The road to the CFP: Contenders vs. Collapses

Is Alabama destined to repeat? Can Lamar Jackson carry Louisville to the playoff? Will Bob Stoops ever win a big game?

It’s that time of the year. Beer companies begin to roll out their autumn brew, those up north can finally complain about how miserable they are with the weather changing, baseball fans can complain about ESPN’s lack of playoff coverage and American politics can again embarrass itself on a world stage.
But hey, we have college football to distract us.

So let’s get to it and break down the contenders vs. the pretenders. As it stands now, the rankings look like this:

1. Alabama (50) 4-0, 1511
2. Ohio State (4) 3-0, 1440
3. Louisville (6) 4-0, 1409
4. Michigan (1) 4-0, 1292
5. Clemson 4-0, 1267
6. Houston 4-0, 1239
7. Stanford 3-0, 1166
8. Wisconsin 4-0, 1084
9. Texas A&M 4-0, 1036
10. Washington 4-0, 986
11. Tennessee 4-0, 909
12. Florida State 3-1, 804
13. Baylor 4-0, 729
14. Tennessee 3-0, 707
15. Nebraska 4-0, 640
16. Mississippi 2-2, 540
17. Michigan State 2-1, 527
18. Utah 4-0, 493
19. San Diego State 3-0, 304
20. Arkansas 3-1, 241
21. TCU 3-1, 239
22. Texas 2-1, 217
23. Florida 3-1, 176
24. Boise State 3-0, 163
25. Georgia 3-1, 142

Legitimate Contenders

Alabama

They have Nick Saban, they’ve won four of the last seven national titles and they just won a much dreaded matchup against Ole Miss. One tough road test against LSU lies between them and the College Football Playoff.

Ohio State

Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have only gotten better over the past few weeks and just ended Oklahoma’s national title hopes. The Big Ten Championship Game won’t matter since they play Wisconsin in two weeks and then close out the regular season with The Game vs. Michigan — the matchup of the year.

Louisville

Are they slightly overhyped because of their game against Florida State? Yes. Do they have reason to be? Most definitely. Lamar Jackson is legit and now gets to match up against Clemson this Saturday. If only this could be the ACC championship.

Michigan

While they certainly haven’t played as well as they should, the Wolverines are the team to beat in the Big Ten and have only improved in the few years under Jim Harbaugh.

Clemson

How can you count the national title runner-ups out of contention? Deshaun and Dabo are back and want their revenge. They haven’t been dominant, but they find ways to win.

Stanford

Christian McCaffrey is going to be an NFL star and not much stands in the way of a Pac-12 championship for his Cardinal. The Pac-12 got snubbed last year and they want back in. Stanford won’t go undefeated (as shown by their thriller against a mediocre UCLA team), but they will finish atop the conference.

Wisconsin

There is still reason for the Badgers to have doubters, but they continue to silence them all.

Reasons to doubt: Their next two matchups are at Michigan and then against Ohio State, who they’ve dropped four straight against. These are two extremely tough matchups to preview the Big Ten Championship.

Reasons to believe: They upset LSU, they embarrassed Sparty on the road and they have T.J. Watt.

Texas A&M

They started the season with an overtime thriller against UCLA and followed it up with a huge win over Auburn and now Arkansas. Alabama will have a real tough test in a few weeks.

Tennessee

Last week, I said this team had yet to prove themselves, and prove themselves they did. Coming into the weekend, Florida had the best defense in the FBS and the fewest points/yards allowed. Those stats fell hard and the Volunteers are seeking an SEC championship berth.

Baylor

The one legitimate hope the Big 12 has left. But as past years have taught us, no one goes unscathed in this conference. The Big 12 is its own worst enemy. But they are the team to beat in the conference until proven otherwise.

Nebraska

They won’t win the Big Ten but they might take some casualties along the way. Keep in mind they just toppled Oregon.

Inevitable Collapses

Houston

I’m sorry for many reasons here. I’m sorry that Houston is in the AAC and has to go undefeated to be considered for the playoff. I’m sorry that among the teams they need to beat — Louisville is one of them. I’m sorry to those who believe in Houston’s underdog story, but you will get a good bowl game out of it.

Michigan State

Sparty has looked good considering they lost a lot of senior talent. Mark Dantonio is a great coach who’s had much success over the past few years, even a CFP nod. But that playoff nod came from a lot of improbable breaks against Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa last year. Wisconsin just exposed all of their weaknesses and the worst is yet to come.

Washington

Off to a hot 4-0 start against … well nobody really. They’re overrated and it only gets worse. Of the Top 25, they have the fourth toughest remaining strength of schedule. Things look grim for the Huskies. If Arizona took them to overtime, I wonder what Stanford will do.

Ole Miss

Good news is they have a great strength of schedule to back their legitimacy. Bad news is they lost two of their most important games of the season.

Georgia

You always want to believe in them but they always let you down against the powerhouse teams. Sure enough, they couldn’t even get by Ole Miss, and that’s only one of many tough matchups to come.

Florida State

One big loss shouldn’t end anyone’s playoff hopes right? Right. But having the third highest SOS in the Top 25 indicates things aren’t going to get any easier for them.

Arkansas

The Razorbacks have looked very good through four games and their thriller against TCU will go down as one of the best games this season. Sadly, the Aggies took them down and they have the hardest remaining schedule in the entire FBS.

TCU

We knew we couldn’t count the Horned Frogs out of the rankings for long, but I doubt they can climb back to the top 10 without some help. They would have to win out just to be in the CFP conversation.

Texas

Just when you wanted to believe in Texas again, they let you down and lose to a subpar Cal team. Charlie Strong has one of the weakest defenses in the FBS and things aren’t looking any brighter going into conference play.

San Diego State

Last time a Mountain West team won a national championship? Last time a Mountain West team went undefeated in their conference? That’s right, never. But hey, maybe they will repeat as Mountain West champions.

Florida

They started out well and they looked like a certain repeat as SEC East champions. And then, Tennessee. Doubtful they will have wins against LSU, Arkansas, and — oh yeah — FSU.

Boise State

See “San Diego State.”

LSU

Two devastating losses have already ended LSU’s season. They’ve got a star running back and replaced their quarterback, but they’re making a major coaching change four games too late.

Oklahoma

They’ve already dropped two huge games going into conference play — two losses that many legitimate teams won’t have by season’s end. No repeat here.

Remaining teams yet to show their true colors:

Miami, Utah

Inter-Conference Records

SEC: 21-7
Pac-12: 23-9
Big Ten: 30-8
Big 12: 15-11
ACC: 23-9
AAC: 21-8
Independents: 6-6
Mountain West: 20-15

Final Four Predictions

  1. Alabama
  2. Michigan
  3. Louisville
  4. Stanford

At this point, the Big 12 has been the worst against other conferences and most of its contenders have already lost important games. The SEC will be much closer this year than many expect, but until someone dethrones Alabama, it’s theirs. The Pac-12 and Big Ten have both been dominant and I expect their top contenders to be rewarded. The final slot comes down to the ACC or AAC champion — aka, the Houston/Louisville matchup. This season hinges on much more than the conference championships. It’s certainly going to be a wild ride.

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