If the season ended today, there is no doubt who the four playoff teams would be with Alabama a definite #1 seed and Michigan, Washington, and Clemson following in some order behind.
The picture is less clear immediately behind those four and throughout the top 25. While this week lacks a top ten matchup, the picture throughout this list will get clearer through a series of games that will allow teams to separate themselves or fall back into the pack. Clemson-Florida State, Auburn-Ole Miss, Nebraska-Wisconsin, Washington-Utah, and West Virginia-Oklahoma State are among the games with significant conference—and perhaps playoff—ramifications.
Receiving Consideration: Virginia Tech, Colorado, Troy, Oklahoma State, Washington State, USC, Tulsa, Wake Forest, Minnesota, and San Diego State
25. Penn State 5-2 [Defeated Ohio State, Last Week NR]—Easily the biggest upset of the college football season, Penn State’s win over Ohio State was huge for James Franklin. It also gets the Nittany Lions a shot at a share of their division title.
24. Pittsburgh 5-2 [Bye, Last Week NR]—The Panthers are very much alive in the Coastal division, and the win over Penn State certainly looks more impressive now. Pitt-VA Tech will be one of the key games to watch this week.
23. LSU 6-2 [Defeated Ole Miss, Last Week NR]—Ed Orgeron has the Bayou Bengals playing good football, but what will happen to him? LSU enters the bye week with the head coach being a major source of conversation ahead of a key game against the Tide.
22. Houston 6-2 [Lost to SMU, Last Week #8]—The luster is clearly off Tom Herman substantially after a stunning loss to SMU. Offers will still be out there for the offensive guru, but this team goes into a matchup against UCF thoroughly wounded.
21. North Carolina 6-2 [Defeated Virginia, Last Week #22]—Once again, North Carolina is in the driver’s seat in the Coastal, and the schedule looks favorable from here out.
20. Western Michigan 8-0 [Defeated Eastern Michigan, Last Week #20]—The Broncos defeated a middle-of-the-pack MAC team in Eastern Michigan and now face three lower-tier teams following a bye. The final game against Toledo, the next best team in the conference, will be worth watching.
19. Navy 5-1 [Defeated Memphis, Last Week #23]—After a strong win over the Tigers, Navy heads into a key game against South Florida that will have dramatic implications in the AAC.
18. Utah 7-1 [Defeated UCLA, Last Week #19]—The Utes snuck out a win against UCLA. If they manage to beat Washington this week, they are likely to jump into the top ten and into the playoff picture.
17. Florida 5-1 [Bye, Last Week #17]—While I expect Florida to beat Georgia this week, the Gators are entering the tough stretch of their schedule.
16. Tennessee 5-2 [Bye, Last Week #16]—I am not sure how to view the Vols’ bye week. Either they needed it after a loss to Alabama, or it was entirely unneeded ahead of an embarrassing cupcake schedule that closes the season at South Carolina, against Tennesse Tech, Kentucky, Missouri, and at Vanderbilt.
15. Boise State 7-0 [Defeated BYU, Last Week #15]—Narrowly still unbeaten, the Broncos head on the road to face Wyoming this week.
14. Florida State 5-2 [Bye, Last Week #14]—I still am not thrilled to rank the Seminoles here. I want other programs to take this spot from them. Jimbo’s team can earn back respect with a win this week.
13. Oklahoma 5-2 [Defeated Texas Tech, Last Week #12]—The Sooners drop a spot for failing to play defense in a shootout against Texas Tech. Do not forget that this team can still win the Big 12.
12. Auburn 5-2 [Defeated Arkansas, Last Week #21]—We have seen the Tigers wildly inconsistent under Gus Malzahn, but it is tough to ignore what they did to Arkansas on Saturday night. A 56-3 victory has the Tigers looking ready to make a run in the SEC West after early stumbles to Clemson and Texas A&M. Still, this team could easily lose to Ole Miss this week.
11. Nebraska 7-0 [Defeated Purdue, Last Week #11]—A visit to Wisconsin will be the Cornhuskers’ first real test of the season, and a win could vault them into the national discussion. Don’t let the ranking fool you. This team is in control of its own destiny.
10. Wisconsin 5-2 [Defeated Iowa, Last Week #10]—In a tough contest, the Badgers bested the Hawkeyes. Now, one of the most challenging stretches any team in college football has faced in recent memory comes to a close against Nebraska this week.
9. Texas A&M 6-1 [Lost to Alabama, Last Week #6]—It is tempting to slide the Aggies a little farther down, but a thrashing at the hands of Alabama really cannot be held against this team. The winner of Nebraska-Wisconsin could leapfrog them next week, though.
8. Baylor 6-0 [Bye, Last Week #9]—Circle December 3. If the Bears and Mountaineers stay undefeated, they will play for a conference championship on that day. Will that be enough for a playoff spot? How the Bears perform now that they enter the meat of their schedule will help determine that.
7. West Virginia 6-0 [Defeated TCU, Last Week #13]- I doubt the Mountaineers are really the seventh best team in college football, but they look better than Big 12 counterpart Baylor, who they face for a likely conference title on December 3.
6. Ohio State 6-1 [Lost to Penn State Last Week #2]—Yes, the Penn State loss stings, but Ohio State still stands at #6 as they control their own destiny. If they win out, I expect them to make the playoff.
5. Louisville 6-1 [Defeated NC State, Last Week #7]—Lamar Jackson has this team firmly in the spot of the first team to jump into the playoff if one of the top four stumble. The Cardinals awed once again with a dominant performance over NC State.
4. Clemson [Bye, Last Week #4]—Despite themselves, the Tigers are still a playoff team. Florida State does not look as imposing as they once did, but the talent is there to surprise Clemson.
3. Washington 7-0 [Defeated Oregon State, Last Week #5]—Let’s face it, the only thing keeping Clemson ahead of the Huskies was last season’s results. I believe the Huskies face a tough stretch ahead, but they have been dominant this season. A visit to Utah this week is a potential upset.
2. Michigan 7-0 [Defeated Illinois, Last Week #3]—It is a great week in Ann Arbor when the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes take a serious hit. The Wolverines have a relatively clear path to make it to their matchup against Ohio State unbeaten.
1. Alabama 8-0 [Defeated Texas A&M, Last Week: #1]—In what could have been a playoff elimination game, the Tide throttled A&M. Jalen Hurts has emerged as the real deal, and it is difficult to see this team stumbling.