Amidst all the pinball magic scoring going on with our professional teams here over the past 48 hours — the Texans losing a 41-38 heartbreaker to the Seahawks, the Astros winning a 13-12 World Series classic against the Dodgers — we've lost sight of college football, and the fact that we are about to embark on Week Ten of that season.
WEEK TEN! No season moves faster than college football's, and that sucks because college football is awesome. Make a note that, while you're handing out candy and trying to watch the Astros game Tuesday night, the college football suits will be revealing their first set of College Football Playoff rankings for the first time this fall. We will find out who the four schools with pole position to a playoff spot are, and at least two more that have work to do. (Actually by definition, if you're outside the top six, you have even more work to do, so everyone will be a little clearer on how this committee is thinking as of October 31.)
Here is one man's opinion on how it should look tonight when the reveal occurs...
The Football Four
1. ALABAMA (8-0, vs. LSU)
2. GEORGIA (8-0, vs. South Carolina)
3. OHIO STATE (7-1, at Iowa)
5. NOTRE DAME (7-1, vs. Wake Forest)
It's pretty clear that Alabama and Georgia are the two best teams in the country right now. Alabama's only close game was an eight-point win over Texas A&M in College Station, and other than that, they've been slicing teams by 30 (and sometimes 50 or 60) points. Georgia's one real close call was a one-point win in South Bend over Notre Dame, but they've been dominant in the SEC, and done so while having a QB change thrust upon them. There are two more undefeated Power Five teams (Wisconsin, Miami), but to me, both have more work to do before we can say they are in the top four. (To be clear, if either or both finish undefeated, they will make the playoff. An undefeated Power Five will always make it, in my opinion.)
So the question becomes "Who are the top two one-loss teams?" In my opinion, Ohio State, on the strength of beating second-ranked and undefeated Penn State this past weekend, and throttling everybody else, along with their one loss being to a good Oklahoma team, is enough for me. (Although Oklahoma's loss to Iowa State at home is looking more reasonable by the week.) The other top four team for me is Notre Dame, which has back-to-back wins by 35 and 21 points over ranked teams (USC, NC State) the past two weeks, and whose only loss is by one to the second-best team in the country. Also, Notre Dame will have plenty more equity on its remaining schedule with Miami and Stanford still looming. The Irish are pretty close to controlling their own destiny.
The Next Two
7. PENN STATE (7-1, at Michigan State)
9. OKLAHOMA (7-1, at Oklahoma State)
I was very tempted to put OU in the top four (the head-to-head win over Ohio State is obviously powerful), but they've struggled, relative to how a Top Ten team should be handling its business, in conference. They went down to the wire with winless Baylor and Kansas State on the road. To me, that's the difference right now. They haven't been dominant the last month or so on both sides of the ball. Penn State now, all of a sudden, needs help from Michigan or somebody to beat Ohio State. I don't know if they have enough on their schedule to overcome a head-to-head loss to Ohio State, but still make the playoff without a Big Ten title like the Buckeyes last season.
Undefeated With More Work To Do
4. WISCONSIN (8-0, at Indiana)
9. MIAMI (7-0, vs. Virginia Tech)
I'll keep this simple — if either or both of these teams win out and stay undefeated, they will make the playoff. I just don't think that on October 31, either one is a top-four team in the country. That's all.
One-Loss Teams Who Need Help
6. CLEMSON (7-1, at NC State)
10. TCU (7-1, vs. Texas)
11. OKLAHOMA STATE (7-1, vs. Oklahoma)
12. WASHINGTON (7-1, vs. Oregon)
13. VIRGINIA TECH (7-1, at Miami)
These are the teams that, in my opinion, need the biggest combination of stellar November performance and help from other schools. For Clemson, that Syracuse loss stings. That's a bad loss, compared to Notre Dame losing to Georgia, Penn State to Ohio State, or even Oklahoma to Iowa State. TCU also lost to Iowa State, but still sits on the fringe with one-loss and a game against Oklahoma on November 11 (and a win over Oklahoma State). Oklahoma State could essentially swap spots with OU this weekend with a win at Bedlam in Stillwater. Washington is really going to need help, with a Pac-12 that has cannibalized itself and a weak out-of-conference schedule for the Huskies. Finally, Virginia Tech has its day of reckoning this Saturday against Miami. Probably best to assess the Hokies after that.
Group of Five Party Crasher
15. CENTRAL FLORIDA (7-0, at SMU)
I'm about the little guy at least getting a mention. UCF has no shot at the playoff, but they are on track to play one of the schools on this list here in a New Year's Six Bowl. Kudos to Scott Frost!
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Two-Loss Team on Life Support
21. AUBURN (6-2, at Texas A&M)
I'll just repurpose what I wrote about Auburn two weeks ago, because it still applies:
Okay, so why does Auburn get to stay on the radar, especially with LSU, who just beat them, also having two losses? Well, because LSU will lose again, and we won't have to discuss both of these schools being equals with anything relevant on the line. (Sorry, Coach O.) That's part one. Part two is that, if LSU does lose again (they still have to play Alabama), Auburn controls its own destiny in the SEC, with games against Texas A&M and Alabama in the West. Also, here's the other key for Auburn — they could play Georgia not once, but twice! They play the Bulldogs on November 11, and could see them again in the SEC title game. It's a long shot, but could a two-loss SEC champion with wins over Alabama and Georgia (twice) get in? The key might be Clemson winning the ACC, since one of Auburn's losses is a 12-6 loss AT CLEMSON early in the season. Auburn is in a coma, but they are not dead yet.
Happy Halloween, everybody!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.