- There may be only two full weeks in the books, but the College Football Playoff path for teams like Florida and Ohio State already seem filled with too many obstacles.
The top candidates for the College Football Playoff won’t be determined until later in the season. The contenders have yet to separate themselves from the pretenders, and the selection committee would be wasting its time trying to parse résumés at this point. But even with only two full weeks in the books, it’s clear some teams’ paths to the playoff are heavily blockaded, if not shut off completely. These squads may not have been officially eliminated, but it seems unlikely they’ll be able to make a case for an invitation to the national semifinals. To narrow the scope of this analysis, SI.com focused only on teams that made the top 20 of our preseason rankings.
Florida canceled its tilt against Northern Colorado this weekend because of Hurricane Irma, but its one game earlier this month made clear this team isn’t making the playoff. Even with 10 players suspended for their neutral site season opener against Michigan, including top running back Jordan Scarlett and preseason second-team All-SEC wide receiver Antonio Callaway, the Gators looked in over their heads on offense against a defense that brought back only one starter from last season. In the 33–17 defeat, Florida produced 192 total yards, scored zero offensive touchdowns and failed to resolve its quarterback situation, with Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire and redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks combining for 181 yards on 26 attempts and a passer rating of 112.3, below the number journeyman Luke Del Rio posted over six games (118.6) last season.
A charitable interpretation of the Gators’ offensive showing against the Wolverines is that they were facing an elite defense, if a young one, and could bounce back against more permissive units during SEC play. That glosses over the fact Florida will need to move the ball against LSU (Oct. 7), Georgia (Oct. 28) and Florida State (Nov. 25) to have any shot of presenting a credible case to the selection committee.
Florida State’s game against Louisiana-Monroe scheduled for Week 2 was also called off on account of Hurricane Irma, and its meeting against in-state rival Miami has been moved to Oct. 7 from Sept. 16. Before then, it will face two conference opponents it should beat (North Carolina State at home and Wake Forest on the road). The Seminoles also ought to be able to handle the Hurricanes, and possibly Louisville, both of which will visit Tallahassee. Their season will hinge on a Nov. 11 game at Clemson, a likely must-win even if Florida State goes unbeaten the rest of the way.
Perhaps the Seminoles could become the first team to make the playoff with two losses—the committee would reason that Florida State deserves a bid because both of their defeats came against top-five opponents away from home. That scenario, though, assumes Florida State doesn’t take an unexpected L somewhere else, which feels like a long shot with a true freshman quarterback regarded by recruiting services as a three-star prospect with a rudimentary passing repertoire. If James Blackman makes those recruiting services regret his star rating by ripping apart ACC defenses and leading Florida State to a conference championship, then sure: The Seminoles can make the CFP.
When Baker Mayfield spiked Ohio State’s logo at midfield of the Horseshoe with an Oklahoma flag after the Sooners’ 31–16 win on Saturday night, he was celebrating a seminal non-conference road triumph against an opponent who had pulled off the same feat one year earlier in Norman. But the gesture also served as a helpful metaphor for the Buckeyes’ playoff potential. They are, until further notice, out of the race.
That statement may feel like an overreaction to one game, particularly since Ohio State rebounded from an early home loss to Virginia Tech to make the first version of the CFP three years ago. The problem with holding up that season as a source of hope is that the Buckeyes followed up that defeat to the Hokies by running the table. Ohio State doesn’t seem capable of doing that this season. An offensive coaching staff shakeup apparently has not lifted the offensive malaise that dogged the Buckeyes leading into their 31–0 smashing at the hands of Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl last year. And while they can suffocate most of their opponents with a vicious defensive line, Saturday’s loss was Exhibit A of how, against top-level competition, you can’t expect to consistently get results without the offense pulling its weight.
No Group of Five team has made the playoff in the postseason structure’s three years of existence, and South Florida, out of the American Athletic Conference, wasn’t a strong candidate to do it even before the season began. The Bulls don’t face a marquee opponent outside of the AAC like conference mate Houston did last year (Oklahoma, Louisville), and no league win is going to grab the committee’s attention. South Florida’s best bet was to trounce everyone on its schedule and hope the style points held water on selection Sunday, but that can’t happen now: The Bulls had to work to put away Mountain West foe San Jose State and Football Championship Subdivision opponent Stony Brook in their first two games.
South Florida canceled its bout against Connecticut on Saturday due to Hurricane Irma, but it does host Big Ten squad Illinois at Raymond James Stadium on Friday. A decisive victory over the Illini might nudge the Bulls onto the periphery of the CFP picture, but realistically, they won’t crack the top four unless utter chaos at the top of the rankings leaves the committee with a host of unconvincing CVs from which to choose. South Florida is still tracking toward earning the Group of Five’s automatic bid to a New Year’s Six bowl, however, and it should be smooth sailing from now until its last game of the season, at Central Florida.
No squad on this list is better positioned to make SI.com eat its words by earning a spot in the final four. USC spanked the Cardinal at the Coliseum in a 42–24 win on Saturday, racking up 307 yards on the ground, 316 yards and four touchdowns from star quarterback Sam Darnold through the air and 623 total, the most Stanford has yielded in any game since David Shaw took over as head coach prior to the 2011 season. But the Cardinal could effectively nullify that loss by returning the favor to the Trojans in the Pac-12 championship game.
To get there, Stanford would need to beat out undefeated No. 6 Washington in the conference’s North division, and fortunately for the Cardinal, they get the Huskies at home on a Friday night in early November. First they’ll need to navigate treacherous road games against Utah (Oct. 7) and Washington State (Nov. 4), as well as home meetings with a UCLA squad led by projected top-10 NFL draft pick Josh Rosen and Oregon’s flamethrowing offense. The USC loss notwithstanding, this team has some of the hallmarks of a vintage modern Stanford bulldozer, and it should have the scoring pop to hang with all of its conference opponents despite the offseason departure of perpetual offense generator Christian McCaffrey. If the Cardinal handle business over the next three months, they should get a redo against the Trojans. A different outcome could vault them into the CFP at USC’s expense.