1. Alabama: At 8-0, the Crimson Tide hasn’t really been tested other than one close game in College Station. This week, they have the 19th ranked LSU Tigers. Then, they 21st ranked Mississippi State on the road. With the cupcake Mercer wasting a Saturday, the Crimson Tide has it’s bitter rival and 16th ranked Auburn also on the road. They should run the table, but Auburn could pull a surprise, too. Georgia in the championship game might be a great game, but the Tide is a definite playoff team again.
2. Georgia: The Bulldogs are 8-0 and rolling along. They have 6-2 South Carolina, 6-2 Auburn, 6-2 Kentucky and arch rival and 4-3 Georgia Tech remaining on the schedule. But, the Bulldogs are good and they should be up to the task. But can they beat Alabama in the SEC Championship game? I like their chances, but they are going to have to be more balanced on offense. I’m already drooling about the prospects of an actually interesting SEC Championship. If Georgia only loses to Alabama, are
there going to be 2 SEC teams in the playoffs? I think so.
3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes are just off a very emotional come from behind win over Penn State and they are 7-1. Their next game is at Iowa and that can be a trap game for them even though they are 17 point favorites. However, Buckeye quarterback JT Barrett is playing maybe as well as he ever has right now, probably even better. Part of the credit has to go to new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. The Buckeye defense gave up 38 points, but the Penn State offense has a multitude of weapons. They still have one of the nation’s best defensive line demonstrated by Sam Hubbard’s incredible grab of running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley at the same time. They finish up with Iowa, Michigan State, Illinois and Michigan. Don’t rule out the Buckeyes.
4. Clemson: Some people forget that Clemson lost to Pittsburgh last season before they won a national title. They lost to Syracuse, but bounced back in a driving rain against Georgia Tech this past weekend. Tough North Carolina State is next and then it’s Florida State, the Citadel and South Carolina. Clemson’s toughest tests remaining are the Wolfpack and the Gamecocks. As long as Bryant Kelly is healthy at quarterback, it might be a mistake to bet against the Tigers. Their defensive line is as good as anyone’s and their offensive line has gone up against the best and done well. If Clemson wins out, they are a guaranteed playoff team.
5. Notre Dame: I cringe when I remember the Irish playing Alabama for the national title the last time. But, this team may be different, at least I hope they are. The Irish have a really good offensive line led by Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson and that should make them competitive. Josh Adams is not only one of the best running backs in the nation, he’s also one of the best players. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush is a strong runner, but he will need to throw the ball more consistently if they get a shot at the Tide again. They lost to Georgia by one point in game two and the Bulldogs have proven themselves to be a tough team. The Fighting Irish have a tough 5-3 Wake Forest, unbeaten and 9th ranked Miami, 5-2 Navy and 19th ranked Stanford remaining. They have to bring it every week and they have a shot.
6. Penn State: Previously undefeated Penn State lost by one point in Columbus in maybe the game
of the year so far. The Nittany Lions are still 7-1 and have some of the best offensive weapons in the country with running back Barkley, quarterback Trace McSorley, tight end Mike Gesicki and a host of wide receivers. The defense has played well all season up until the second half of the Ohio State game. The Nittany Lions close with Michigan State, Rutgers, Nebraska and Maryland so they have the easiest remaining schedule. If Michigan upsets Ohio State in Ann Arbor, the Nittany Lions could still sneak into the Big 10 Championship game.
7. Wisconsin: The Badgers have defense and they have a great running game, but what will take them all the way will have to be quarterback Alex Hornibrook. Their quarterback is much better than last season, but he’s still thrown 8 interceptions which won’t cut it against top teams. The Badgers are unbeaten at 8-0, but they really haven’t played anybody. They do have a big test remaining with the Michigan Wolverines coming to town. Wisconsin will have to beat Michigan and beat the winner of the Big 10 East which will be no small task. The Big 10 has become something like the SEC in that there’s good ones in one division and not in the other. The Badgers enjoy being the best in the West and it’s not even a close competition.
8. Oklahoma: While the Sooners did lose to Iowa State, they are also the only team to beat Ohio State and they did that in Columbus. Oklahoma has a potential Heisman winner in Baker Mayfield, but their defense has been pretty lacking this season. They have a big test with Oklahoma State in their Bedlam game this weekend and that will either eliminate the Sooners, or the Cowboys. They also have a big test remaining with TCU.
9. Miami: The Hurricanes are unbeaten at 7-0, but none of their wins have been very convincing. Their defensive line is another that is about as good as anyone’s, but they’ve been winning close games against average competition. They have a tough Virginia Tech coming to town this weekend and then they will host Notre Dame. It will be a challenge to survive those two and if they do they
will have to win the ACC Championship game. It will be hard for the Hurricanes to make it.
10. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys were stymied by the Texas Longhorns a couple of weeks ago, but came back strong beating West Virginia at their place, 50-39. They lost to TCU and they have OU this weekend, plus a very much improved Iowa State. They also must get by Oklahoma State. If they win all of those, then it’s the Big 12 Championship game. This weekend will tell us a lot.
11. Virginia Tech: Hokie coach Justin Fuente is special and he has his team playing lights out after a heartbreaking loss to Clemson. They are 7-1 with a test coming this weekend at undefeated Miami. The Hokies also beat option oriented Georgia Tech and rival Virginia. If they win out, they must beat Clemson, probably, in the ACC title game which will be no easy job.
12. TCU: The Horn Toads lost their first game this weekend at Iowa State who might be the surprise team of the year. The Frogs still must beat OU at their place and a one loss TCU will have a hard time making a playoff, anyway. They just don’t have the political power to do so.
13. Washington: The Huskies have not beaten a ranked team yet and they lost to Arizona State, which should put them out of any playoff talk. However, they only have ranked Stanford and Washington State remaining to win the Pac 12 North again. That would put them in the title game against either USC, or Arizona and the Huskies should win. Their lack of playing anyone tough and their performance against Alabama last season will likely cost them big in the rankings.
14. UCF: No, Nebraska, let’s just hire Mike Riley. Scott Frost is killing it at Central Florida and you’ve got egg on your face. The Knights have little to no shot at the playoffs, but they are a solid well coached team. They don’t play a lot of competition, but they did pound 22nd ranked Memphis 40-13, which was their only loss. The Knights are the real deal and they may finish undefeated and I have a feeling the Cornhuskers may try to rectify earlier mistakes and steal Scott Frost.