2017 College Football Playoff: Assessing the Contenders, Part 1

Nick Saban does not like your talk of the College Football Playoff in October.
Nick Saban does not like your talk of the College Football Playoff in October.
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The old saying in sports that decide their championships via a multi-game series, like Major League Baseball or NBA hoops, is that a series doesn't begin until the road team wins a game. Football, especially college football, doesn't lend itself to deciding anything with a series of games between two teams. The regular season functions as its series.

Thus, in college football, I would say that the season doesn't really begin until we've seen massive carnage in the Top 10, with undefeated teams dropping like flies. Well, with five undefeated teams falling last weekend, and six Top 10 teams losing in the past two weeks, guess what — college football is here, baby!

So this means that we can finally begin our College Football Playoff speculation blog posts each week, or as often as we feel is necessary. In two weeks, the committee will unveil their rankings, but that shouldn't stop us from speculating and analyzing just who has the inside track.

So let's take a look, using the AP poll for our rankings (because the coaches poll is dumb) and listing their opponent this weekend...

Undefeated Teams That Control Their Own Destiny

1, ALABAMA (7-0, vs. Tennessee)
2. PENN STATE (6-0, vs. No. 19 Michigan)
3. GEORGIA (7-0, Bye)
4. TCU (6-0, vs. Kansas)
5. WISCONSIN (5-0, vs. Maryland)
8. MIAMI (Florida) (5-0, vs. Syracuse)

Until I see otherwise happen, I am going to believe that any undefeated team from a Power Five conference will get a berth in the College Football Playoff, so under my criteria, these six teams still control their own destiny, and since one of the Power Give conferences, the Pac-12, has no more undefeated teams, then they all REALLY control their own destiny, since we need not worry about the outlier scenario of five undefeated Power Five conference champions.

Pole Position One-Loss Teams

6. OHIO STATE (6-1, Bye)
7. CLEMSON (6-1, Bye)
9. OKLAHOMA (5-1, at Kansas State)
10. OKLAHOMA STATE (5-1, at Texas)

These four teams have the ideal combination of direct paths to their conference titles, schedule equity, and favorable first impressions to where they can win their conference championship and declare themselves, with a straight face, the best one-loss team in America! Most importantly, all of them potentially have one or more of the undefeated teams on their schedule the rest of the way, either regular season or potential conference title game.

Ohio State plays Penn State next week, and could see Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Clemson could see Miami in an ACC title game. Oklahoma plays TCU on November 11. Finally, Oklahoma State's only loss is to TCU, and they could see the Frogs again if they beat OU in Bedlam and TCU wins out.

One-Loss Teams With Schedule Equity

13. NOTRE DAME (5-1, vs. 13 USC)
14. VIRGINIA TECH (5-1, vs. UNC)
16. NC STATE (6-1, Bye)
18. MICHIGAN STATE (5-1, vs. Indiana)
19. MICHIGAN (5-1, at No. 2 Penn State)

These are teams with similar opportunity in front of them as the pole position teams, they just happen to be further back in the polls, and thus, perhaps further back in the minds of the committee, when it comes down to it. We shall see. (The AP poll shouldn't matter to the committee, but human nature is human nature.)

Notre Dame has four ranked teams on their schedule the rest of the way, including a potentially undefeated Miami in South Florida. Their only loss is by one point to undefeated Georgia. The Irish have a real shot, but may be hurt by having no conference title game, although if Miami and NC State face off for the ACC title, Notre Dame could say they will have beaten both teams. Virginia Tech still plays Miami and could see Clemson in an ACC title game. NC State has Notre Dame, Clemson and possibly Miami. Michigan State's only loss is to Notre Dame (but it was a blowout), and they still have the schedule to win the Big Ten and beat three top ten teams. Michigan is in a rough spot, having lost to the Spartans, but they do have Penn State this weekend and Ohio State in the regular season finale, so you never know. Again, it only takes a pulse to be included in this post!

One-Loss Teams Who Need Help

11. USC (6-1, at 11 Notre Dame)
12. WASHINGTON (6-1, Bye)
15. WASHINGTON STATE (6-1, vs. Colorado)

The entire Pac-12 has just cannibalized themselves over the past two weeks. Washington State beating USC, then falling to Cal by 34. Washington losing to Arizona State. Now watch as two-loss Stanford murders everybody the rest of the way. Ironically, the Pac-12's hopes of having a team in the playoff might hinge on USC's non-conference game this weekend in South Bend against Notre Dame.

Group of Five Party Crashers

16. SOUTH FLORIDA (6-0, at Tulane)
20. CENTRAL FLORIDA (6-0, at Navy)
It's fun to talk about teams outside the Power Five, but you have to have an out of conference schedule like Houston's last season (Oklahoma, Louisville) to even be in the conversation. Instead, circle Thanksgiving weekend, when these two schools face off for a spot in the AAC title game and the inside track for a New Year's Six Bowl.

Two-Loss Team on Life Support

21. AUBURN (5-2, at Arkansas)
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.

Everyone else, have fun in your bowl games!

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.

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