This week’s two primetime “showdowns” turned into laughers as Notre Dame and Penn State blasted USC and Michigan, respectively, to notch resume-boosting wins and virtually eliminate their opponents from Playoff contention. The top 8 of the AP poll remained unchanged, but we can probably expect some shuffling when the first CFP poll comes out next week. That also happens to be our favorite time of the year, because we can finally analyze a poll that matters. All eyes will be on Penn State-Ohio State this week (as they should be), but there are plenty of other games with the potential to shake things up.
1. Alabama (Last Week: 1)
The Tide disposed of Tennessee as one would expect and now have two weeks to prepare for one of their tougher opponents in LSU. That is speaking in relative terms, of course.
2. Penn State (Last Week: 2)
While I thought Penn State would easily handle Michigan, I didn’t foresee the kind of bloodbath we saw Saturday night. The real test comes now, as the Nittany Lions head to Columbus to face a revenge-minded Ohio State team that still has everything to play for.
3. Georgia (Last Week: 3)
I’m keeping an eye on the cocktail party this week because you never really know what will happen when the Gators and Bulldogs get together. Sure, Georgia should win easily, but this team is due for a game that’s not a walkover.
4. TCU (Last Week: 4)
The Frogs held helpless Kansas to the fewest total yards we’ve seen in decades from a Power 5 team, but they should get a much stiffer test this weekend when they travel to suddenly surging Iowa State. That resume will be looking pretty solid if they can tack that win onto it.
5. Wisconsin (Last Week: 5)
It’s hard to believe, but the Badgers strength of schedule will actually get worse over the next two weeks with road trips to Illinois and Indiana - a combined 0-8 in B1G play. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the CFP committee have Wisconsin closer to the edge of the top 10 than the top 4 in its first poll, despite its undefeated record. Their two wins over teams with winning record are 4-3 Northwestern and 4-3 FAU.
6. Ohio State (Last Week: 6)
Interestingly enough, the above criticisms of Wisconsin could also be stated against Ohio State, with the additional note that the Buckeyes actually have tried their hand against a quality opponent and lost by three touchdowns at home. Beating Penn State this Saturday would cure about every ill Ohio State has in that regard, but as it stands now the Buckeyes don’t really have a claim to be higher than about 10th.
7. Clemson (Last Week: 7)
All eyes are on Kelly Bryant as Clemson’s season currently hinges on the health of its starting quarterback. If the Tigers finish the season with one loss, it’s hard to imagine their resume wouldn’t be deserving of a Playoff spot. But they will need a healthy Bryant, coupled with better effort all around, to do that. This team needs to get back to taking every opponent seriously.
8. Miami (Last Week: 8)
Miami’s last three wins have come by a total of 13 points, so the Hurricanes are certainly walking a fine line. This week’s bout with the embarrassment that is North Carolina should give them a break from having to squeak out wins, but the back-to-back home dates with Virginia Tech and Notre Dame that follow should truly test their mettle.
9. Notre Dame (Last Week: 13)
The Irish made quite the statement in a 49-14 thrashing of Playoff pretender Southern Cal to start their tough second half of the season. The gauntlet continues with No. 14 NC State coming to town. If Notre Dame can knock off the Wolfpack, that would likely give them three wins over ranked teams and garner a lot of love in the first CFP poll. There is a case for them to be ranked higher in this poll as well.
10. Oklahoma (Last Week: 9)
The Sooners managed to pull out yet another one-score game against Kansas State, but allowing 34.5 points per game in their last four is troubling considering their next three opponents are Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and TCU. I would be amazed if they emerge from that unscathed.
11. Oklahoma State (Last Week: 10)
Even more fortunate this week were the Cowboys, who needed an inexplicable Texas interception in overtime to escape Austin with a 13-10 win. Their stretch run is nothing to scoff at either, and finishing with just one loss would be quite the task.
12. Washington (Last Week: 12)
Southern Cal’s loss was a huge blow to the Pac 12’s Playoff chances, as Washington and Washington State are the only teams left with a realistic chance to make it. They play each other to close the season, which guarantees the elimination of one, and both still have to play Stanford. Even if one makes it through the regular season with just one loss, the specter of a Pac 12 Championship matchup with USC still looms. And even then, there’s no guarantee a one-loss Pac 12 team would have the clout to make the four-team field.
13. Virginia Tech (Last Week: 14)
If you can’t find a quality opponent, the next best thing to do is massacre a non-quality opponent. The Hokies blasted hapless North Carolina 59-7 and still control their own destiny in the ACC Coastal.
14. NC State (Last Week: 16)
The Wolfpack will have their chance in the next two weeks to prove how for real they are. Notre Dame is coming off an emotional win and could be vulnerable, but odds are they won’t be taking upstart NC State lightly. A road win there would legitimize the Wolfpack like nothing else they have accomplished to this point. Regardless of how that goes, the following matchup with Clemson could go a long way toward determining the ACC Atlantic winner.
15. Washington State (Last Week: 15)
For what it’s worth, Wazzu probably has a better resume than its in-state rival Huskies (if you can look past the embarrassing 34-point loss two Cal two weeks) and could potentially warrant a higher ranking in a Playoff-type poll. But splitting hairs at this point is needless. Either one of the two will win out and give the Pac 12 a shot at the Playoff, or they won’t.
16. Michigan State (Last Week: 18)
While nobody would accuse the Spartans of being a juggernaut - their four conference wins have each come by one score - they are in the same position as Penn State and Ohio State in that they control their own destiny for not only the B1G championship, but in all likelihood a Playoff berth as well. But back-to-back games against the aforementioned twosome in the coming weeks will decide whether they can factor into either.
17. South Florida (Last Week: 16)
It’s pretty absurd for the Bulls to be ranked ahead of UCF considering they don’t have a single win over a team with a winning record, whereas the the Knights have already taken down arguably the two best teams in the AAC’s West Division (Memphis and Navy). It would frankly be surprising if UCF is not ranked above South Florida in the first Playoff poll next week - and by a notable margin.
18. UCF (Last Week: 20)
19. Auburn (Last Week: 21)
Auburn got back to business by stomping Arkansas, and the Tigers are still not out of the Playoff race despite their devastating loss to LSU. Their margin for error is now zero, however.
20. Stanford (Last Week: 22)
Stanford has interestingly been dubbed a “problem” for its own conference, but it is with good reason. The Cardinal are in reasonably good position to do what they did in 2015, which is to suffer two losses early in the season then recover to win the Pac 12 - essentially dooming the conference to Playoff exclusion (i.e., beating Washington and/or Washington State). While they could certainly enter the CFP discussion if they finished 11-2, odds would likely not be in their favor.
21. USC (Last Week: 11)
The Trojans are in all likelihood on the outside looking in regarding the Playoff as they have now squandered two of their three opportunities for quality wins and don’t have any more guaranteed opportunities to amass more.
22. West Virginia (Last Week: 23)
I’ve said my piece on West Virginia, and they validated my doubts by nearly coughing up a 25-point lead against winless Baylor.
23. LSU (Last Week: 24)
The Tigers have won three straight since losing to Troy and get a week off before taking their shot at Bama.
24. Memphis (Last Week: 25)
If you didn’t tune in to Memphis’ game against Houston last Thursday, you missed the Tigers turn a 17-0 halftime deficit into a wild 42-38 road win to keep themselves in the driver’s seat in the AAC West.
25. Iowa State (Last Week: NR)
Why not? The Cyclones followed up their win at Oklahoma with two resounding victories and control their destiny in the unpredictable Big XII. Can they pull another shocker when TCU comes to Ames this Saturday?