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College Football Playoff Watch: Michigan still on pace to play Alabama

The top eight teams won again last week, which means there won’t be much change near the top of the rankings.

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NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

A top-10 team finally suffered a loss, which means at least one team (hello, West Virginia) will drop, but the top eight teams were all victorious again over the weekend. There won’t be much, if any, movement among those top eight teams, which puts Michigan on track to face Alabama if its wins out.

Before the rankings come out, 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 (11-0)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 48

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 61

Last Week: Won 50-17 vs. The Citadel

This Week: vs. Auburn

Best Wins: at No. 8 LSU, vs. No. 22 Mississippi State

Losses: None

Case For: Alabama has taken care of business every step of the way and has a great road win over LSU.

Case Against: It’s a disgrace the SEC allows its teams to schedule FCS opponents, especially in November. Give Citadel some credit, it hung in there taking a 10-10 tie to halftime. It’s the most competitive any team has looked against Bama this season.

Consensus: Alabama will remain No. 1 when the rankings are released.

Clemson (11-0)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 85

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 49

Last Week: Won 35-6 vs. Duke

This Week: vs. South Carolina

Best Wins: vs. No. 19 Syracuse, at Boston College, vs. NC State

Losses: None

Case For: Clemson took care of Duke after a slow start and continues to win the games it should.

Case Against: The strength of schedule is quite bad. The ACC has been very weak this season and Clemson is down to just one win over a ranked opponent. A loss to either South Carolina or Pitt in the conference championship would eliminate the Tigers from contention.

Consensus: The Tigers will stay at No. 2.

Notre Dame (11-0)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 56

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 47

Last Week: Won 36-3 vs. No. 19 Syracuse

This Week: at USC

Best Wins: vs. No. 4 Michigan, at No. 20 Northwestern, vs. No. 19 Syracuse

Losses: None

Case For: Notre Dame thrashed Syracuse in a game many thought would expose the Irish. Instead, the opposite happened. Notre Dame is a win away from essentially clinching a spot in the top four.

Case Against: Notre Dame’s schedule hasn’t been as strong as it appeared on paper in September, which has hurt the SOS number. However, given the dominance the team has shown of late, there’s not much of a case against right now. USC is an awful team, so a loss there would ruin ND’s playoff hopes, but that’d be quite the upset.

Consensus: Notre Dame should be ranked No. 3.

Michigan (10-1)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 37

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 40

Last Week: Won 31-20 vs. Indiana

This Week: at No. 10 Ohio State

Best Wins: vs. No. 15 Penn State, at No. 20 Northwestern

Losses: at No. 3 Notre Dame

Case For: Michigan has been one of the hottest teams in the nation the last several weeks. It has steamrolled all the other top teams in the Big Ten, has the country’s best defense and a star quarterback. The Wolverines are everything you want in a playoff contender, they just need to beat Ohio State (and Northwestern again).

Case Against: The case against Michigan is the Big Ten has been considerably weaker this fall than in prior seasons, which taints the perfect conference record. The top tier wins aren’t there yet, but that chance comes this week at No. 10 Ohio State. A one-loss Alabama or 12-1 Big 12 champion Oklahoma could make things interesting, but I have an incredibly hard time believing a 12-1 Big Ten champion Michigan team would be left out.

Consensus: Michigan should be No. 4 this week.

Georgia (10-1)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 36

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 38

Last Week: Won 66-27 vs. UMass

This Week: vs. Georgia Tech

Best Wins: vs. No. 13 Florida, at No. 17 Kentucky

Losses: at No. 8 LSU

Case For: Georgia has already clinched the SEC East and will play Alabama in the SEC Championship. There’s a clear separation between the top five teams and the rest of the top 10. Georgia passes the eye test and is the only real challenge Alabama has left. Win out and the Bulldogs will be in.

Case Against: Georgia lacks a top-10 win, something a win over Bama would obviously get them. The SEC East isn’t particularly strong, despite Florida and Kentucky being ranked. It’s pretty simple at this stage — win out and Georgia is in. Lose a game, and the Bulldogs are out.

Consensus: Expect to see Georgia at No. 5.

Oklahoma (10-1)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 76

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 43

Last Week: Won 55-40 vs. Kansas

This Week: at No. 12 West Virginia

Best Wins: at No. 25 Iowa State

Losses: vs. No. 11 Texas

Case For: The Sooners continue to show off an elite offense and lead the Big 12.

Case Against: The case against remains the same: Oklahoma has an amazing offense but the defense is incredibly weak and would get shredded by any of the current top five teams. That kind of play on defense simply isn’t good enough and will hurt the Sooners playoff chances, which are already slim. The schedule gets tougher, with West Virginia and a Big 12 title game left to go, but Oklahoma needs multiple teams ahead of it to lose, and some (Alabama, potentially Clemson) would need to lose twice. The Sooners have allowed three straight mediocre-to-bad teams score 40-plus points. They lost to the only good team they have played (Texas). We’ll find out more about this team this week when it plays West Virginia, a team that also proved it was overrated after losing to Oklahoma State.

Consensus: Oklahoma will likely stay at No. 6, despite its shortcomings.

LSU (9-2)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 2

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 20

Last Week: Won 42-10 vs. Rice

This Week: at Texas A&M

Best Wins: vs. No. 5 Georgia, vs. No. 22 Mississippi State

Losses: at No. 13 Florida, vs. No. 1 Alabama

Case For: LSU’s win over Georgia continues to be one of the best wins of any team in the country. The strength of schedule also remains strong, despite playing Rice last week. Given the lack of quality teams behind LSU in the rankings, it’s hard to see it falling, despite having two losses.

Case Against: LSU seems to have cooled a bit since it’s strong start to the year. Other teams behind it, like Washington State and Ohio State, will have the chance to pick up huge wins that would vault themselves past LSU, but for now things stay the same. Going on the road to Texas A&M will be no easy task.

Consensus: LSU gets the benefit of the doubt (again) because of the committee’s love affair with the SEC. Expect it to stay at No. 7.

Washington State (10-1)

Strength of Schedule (via S&P+): 81

Strength of Schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 60

Last Week: Won 69-28 vs. Arizona

This Week: vs. No. 16 Washington

Best Wins: vs. No. 18 Utah, vs. Oregon, at Stanford

Losses: at USC

Case For: Washington State quietly keeps winning. The offense is dynamic and the defense is better than Oklahoma’s. Wins against Washington and Utah to end the year would be great for the program and would lead to a Rose Bowl Berth.

Case Against: Even if WSU wins out, there’s still not much of a chance it makes the playoff. Oklahoma and Ohio State would both get in ahead of WSU if they each win out. It’s been a nice story, but the strength of schedule isn’t there and neither are the ranked wins.

Consensus: Washington State should stay at No. 8.

Side Note: Keep an eye on UCF. The Golden Knights picked up a big win against Cincinnati and could jump Ohio State and West Virginia for the No. 9 spot.