Monday November 7th, 2016

Last week, Texas A&M was the surprise No. 4 team in the College Football Playoff rankings. After losing to Mississippi State last Saturday and proving it doesn't belong at the top, we'll see a new team take over the fourth spot this week when the rankings are unveiled at 7 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN. 

The top three should stay the same, as Alabama, Clemson and Michigan all won. The question this week is whether another one-loss team has the resume to jump undefeated Washington for the fourth spot in the rankings, or if the Huskies will claim the spot that should have been theirs last week. 

STAPLES: What's the one thing all true College Football Playoff contenders need?

Before the rankings are released, here’s a look at the cases for and against eight teams in playoff contention, ordered by their likelihood of appearing in the top four this week. (We're using this week's AP poll for rankings of opponents, since last week's playoff rankings are now outdated.)

Alabama (9-0)

Strength of schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 1
Last week: Won 10–0 at No. 19 LSU
This week: vs. Mississippi State
Best wins: vs. No. 10 Texas A&M, at No. 19 LSU, vs. USC, at Arkansas, at Tennessee
Losses: None

Case for: Alabama topped LSU in a defensive slugfest Saturday to stay unbeaten. Already No. 1 last week, the win will only strengthen the hold Nick Saban's team has on the top spot. Alabama also now boasts the toughest schedule in the country. It just needs to avoid being upset this week against the Bulldogs.

Case against: There really isn't much of which to be critical. The Crimson Tide have taken care of business. The only negative is that their best win (Texas A&M) looks a little weaker than what some other top teams have at this point. 

Consensus: In. Doesn't get much easier for the committee.

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Clemson (9–0)

Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 32
Last week: Won 54–0 vs. Syracuse
This week: vs. Pittsburgh
Best wins: vs. No. 5 Louisville, at No. 8 Auburn, at No. 20 Florida State
Losses: None

Case for: Clemson has three strong wins, two over top 10 teams, and knocked off Syracuse this week to stay perfect. At this point, Clemson just has to make sure it doesn't get upset. It's a fairly easy path going forward until the ACC championship game.

Case against: Outside of Louisville, Auburn and Florida State, the Tigers haven't played anyone that's very intimidating. It's a very similar resume to Michigan. One thing Clemson was able to remedy this week was actually playing well against a subpar team. The Tigers had struggled against Troy and NC State, but had no problem with the Orange. 

Consensus: In. The question remains whether Michigan could jump to No. 2 and Clemson fall to No. 3, but I think it might take a win over Ohio State for that to happen. 

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Michigan (9–0)

Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 52
Last week: Won 59–3 vs. Maryland
This week: at Iowa
Best wins: vs. No. 7 Wisconsin, vs. No. 12 Penn State, vs. No. 16 Colorado
Losses: None

Case for: Michigan, like Clemson, has three impressive victories. As Penn State and Colorado continue to win, it certainly helps the Wolverines, who continue to obliterate lesser teams. Both sides of the ball continue to hum, and did so against Maryland and D.J. Durkin, who was Michigan's defensive coordinator last season. A solid road test awaits Michigan this week in Iowa, but things are sure shaping up for a showdown in Columbus in a few weeks. You can argue that no team in the country is playing better football right now. 

Case against: The only negative thing you can say about Jim Harbaugh's squad is that it has not faced a challenge on the road. Michigan State decided it didn't want to field a team this year, so the blame can't be completely placed on the Wolverines. Iowa will be a step in the right direction before facing the Buckeyes on the road.     

Consensus: In. Another easy choice for the committee. I personally would rank Michigan above Clemson, but that is unlikely to happen.

Washington (9–0)

Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 68
Last week: Won 66–27 at Cal
This week: vs. USC
Best wins: at No. 13 Utah, vs. Stanford
Losses: None

Case for: Washington is the only other unbeaten Power 5 team in the country. The offense is proving to be one of the most potent in the nation, and quarterback Jake Browning is certainly putting himself in the Heisman conversation. The Huskies are doing everything that they can with a schedule that is holding them back. Putting up 66 points is nice, but Cal doesn't exactly have much of a defense. I still value the ability to navigate through a schedule and be undefeated, despite the fact that the slate is weaker than some. It comes down to how much stock you put into losses against other good teams and I'd give the slight edge to Washington—though it will be a tossup with Ohio State on Tuesday night.

Case against: The schedule is weak. The defense isn't great. The Pac-12 as a whole is having a down year, which is unfortunate for the Huskies. Utah is the only great win Washington has for now, although Stanford is still a decent win. Outside of those two games, however, there isn't much there. Washington really needs a good showing against USC this week. The way things stand now, Washington needs to run the table and go 13–0 in order to make the playoff. 

Consensus: In, but it's a coin flip. Based on what the committee showed us last week, it has no issue putting a one-loss team ahead of Washington. Ohio State has a stronger schedule and just beat a ranked team by a zillion. Don't be surprised if the Huskies are stuck at No. 5.

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Ohio State (7–1)

Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 28
Last week: Won 62–3 vs. No. 21 Nebraska
This week: at Maryland
Best wins: at No. 7 Wisconsin, at No. 9 Oklahoma, vs. No. 21 Nebraska
Losses: at No. 12 Penn State 

Case for: Ohio State turned on the jets this week against Nebraska, earning the win it needed to be in position to take over the No. 4 spot in the rankings. After a few sloppy weeks, this was the type of win the committee needed to see from the Buckeyes. Also, OSU's two best wins came on the road, which helps its case. The Buckeyes have a better schedule and better wins than Washington—the only difference is their loss to Penn State.

Case against: The biggest case against OSU is simply the fact that it has a loss. Yes, Penn State has proven to be a solid team, but the question the committee will answer is, is it as much of a "good loss" as Alabama was for Texas A&M to jump Washington? Outside of record, the Buckeyes have a strong case to be No. 4 over Washington.

Consensus: Out, but again, coin flip. In fact, because of the trouncing of Nebraska, OSU is probably the favorite for the No. 4 spot. The spot could bounce back and forth between the two teams until the end of the regular season.

• STAPLES: How Alabama morphed from a pro-style team into a sleeker juggernaut 

Louisville (8–1)

Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 60
Last week: Won 52–7 at Boston College
This week: vs. Wake Forest
Best wins: vs. No. 20 Florida State
Losses: at No. 3 Clemson

Case for: Quarterback Lamar Jackson is the clear Heisman favorite, but that's not enough to put a team in the playoff. The offense is great, and there aren't many teams that can stop it. Louisville is Washington but with a loss. 

Case against: The big problem for the Cardinals is that they've only beaten one good team, and it's not even a top 15 team in Florida State. The only other opportunity for a good win was against Clemson. Their final three games are all tougher than any other games on the schedule besides the two mentioned, and even none of those three opponents are ranked. The only way Louisville can rise in the rankings is by other teams losing. 

Consensus: Out. Louisville could even be jumped by a team with two losses this week, with Wisconsin the most likely. 

Wisconsin (7–2)

Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 7
Last week: Won 21–7 vs. Northwestern
This week: vs. Illinois
Best wins: vs. No. 19 LSU, vs. No. 21 Nebraska
Losses: at No. 2 Michigan, vs. No. 6 Ohio State

Case for: Wisconsin's resume actually takes a little bit of a hit this week despite being the favorite to move up to the No. 7 spot thanks to LSU and Nebraska losing. However, the Badgers continue to win and have the schedule to finish out the regular season without another loss. While Nebraska losing hurts Wisconsin's win strength, it actually clears the path for a Big Ten championship game appearance against the winner of Michigan–Ohio State. Northwestern has been playing well of late, and is a solid win.

Case against: The Badgers have two losses against the top two teams on their schedule, and while they're not terrible losses to have, they don't have a huge win anymore. 

Consensus: Out. It would take a win over Michigan or Ohio State in the league title game to give Wisconsin a shot.

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Auburn (7–2)

Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 13
Last week: Won 23–16 vs. Vanderbilt
This week: at Georgia
Best wins: vs. No. 19 LSU, vs. Arkansas
Losses: at No. 10 Texas A&M, vs. No. 2 Clemson

Case for: Auburn has benefited from an easy middle portion of the schedule to rise in the rankings. The Tigers have won six straight and still have a chance to win the SEC West over Alabama later in the season. 

Case against: It was a tough decision on whether to put Texas A&M or Auburn in this No. 8 spot. The Aggies beat the Tigers, but have the worse loss between the two teams (Mississippi State), while Auburn's other loss was to Clemson. The reason Auburn gets the nod is because Auburn is the only other team from the SEC that actually has any kind of hope to make the playoff. A win over Bama coupled with a conference championship would certainly make things interesting.

Consensus: Out. Nothing will change for Auburn unless it beats Alabama.

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