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College Football Playoff Watch: Here’s how the top 4 should look

Expect Michigan to be in the top five when the first set of playoff rankings are released.

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Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

After nine weeks of college football action, we are finally ready to see the first edition of this year’s College Football Playoff rankings, which will be released Tuesday at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN.

There is a clear group of top teams as November approaches, and Michigan is one of them.

Before the rankings are released, here’s a look at the cases for and against eight teams in playoff contention, ordered by their likelihood of appearing in the top four this week. (We’re using this week’s AP poll for rankings of opponents.)

Alabama (8-0)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 68

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 68

Last Week: Bye

This Week: at No. 4 LSU

Best Wins: vs. No. 25 Texas A&M

Losses: None

Case For: Alabama has looked unstoppable so far this season. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is the Heisman Trophy favorite, throwing for more than 2,000 yards, 25 touchdowns and zero interceptions. This week’s game against LSU may be the only game that gives the Crimson Tide a challenge the rest of the way.

Case Against: There’s really not much of a case against Alabama. It hasn’t played anybody of relevance yet, but this changes this week.

Consensus: This one is easy, Alabama will be No. 1 when the rankings are released.

Clemson (8-0)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 71

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 34

Last Week: Won 59-10 at Florida State

This Week: vs. Louisville

Best Wins: at No. 25 Texas A&M, vs. No. 22 Syracuse

Losses: None

Case For: Clemson, like Bama, is loaded with talent and has a perfect 8-0 record. It has two ranked wins, which is more than the Crimson Tide have.

Case Against: Clemson struggled against both Texas A&M and Syracuse, nearly losing both games. Give credit for holding things together, but there’s a little vulnerability here. The difference in strength of schedule ratings is odd, but with a weak schedule ahead, playing in the ACC will only hurt the Tigers.

Consensus: The Tigers should check in at No. 2. The dominance Clemson has displayed against the rest of its schedule could be enough to keep it ahead of Notre Dame, which struggled in more games.

Notre Dame (8-0)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 55

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 45

Last Week: Won 44-22 vs. Navy

This Week: at Northwestern

Best Wins: vs. No. 5 Michigan

Losses: None

Case For: Ever since changing quarterbacks, Notre Dame has looked impressive. Its win over Michigan is arguably the best in college football and ensures the Irish land in the top four.

Case Against: The wins we all thought were good at the time, like Stanford and at Virginia Tech, all of a sudden don’t look all that great anymore. Both teams fell out of the rankings and leave Notre Dame with only the one ranked win. The schedule has been decent, and Notre Dame will have to travel to a surging Northwestern next week. It’s quite simple, if it wins out, it will be in. If the Fighting Irish lose a game, they will likely be out since they have no conference title to fall back on.

Consensus: Notre Dame should be ranked No. 3. It’s essentially a coin flip between Clemson and Notre Dame. We will learn a lot about how to committee values each team’s schedule and best wins in the first set of rankings.

LSU (7-1)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 6

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 6

Last Week: Bye

This Week: vs. No. 1 Alabama

Best Wins: vs. No. 6 Georgia, vs. No. 21 Mississippi State

Losses: at No. 13 Florida

Case For: LSU has the best strength of schedule of the contenders, having played five teams that were ranked at the time of the game. That has since dropped to three with the tumbling of Miami and Auburn, but the resume is still strong. LSU beat Georgia handily, and has the opportunity to knock off top-ranked Alabama this week. That’d give the Tigers the best pair of wins in the country, bar none.

Case Against: LSU was fortunate to play Georgia and Mississippi State at home, where it plays much better. It gets lucky again getting Bama at home. There’s not a whole lot to be picky about when examining LSU. A loss ends any chance LSU has to make the playoff, a win hurts Michigan and increases the odds the SEC gets two teams in.

Consensus: LSU should round out the top four, but don’t be shocked if the committee bumps the Tigers ahead of either Clemson or Notre Dame. The strength of schedule and quality wins are big.

Michigan (7-1)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 25

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 23

Last Week: Bye

This Week: vs. No. 14 Penn State

Best Wins: vs. Wisconsin, at Michigan State

Losses: at No. 3 Notre Dame

Case For: Michigan has heated up over the last several weeks, blowing out Wisconsin and topping rival MSU. The defense is ranked No. 1 in the nation and has embarrassed two quality teams in a row. Right now, it leads the Big Ten.

Case Against: The loss to Notre Dame stings, but with how well the Irish have played, it hasn’t hurt U-M a lot. The strength of schedule is solid, but at this stage, what is hurting Michigan is the rest of the Big Ten. U-M currently doesn’t have any wins over ranked opponents thanks to Wisconsin and MSU dropping out in the last two weeks. Win out and Michigan is in, but beating Penn State is a great start. Wolverine fans should root for Wisconsin and MSU to re-enter the rankings and for Penn State to stay ranked after losing to U-M. Its resume needs to stay stronger than the Big 12 champion and the second-best SEC team.

Consensus: Michigan should be No. 5. Don’t see how it could be higher, and Georgia/Oklahoma hasn’t shown enough to pass the Wolverines.

Georgia (7-1)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 46

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 28

Last Week: Won 36-17 vs. No. 13 Florida

This Week: at No. 11 Kentucky

Best Wins: vs. No. 13 Florida

Losses: at No. 4 LSU

Case For: The Bulldogs bounced back with a big win over Florida last week and control their own destiny in the race for the SEC East. The division title will be on the line this week against a Kentucky team that is still surprising. Georgia has the talent and could have the opportunity to make the playoff if it can win out and beat Alabama in the SEC Championship.

Case Against: Georgia didn’t look good against LSU and has been a little underwhelming this season against a very average schedule. Kentucky is the only ranked team that remains on its schedule, making it all that more important.

Consensus: Expect to see Georgia at No. 6.

Ohio State (7-1)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 64

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 57

Last Week: Bye

This Week: vs. Nebraska

Best Wins: at No. 14 Penn State

Losses: at Purdue

Case For: Ohio State has a prolific offense and a coach that’s been here before. Win out and it will still make the playoff.

Case Against: The blowout loss to Purdue was a bad one. Ohio State has struggled in games throughout the season and has never looked all that impressive, despite the wins. Now, OSU needs to beat Michigan and win the Big Ten to find itself in the top four. OSU has a better win than Oklahoma and a better strength of schedule, but its loss is much worse.

Consensus: Both Ohio State and Oklahoma have its athletic directors on the selection committee, which will benefit both teams. It could go either way, as the resumes are quite similar, but for now I’ll slot Ohio State at No. 7.

Oklahoma (7-1)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 80

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 36

Last Week: Won 51-14 vs. Kansas State

This Week: at Texas Tech

Best Wins: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Losses: vs. No. 15 Texas

Case For: The Sooners are tied for first in the Big 12 which means they’re really here by default. The 7-1 record is nice, but that is about all they have.

Case Against: Oklahoma has a brutal strength of schedule and doesn’t have a single win over a ranked team. In fact, only two teams it has beaten even have a winning record: Army and Iowa State. The conference is weak and to make matters worse, Texas lost this week. For Oklahoma to make the playoff, it likely would’ve needed a rematch with Texas in the conference title game. Now, it has to rely on West Virginia, who it plays in the final game of the regular season. Oklahoma is the only team listed that isn’t automatically in if it wins the rest of its games.

Consensus: Oklahoma is a long-shot to make the playoff given the current state of the top 10. I’ll pencil the Sooners in at No. 8, but don’t be surprised if Kentucky jumps them.