As many as twelve teams still have shots at making the top four, and the SEC, ACC, Big 12, and Big 10 each have significant drama left to determine the conference champion. It’s going to be a wild ride!
25. Temple (9-2)—Matt Rhule is among a list of coaches on the rise, and his Owls gave a dominating performance over Memphis making him an even hotter name for programs looking for a new coach.
24. Toledo (9-1)—The Rockets seem primed for a MAC title matchup against Bowling Green, but, like others, their focus is on keeping their head man.
23. UCLA (8-3)—There are plenty of reasons for both UCLA and USC to be disappointed with this season. A win over the cross-town rival would certainly provide some positive momentum heading into the offseason. However, will both schools be looking for new coaches? Mora Jr. could be targeted in the NFL.
22. Mississippi State (8-3)—Can Dak Prescott win his final Egg Bowl? Few would be more deserving of such a win, and Dan Mullen may find Prescott’s departure an opportune time to search for new pastures.
21. Washington State (8-3)—Mike Leach has his team playing some really good football. Four straight conference wins including victories over UCLA and rival Washington would be a great way to end the season.
20. Houston (10-1)—The Cougars saw an undefeated season come crashing down with an unexpected loss to Connecticut. Nevertheless, this team still possesses a shot at the conference title—even though most of the focus will be on convincing Tom Herman to stay.
19. Ole Miss (8-3)—I can’t think of a team that has been more up and down this season than Hugh Freeze’s squad. Despite three losses, an (extremely unlikely) Auburn win on Saturday would put the Rebels in the SEC title game. No wonder Freeze has been heard letting out a “War Eagle” or two this week.
18. Oregon (8-3)—Few teams in the country play better than the Ducks right now. This team certainly fields the talent of a playoff contender, but bad breaks early doomed their season.
17. Northwestern (9-2)—Strong wins over Stanford and Wisconsin combined with a solid record puts the Wildcats on the map and may make Coach Fitzgerald a target for the many programs looking for new leadership.
16. TCU (9-2)—TCU has to be disappointed. With such a strong cast coming back, the losses to the Oklahoma schools really hurt. Still, fans of the Horned Frogs can feel better if they defeat Baylor this week to end the hopes of their rival.
15. Navy (9-1)—The Midshipmen are riding a phenomenal season to prominence once again. A win over Houston would give them the divisional championship, and a single loss against Notre Dame is all that this team has to be disappointed about.
14. Florida State (9-2)—Jimbo Fisher may be on his way out if LSU comes calling, and, for the first time in a couple of years, all the Seminoles have to play for is pride. Still, many project the Seminoles to actually beat the Gators. Maintaining dominance in that rivalry would be a huge blow to Jim McElwain and likely boost recruiting. Maybe they do have something to play for after all.
13. Stanford (9-2)—The PAC 12 North champion sees no shot to earn a spot in the playoff, but they can certainly end the season on a significant note. Beating Notre Dame and earning the conference title would be a great way for David Shaw to end this season riding high.
12. Florida (10-1)—Since beating lackluster Georgia 27-3 in the Swamp, this team has looked atrocious. Squeaking by Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and Florida Atlantic has halted any playoff momentum for the Gators. Still, if they beat FSU and then Alabama in convincing fashion, they would have a strong argument. But, after watching the last three weeks, does anyone actually think that will happen?
11. North Carolina (10-1)—How high could the Tar Heels jump if they somehow get past Clemson (assuming they beat NC State)? It’s unlikely it’d be into the top four, but you cannot count them out yet.
10. Michigan—Let’s play a game. Michigan beats Ohio State and Michigan State loses. Michigan then beats Iowa. Notre Dame falls to Stanford. Baylor falls to either TCU or Texas. Clemson wins out as does Alabama. Yes, it’s an unlikely scenario, but there does remain a narrow, narrow path for Jim Harbaugh’s team…if they take care of business against Ohio State and get a little help from the Nittany Lions.
9. Oklahoma State (10-1)—In it, but barely. That’s the position Oklahoma State finds themselves in after the loss to Baylor. Beating Oklahoma keeps them in the picture, but it’s still a long shot that the Cowboys find themselves in the top four.
8. Ohio State (10-1)—All season long, the Buckeyes failed to impress, and the loss against Michigan State exposed a fragile locker room and a team living off of last season’s memory. Still, the Buckeyes enjoy a shot—an outside—one to get back into the mix. But can they even get by the Wolverines?
7. Baylor (9-1)—The Bears have two more opportunities to prove they belong in the playoff—or two more chances to prove they don’t. Even if they get by TCU and Texas, then Art Briles’ team could be left on the outside.
6. Notre Dame (10-1)—The Irish don’t just need to beat Stanford. They need to look really, really good doing it.
5. Oklahoma (10-1)—If the Sooners close out with wins at Baylor, against TCU, and at Oklahoma State, there is no way this team gets kept out of the playoff picture. For now, the loss against Texas keeps them at #5.
4. Michigan State (10-1)—Big wins over Oregon, Michigan, and Ohio State give the Spartans the best resume of any team in the country. The good news for teams on the outside of the top 4? Michigan State or Iowa will certainly lose.
3. Iowa (11-0)—Nebraska and likely Michigan State stand in the way of a perfect season and a playoff berth. This team has not done anything to look like an elite force, but they have won every game thus far and deserve to be here.
2. Alabama (10-1)—Unquestionably the “eye test” champion, the Tide boast five wins against ranked teams. The Ole Miss loss hangs over the team, and there have been some close games along the way. Still, this team has a dominant D, and they should blow by Auburn as well as Florida to cement their spot in the playoff.
1. Clemson (11-0)—Anyone questioning the number one ranking of the Tigers is thinking foolishly. It has not always been pretty, and they may not actually be the best team in college football. They are, however, the only team that has earned this spot.