In what was supposed to be a week that did little to provide a clearer playoff picture, Utah and Florida State took losses that make it difficult to see a path back to playoff contention while Texas A&M now competes thoroughly out of the mix.
25. Mississippi State (6-2)—Dak Prescott’s team gets a bye before closing the season with four key conference games. The rout of Kentucky went largely unnoticed, but this team could make things interesting down the stretch.
24. UCLA (5-2)—The Bruins boast three wins against teams in the top 25 when they played them. That gets them back in this week. Coming off two losses, that win against Cal looks huge.
23. Pitt (6-1)—Like Duke, Pitt had a close win against a lackluster team. The other way the teams are connected? Both are in the driver’s seat for the division title.
22. Duke (6-1)—Thomas Sirk led the Blue Devils to a wild win over the Hokies, and now the Blue Devils face a Miami team desperate to save its reputation. After playing the Hurricanes, Duke looks forward to key games against UNC and Pitt, which could determine the division winner.
21. Ole Miss (6-2)—Hugh Freeze’s team got a great “bounce back” win against Texas A&M. A likely victory at Auburn this week gives the Rebels the fuel they need for a strong close.
20. Oklahoma (7-1)—The Sooners needed that dominant performance over Texas Tech, but the last three games will be the basis for judging this season. Despite sitting at #20, the Sooners could make a run at the playoffs by knocking off three current unbeatens to close the season. No one else looks ahead to such a daunting task, or glorious opportunity, to close the season.
19. Toledo (7-0)—Phillip Ely and company are playing good football, but Northern Illinois and Western Michigan still loom in the effort to conquer the division.
18. Houston (7-0)—The Cougars will dip into the SEC this week to move to a likely 8-0. Tom Herman’s pedigree could get him a job in that conference next season if things continue to go well.
17. Temple (7-0)—The Owls are undefeated and host Notre Dame this weekend. Things have never been brighter around the program, and, if they manage to pull the stunner against the Irish and then beat Memphis, the Owls could be in the conversation (though not likely a selection) for the playoffs.
16. Florida State (6-1)—I’m not particularly high on what FSU has accomplished this year, and the loss against the Yellow Jackets was tough. However, this is still the Seminoles and wins against Clemson and Florida could get them back in the playoff conversation.
15. Michigan (5-2)—Tough to imagine Harbaugh’s team not facing Ohio State as a two-loss team in a game that amounts to the most significant in the rivalry in some time.
14. Memphis (7-0)—With two unbeatens left on the schedule, the Tigers are still the favorite in each game with some impressive wins already. What do you do with Paxton Lynch and company if they are undefeated at the end of the year and others falter?
13. Utah (6-1)—I wrote last week that I did not think the Utes would run the table and they stumbled against a still talented USC team. Still, this is a team that could bounce back and look at some impressive wins in the rearview mirror.
12. Florida (6-1)—A win against Georgia, and it is really, really tough to not book that trip to Atlanta for Gators fans. This team is not yet out of the playoff hunt.
11. Oklahoma State (7-0)—Finally, the Cowboys dominate an opponent the way a top team should. Texas Tech is not an easy foe, and the Cowboys have TCU waiting after that. Expect a big jump in the rankings if they manage to make it to 9-0.
10. Notre Dame (6-1)—Going into the season, no one would have thought the matchup against Temple would have a greater playoff impact than matchups against USC and Georgia Tech.
9. Iowa (7-0)—Five conference games against foes that could generously be described as “soft” stand between the Hawkeyes and the conference championship game.
8. Stanford (6-1)—The Cardinal play great football right now, and every reason points to one loss going into the game against Notre Dame—a matchup that could be a battle for a playoff spot.
7. Alabama (7-1)—Alabama has alternated between really impressive and really not this year. The slim victory over Tennessee was unimpressive, but no one will care if they can handle business against LSU and position themselves back among the likely playoff teams.
6. Michigan State (8-0)—The Spartans managed their largest margin of victory all season against the Hoosiers. This is a focused, well coached team unlikely to stumble, so all eyes fixate upon the 11/21 faceoff against OSU.
5. LSU (7-0)—Few regular season games will be the subject of more hype than the 11/7 matchup of the Bayou Bengals and the Crimson Tide. The two are clearly the toast of the West Division in the SEC, and the winner has an inside track to the playoff.
4. TCU (7-0)—No team should delight in another player’s injury, but the Horned Frogs likely wish Seth Russell a full recovery—but one that also causes him to miss their matchup. TCU hasn’t looked great this year, but they control their own destiny.
3. Clemson (7-0)—Clemson boasts a high quality win against Notre Dame on their resume, and they dominated a Miami team so thoroughly that it likely was the final straw for Hurricane coach Al Golden. You can’t assume a victory over FSU, but Clemson has the most likely path to the playoff of any team in the country.
2. Baylor (7-0)–Seth Russell going down knocks the Bears off the top spot. It shouldn’t affect them against KSU, but the late-season stretch of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and TCU could prove problematic without the star signal caller.
1. Ohio State (8-0)—There’s no doubt the Buckeyes are a better team with Barrett at the helm. After dominating Rutgers, they find themselves back in the top spot. Still, their final three games (Michigan State, Michigan, and the Big 10 title game) give them a tough road to the playoff.