We’re just one week away from the debut of the College Football Playoff poll, and just when the picture seemed to be taking shape, everything became unclear yet again. But honestly if you’re not expecting chaos, you must not watch much college football. As we noted last week, a clear-cut top four teams is always going to be hard to come by, much less a tidy group of four undefeateds. That minuscule possibility went by the wayside Saturday night when previously unbeaten Ohio State was smacked around by Purdue to the tune of a 49-20 loss in West Lafayette. That leaves just Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame unbeaten and presumably ahead of the rest, but as far as the committee slotting the plethora of one-loss teams, good luck.
Clemson - The Tigers had probably milked their win over Texas A&M for all it’s worth as far as resume-boosting, and they made the most of a ranked NC State team visiting Death Valley in a 41-7 shellacking that re-asserted the Tigers as once again the biggest threat to No. 1 Alabama. Trevor Lawrence threw for more than 300 yards in his definitive coming out party, and the Clemson defense stifled a Wolfpack passing attack that most thought would present some problems for the Tigers’ secondary.
Michigan - The Wolverines’ 21-7 win at Michigan State looks good on its own, but when you note the fact that they held the Spartans to less than 100 total yards and Brian Lewerke to an unfathomable 5-of-25 passing, the performance looks all the more impressive. Could this be the year Jim Harbaugh finally gets Michigan over the hump? His team could be headed for another winner-take-all type clash with Ohio State for the Big Ten’s East division, a la 2016.
Washington State - The dust has settled on the first half of the Pac 12 season, and there is but one team left that can claim to have any sort of chance at making the Playoff: The Washington State Cougars. Is it likely that they do? Of course not. Heck, it’s more likely they will suffer two or three more losses and cede control of the Pac 12 North back to Stanford, Washington, or Oregon. But in the snapshot of the moment, the Cougars are the conference’s last fleeting hope for a Playoff participant after their 34-20 win over the Ducks on Saturday night.
LSU - Nobody expected Mississippi State to give LSU much trouble because the Bulldogs are about as bad an offensive team as you’ll find, and the Tigers took care of their last remaining hurdle before their Nov. 3 showdown with Alabama. We still don’t think they can hang with the Crimson Tide, but it will certainly be Alabama’s toughest test to date.
Ohio State - Honestly, we were tempted to just give this entire category solely to Ohio State. We hear year after year about how great the Buckeyes are, only to find every time they’re as flawed as they ever were. Last season it was a 31-point beat-down at Iowa; this time it’s a 29-point whooping at Purdue. Sunrise, sunset. This team has two of the best running backs in the country, but they can’t run the ball. Their defense had already been exposed by the likes of Indiana and Minnesota before the dam broke against the Boilermakers. Dwayne Haskins threw for 470 yards, but it took him 73 pass attempts to get there. Of course, the Buckeyes will probably rip off a few wins and get right back into the good graces of the national media, but we will all know the reality of the situation. This is not a national-champion-caliber team, and it will eventually be proven again, if this weekend’s game somehow wasn’t enough evidence.
Oregon - Just a week after the Ducks established themselves as the Pac 12’s “last hope”, they promptly handed that title over to Washington State in a loss where Oregon incredibly trailed 27-0 at halftime. The Ducks are now firmly out of the Playoff race, and unless Washington State runs the table, the entire Pac 12 is too.
Could we see a darkhorse emerge? We like to think the four Playoff participants will all reside toward the top of the poll when it makes its debut next Tuesday night, and while that is the likely scenario, it hasn’t always been the case. Ohio State went from No. 16 in the first CFP poll to winning the national title in 2014. Oklahoma began at No. 15 in 2015 and made the Playoff, while Michigan State fell to 13th before climbing back to No. 3 that same year. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to see a team left for dead sneak into the field with just the right amount of chaos. We’ll disregard known possibilities like Oklahoma and Ohio State to note some real darkhorses, such as Kentucky, West Virginia, and Iowa — along with the aforementioned Washington State. Are those teams likely to make a run? No, of course not. But they are teams that could be ranked in the mid-teens that still have just one loss and control their own destinies and have opportunities for big wins. Until they lose again, they’re still in the running.
GAMES TO WATCH:
No. 2 Clemson @ Florida State, Noon
No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 9 Florida, 3:30 p.m.
No. 18 Iowa @ No. 17 Penn State, 3:30 p.m.
No. 14 Washington State @ No. 24 Stanford, 7 p.m.
No. 6 Texas @ Oklahoma State