Four unbeaten teams went down on Saturday in the first weekend when the race for the playoffs got substantially clearer. Still, it is tough to say any of the top 14 are completely out of the race.
With numerous quasi-quarterfinal (and potential quasi-quarterfinal matchups) still on the schedule (North Carolina-Clemson, TCU-Baylor, TCU-Oklahoma, Michigan State-Ohio State, Utah-Stanford, Florida-Alabama, Oklahoma-Baylor, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Notre Dame-Stanford, Iowa-Ohio State, and Oklahoma State-Baylor), the best of the college football season is yet to come.
25. Memphis (8-1)—The loss against Navy was surprising and significant. The Tigers were on course to be the darling of the smaller conferences, but the Midshipmen sunk that idea. Rumors of Virginia Tech targeting Justin Fuente is unlikely to make Memphis fans feel any better.
24. Northwestern (7-2)—After being destroyed by Michigan and Iowa, the Wildcats have two straight two-point wins. Purdue should provide a more comfortable margin before a big matchup against Wisconsin.
23. USC (6-3)—Admit it. Regardless of who your team is, you would not want to see USC on the schedule. Plenty of talent remains on this roster.
22. Navy (7-1)—A dominant performance over Memphis certainly draws attention to the Midshipmen, whose one loss came at the hands of Notre Dame.
21. Temple (8-1)—The Owls, who had not given up more than 26 points all year, won a shootout against SMU. You have to love what Coach Rhule has done with this program. He’s a guy more ADs should take a long look at.
20. Florida State (7-2)—There is no doubt that FSU has taken a significant step back. However, the talent Jimbo brings in to Tallahassee is unlikely to keep the Seminoles down for long.
19. Mississippi State (7-2)—Dak Prescott would love to leave Starkville with a signature win. Beating Alabama this weekend would certainly realize that hope. The Bulldogs are not the better team, but they are good enough to give the Tide a challenge.
18. UCLA (7-2)—Jim Mora leads a talented team into a tough home stretch against a surprisingly solid Washington State team, Utah, and USC.
17. North Carolina (8-1)—The Tar Heels are a surprising team this season and clobbered a solid Duke team. This is definitely a program that could really throw a wrench in the process if they could knock off Clemson in the ACC title game.
16. Houston (9-0)—How are the Cougars rewarded for an undefeated record nine games into the college football season? A 24th place ranking according to the Committee. Ridiculous.
15. Michigan (7-2)—At this point, the Wolverines look forward to Year 2 under the mighty Harbaugh. But this team still would love to knock off rival Ohio State and end the Buckeyes’ playoff chances.
14. TCU (8-1)—TCU lost to a very solid team, but it was not pretty. The Horned Frogs did not expect to suffer such a fate, but their schedule contains quality opponents that give them an opportunity to rebound.
13. Michigan State (8-1)—Ouch! Rough loss to Nebraska. The Spartans still have Ohio State on the horizon, and this team, so lucky against Michigan, has the slimmest of hopes to get back into the playoff picture.
12. Utah (8-1)—At this point, Utah, the CFB darling a few weeks ago, is a mere afterthought. Still, if they can win at Arizona and then against UCLA, the Utes could be back in the discussion.
11. LSU (7-1)—The Bayou Bengals showed exactly how mediocre of a team they can be when Fournette is made into a non-factor. After that tough loss, it would take significant developments for the Tigers to end up in the playoff.
10. Florida (8-1)—That win against Vandy was ugly. The Gators suffered another “blow” when their rival FSU (yes, Gainesville, you should have rooted for the Seminoles) lost. Still, winning against FSU and likely Alabama could get the SEC East champs into the playoff.
9. Oklahoma (8-1)—The Sooners have rebounded in a big way since the loss to Texas, and now they have an outside shot at the playoffs. Catching Baylor with Stidham at quarterback is a stroke of fortune. A win sets up two more highly intriguing matchups.
8. Notre Dame (8-1)—I do not understand putting Notre Dame in the top four. Unless chaos happens, I don’t see that opinion changes until/unless the Irish handle business against Stanford in the final game.
7. Iowa (9-0)—Few teams may be talked about more than the Hawkeyes in the waning weeks of the season. Few think the team is one of the top four even if it does win out. But would they keep the undefeated Big Ten champion out. Hapless Minnesota, Purdue, and Nebraska stand between Iowa and a huge title game against Ohio State.
6. Oklahoma State (9-0)—Iowa State should provide a “break” for the Cowboys this week before they gear back up for games against Baylor and Oklahoma. Stillwater rides high after beating the Horned Frogs, though, and this team controls its own playoff destiny.
5. Stanford (8-1)—Not to overlook Oregon and Cal, but it is easy to look to the Notre Dame matchup. Very close to a quarterfinal game if those two programs continue to roll.
4. Alabama (8-1)—This might be the best team in the country, and if I had to put money on an eventual champion it would be the Tide. However, these rankings need to account for the results and the Ole Miss loss is being way too easily dismissed. Mississippi State and Florida may challenge Alabama, but this team could be a one-loss team causing a power conference undefeated program to miss the playoffs.
3. Baylor (8-0)—Allowing a thoroughly abysmal Kansas State team to be that close is not a good sign for the Bears. Nevertheless, this team is undefeated with a strong resume so far this year. An incredibly tough home stretch beginning with a matchup against Oklahoma this week is likely to see Art Briles’ team drop from the top four.
2. Ohio State (9-0)—The Buckeyes are on the verge of a tough final three games that will dictate whether they return to the playoffs. Opinions of this underperforming team are mixed but they will earn that spot if they win out.
1. Clemson (9-0)—The win against FSU may not have been as impressive as the Tigers could have hoped for but there is no doubting that this team has the most impressive resume of any team in the country. No losses. Two very strong wins. And a QB that is among the best in the country.