It is amazing that we are already a month into the College Football Season. We have seen thrilling last second victories, comebacks, collapses, and upsets abound. Already we have seen great games in the forms of LSU-Auburn, Stanford-Oregon, and Ohio State-Penn State, with many more not named and so many more to come. But, with all of the polls that come out each week, the movement in each is nearly meaningless. The only thing that matters is what the College Football Playoff Committee decides in just four weeks. A lot can happen in these next few weeks, from the top teams going down to surprising upstart teams rolling in. Let’s see how these next four weeks could play out.
This is one of the lesser weeks of October, with the only big matchups of the week coming with Oklahoma-Texas in the Red River Rivalry, a hot Notre Dame heading to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech, and Florida-LSU renewing their cross-divisional rivalry. Our current top six should cruise on, with Notre Dame easily getting past Virginia Tech, but the Red River Rivalry won’t go the way of Boomer Sooner, as Texas gets the best of their northern rival. We could also see Kentucky suffer their first loss as they head to Kyle Field to take on Texas A&M, while Auburn faces reeling Mississippi State team looking to right the ship.
Major Results: LSU over Florida; Notre Dame over Virginia Tech; Texas over Oklahoma; Mississippi State over Auburn; Texas A&M over Kentucky
AP Top 6: 1) Alabama 2) Georgia 3) Ohio State 4) Clemson 5) LSU 6) Notre Dame
Now you got a big week that could be shaky for our Top 10. Georgia heads on the road to hostile Death Valley and Tiger Stadium. Meanwhile, in the Pac-12, Washington heads Oregon while Colorado travels to USC; I see the home teams getting the best here. The Big Ten sees Penn State-Michigan State and Michigan-Wisconsin, both which have major impact on the Big Ten Championship race. Upstarts West Virginia and UCF will head on the road and could each face their first loss (to Iowa State and Memphis, respectfully).
Major Results: LSU over Georgia; Iowa State over West Virginia; Oregon over Washington; Penn State over Michigan State; Memphis over UCF; Michigan over Wisconsin; Virginia over Miami; USC over Colorado
AP Top 6: 1) Alabama 2) Ohio State 3) LSU 4) Clemson 5) Notre Dame 6) Georgia
After the potential shake-ups last week, this week could see a few more at the top. We will get to see rivalry games Alabama-Tennessee and Michigan-Michigan State, while Ohio State and Oklahoma both head on the road against tough teams in Purdue and TCU. Trap games are abound for many top teams as bye weeks loom for four of the Week 5 Top 10. And don’t sleep on the LSU-Mississippi State game!
Major Results: Purdue over Ohio State; NC State over Clemson; TCU over Oklahoma; Washington over Colorado; Michigan over Michigan State
AP Top 6: 1) Alabama 2) LSU 3) Notre Dame 4) Georgia 5) Penn State 6) Stanford
The final week before our first CFP Rankings calms things down. Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, Auburn, UCF, and Michigan all get a bye week, while Georgia, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Miami, Texas, Florida, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma State all come off a bye week. We get the classic game of Georgia-Florida (or Florida-Georgia) while Navy heads to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish. Not much to look forward to in this week, especially with Week 10 headlined by Alabama-LSU, Georgia-Kentucky, Stanford-Washington, Penn State-Michigan, and West Virginia-Texas – but we don’t get to choose when the first CFP comes out and it gets to be right after this Week 9 concludes.
Major Results: Georgia over Florida; Missouri over Kentucky; Syracuse over NC State; Texas over Oklahoma State
AP Top 6: 1) Alabama 2) LSU 3) Notre Dame 4) Georgia 5) Penn State 6) Texas
The AP Poll by the end of October will give a big lead to who we think are currently the top three teams on talent: Alabama, LSU, and Notre Dame. But, Alabama will come into the poll with no wins over a current Top 25 team while LSU and Notre Dame could have four and three, respectfully. Meanwhile Georgia could be coming off a loss to LSU, but with plenty of quality wins on their resume. Ohio State could lose on the road to Purdue, a team whose record is not at all close to its talent level, which could push them to the edge of the Top Ten to start, but with a lot of chance to move in. The team they beat to end September, Penn State, is poised in a position to win out the month and move up as schools in front of them lose; it has already been shown from the past two years that the CFP Committee sees a close game like Ohio State-Penn State as a tie instead of a loss for the losing squad, helping push Penn State close to the top. What about schools like Texas and Michigan, with glaring defeats to their name? There are a lot of questions to answer, but here is what I think the College Football Playoff Top Ten will look come the last weekend in October:
The College Football Playoff Top Ten
Out of the Top Ten: Oklahoma (two losses back to back kill their chances), Auburn (losing to Mississippi State won’t help their chances), West Virginia (a loss at Iowa State won’t propel them into the Top Ten but could if they beat Texas the week after this poll comes out), Washington (they are close to being in, but two losses on the record don’t help and their statement win thus far would be at home against Colorado)
10 – Clemson: Losing at home to NC State would hurt their playoff chances greatly. They don’t have a ranked team to play on the schedule before or after that game. They do have a road win against Texas A&M but a close call against Syracuse (even without Trevor Lawrence) does beg the question how good they could be. Strength of record is something that the committee looks at greatly, and Clemson just doesn’t have it.
9 – Oregon: While they won’t be the top Pac-12 team in the CFP Poll, they have three games in a row that are all tough tests. While they lost to Stanford in OT, the committee will probably put that game down as a tie for them, rather than an outright loss (they also moved up a spot in the AP Poll after that loss), and then followed it up with a dominant victory at Cal. They get Washington at home to start October, which should be a thrilling game that looks to go the way of the Ducks and then on the road in Pullman against Washington State and down to Arizona; two road wins like that could put the Quack Attack back in the New Years’ Six conversation. They will need Stanford to lose again though if they want to make it to the playoffs.
8 – Texas: Already with two statement wins against USC and TCU, Texas is rolling strong into October. With potential wins against Oklahoma and at Oklahoma State, they have a case for being in the Top 4. They don’t quite have the talent of the best teams in the nation, but the resume is squarely there. With a matchup against West Virginia to start November looming, and a fairly easy November, a Big 12 Champion and 1 loss Texas could be one of the finalists for the Playoff.
7 – Stanford: The loss against Notre Dame is their one blemish, but it was on the road a week after a tough and grueling Oregon game. The committee will probably give them a slight pass, especially if Notre Dame is in the top three. A loss on the road is generally regarded as not as bad as one that happened at home in the eyes of the committee, and with it being a Top Ten matchup, it essentially doesn’t hurt Stanford too much. With wins over USC and Oregon and what looks to be a clean sweep of October, just like Penn State, Stanford will have a lot of momentum moving into November while watching many teams below falling.
6 – Penn State: The committee has historically given the loser of the Penn State-Ohio State game a tie on their resume. Although they have no wins over a ranked team yet, and a close call at home against App State (which should end up as a 1-loss team by the way), they have potentially the best slate of October games for a 1-loss team: home against ranked Michigan State, on the road against a tough Indiana squad, and then at home against an Iowa team that should be ranked come October 27th. Three wins like that will put Penn State back in the conversation, especially since they are in striking distance of a Big Ten Championship appearance with an Ohio State loss to Michigan at the end of the season. That very team does happen to be their toughest test left on their schedule, as they go to the Big House on November 3rd, but that is after this first poll comes out.
5 – Georgia: Even with a loss at LSU, the Bulldogs will have blowout wins abound, and easy road wins against South Carolina and Missouri. Their resume doesn’t quite stack up to the big dogs in the SEC, or even the others above, but you can’t dock a team too much when they lose on the road to potentially the second best team in that nation, and they get to show their stuff against Florida right before the poll goes out. I can’t see them dropping last year’s runner-ups too far, and with Kentucky and Auburn still left on the schedule, they have room to move up before the SEC Championship.
4 – Ohio State: A loss at Purdue will sting, but with wins against TCU (who could go on to beat Oklahoma) and at Penn State, their resume still gives them enough top quality wins to push forward. They would still have games at Michigan State, at Maryland, and at home against the hated Michigan. Running the table in November would put them in a prime spot for a Big Ten Championship appearance. They place higher than teams that won their last two games in October due to their strength of record and resume. Most teams above will only have one win over a ranked team (and many have it at home): Ohio State will have two of them and both on the road.
3 – Notre Dame: The Irish have strong wins against Michigan and Stanford, with Virginia Tech still to go. That doesn’t quite stack up to the top two, but is enough to push them above many others. Being undefeated into November helps tremendously, and if Ian Book keeps putting up the numbers that he has been, this will be a flashy Notre Dame team throughout all of October. The question here is how much the committee will weigh their near misses against Ball State and Vanderbilt, both at home.
2 – LSU: With wins over Miami, Auburn, and potentially Florida and Georgia, few will have a stronger resume than LSU. A good case can be made for them to be starting off at 1. Biggest problem for them if they can get passed Alabama to start November – the SEC Championship would potentially be a rematch with Georgia, in Atlanta. They’ve been gifted with most of their tough tests happening at home.
1 – Alabama: They’ve done nothing wrong to prove otherwise. As much as their resume doesn’t stack up to other SEC teams like LSU and Georgia, the CFP Poll has looked the other way in past years and Alabama starts off at 1 without any major wins. Sets up a 1-2 matchup to start the Road to the CFP.
Who knows what could happen come the first College Football Playoff Poll? With so much more football to play before October 30th, we have no idea what to expect when the committee decides on their first rankings. They usually differ greatly from the AP Poll, rewarding teams heavily for big wins and not necessarily penalizing teams for close, tough losses. All it takes to make or break someone’s playoff chances is “Any Given Saturday”.
(Note: all game predictions are made via a detailed statistical algorithm that takes into account strength of record, strength of games played, strength home/away, and strength of momentum; polls also assume that no team outside the current AP Top 25 is able to make it into the CFP Top Ten during the first poll.)