Roundtable: Which surprise unbeaten team has best odds to reach playoff?
Four weeks into the season is a good time to reconsider preseason projections. Some squads expected to be national contenders have underwhelmed, while others expected to finish in the middle or at the bottom of their respective conferences have surprised with strong starts. While it's too early to know how many of the latter group can compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff, some have made such strong cases that it's impossible to dismiss the possibility.
This is especially true for those teams that surprisingly remain undefeated. Which one has the best chance of making the playoff? SI.com’s college football writers make their picks:
Andy Staples: N/A
Ohio State. OK, I'm kidding. There isn't really a "surprise" undefeated team because there was so much unknown heading into this season. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if one of the currently undefeated teams winds up making the playoff with two losses. This season has a little bit of a 2007 feel to it.
Pete Thamel: UCLA
Josh Rosen hasn't been perfect, but he's been good enough to prop up the talent around him. Is there a more underrated player in the country than Paul Perkins?
Lindsay Schnell: Utah
Let's hear it for the Utah Utes. Or, as some might call them, the team that gave Oregon a taste of its own medicine. Pretty much no one saw that beatdown coming but let's be clear: If Utah can keep pace with the blur offense, they can beat anybody. Oregon is out of sorts right now, but the Ducks are loaded with playmakers, and Utah made them all irrelevant. We already know the Utes run L.A., and they miss the one team (Stanford) that matches up best with them. If quarterback Travis Wilson stays healthy, they could very well be the ones to emerge from the bloody South division. And if that's the case, I love their chances at making college football's final four.
Zac Ellis: Utah
The Utes are 4-0 for the first time since 2010, and that start has come against a tough schedule. Utah's 24-17 opening win over Michigan looks better each week. Last Saturday the Utes scored 62 points—their most in a Pac-12 game as a member of the conference—in a rout of Oregon at Autzen Stadium. A big reason for Utah's success? It leads the league in turnover margin (+1.75). Don't pencil in USC or UCLA as Pac-12 South favorites just yet.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: LSU
Ben Glicksman: Texas A&M
An undefeated A&M isn’t as surprising as an unbeaten Northwestern, Utah or even Florida. But the way things are setting up, the Aggies have a real opportunity to make a run. Kevin Sumlin’s team will have two weeks to prepare for Alabama (A&M plays the Crimson Tide on Oct. 17 after a bye), and its cross-divisional matchups are extremely favorable: South Carolina and Vanderbilt. It helps that the Aggies have an unstoppable force at defensive end and a freshman playmaker who can do things like this.
Colin Becht: Texas A&M
The most surefire way to the playoff remains winning the SEC with only one loss or less, and the Aggies are in decent position for that. They should be favored in all but three remaining regular-season games: vs. Alabama, at Ole Miss and at LSU. If Texas A&M can make it through those three with only one loss—doable, especially because the Aggies get a bye week to prepare for the Crimson Tide—Kevin Sumlin's squad will reach the SEC Championship Game needing only one more win to make the playoff.
Chris Johnson: Texas A&M
Whether Texas A&M’s 4-0 start this season should be considered “surprising” if up for debate. Both of the Power Five opponents the Aggies beat (Arizona State and Arkansas) have suffered multiple losses. Still, SEC media members picked Texas A&M to finish sixth in the West. The Aggies might turn out to be the conference’s best team: Quarterback Kyle Allen and a talented group of receivers lead a potent offense, and new coordinator John Chavis has upgraded the other side of the ball. Texas A&M faces tough road games against Ole Miss and LSU, but it should remain in the playoff conversation even if it slips up once in conference play.
Ben Estes: Utah
We knew the Utes would be solid going into the season, but making the playoff seemed like a stretch. At this point in the season, that’s no longer the case—Utah looks better than expected, and its schedule is more navigable. Games against Arizona State and at Arizona now look a lot more tractable, and Utah gets to play UCLA, the current conference favorite, at home. Whichever team wins the Pac-12 figures to get a playoff berth, and with its stout defense and an offense that can be explosive when Wilson is clicking, Utah has a solid shot of doing just that.