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Playoff Picture: Week 9

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We take a look at the College Football Playoff poll each week and break down the path to the Playoff.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Louisiana State
LSU could rock the Playoff picture with an upset of No. 1 Alabama on Saturday night.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The first edition of this year’s College Football Playoff poll has finally arrived, and not a moment too soon. It was a week full of upheaval in the top 25, not necessarily for teams of consequence, but for the also-rans ranked outside of the top 10. In fact, eight ranked teams were knocked off by unranked opponents as we continue to see week after week that there may just not really be that many “good” teams. We weren’t without a couple contenders (pretenders) being essentially eliminated from contention, however, as Texas and Florida went down. It’s time for the real race to the Playoff to begin.

NOTE: We will only provide individual breakdowns for teams that have a reasonable shot to make the Playoff.

***“SOR” denotes strength of record
***“SOS” denotes strength of schedule

1. Alabama (8-0; SOR: 4; SOS: 56)

It’s no surprise the committee dubbed the Crimson Tide the nation’s top team, as they are likely the only team who has consistently passed their “eye test” despite being able to claim just one quality win (Texas A&M). You could certainly argue that Clemson has the superior resume, but that will be a moot point when Alabama presumably notches a road win over the committee’s No. 3 team on Saturday.

2. Clemson (8-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 29)

The Tigers are the clear No. 2 team and likely won’t have to worry about dropping any lower as long as they continue to win. It was interesting to see that Clemson has three top-25 wins in the committee’s eyes, so there may have actually been some debate between the top two teams.

3. LSU (7-1; SOR: 3; SOS: 5)

Not shocking at all to see the committee tab the Tigers and their superior strength of schedule ahead of an undefeated Notre Dame that honestly hasn’t looked impressive in several weeks. LSU has its work cut out for it this week, however, with Alabama coming to town, and it’s hard to see the offensively challenged Tigers keeping up.

4. Notre Dame: (8-0; SOR: 2; SOS: 46)

The Irish snuck in the top 4 with their undefeated record, but this team is desperately hanging on to its Week One win over Michigan to justify its legitimacy. They control their own destiny for a berth in all likelihood, but the notion that they can drop a game and still have a decent chance seems like a pipedream. Wins over Stanford and Virginia Tech just aren’t worth much, and Notre Dame hasn’t made the kind of compelling on-field case that Alabama and Clemson have recently.

5. Michigan (7-1; SOR: 7; SOS: 18)

There was likely some spirited debate between the Wolverines and No. 6 Georgia for this spot, but Michigan has a slightly better collection of wins and a much less lopsided top-5 loss than the Bulldogs. With Penn State and Ohio State left on the schedule to bolster their schedule metrics, it’s logical to assume the Woverines control their own Playoff destiny.

6. Georgia (7-1; SOR: 6; SOS: 26)

The only other team outside the top 4 who can claim some semblance of control would be the Bulldogs, who wouldn’t miss the field with a 12-1 mark as the SEC champion. They have a top-10 showdown at Kentucky this week and could easily run the regular-season table if they can hold serve there, but the issue is they would be reliant on an SEC title win over a clearly superior Alabama team or (less likely) an LSU team that has already beat them handily.

7. Oklahoma (7-1; SOR: 10; SOS: 38)

Considering how down everyone was on Oklahoma after its loss to Texas, the Sooners are actually relatively well-positioned for a repeat Playoff appearance. They have no margin for error, of course, and will have to win on the road at West Virginia and win the Big XII championship in the final two weeks, but aside from that they basically just need one Notre Dame loss to open a path.

8. Washington State (7-1; SOR: 9; SOS: 60)

Color me a bit shocked that the committee chose to slot the Cougars this high. It’s not so much that it’s undeserved, but more that it’s hard to believe they have this much respect for Wazzu given the level to which they downgraded the rest of the Pac 12. Washington State’s issue is still mobility, as there is little opportunity left for the kind of quality wins they would need to offset their horribly weak, very Pac-12ish non-conference schedule. This team is positioned about as well as it could have hoped, but it still needs more chaos than any of these other one-loss teams to actually threaten to make the field.

9. Kentucky (7-1; SOR: 5; SOS: 27)

The Wildcats kept their fairy-tale season alive with a miraculous 15-14 win at Missouri on the game’s final play in a game that included a 51-minute stretch where they didn’t score a single point. Despite Kentucky’s very legitimate defense, it’s hard to believe it has the offensive firepower to beat Georgia in a de facto Playoff elimination game this Saturday where the winner clinches a spot in the SEC Championship Game. But I suppose crazier things have happened.

10. Ohio State (7-1; SOR: 8; SOS: 62)

We know better than to rule the Buckeyes out of this thing, but there is a bunch of work to do to recover from the thrashing Purdue gave them two weeks ago. They get a crack at Michigan to end the season, but do we even trust them to get that far without stumbling again?

11. Florida (6-2; SOR: 11; SOS: 17)

Anybody with eyes knew Florida was living on borrowed time as a supposed contender, and Georgia promptly put the Gators out of their misery.

12. UCF (7-0; SOR: 13; SOS: 127)

The Knights debut significantly higher in the CFP poll than they did a season ago, but the questions remains ... how high can they actually climb? Their schedule is backloaded, so there are opportunities for wins over teams like South Florida, Cincinnati and Houston (all currently 7-1). Sweeping all those teams could certainly make things a little more interesting than last season with regard to the committee’s view on UCF, which is clearly receiving some subconscious respect for its 13-0 season a year ago. Still, you would have to think it would take a large collection of two-loss Power 5 teams to open the door for legitimate discussion, and even then it’s hard to see them pulling the trigger on putting the Knights in the field.

13. West Virginia (6-1; SOR: 12; SOS: 63)

In the first two years of the Playoff, we saw teams climb from as low as No. 17 in the initial poll to make the field. The one team left with the possibility to boost themselves in a similar way is the Mountaineers. It’s not likely West Virginia will run its late-season gauntlet that could include Texas, Oklahoma and a Big XII Championship opponent (probably either the Longhorns or Sooners again), but if they do, they would be knocking on the door.

The rest of the poll:

14. Penn State (6-2; SOR: 18; SOS: 30)
15. Utah (6-2; SOR: 15; SOS: 14)
16. Iowa (6-2; SOR: 16; SOS: 23)
17. Texas (6-2; SOR: 14; SOS: 13)
18. Mississippi State (6-2; SOR: 24; SOS: 15)
19. Syracuse (6-2; SOR: 33; SOS: 74)
20. Texas A&M (5-3; SOR: 17; SOS: 19)
21. NC State (5-3; SOR: 19; SOS: 32)
22. Boston College (6-2; SOR: 27; SOS: 67)
23. Fresno State (7-1; SOR: 31; SOS: 105)
24. Iowa State (4-3; SOR: 21; SOS: 1)
25. Virginia (6-2; SOR: 30; SOS: 61)

BIGGEST WINNERS: Georgia, Washington State

BIGGEST LOSERS: Texas, Florida, Iowa

OTHER NOTES:

— The ACC seems overvalued by the committee, particularly Syracuse. Not that Clemson is complaining, but it was interesting to see four additional ACC teams make the cut essentially at the expense of strong 7-1 Group of Five teams like Utah State and Houston. Now, the list of credible alternatives isn’t exactly strong, but it’s still interesting to see the much-maligned conference given this kind of credence from the people that actually matter.

— Iowa State has a nice win over West Virginia, but having a 4-3 team make the cut is a rough look. It speaks to the parity (read: lack of actual quality) in the bottom half or third of the poll mentioned above.

— The committee, either purposefully or subconsciously, is giving UCF credit for its season a year ago. The committee showed no respect for any Group of 5 team in this first poll, with the exception of the Knights, who have no more the resume they did last season when they debuted at No. 18 behind a slew of two-loss Power 5 teams. This year, they find themselves at No. 12 ahead of most of those same type of teams.

— What a Saturday of football we have coming up. Settle into the couch and see below.

GAMES TO WATCH:

No. 6 Georgia @ No. 9 Kentucky, 3:30 p.m.
No. 13 West Virginia @ No. 17 Texas, 3:30 p.m.
No. 14 Penn State @ No. 5 Michigan, 3:45 p.m.
No. 4 Notre Dame @ Northwestern, 7:15 p.m.
No. 1 Alabama @ No. 3 LSU, 8 p.m.