Sean Pendergast

Survivor: College Football Playoff Edition, Version 4.0

Purdue ruined Ohio State's season on Saturday night with a massive upset win.
Purdue ruined Ohio State's season on Saturday night with a massive upset win. Screen grab from YouTube
Its funny, every year at about this time, there are four or five remaining undefeated teams in college football, and every year, we hear analysis that basically centers around the possibility of all those teams remaining undefeated. "Who will get left out of the College Football Playoff, if these five teams all win out?!"

In actuality, it's the most frivolous and silly question one could ask about the College Football Playoff, because in most seasons we're lucky if even one of those teams finishes the regular season undefeated. Weird things happen in college football, and we learned that in the most touching way possible this past weekend. The top four teams in the nation heading into this past weekend were Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, and Notre Dame. All four were undefeated, and all four were (and still are) set to be favored in each of their remaining games.

So naturally, college football being college football, one of those teams collapsed over the weekend, and given the whole "Zach Smith/domestic violence cover up" situation at Ohio State this past summer, the college football gods probably got it right, with Purdue beating the Buckeyes 49-20 in West Lafayette, and if you need any further reason to be happy for Purdue, just watch this Tom Rinaldi piece on Tyler Trent. (WARNING: Have tissues handy!)

Ohio State wasn't the only team to go down this weekend. There was other carnage. So with a week to go before the first set of official College Football Playoff rankings are released, here is one man's view on the remaining teams with a postseason pulse.

First, let's lay out the latest AP rankings, just to give an idea of what the landscape looks like, according to the sportswriters:

1 Alabama(61) 8-0 1525
2 Clemson 7-0 1454
3 Notre Dame 7-0 1400
4 LSU 7-1 1327
5 Michigan 7-1 1250
6 Texas 6-1 1186
7 Georgia 6-1 1136
8 Oklahoma 6-1 1065
9 Florida 6-1 998
10 UCF 7-0 996
11 Ohio State 7-1 958
12 Kentucky 6-1 754
13 West Virginia 5-1 747
14 Washington State 6-1 692
15 Washington 6-2 677
16 Texas A&M 5-2 622
17 Penn State 5-2 528
18 Iowa 6-1 489
19 Oregon 5-2 450
20 Wisconsin 5-2 357
21 South Florida 7-0 291
22 NC State 5-1 186
23 Utah 5-2 180
24 Stanford 5-2 144
25 Appalachian State 5-1 79 
So how many teams still have hope? Well, let's start with the top four, two of whom play each other in about ten days. Baton Rouge is going to be off the chain on November 3!

1. ALABAMA: The Crimson Tide continues to roll through the 2018 season, blowing out Tennessee this past weekend. Right now, there are really three obstacles to an undefeated season — LSU this weekend, Auburn in the Iron Bowl, and the SEC Title Game, likely against the winner of the Florida-Georgia game this weekend (but with Kentucky lurking). Here's the fly in the ointment that Alabama provides — let's say they lose to LSU next weekend, and finish 11-1, like they did last season. That resume was good enough for Alabama to make the playoff last season, when they lost to Auburn, missed the SEC Title Game, but still went on to win the national championship. Sight unseen, I think a one-loss SEC champ makes the playoff, so if that team isn't Alabama, and the Tide has just one loss, then we can't really have any of the one-loss teams from the other Power Five conferences controlling their own destiny right now, can we? I say no. I'm laying this out here because it will affect pretty much everything in the lower part of this post.

2. NOTRE DAME: The one underrated thing about Ohio State's loss is that it presumably, for now, gets Notre Dame and Clemson out of the danger of being in the four spot, and being fed to Bama in the semifinal. As a Notre Dame alum, trust me, I want to no part of Alabama in a semifinal. (Eventually, you have to play them, I get it, but winning one game would be fun.) ND should be favored fairly heavily the rest of the way, with their travel schedule — two California trips and a trip yo NYC in the span of a month — being their toughest opponent.

3. CLEMSON: Nice blowout win of N.C. State this past weekend. I have the Tigers behind Notre Dame on the strength of the Irish beating Michigan, who might be the best non-playoff seeded team in the country right now.

4. LSU: LSU is here for now, with wins over Miami, Auburn, Georgia, and Mississippi State. They play what amounts to an elimination game for them next week against Alabama.


GEORGIA: Georgia's stretch of football against ranked opponents continues this weekend in Jacksonville against Florida. Next week, they play Kentucky, and the week after that they play Auburn, who may be ranked again by then. The Bulldogs still control their own destiny in the SEC, which means they still control their destiny for a playoff spot.

KENTUCKY: The Wildcats got a hard fought win over Vanderbilt this past weekend. There's nothing very pretty about the Wildcats, except their record. They have a tricky (possible "look ahead") game with Missouri this weekend, before their elimination game against Georgia on November 3. Honestly, if Georgia and Kentucky take care of their business this weekend, we will have what amounts to de facto semifinals in the SEC on November 3 — Bama vs LSU, Georgia vs Kentucky.


MICHIGAN / OHIO STATE: Many will tell you the winner of this game controls their own destiny, as they would likely head to the Big Ten title game, but we need to be cognizant of Alabama losing a game, but staying ahead of all these one-loss teams. It feels like an annual tradition that Ohio State loses a game, in this case a blowout to Purdue, but still maintains strong hope for a playoff spot.

TEXAS / OKLAHOMA / WEST VIRGINIA: This will hash itself out over the next few weeks, as Texas plays West Virginia on November 3, and Oklahoma plays the Mountaineers on November 23. Texas and Oklahoma in a Big XII rematch is what we are all hoping for, right?

FLORIDA: If Florida beats Georgia this weekend, and then the Bulldogs beat Kentucky the next week, then the Gators will be in business, a one-loss SEC team controlling their own destiny for the SEC title.

IOWA: Iowa continues to win, but they still need Wisconsin to lose another game, as the Badgers hold the head to head tiebreaker over the Hawkeyes. Circle November 10 and November 17, when Wisconsin plays Penn State and travels to Purdue, respectively. (By the way, Purdue is still very much in the mix to win their half of the Big Ten, with a 3-1 conference record.)


UCF: They need all sorts of two-loss, Power five carnage to even be considered. It would be fun to see that play out, just to see UCF get snubbed, and show that there is no chance in hell a Group of Five team would make a four team playoff.

WASHINGTON STATE: Big win for the fighting Mike Leaches over Oregon this past weekend. They still have games against Stanford and Washington to impress the committee, and then a Pac-12 title game if they win out, but clearly they are paddling upstream as compared to one-loss contenders from the SEC, Big Ten, and Big XII.


OREGON: Bye bye, Ducks.

N.C. STATE: Bye bye, Wolfpack.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.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 afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast