So it begins.
The raging debate over who reaches college football’s Final Four begins next Tuesday with the first release of the College Football Playoff rankings.
We say this every year, but this could be the most fascinating year yet. Notre Dame is relevant for the first time in the CFP era, the SEC has five teams that are still contenders, and UCF is once again undefeated. Here’s where each top-10 team stands after week eight.
Alabama is one of the few teams that can suffer a loss from here on out and still reach the College Football Playoff, but the way the Tide have played to date, a loss doesn’t look likely. We’ve watched Alabama for years with good quarterbacks, and they’ve won national championships—now that they have a great quarterback, the sky’s the limit for this team. Tagovailoa has completed over 70% of his passes and thrown for 25 touchdowns with zero interceptions, and the Tide have rolled over their schedule — albeit an easy one thus far. They are off this week, but their season hangs in the balance on November 3 when they travel to Death Valley for the biggest Alabama-LSU matchup since 2011.
Biggest remaining game: November 3 @ LSU
Surprisingly, after all the hype that Trevor Lawrence garnered in his recruiting process the running game has been the driving force behind Clemson’s success this season. Travis Etienne is currently the Heisman favorite among running backs and is averaging 8.2 YPC with 14 touchdowns, and Trevor Lawrence is finally starting to get going. The defense is as dominant as expected, giving up 13.4 PPG, third-best in the country. And the best part for Clemson? They don’t have a ranked team left on their schedule and may not even play one in the ACC Championship. If the Tigers go 13-0, they should be a lock for the playoffs.
Biggest remaining game: ACC Championship
3. Notre Dame
Notre Dame is going to cause a lot of problems for the committee. The Irish are undefeated, have a solid schedule, and they’re not in a conference, which means no conference championship. If they win out, their season ends on Thanksgiving weekend with an undefeated record and they are 100 percent in the College Football Playoff.
Which brings us to the next point: whose spot do they take in this hypothetical scenario? For me, it’s the Big 12. The argument could be made that the Big 10 has slim hopes with Ohio State’s loss to Purdue, but if Michigan wins out, they hold precedent over the Big 12 champ of their only potential loss to undefeated Notre Dame. This would mark the second consecutive year that two Power-5 conferences are left out of the CFP.
Biggest remaining game: November 24 @ USC
The great debate of whether or not the SEC deserves to get two teams into the playoff will certainly rage on once again this year, although the emergence of Notre Dame complicates things a little. LSU has one of the strongest resumes in the country, with wins over four ranked teams and they can add to that resume in two weeks against Alabama. The formula is simple for the Tigers, though: lose to the Tide and play for a New Year’s Day Bowl, or beat the Tide and keep yourself in the playoff conversation.
Biggest remaining game: November 3 vs. Alabama
Michigan could very well be the Big Ten’s last hope at the College Football playoff. Ohio State is technically still afloat, but the committee doesn’t take lightly to drubbings to unranked teams — see the 2017 Ohio State Buckeyes. The Wolverines have been menacing on defense, and Shea Patterson has been the difference at quarterback. He’s already thrown for more touchdowns (12) than all three Michigan quarterbacks combined last season (nine). It will likely come down to the Thanksgiving matchup in Columbus, as the winner of that game will enter the Big Ten Championship with a single loss. If Ohio State is the representative and they repeat as champs, the committee has to at least consider them. A one-loss team with big wins over Penn State, Michigan, and perhaps Wisconsin creates a worthy resume.
Biggest remaining game: November 24 @ Ohio State
The Longhorns have already passed their toughest test by beating Oklahoma, but their season hangs in the balance against the Mountaineers, and it’s imperative that Sam Ehlinger is healthy. Ehlinger left in the first quarter against Baylor with a shoulder injury but is on track to play this week against Oklahoma State. The whole “is Texas back?” mantra is still up for debate — it’s looking good for the burnt orange right now — but I predicted a Texas-Oklahoma Big 12 Championship, and I’m standing by that pick for the time being. If both teams enter that game with one loss, the winner would make a very compelling argument for the committee.
Biggest remaining game: November 3 vs. West Virginia
Gone are the years of the “little brother” SEC East. Alabama still reigns supreme in the SEC, but the East now boasts three top-12 teams and could be the most compelling division race for the rest of the season. The Bulldogs have some kinks to work out after getting worked by LSU last weekend — Georgia posted a -4 turnover margin and amassed a measly 113 yards on the ground, their lowest total of the season by 72 yards. The next three weeks will decide the East representative in the SEC Championship. After a pivotal matchup with Florida, Georgia travels to Kentucky to take on the surprising Wildcats.
Why Kentucky over Florida as the biggest remaining game? I think the Bulldogs have vengeance on their minds after what happened last week against LSU and can win a neutral-site game in Jacksonville. To have to travel to Kentucky for what is the biggest game for Big Blue in a long time is a tall task. Kroger Field will be louder than ever, with fans trying to show that Kentucky is not just a basketball school.
Biggest remaining game: November 3 @ Kentucky
Kyler Murray is the most electric player in college football and Oklahoma is a perennial powerhouse, but their margin for error is zero after a last-second loss to Texas in Week 6. It remains to be seen whether the firing of Mike Stoops will create an improvement on defense, but if the Sooners continue to play poorly on the defensive side of the ball, they will 100 percent lose to the gunslinging Will Grier-led Mountaineers. But if the Sooners reach the Big 12 Championship and win, they will certainly receive consideration from the committee.
Biggest remaining game: November 23 @ West Virginia
The Gators have undoubtedly earned the right to be in the top-ten, but they don’t currently control their own destiny. Because of the loss to Kentucky in Week 2, Florida would need to beat Georgia this week and then have the Bulldogs beat the Wildcats next week. If those two scenarios fall into place, Florida has a pretty smooth ride to the SEC Championship game for their third appearance in the last four years and would look to win the title for the East for the second time in ten years.
Biggest remaining game: October 27 vs. Georgia
UCF is without a doubt the most interesting team on this list. UCF has not lost a game since December 17, 2016, and it’s likely that they won’t lose again before that date in 2018. At this point last season, the Knights were ranked 18th with a perfect record, so their climb was higher. But at No. 10 this season and with several guaranteed losses for teams in front of them, there’s a very interesting argument to be made with this team. Last season, UCF went the whole nine yards to claim a national championship after finishing undefeated by throwing a parade, hanging banners, and making rings in an effort to cement their place on the top. If they go undefeated again, does the committee throw them into the ring with the heavyweights? Time will tell.
Biggest remaining game: November 23 @ South Florida