Through five weeks of the College Football season, it’s clear who is and who isn’t a viable playoff contender.
Let’s sort through the options
ACC – Clemson
This is easy. No one else in the ACC is making the playoffs. It’s Clemson or bust. They might have a one game margin of error, but with so many teams in the mix it’s hard to know for sure, unlike past years. The Tigers survived a scare at home against a very good Syracuse team on Saturday and were playing without QB Trevor Lawrence, who left the game with a concussion. As long as Lawrence returns quickly, Clemson should be in fine shape as we learned yesterday they can win games running the ball too (203 yards for Travis Etienne, 293 yards as a team).
Big Ten – Ohio State
This could get complicated. Ohio State’s win over Penn State, in comeback fashion, puts the Buckeyes in the driver’s seat. It doesn’t eliminate Penn State, but it would require them to run the table and see Ohio State lose twice. 11-1 with a home loss, when they had a lead in the fourth quarter and no conference championship won’t cut it. And I don’t see this OSU team losing twice, not considering who is left on their schedule. You could consider Michigan a threat, but you’d also have to consider at one point they trailed a bad Northwestern team 17-0 and despite the exciting come-from-behind win, how do you have any confidence that Michigan can hang tough in a big game? We’ll find out on 10/13 when Michigan plays Wisconsin in a playoff elimination game.
Big 12 – Oklahoma OR West Virginia
Both are these teams have been extremely impressive. Oklahoma followed up their week 4 dud (an OT win against Army) with a beat down of Baylor, putting up 66 points with QB (and A’s pitcher) Kyler Murray throwing 6 TDs and running for another. West Virginia made it look difficult towards the end against Texas Tech, but came away with the win. These teams don’t play until the final week of the regular season and could realistically play again the following week in the Big 12 title game. The only thing standing between both teams facing each other as unbeatens is Texas. Texas has won 4 straight since their week 1 disappointment to Maryland. Texas vs Oklahoma happens Saturday and West Virginia travels to Texas on 11/3. Texas is not a playoff option – if they win the Big 12, the conference will be left out. There’s two options and if Texas has a say, there could be none.
SEC – Alabama or LSU or Auburn and Georgia
The SEC is actually quite complicated. All due respect to Kentucky, we are not including them on this list as it would require a perfect season, and I don’t see that. Although their 11/3 matchup with Georgia looks more and more enticing by the week (maybe College Gameday goes to Lexington that week?). Auburn already has one loss (to LSU) so they can’t afford another or they are out. Their best hope is to win out, which would include wins over Georgia and Alabama and then win the SEC title game. That would for sure get them in the playoffs. LSU is 5-0 after cruising to a win over Ole Miss on Saturday. They have Georgia in two weeks and Alabama that same 11/3 day. Their fate and future is right in front of them and they control it. Alabama and Georgia are two of the top teams in the country. All they need to do is keep winning. Among these four, whoever wins the SEC title game should realistically make the playoffs. But it’s also possible the loser makes it too. If 12-0 Alabama faces 12-0 Georgia, that would mean both teams beat LSU and Auburn to get there. Would a 12-1 Georgia, with those wins still have a strong enough resume? It’s possible and depends on what everyone around them does.
PAC 12 – Washington OR Stanford
I personally don’t think either of these teams will be in the playoffs. One of them will win the Pac-12 north, probably whoever wins on 11/3, and play in the Rose Bowl, pending a win over the Pac-12 south champion. The only chance either team has is to win out and for Washington, they would need Auburn to win out and win the SEC, as it shows the strength of their one loss. For Stanford, Notre Dame would need to go 12-0. Even under those scenarios, with so many options it’s unlikely a one-loss Pac-12 champion makes it. No one else in the Pac-12 is a viable contender
Others – Notre Dame
The Irish are 5-0 and they look good. They got a huge home win over Stanford Saturday night, a game in which QB Ian Book threw 4 TDs. Notre Dame is always a tricky case and they probably need to go 12-0, without having a conference championship to hang their hat on. One of the biggest remaining tests comes next Saturday, when they travel to Blacksburg to face Virgina Tech. One week after the Hokies weird loss to Old Dominion, they bounced back and handled business against Duke, putting them back in the driver’s seat in the ACC coastal. Beyond that the Irish face Pittsburgh, Navy, @ Northwestern, and Florida State. None of those teams should be considered a threat to the Irish. Facing Syracuse in Yankees Stadium will be a tough spot on 11/17, followed by a Thanksgiving week game at USC. 12-0 Irish will definitely make it. And force one of the conference champions to suffer. An 11-1 Irish will have a strong case but likely get left out.
A 13-0 UCF would have a case based on merits from last season, but with no real qualities wins on their schedule, it’s likely they would get snubbed once again.