Sean Pendergast

Survivor: College Football Playoff Edition, Version 5.0

For the LSU Tigers and Coach O, Saturday is a playoff elimination game.
For the LSU Tigers and Coach O, Saturday is a playoff elimination game. Screen grab from YouTube
With each passing week, we are seeing at least a couple schools having their complete hopes and dreams dashed by a regular season loss before the month of November arrives. And you know what? I LOVE that about the current system! A four-team playoff is the absolute best, because not only does it inherently mean that (at least) one Power Five conference is left out of the playoff, sparking debate and improving overall competition, but it makes EVERY weekend of the regular season so important.

This past weekend, we saw the Georgia-Florida game essentially eliminate the loser, we saw the Penn State-Iowa game do the same, and Oklahoma State was able to dash Texas' postseason dreams. If we had an eight-team playoff that (a) allowed for at-large teams with more mulligans, AND (b) allowed automatic bids for conference champs, increasing the possibilities of two-loss and three-loss teams winning their conference getting in, it waters down weekends like this one.

Perceived "fairness" in college football (perceived because people would still bitch and moan with an eight-team playoff) is the enemy of drama. And drama in sports is the great escape from all the actual, depressing drama in the real world. I hope this postseason stays four teams forever.

Now let's see where we are. First, here is the latest AP poll, to provide a basis for conversation:

1. Alabama(60) 8-0 1500
2. Clemson 8-0 1433
3. Notre Dame 8-0 1374
4. LSU 7-1 1317
5. Michigan 7-1 1240
6. Georgia 7-1 1202
7. Oklahoma 7-1 1132
8. Ohio State 7-1 1022
9. UCF 7-0 1014
10. Washington State 7-1 938
11. Kentucky 7-1 905
12. West Virginia 6-1 891
13. Florida 6-2 734
14. Penn State 6-2 733
15. Texas 6-2 719
16. Utah 6-2 593
17. Houston 7-1 403
18. Utah State 7-1 340
19. Iowa 6-2 323
20. Fresno State 7-1 261
21. Mississippi State 5-3 204
22. Syracuse 6-2 192
23. Virginia 6-2 175
24. Boston College 6-2 169
25. Texas A&M 5-3 132
Keep in mind that the playoff committee releases its first set of rankings this Tuesday night, so we will have a much better idea of how they're viewing everyone's resume next week. One observation on this particular week's poll — look at the diversity of the spots 17 through 25. Included in there is an AAC school (Houston!), two Mountain West schools (Utah State, Fresno State), and three ACC schools who are almost never ranked (Virginia, Syracuse, Boston College). Fun times!

I'm including everybody's remaining schedule starting this week, and adding in the conference title game as part of each team's schedule, since the road for every team with playoff hopes likely goes through a conference title game, the exceptions being Alabama, who could get in at 11-1 with if the one loss is to LSU, and Notre Dame, who is not in a conference.

Let's get to the teams that still have a playoff pulse. I count 12 total. Here are the first four:

1. ALABAMA (8-0, 5-0)

11/3 at LSU
11/10 vs Mississippi State
11/17 vs Citadel
11/24 vs Auburn
* 12/1 SEC Title Game
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: If Alabama wins out, they will be the easiest No. 1 seed selection in the short history of the playoff. The schedule lays out nicely, with a week off before this weekend's LSU game, and a de facto week off (sorry, Citadel) before Auburn. A close loss to LSU is not a killer for Alabama, as the precedent is there for them to make the playoff without winning their division, but I'm sure Nick Saban would rather just win out.

2. NOTRE DAME (8-0)

11/3 at Northwestern
11/10 vs Florida State
11/17 vs Syracuse (at Yankee Stadium)
11/24 at USC
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: The Irish took care of some very pesky business this past weekend, defeating Navy in San Diego, 44-24. This weekend's game in Chicago against Northwestern will be no cake walk, and all of a sudden, the one ranked team the Irish play the rest of the way is Syracuse! Crazy, when you consider the other teams are Florida State and USC.

3. CLEMSON (8-0, 5-0)

11/3 vs Louisville
11/10 at Boston College
11/17 vs Duke
11/24 vs South Carolina
* 12/1 ACC Title Game
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: The ACC is horrific, and of all the Clemson teams that Dabo Swinney has led to the playoff, this one might be the biggest paper tiger (no pun intended). I can't imagine them losing to any of the teams left on the schedule, but when Clemson HAS lost over the last few seasons, it's been in unexpected situations. (What up, Pitt!)

4. LSU (7-1, 4-1)

11/3 vs Alabama
11/10 at Arkansas
11/17 vs Rice
11/24 at Texas A&M
* 12/1 SEC Title Game
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: LSU's season is on the line this Saturday, which is crazy, considering they've beaten Miami, Auburn, Georgia, and Mississippi State this season. Making the playoffs is hard! If the Tigers do win, they basically have three weeks to get ready for A&M Thanksgiving weekend. Sorry, Arkansas and Rice.


GEORGIA (7-1, 4-1)

11/3 at Kentucky
11/10 vs Auburn
11/17 vs UMass
11/24 vs Georgia Tech
* 12/1 SEC Title Game
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: Life is easier on the other side of the SEC, where Georgia can withstand a 20-point loss to LSU and still control their own destiny for the playoff. The Bulldogs face Kentucky this weekend, with the loser eliminated from the playoff race. (Again, four team playoff RULES!) The Bulldogs have been projected to be a 16-point favorite by Collin Wilson of the Action Network, so......

KENTUCKY (7-1, 4-1)

11/3 vs Georgia
11/10 at Tennessee
11/17 vs MTSU
11/24 at Louisville
* 12/1 SEC Title Game
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: ....we may be writing the obit on Kentucky next week. But, for now, they still have a mathematical chance at being a one-loss SEC champ, which would get them into the playoff. Yeah, I know, I know.... don't worry. Kentucky dies on Saturday.


MICHIGAN (7-1, 5-0)
11/3 vs Penn State
11/10 at Rutgers
11/17 vs Indiana
11/24 at Ohio State
* 12/1 Big Ten Title Game
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: The team picking up the most steam outside the top four has clearly been Michigan, who've recovered from their season opening loss at Notre Dame nicely. They have the "best loss" of any of the one-loss teams, and they are playing some really good football. It looks like the winner of Ohio State and Michigan, assuming both win out until November 24, is in line to face Northwestern for the Big Ten title. Didn't see that coming.

OHIO STATE (7-1, 4-1)

11/3 vs Nebraska
11/10 at Michigan State
11/17 at Maryland
11/24 vs Michigan
* 12/1 Big Ten Title Game
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: The team that beat Ohio State by four touchdowns two weeks ago (Purdue) lost by double digits to Michigan State on Saturday, while the Buckeyes were on a bye. Soooooo, naturally, the Buckeyes moved up three spots in the AP poll. Y'all voters suck, man!

OKLAHOMA (7-1, 4-1)
11/3 at Texas Tech
11/10 vs Oklahoma
11/17 vs Kansas
11/23 at West Virginia
* 12/1 Big XII Title Game
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: I haven't confirmed this with any of my Vegas "wise guy" friends, but I'm guessing that the closest spread on a neutral field against Alabama wouldn't be any of the teams we've listed so far. It'd probably be the Sooners, based largely on their ability to score on anybody from anywhere. I'm not gonna lie, an Alabama-Oklahoma playoff game would be spectacular.

WEST VIRGINIA (6-1, 4-1)

11/3 at Texas
11/10 vs TCU
11/17 at Oklahoma State
11/23 vs Oklahoma
* 12/1 Big XII Title Game
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: I'm excited for the Mountaineers against the Sooners in Morgantown on November 23, but I am kind of hoping the Big XII race works out to where we don't see them play each other AGAIN the next week in the conference title game.


UCF (7-0, 4-0)

11/1 vs Temple
11/10 vs Navy
11/17 vs Cincinnati
11/23 at South Florida
* 12/1 AAC Title Game
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: The Knights, realistically, need the top three undefeated teams to roll through the rest of the season, and then for every Power Five team in their vicinity of the polls to have at least two losses. Even then, I think a two-loss LSU, two-loss Georgia, two-loss Big XII champ, two-loss Big Ten champ, all of them get in ahead of an undefeated UCF. (That said, I am completely geeked for UCF and U of H to face off for the AAC title, with a New Year's Six bowl bid likely on the line.)


11/3 vs Cal
11/10 at Colorado
11/17 vs Arizona
11/23 vs Washington
* 11/30 Pac-12 Title Game
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: Right now, Washington State's only blemish is a super controversial loss to USC by three points. Mike Leach's team would be a far more interesting test case if they were undefeated. The Cougars need almost as much to happen as UCF does in order to get into the top four. Still, Leach having his team in the mix this deep into the season shows how underrated he is among college head coaches.


TEXAS (6-2, 4-1)
Truth be told, Texas hanging around in the top six or seven was probably a year ahead of schedule, although I'm sure if Tom Herman reads this, he will break something while bristling at that contention. Bye bye, Horns.

FLORIDA (6-2, 4-2)
Bye bye, Gators.

IOWA (6-2, 3-2)
Bye bye, Hawkeyes.

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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 afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast