Alabama, Notre Dame climb in College Football Playoff bubble watch
Less than a week after the initial College Football Playoff Rankings were released, there was a huge shakeup at the top. Previously unbeaten teams LSU, Michigan State and TCU all lost, which opens the door for other squads.
Before the Week 10 rankings are released on Tuesday, here’s a look at the cases for and against nine teams in playoff contention, ordered by the their likelihood of appearing in the top four.
Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 27
Last week: Won 23–13 vs. No. 16 Florida State
Next week: at Syracuse
Best wins: vs. No. 5 Notre Dame, vs. No. 16 Florida State
Case For: Clemson proved itself worthy of the No. 1 ranking last week with an impressive win over Florida State to clinch the ACC Atlantic Division and ensure its trip to the league title game. Dabo Swinney’s team can beat opponents in so many different ways, and the scary part is the Tigers look as if they’re only now reaching full stride.
Case Against: Clemson probably cannot lose and still make the playoff. Unlike, say, Notre Dame or Alabama, a one-loss team from the ACC likely won’t be selected. The Tigers also have few other chances to impress the committee, though such affirmation may not be needed. They finish with games against Syracuse, Wake Forest and South Carolina before the conference title matchup.
Consensus: In. A spot in the playoff, in addition to the No. 1 ranking, is Clemson’s to lose at this point.
OHIO STATE (9–0)
Last week: Won 28–14 vs. Minnesota
Next week: at Illinois
Best wins: vs. Penn State
Case For: The Buckeyes staved off a late scare from Minnesota thanks to a rushing touchdown from Cardale Jones, who was starting at quarterback in place of the suspended J.T. Barrett. Ohio State now has won 23 consecutive games. Is the Buckeyes’ brand of football always pretty? No. But they get the job done with the consistency of a team that forgot how to lose.
Case Against: Ohio State continues to win, even though it doesn’t always feel like it’s playing hard. It sometimes seems like the Buckeyes either let teams hang around or allow them to think they have a chance to win. If Ohio State is waiting for real challenges, they’re coming—it faces Michigan State and Michigan to end the season.
Consensus: In. If Ohio State keeps winning, it’ll have the chance to defend its national title.
Last week: Won 30–16 vs. No. 2 LSU
Next week: at No. 20 Mississippi State
Best wins: vs. No. 2 LSU, at No. 19 Texas A&M, vs. Wisconsin (in Texas)
Losses: vs. No. 18 Ole Miss
Case For: Alabama’s strength of schedule and quality of wins are the highest of any contender. Week in and week out, Nick Saban’s team is tested. Outside of a six-point home loss to Ole Miss, the Crimson Tide have looked every bit as dominating and powerful as one would expect. A win over previously undefeated LSU last week, in which Alabama’s defense held the nation’s leading rusher and likely Heisman favorite Leonard Fournette to just 31 yards on 19 carries, helped solidify the Tide’s case. The Tide are playing as well as anyone in the country.
Case Against: Alabama’s lone loss could come back to haunt it. If there are a few unbeaten teams left at season’s end, the Tide may not make the cut. Plus, with regular-season dates against Mississippi State and Auburn and potentially the SEC title game looming, they could suffer a second loss.
Consensus: In. Many people had reservations about Alabama’s inclusion in the top four last week. There should be none anymore.
NOTRE DAME (8–1)
Last week: Won 42–30 at Pitt
Next week: vs. Wake Forest
Best wins: at No. 22 Temple, vs. Navy
Losses: at No. 1 Clemson
Case For: Notre Dame is a two-point loss on the road to the No. 1 team in the country away from being undefeated and is playing as well as any team Brian Kelly has coached in South Bend, including the squad that lost in the 2013 BCS title game. The Irish have an opportunity to further prove their playoff spot in the last game of the season at Stanford, which potentially could be fighting for a bid as well.
Case Against: Notre Dame’s defense has not held an opponent under 20 points since Week 1 and at times has looked vulnerable. The Irish might be able to get away with a subpar defensive performance against Wake Forest and Boston College, but they will be seriously tested in their matchup with the Cardinal on Nov. 28.
Consensus: In. Notre Dame was sitting in prime position at No. 5 last week and should move into the top four.
Last week: Won 31–24 at Kansas State
Next week: vs. No. 15 Oklahoma
Best wins: vs. Texas Tech
Case For: Baylor inserted quarterback Jarrett Stidham into the offense against Kansas State to replace the injured Seth Russell, and the freshman performed admirably in his first career start. Stidham lit up the Wildcats, going 23 of 33 for 419 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Art Briles & Co. should be encouraged by Stidham’s play.
Case Against: For as good as Stidham looked against Kansas State, Baylor is about to begin a brutal stretch against three teams better than the Wildcats: No. 15 Oklahoma, at No. 14 Oklahoma State and at No. 8 TCU. Good luck.
Consensus: Out. Baylor finds itself in the same position it was last week—on the fringe but not quite there yet. A few wins in the coming weeks could change that, but for now, the Bears are out.
Last week: Won 42–10 at Colorado
Next week: vs. Oregon
Best wins: vs. No. 23 UCLA
Losses: at No. 21 Northwestern
Case For: East Coast bias is real, but Stanford continues to win whether you’re watching or not. Led by Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey, the Cardinal offense has scored at least 30 points in each of its last eight games, all wins. The defense has stepped up when it has needed to, and fifth-year senior quarterback Kevin Hogan has managed the game effectively. David Shaw’s squad is the team to beat in the Pac-12 and can compete with anyone in the country.
Case Against: There are scenarios in which a one-loss Pac-12 champion would get left out of the playoff. Stanford faces a crucial home game against No. 5 Notre Dame on the final day of the regular season, which potentially could determine whether the Cardinal or the Irish earn a spot in the top four.
Consensus: Out. Stanford could change some minds in the coming weeks, but it’s on the outside looking in for the time being.
OKLAHOMA STATE (9–0)
Last week: Won 49–29 vs. No. 8 TCU
Next week: at Iowa State
Best wins: vs. No. 8 TCU
Case For: Lost in the shadow of fellow Big 12 teams Baylor and TCU, Oklahoma State took down the latter in emphatic fashion last week, all but ending the Horned Frogs’ hopes for a playoff bid. In the process, the Cowboys added one of college football’s most impressive wins to their résumé. Quarterback Mason Rudolph has played well most of the season, and Oklahoma State’s defense stepped up Saturday, picking off Heisman hopeful Trevone Boykin four times.
Case Against: Big 12 teams still don’t get the benefit of the doubt in the eyes of the committee, as evidenced last week with undefeated Baylor and previously unbeaten TCU handed rankings of No. 6 and No. 8, respectively. The Cowboys do have two more chances to earn statement wins coming up, but beating No. 6 Baylor and No. 15 Oklahoma won’t be easy.
Consensus: Out. Oklahoma State likely needs to run the table to have a chance to make the top four. While not in yet, the Cowboys are knocking on the door.
Last week: Won 35–27 at Indiana
Next week: vs. Purdue
Best wins: at No. 21 Northwestern, at Wisconsin
Case For: Kirk Ferentz has somehow turned a 7–6 team in 2014 into an undefeated squad in ’15. The Hawkeyes rarely get the publicity that conference foes Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan earn, yet 10 weeks into the season Iowa is in playoff contention. It is balanced on offense (205 yards rushing per game, 207 yards passing) and ranks No. 12 nationally in total defense. The Hawkeyes are in the driver’s seat to win the Big Ten West for a trip to the conference title game.
Case Against: Iowa’s unbeaten record deserves greater scrutiny. It avoided East division crossover games with Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan, and posted nonconference wins over Illinois State and North Texas. The Hawkeyes are talented, but they haven’t had many chances to prove to the committee that they belong in the top four.
Consensus: Out. Iowa just doesn’t have the wins yet to earn a playoff bid. Finish the season undefeated, with a conference title trophy in tow, and the Hawkeyes’ case becomes far more compelling.
Last week: Won 9–7 vs. Vanderbilt
Next week: at South Carolina
Best wins: vs. No. 18 Ole Miss
Losses: at No. 2 LSU
Case For: At times this season, Florida has looked like a national title contender. Jim McElwain’s team plays smart, hard-nosed football on offense and defense, and is one fourth-quarter touchdown at No. 2 LSU away from being 9–0. The Gators rank sixth nationally in total defense and are tied for 13th in turnover margin, which could be the difference late in the season.
Case Against: A team that many people were surprised was not ranked higher than 10th in last week’s initial ranking did not do anything to validate that sentiment against Vanderbilt. The Gators needed a late fourth-quarter field goal to hold off the SEC bottom-feeding Commodores at home. Florida’s win over Ole Miss looks less impressive now than it did a month ago, and even a one-loss Gators team may fall just short of reaching the playoff.
Consensus: Out. Two big tests remain that could vault Florida into the top four: a home game against Florida State on the final day of the regular season and the SEC Championship Game, for which the Gators have already qualified.