clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Eyes on the Nation: Projecting the College Football Playoff at the halfway mark

New, comments

11 teams remain undefeated, and several one-loss teams are lurking in wait for one of them to fall.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Halfway through the regular season, here are the 11 undefeated teams in college football:

  • No. 1 Alabama (6-0)
  • No. 2 Georgia (6-0)
  • No. 3 Ohio State (6-0)
  • No. 4 Clemson (6-0)
  • No. 5 Notre Dame (6-0)
  • No. 6 West Virginia (5-0)
  • No. 10 Central Florida (5-0)
  • No. 19 Colorado (5-0)
  • No. 20 North Carolina State (5-0)
  • No. 23 South Florida (5-0)
  • No. 25 Cincinnati (6-0)

If things hold, the two top playoff seeds are relatively easy: the SEC Champion and OSU. Clemson and West Virginia would tussle for a Power Five conference champion spot, while there’s little doubt an unbeaten Irish team would be denied a chance at the title.

When does college football ever play out predictably, though? Here’s a Maize n Brew playoff projection for the halfway mark, as well as potential one-loss contenders lying in wait. (Besides Michigan).

NO. 1 ALABAMA

Nick Saban has traded a stifling defense for the best offense of his tenure in Tuscaloosa.

The Crimson Tide have stampeded opponents for 56 points a game, good for top marks in the country. The advanced stats back this up, as well. Behind sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s 1495 passing yards, the offense only trails Oklahoma’s No. 1 S&P unit.

While still solid, Alabama has slid to No. 18 in defensive S&P with eight new returning starters. Most recently, 1-5 Arkansas racked up 405 yards in a 65-31 loss.

Only two teams figure to test Saban’s latest title contender: No. 13 LSU in Baton Rouge and likely Georgia in the SEC Championship. Despite a seven-game winning streak over the Tigers, the Tide’s average margin of victory in Baton Rouge is seven points.

Regarding the Bulldogs, Saban is 11-0 against former assistants, including the 26-23 comeback victory in overtime against Kirby Smart in last year’s College Football Playoff finale.

It’s simply never smart to bet against ‘Bama.

NO. 2 NOTRE DAME

Notre Dame is a lock for the playoff, as things stand. I can see your eye-rolling from here, Wolverine fans.

Brian Kelly removed Brandon Wimbush after four picks in three games, and started throwing the (Ian) Book at teams. A top-5 S&P defense now combines with a burgeoning offense that ripped Stanford and Virginia Tech for 83 points total.

The rest of the schedule sets up nicely. Pitt is a one-dimensional rushing attack, while Navy fields its worst team of the Ken Niumatalolo era. Florida State and Southern Cal are enduring years of transition, the former due to a new coach and the latter due to youth.

A road trip to Northwestern, as Michigan fans know, is no easy task. In fact, the Wildcats beat Notre Dame in South Bend in 2014.

The only other threat is Dino Babers and Syracuse Nov. 17 in Yankee Stadium. The Orange pushed Clemson to the brink two weeks ago, but followed that with a loss at Pitt.

There is absolutely no way an unbeaten Irish team is denied a place at the table. With wins over a rising Michigan team to go with the recent blowouts, they have the necessary big wins on the current resume.

NO. 3 CLEMSON

One of the undefeated’s is losing in two weeks. North Carolina State visits Clemson in a ACC Atlantic elimination game Oct. 20.

The Wolfpack have struggled to put away mediocre ACC teams such as Boston College — without A.J. Dillon — and Virginia. They may have an NFL quarterback in Ryan Finley, but he’s not breaking the six-game Textile Bowl losing streak.

Meanwhile, former five-star quarterback Trevor Lawrence infamously pushed out Kelly Bryant. After scuffling with the Orange, he spearheaded a 63-point drubbing over Wake Forest in Winston-Salem.

The defensive line alone is good enough to secure the conference. Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Bryant and Christian Wilkins anchor the nation’s No. 4 S&P defense.

This includes averaging 3.33 sacks a game, as all four will play on Sundays.

Much like Notre Dame, the schedule down the stretch is Charmin’ soft. When your toughest remaining regular season matchup is home against 4-1 Duke, you’re sitting pretty. The Coastal Division foe the Tigers would see is either No. 16 Miami — survivors against mediocre Florida State — or Virginia Tech — losers to Old Dominion.

This team’s wart almost cost them against Syracuse, but that might have been the wake-up call required.

NO. 4 WASHINGTON (5-1)

A one-loss team from the second-worst power conference makes it? Over a Big Ten team??

Also, a team that just scraped by winless UCLA 31-24 last Saturday? What?

The Huskies will have a superficially convincing resume by the end of the season. They get two, possibly three, ranked opponents down the stretch in No. 17 Oregon (in Eugene), No. 19 Colorado and Stanford. While the Buffaloes have to beat USC in Los Angeles to maintain that ranking, they’re ranked right now.

Washington has the upper hand on the first two teams. The last two games against the Ducks were 38-3 and 70-21 victories, and the last two over the Buffaloes were 37-10 and 41-10 in the 2016 Pac-12 Championship.

While Stanford triumphed last year, they are reeling without Bryce Love, who’s nursing a balky ankle. Utah pounded the Cardinal in Palo Alto 40-21, and with Myles Gaskins toting the rock, the Huskies should do the same in Seattle Nov. 3.

With the South producing a nobody for Santa Clara, Chris Petersen’s team will have 12 wins, with a handful of them ranked, a conference title and an understandable loss in the opener to Auburn in Atlanta.

This is part one. The rest requires help. The Big XII has yet to produce an undefeated team since the start of the playoff format, so West Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma will likely beat each other up.

For those pointing to Ohio State, they needed bad quarterback play from Wilton Speight and John O’Korn to survive against Michigan the last two seasons. With Shea Patterson starting to blossom under Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines may finally have all the pieces necessary to knock off the Buckeyes.

A late loss like that, plus missing out on Indianapolis, would cripple the conference’s playoff chances.

THE MAYBES

WEST VIRGINIA, TEXAS, OKLAHOMA

These teams are looking at a late-season hoedown/hootenanny.

Here’s the narrative on the Mountaineers: They’re undefeated, and combine Heisman contender Will Grier with the best defense of the Dana Holgersen era.

The problem is that defense is only No. 47 nationally, and has yet to face the offensive gauntlets of Texas or Oklahoma.

For those who watched the Red River Rivalry last weekend, the Longhorns almost blew a three-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter. That signals a defense that’s not ready for prime time, even though quarterback Sam Ehlinger lifted them out of the fire.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, just fired Bob Stoops’ brother Mike at defensive coordinator. The change to former East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeil might work long-term, but TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia are licking their chops against a transitioning defense.

Without a dominant team, they all might get left out.

OHIO STATE

Explanation above. This team will be 11-0 heading into The Game. The only thing standing in their way is a Michigan team slowly forming into a complete unit.

Furthermore, Greg Schiano is having a Too Many Cooks situation at defensive coordinator with Alex Grinch — formerly the Washington State coordinator under Mike Leach.

This is the defensive board room in Columbus.

This is allowing teams like Oregon State, Indiana and TCU to bomb the secondary.

Obviously, Dwayne Haskins is a revelation at quarterback, and there are tons of weapons from K.J. Hill to Parris Campbell. If Ohio State wins out, they’re clearly a playoff team.

UCF

The defending national champions have to be in the discussion, right?

The Knights face No. 23 South Florida in Tampa, No. 25 Cincinnati and likely Houston in the AAC title game to close out the year. No Group of Five team has survived two consecutive seasons without a loss, so a repeat performance from 2017 should place them in the conversation.

Would the committee deny a one-loss SEC division champ a spot for them?

MICHIGAN ROOTING INTEREST, WEEK 7

  • MEMPHIS (4-2) against No. 10 UCF (3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2)

Michigan trails two spots behind the Knights. The Tigers can score on anyone, like last year in the AAC title game when they exploded for 55 against the fighting Scott Frosts.

  • IOWA STATE (2-3) against No. 6 West Virginia (7 p.m., FS1)

The Cyclones pushed Oklahoma in Ames in mid-September, so this wouldn’t be too bizarre. Michigan would pass the Mountaineers, and the Big Ten would breathe easier knowing there’s no undefeated Big XII squad.

  • NO. 2 GEORGIA at No. 13 LSU (5-1) (3:30 p.m., CBS)

A win for Cajun Hoke would launch his team ahead of Harbaugh’s.

  • NO. 8 PENN STATE (4-1) against Michigan State (3-2) (3:30 p.m., BTN)

Michigan still has an outside shot at the playoff. The Wolverines want a Penn State win to be as valuable as possible. How many losses can the Spartans take this year before the grumbling about Dantonio builds up to deafening roars?