In four weeks, the four College Football Playoff teams will be revealed.
There should be movement after Week 11. Michigan State, which opened at No. 3 in the initial CFP rankings, is bound to fall after losing 40-29 at Purdue. What will the CFP do with No. 6 Cincinnati now? The Bearcats escaped with a 28-20 victory against Tulsa that featured two goal-line fumbles in the final minutes.
No. 9 Wake Forest lost 58-55 to North Carolina. No. 5 Ohio State had a scare at Nebraska. Even No. 2 Alabama felt the heat from LSU.
Style points were out the door, but that scramble for the top four spots is getting more complicated. Sporting News continues to sort those teams out based on how the contenders should be ranked, even if the CFP committee has other ideas.
So this is not a projection of Tuesday’s ranking; but more our opinion of how it should look. It’s difficult to see a team outside of this top 10 that would warrant serious playoff consideration.
With that our CFP playoff picture:
Four in the College Football Playoff
1. Georgia (9-0)
Remaining schedule: at Tennessee, vs. Charleston Southern, at Georgia Tech
Stetson Bennett threw a 35-yard TD pass to Arian Smith on fourth-and-6 with 42 seconds left in the first quarter, and that erased any inkling of drama in a 43-6 victory against Missouri. Bennett (13 of 19, 255 yards, 2 TDs) continues to command the offense well, and JT Daniels (7 of 11, 82 yards, TD, INT) saw extensive action in relief. It might not matter who is at quarterback. The defense has allowed just 6.6 points per game. Georgia closes out the SEC schedule against Tennessee in Week 11, and an unbeaten regular season might be enough to get in the CFP no matter what happens in Atlanta in the SEC championship game.
2. Alabama (8-1)
Remaining schedule: vs. New Mexico State, vs. Arkansas, at Auburn
LSU had three chances to take the lead in the fourth quarter against the Crimson Tide, but Alabama came up with the stop every time and finished off a 20-14 victory. Bryce Young finished with 302 passing yards for his sixth 300-yard game of the season, and Jameson Williams had 10 catches for 160 yards. Alabama should hold on to the No. 2 spot in the rankings, and all roads to lead to the SEC championship game against Georgia. Alabama can build momentum the next two weeks at home before the Iron Bowl.
3. Oklahoma (9-0)
Remaining schedule: at Baylor, vs. Iowa State, at Oklahoma State
We are aware the committee made a glaring statement by putting the Sooners at No. 8 in the initial rankings. This is where they should be ranked. Oklahoma remains unbeaten after a bye week, and despite concerns about five one-score victories against FBS schools, the Sooners still have a +168 point differential. Caleb Williams has a 203.7 passer rating, too, and the offense averages 48.5 points per game since he took over at quarterback. He is a difference-maker on this team, and that correction in the rankings is coming.
4. Cincinnati (9-0)
Remaining schedule: at South Florida, vs. SMU, at East Carolina
The Bearcats survived Tulsa in a wild finish at home. The Bearcats won 28-20, and needed the help of a goal-line fumble on fourth down in the final minute to seal the victory. Star running back Jerome Ford exited with a left leg injury, and Cincinnati did not score the style points many are looking for against that American Athletic Conference. The good news? Cincinnati didn’t lose. Oregon likely will climb to No. 3 in the actual rankings, but the Michigan State loss combined with Ohio State’s ho-hum performance against Nebraska does not hurt. The path to the playoff remains open, especially if Notre Dame keeps winning, but the next two teams will need another loss.
5. Oregon (8-1)
Remaining schedule: vs. Washington State, at Utah, vs. Oregon State
The Ducks’ grip on the final CFP spot is tenuous. The victory against Ohio State is recognized, but that loss to Stanford is becoming a bigger eye-sore given the Cardinals’ 3-6 record. Oregon still took care of business at Washington with a 26-16 victory in a key Pac-12 North showdown. Running back Travis Dye was the star with 28 carrires for 211 yards, and quarterback Anthony Brown (63 yards, TD) continues to be a factor in the running game. Oregon still remains the best bet to win the Pac-12, but Cincinnati also has a top-10 victory and hasn’t lost yet. This debate is far from over.
6. Ohio State (8-1)
Remaining schedule: vs. Purdue, vs. Michigan State, at Michigan
The Buckeyes may climb to the No. 4 spot in the actual rankings, and they can safely keep themselves into the top four by winning a fifth straight Big Ten championship. Should Ohio State be concerned after a 26-17 scare at Nebraska? C.J. Stroud passed for 405 yards and two TDs, but he also threw two picks in a pass-happy attack. The Buckeyes had nearly a 2-to-1 pass/run ratio. The close call took away from a breakout peformance from Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who had 15 catches for 240 yards and a TD with Garrett Wilson out. That’s back-to-back uneven performances for the Buckeyes, and they will try to get back on track at home against Purdue.
Four to watch
7. Michigan State (8-1)
Remaining schedule: vs. Maryland, at Ohio State, vs. Penn State
Purdue strikes again. The Spartans are the latest top-five team to lose after a 40-29 loss to the Boilermakers. The Spartans’ pass defense was exposed against Purdue. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell passed for 536 yards and three TDs, and now Michigan State must win out in the Big Ten East. The Spartans have the top-10 victory against Michigan in hand, but the playoff hopes will come down to the trip to Ohio State on Nov. 20. Michigan State pulled that off in 2015. They will be heavier underdogs this time around.
8. Michigan (8-1)
Remaining schedule: at Penn State, vs. Maryland, at Ohio State
Michigan bounced back from the Michigan State collapse with a convincing 29-7 victory against Indiana. The Spartans’ loss against Purdue was a bonus, and if Ohio State beats Michigan State then the Wolverines are back in business in the Big Ten East. Blake Corum left with an injury in the first quarter, but Hassan Haskins stepped up with 168 rushing yards and a TD. Cade McNamara played mistake-free football with 168 yards and two TDs, and the Wolverines’ defense got its swagger back against the Hoosiers. Will that travel to Penn State, where Michigan has lost its last two games?
9. Notre Dame (8-1)
Remaining schedule: at Virginia, vs. Georgia Tech, at Stanford
The Irish continue to be the companion piece to Cincinnati’s playoff run. Notre Dame defeated Navy in a 34-6 blowout; the Irish’s fourth straight victory since the loss to the Bearcats. Jack Coan finished 23 of 29 for 269 yards and a TD, and Kyren Williams rushed for 95 yards and a pair of TDs. Notre Dame’s early-season victories against Purdue and Wisconsin look better now, but the independent status and lack of a conference championship game remain a problem along with that loss to Cincinnati.
10. Oklahoma State (8-1)
Remaining schedule: vs. TCU, at Texas Tech, vs. Oklahoma
The Cowboys might be the end line for teams that acutally have a chance to make the CFP. Oklahoma State won a tricky road game at West Virignia 24-3, and they have piled up three victories against teams that were ranked at the time in Big 12 play. If not for the slipup against Iowa State, the Cowboys might be ranked back-to-back with rival Oklahoma. The key the last two weeks is a defense that allowed three points the last two games and limited the Mountaineers to 133 yards.
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