Sean Pendergast

Survivor: College Football Playoff Ranking Preview, Version 1.0

Swinney is in line for the opportunity to defend his school's national title.
Swinney is in line for the opportunity to defend his school's national title. Screen grab from YouTube
As the excitement level of specific college football seasons, 2019 has not been a good one for drama, thus far. The same powers that be, by and large, remain undefeated into November, and the other near powers with one loss are still hovering around the fringe of the playoff conversation. So far this season, the big surprises have been:

* South Carolina upsetting Georgia in Athens, a monster upset in the moment as head Will Muschamp, perennial underachiever, led a three touchdown underdog to a victory. How impactful was that upset? Well, South Carolina lost their next two games and now will struggle to make a bowl game. Georgia still controls its own destiny to a playoff spot. So, zero impact, really.

* Kansas State upset Oklahoma two weeks ago in Manhattan. Pretty neat. But the fact of the matter is, if Oklahoma wins out and wins the Big XII title game, they will likely grab a playoff spot.

* Illinois upset undefeated Wisconsin, in one of the biggest head scratchers this decade. This may be the one upset we can say had a major impact as their dreams being crushed the week before may have contributed to how badly the Badgers rolled over for Ohio State the next week.

Other than that? Maybe Baylor being undefeated thus far? Just not a ton of "moments" so far in 2019. Hopefully, that means November gets us caught up! To that end, the first set of College Football Playoff rankings will be released tonight on ESPN, as the 13 person committee will tell us which four teams would be in the playoff if the season ended today.

For some basis of comparison, here are this week's AP rankings, as voted on by several dozen media members:

AP Top 25

1. LSU (17) 8-0, 1479
2. Alabama (21) 8-0, 1472
3. Ohio State (17) 8-0, 1467
4. Clemson (7) 9-0, 1406
5. Penn State 8-0, 1306
6. Georgia 7-1, 1196
7. Oregon 8-1, 1180
8. Utah 8-1, 1090
9. Oklahoma 7-1, 1045
10. Florida 7-2, 938
11. Baylor 8-0, 909
12. Auburn 7-2, 901
13. Minnesota 8-0, 831
14. Michigan 7-2, 780
15. Notre Dame 6-2, 571
16. Wisconsin 6-2, 558
17. Cincinnati 7-1, 527
18. Iowa 6-2, 491
19. Memphis 8-1, 448
20. Kansas State 6-2, 364
21. Boise State 7-1, 310
22. Wake Forest 7-1, 296
23. SMU 8-1, 250
24. San Diego State 7-1, 87
25. Navy 7-1, 83

Others receiving votes: UCF 52, Texas 37, Indiana 27, Texas A&M 19, Oklahoma State 11, Louisiana Tech 7, Appalachian State 5, Washington 2, Pittsburgh 2, Iowa State 1, Virginia 1, North Dakota State 1
Dropped from rankings: Appalachian State #20
In advance of the rankings each week, I like to play a little game of "Survivor" and figure out how many teams have a pulse, and how string that pulse might be. As best I can tell, we have 11 teams who can still use a playoff berth as reasonable motivation. I break the into tiers below, starting with the four I think the committee will anoint with a mock selection tonight:

1. LSU (8-0, 4-0)
@ Texas 45-38, vs Florida 42-28, vs Auburn 23-20
11/9 @ #2 Alabama
11/16 @ Ole Miss
11/23 vs Arkansas
11/30 vs Texas A&M
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: I think KSU will be No. 1 overall based on a better resume of wins than the other four undefeated teams in the AP top five. Texas, Florida, and Auburn, with the Texas game being played IN Austin, are three very solid wins. Of course, the Tigers play Alabama in Tuscaloosa this weekend, which would virtually clinch a slot in the SEC title game, given LSU's remaining schedule, and maybe even give them wiggle room to lose the SEC title game and still nab a playoff berth.

2. ALABAMA (8-0, 5-0)
GOOD WINS: @ Texas A&M 47-28
11/9 vs #1 LSU
11/16 @ Mississippi State
11/23 vs Western Carolina
11/30 at #12 Auburn
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: Alabama doesn't have an out of conference win like LSU's over Texas, and they don't cross over with a team like Florida from the other SEC division, the SEC East. They'll get a crack at Auburn in the Iron Bowl, but Alabama probably needs this win a little more than LSU does as SEC Title Game insurance, although the Alabama brand will weigh heavily if the Tide gets into a beauty contest of one-loss teams.

3. OHIO STATE (8-0, 5-0)
GOOD WINS: vs Cincinnati 42-0, @ Indiana 51-10, vs Wisconsin 38-7
11/9 vs Maryland
11/16 @ Rutgers
11/23 vs #5 Penn State
11/30 @ #14 Michigan
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: Ohio State may be the most dominant LOOKING team in the country, but the Big Ten is always perceived as a step behind the SEC. With Ohio State, it's pretty simple — win out and you're in. The problem for the Buckeyes is if they lose a close game to Penn State or Michigan but still make the Big Ten title game, their conference title game foe will likely be a Wisconsin team they've beaten already or a Minnesota team that is, well, Minnesota.

4. CLEMSON (9-0, 6-0)
vs Texas A&M 24-10
11/9 @ NC State
11/16 vs #22 Wake Forest
11/30 @ South Carolina
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: Clemson, again, just has to win out, and they're in, although the schedule equity in the ACC doesn't allow for them to have any slip ups. A one loss Clemson team, even as ACC champ, likely gets left out this season.


PENN STATE (8-0, 5-0)
@ Iowa 17-12, vs Michigan 28-21
11/9 @ #13 Minnesota
11/16 vs Indiana
11/23 @ #3 Ohio State
11/30 vs Rutgers
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: That Minnesota game this weekend is sneaky, as I'm guessing this will be as hyped as they've been in Gopher country for a regular season game in I-don't-know-how-long. For the Nittany Lions, if they win out, they will be in. An undefeated Big Ten champ will make the playoff.

GEORGIA (7-1, 4-1)
GOOD WINS: vs Notre Dame 23-17, vs Florida 24-17
LOSS: vs South Carolina 20-17
11/9 vs Missouri
11/16 @ #12 Auburn
11/23 vs Texas A&M
11/30 @ Georgia Tech
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: Even with the loss being at home to a South Carolina team that may not make a bowl game, if the Bulldogs win out and win the SEC, beating Alabama or LSU in the title game, they will be in, without question, and that would be bad news for all the one-loss teams trying to make a case, or even, say, an undefeated Baylor, if they win out and win the Big XII, but with no really good out of conference wins.

MINNESOTA (8-0, 5-0)
11/9 vs #5 Penn State
11/16 @ #18 Iowa
11/23 @ Northwestern
11/30 vs #16 Wisconsin
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: If I believe an undefeated Big Ten champ is essentially guaranteed a spot, then by definition, I must believe the Gophers control their own destiny. We will find out what they really are this Saturday, and throughout November, as they play three ranked teams in the next four weeks.


OREGON (8-1, 6-0)
GOOD WINS: @ Washington 35-31
LOSS: vs Auburn 27-21 (in Arlington)
11/16 vs Arizona
11/23 @ Arizona State
11/30 vs Oregon State
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: So the Pac-12 champ, if it's a one loss Oregon or one loss Utah, would definitely be freaking out over Georgia beating an undefeated Alabama or LSU in the SEC Title Game, but the problem is the Pac-12 is suffering from a major image problem in terms of conference strength. Oregon's most emphatic bullet point in favor of their candidacy is probably their Week One loss to Auburn in Arlington, and that says all you need to know about the Pac-12.

UTAH (8-1, 5-1)
GOOD WINS: @ Oregon State 52-7, @ Washington 33-28
LOSS: @ USC 30-23
11/16 vs UCLA
11/23 @ Arizona
11/30 vs Colorado
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: Just duplicate what I said about Oregon and the Pac-12, except know that Utah's only loss is to a mediocre USC squad, not a top 15 Auburn. My guess is Oregon and Utah wind up lower in the CFP rankings than they are in the AP.

OKLAHOMA (7-1, 4-1)
GOOD WINS: vs Texas 34-27 (in Dallas)
LOSS: @ Kansas State 48-41
11/9 vs Iowa State
11/16 @ #11 Baylor
11/23 vs TCU
11/30 @ Oklahoma State
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: Oftentimes, Oklahoma suffers a loss like this — in 2017, it was Iowa State, and in 2015 and 2018, it was Texas — and then they respond by wrecking the rest of the schedule and nabbing a playoff spot. The Sooners will be favored in every game the rest of the way, so they will likely be 12-1 and Big XII champs, come December. The question will be how many one-loss SEC and Big Ten non conference champs will be competing in the beauty contest. I would take the Sooners individual team over in points in every game the rest of the season. Style points galore!

BAYLOR (8-0, 5-0)
GOOD WINS: @ Kansas State 31-12, @ Oklahoma State 45-27
11/9 @ TCU
11/16 vs #9 Oklahoma
11/23 vs Texas
11/30 @ Kansas
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: Now, here are the Baylor Bears, just two years removed from going 1-11, and now they are on the playoff radar in November. If the Bears somehow run the table this months, which would mean wins over TCU, Oklahoma, and Texas three weeks in a row, it might be one of the most memorable months of football in school history. I'm guessing they'll be 9-3 or 10-2, and get a nice bowl bid, but Matt Rhule's done a hell of a job in Waco.


FLORIDA (7-2, 4-2)
vs Auburn 24-13
LOSSES: @ LSU 42-28, vs Georgia 24-17 (in Jacksonville)
11/9 vs Vanderbilt
11/16 @ Missouri
11/30 vs Florida State

AUBURN (7-2, 4-2)

11/16 vs #6 Georgia
11/23 vs Samford
11/30 vs #2 Alabama

Normally, a two-loss SEC team with a mathematical chance at the conference title would remain on the radar, but there's just too much that needs to happen for both of these schools, considering each has a loss to a team they'd need a head to head win over for a tie breaker — Florida to Georgia this past weekend, and Auburn to LSU a couple weeks ago. So, R.I.P. Gators and Tigers.

Also, for the first time in a long time, there are no Group of Five schools on the playoff radar. Central Florida held that distinction the last couple years, but this year, they all have one loss. This would explain the lack of segments on debate TV about "Four team playoff or eight team playoff.... DISCUSS."

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast