Ohio State (8-0): The Buckeyes seemed to have finally figured out that J.T. Barrett is a better quarterback than Cardale Jones and it showed on the field with a 49-7 win over Rutgers. They have Minnesota and Illinois before their two hardest games of the season, versus Michigan State and at Michigan in back to back weeks. Assuming they win out, they will likely face Iowa in the Big Ten Championship. The Buckeyes might be the most talented team in the country, but the season finale at Michigan will be a huge test for this team.
Baylor (7-0): Baylor suffered a catastrophic injury this weekend when it was announced that quarterback Seth Russell broke a broke a bone in his neck. That means they’ll be relying on true freshman Jarrett Stidham for this very tough stretch of games: at Kansas State, versus Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, and at TCU. If they come out of that stretch unscathed, they deserve to be in the playoff. November 27th against TCU is likely the de-facto Big 12 championship game.
Clemson (7-0): Dabo Swinney’s Tigers absolutely demolished Miami 58-0 and caused the Hurricanes to finally fire Al Golden. Deshaun Watson is healthy, Shaq Lawson is disruptive and the Tigers might have the most impressive resume of any team so far. Things are even better for Clemson as Florida State fell to Georgia Tech and didn’t look good in the process. November 7th against the ‘Noles will be the last big test for Clemson until the ACC championship, where they’ll likely face Duke or North Carolina.
LSU (7-0): The Bayou Bengals pulled away from Western Kentucky for the win and now have their sights solely set on two weeks from now, when they travel to Alabama. Leonard Fournette is certainly the Heisman favorite and Brandon Harris is progressing week-by-week but the Tigers have a very tough stretch to close the season. After Alabama, they face Arkansas at home, travel to Ole Miss and then close out with a home contest against Texas A&M. Assuming they win the West, they’ll likely face Florida in Atlanta. Things don’t look good for the Tigers, but when you have the best player in college football on your team it makes things that much easier.
TCU (7-0): Trevone Boykin and the Horned Frogs keep winning, but they keep dropping in the polls. With the loss of Seth Russell at Baylor, TCU might be the favorite in the Big 12 again. They face undefeated Oklahoma State in two weeks and then close out the season with Oklahoma and Baylor in back-to-back weeks. TCU’s offense might be the best in the country, but their defense has to show up for those two games.
Michigan State (8-0): It’s been ugly, but the Spartans are undefeated with four games left on their schedule. They survived Michigan, but face Ohio State on November 21st in a game that will make or break their season. Win, and they’re in the Big 10 championship and likely the playoff as well. Keep an eye on the Penn State game at the end of the season, as that has all the makings of a trap game if Sparty wins over Ohio State.
Iowa (7-0): Iowa, yes Iowa, is undefeated. They also face absolutely no one and there’s a really good shot Iowa is undefeated heading into the Big 10 championship. That’s scary. Please consult http://talkingtoyourkidsaboutiowa.tumblr.com/ if you have additional questions about how to talk to your kids and loved ones about an undefeated Iowa.
Oklahoma State (7-0): Oklahoma State is the team that no one seems to know is undefeated. Yes, it hasn’t been pretty but they might actually be a contender for the Big 12 title. Whether they’re legit or not is yet to be proven, but games against TCU, Oklahoma and Baylor to close the season will prove to the playoff committee if this team is worthy of the top four.
The One-Loss Crowd
Alabama (7-1): Each week might be ugly, but Alabama is the best team in the country at winning in the trenches. Jake Coker might not be special, but Derrick Henry sure is and if you give him 30 carries a game Bama is going to score some points. They also have a nasty defense and no one wants to face A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed in the middle. They host LSU in two weeks in a game that will likely determine they SEC West. Assuming they win, they should cruise to Atlanta where they’ll likely face Florida.
Stanford (6-1): The season opening loss to Northwestern looks like an myth now as Stanford is absolutely demolishing everyone they play. Christian McCaffrey is firmly entrenched in the Heisman conversation and no one can stop the Cardinal’s style of smash-mouth football. They should roll over their final opponents before one last test against Notre Dame to end the season. The Pac-12 championship will likely be Stanford and Utah.
Notre Dame (6-1): The Fighting Irish might have the best loss out of everyone, falling to Clemson in Death Valley. Since then the Irish have quietly rattled off win after win. However, they have a touch stretch upcoming. They face undefeated Temple (!!!), a 6-1 Pitt team, Boston College’s top ranked defense and end the season with Stanford. If the Fighting Irish can win out, they deserve to be in the playoff picture.
Florida (6-1): They lost Will Grier to suspension, but the Gators still have one of the best defenses in the SEC. They face Georgia in Jacksonville this weekend and then should cruise to the season finale versus Florida State. Assuming they win out, the Gators would have a huge test against either LSU (again) or Alabama in the SEC Championship. A tough test for a team now working with its backup quarterback.
Utah (6-1): Utah was finally exposed this week in a crushing loss to USC. Travis Wilson looked like the Travis Wilson of old and USC rolled all over this team. However, the Utes only have one more tough test until the end of the season: November 21st hosting UCLA. If they win the South, a championship game appearance against Stanford might be enough to bolster their resume for the playoff committee.
Oklahoma (6-1): Bob Stoop’s squad might be the most dangerous team in the Big 12, quietly lurking in the background while Baylor and TCU get all the attention. Baker Mayfield is playing terrific football, but he’ll be put to the test when he’ll have to match TCU and Baylor score-for-score later in the season. Oklahoma has a very real shot of jumping back into the thick of things if they can beat those two teams.
Florida State (6-1): An upset loss to 2-5 Georgia Tech is terrible for Florida State’s playoff hopes, but they have a chance to redeem themselves. They face Clemson in two weeks and then travel to Florida to close out the season. They’re going to be underdogs in both of those games, but Dalvin Cook and the ‘Noles can’t quite be counted out just yet.
The Two-Loss Crowd
Michigan (5-2): Don’t count out the Fightin’ Jim Harbaughs just yet. If they win out and beat Ohio State in the season finale, they might make the Big 10 championship. It’s a long shot, but a 11-2 Michigan squad will certainly be in the conversation.
The Undefeated Mid-Majors
Memphis (7-0): The Tigers might have the best pro-quarterback prospect in the country in Paxton Lynch and they’ve already beaten Ole Miss as well. However, the AAC is surprisingly good this year and they’ll travel to undefeated Temple and Houston later in the year. It’s not out of the question for an undefeated Memphis to make the playoff, but their resume might hold them back.
Houston (7-0): Greg Ward Jr is quietly having a very good season with 25 total touchdowns and first year head coach Tom Herman has the Cougars undefeated. They host Memphis and Paxton Lynch later in the season and will likely get Temple in the AAC title game if they make it there.
Toledo (7-0): Toledo took a while to beat UMass, but they face no one for the rest of the season. We could be looking at a 13-0 Toledo team in December, but their resume will hold them back from the playoff.
Temple (7-0): Temple will be put to the test this week against Notre Dame. They also face Memphis later in the season. Even if they win those two games and the AAC title, their weak schedule will hold them back.
If the season were to end today…
1. Clemson: They might have the best resume out of any team and are dominant on a week to week basis. Their 58-0 win over Miami is just the latest demonstration from Deshaun Watson and the Tigers for the playoff committee.
2. Ohio State: They finally have J.T. Barrett and quarterback and the Buckeyes look better than ever. They have a chance to bolster their resume for the committee with Michigan State and Michigan to end the season.
3. Alabama: You can never count out Nick Saban’s squad. Two weeks from now against LSU will likely decide the SEC itself and will show if the Crimson Tide are in playoff form.
4. Baylor: The loss of Seth Russell is huge, but Baylor as a team is dominant. The system is friendly for Jarrett Stidham and he’s been there since the spring so he’s not your typical true freshman either. We’ll know quickly if Baylor is a contender without Russell or not.