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Forde-Yard Dash: How Long Will the Undefeated Teams Last?

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where condolences are in order for the state of Mississippi, which has interesting coaches but bad teams:

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At present, there are 10 undefeated teams that have played three or more games. Undefeated is good. The College Football Playoff selection committee and the Top 25 voters love undefeated.

Now here’s the big question: How long will these 10 unbeatens remain unbeaten? A maximum of seven of them can run the regular-season table, although the actual number will be much smaller than that. Let’s break it down.

Clemson (1). Record: 5–0. Closest game: Beat Virginia by 18. Best win: Blew out Miami. Road ahead: Syracuse, Boston College, at Notre Dame, at Florida State, Pittsburgh, at Virginia Tech. Record of remaining opponents: 16–13.

There are a couple of interesting games looming: at Notre Dame on Nov. 7, when Upper Midwest weather could be a factor; and at Virginia Tech on Dec. 5, when Blacksburg could be wintry as well. But Clemson appears to be head and shoulders better than everyone in the ACC, including the renters from South Bend. The score against Syracuse on Saturday could be frightening.

Chances of being 11–0 on Dec. 13: Strong.


Alabama (2). Record: 4–0. Closest game: Beat Mississippi by 15. Best win: Dominated Georgia in the second half. Road ahead: at Tennessee, Mississippi State, at LSU, Kentucky, Auburn, at Arkansas. Record of remaining opponents: 10–13.

It’s rare to say this, but Clemson has a tougher remaining schedule than Alabama. The Crimson Tide is all but a lock to make the Southeastern Conference championship game, given the state of the rest of the SEC West. ‘Bama would have to lose at least twice not to make it to Atlanta, and it’s hard to find a single remaining opponent that looks like a serious threat at this point. Things can change, but as of now the Tide would be at least a two-touchdown favorite in every remaining regular-season game.

Chances of being 10–0 on Dec. 6: Extremely strong.

BYU (3). Record: 5–0. Closest game: Beat UTSA by seven. Best win: Steamrolled Houston late after falling behind by 12. Road ahead: Texas State, Western Kentucky, at Boise State, North Alabama, San Diego State. Record of remaining opponents: 2–11.

This stitched-together schedule isn’t going to hold up as a CFP resume—there simply aren’t enough quality opponents. But if you’re looking for an exciting candidate for a New Years Six bowl bid, a 10–0 BYU team with one of the nation’s best quarterbacks would be appealing. The biggest test figures to be at Boise State on Nov. 6, but we haven’t seen the Broncos (or San Diego State) yet. So that’s still conjecture.

Chances of being 10–0 on Dec. 13: Extremely strong.

Marshall (4). Record: 4–0. Closest game: Beat Appalachian State by 10. Best win: Holding off App State. Road ahead: Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Middle Tennessee State, Charlotte. Record of remaining opponents: 3–9.

Marshall has yet to trail in a game this season, and has one of the nation’s best defenses to date. But this resume is even weaker than BYU’s. Conference USA is playing only six league games, and the Thundering Herd are in the weaker of the two divisions. That has hurt Marshall’s strength of schedule—although it did play a decent conference crossover opponent in Louisiana Tech, and a non-conference game against Appalachian State isn’t bad.

Chances of being 8–0 on Nov. 22: Extremely strong.

Cincinnati (5). Record: 3–0. Closest game: Beat Army by 14. Best win: Holding Army without an offensive touchdown. Road ahead: at SMU, Memphis, Houston, East Carolina, at UCF, at Temple, at Tulsa. Record of remaining opponents: 13–9.

COVID-19 issues forced the Bearcats to postpone their game at Tulsa, which has now resulted in closing the regular season with three straight road games. Cincinnati might be the best team in the AAC, but there are five potentially losable games remaining on the schedule. Unless Luke Fickell gets his offense in gear, this won’t be easy.

Chances of being 10–0 on Dec. 6: Slim.

Oklahoma State (6). Record: 3–0. Closest game: Beat Tulsa by nine. Best win: Over West Virginia. Road ahead: Iowa State, Texas, at Kansas State, at Oklahoma, Texas Tech, at TCU, at Baylor. Record of remaining opponents: 13–12.

The Cowboys have the best defense in the Big 12, and enough weapons on offense to win the league. But undefeated? That seems like a stretch. Coming off consecutive open dates to play a hot Iowa State team will be a challenge, and Oklahoma State rarely beats Oklahoma. It certainly seems possible that the winner of the Big 12 has multiple losses.

Chances of being 10–0 on Dec. 13: Slim.

Notre Dame (7). Record: 4–0. Closest game: Beat Louisville by five. Best win: Over Florida State, maybe. Road ahead: at Pittsburgh, at Georgia Tech, Clemson, at Boston College, at North Carolina, Syracuse, at Wake Forest. Record of remaining opponents: 19–15.

Clemson stands as a formidable impediment to the Fighting Irish going undefeated, but there are other threats as well. That starts Saturday at Pitt, which has beaten three ranked teams in the last four seasons. Notre Dame’s pedestrian passing game, which ranks last in the ACC in plays of 20 yards or more with just eight, could use a lift.

Chances of being 11–0 on Dec. 13: Extremely slim.

SMU (8). Record: 5–0. Closest game: Beat both Tulane and Memphis on walk-off field goals. Best win: Over Memphis. Road ahead: Cincinnati, Navy, at Temple, at Tulsa, Houston, at East Carolina. Record of remaining opponents: 10–8.

The Mustangs are walking wounded after losing their top receiver and No. 2 rusher for the season. Still, they’ve found ways to win their last two games. That will become more difficult this weekend when Cincinnati comes to Dallas (if that game happens; Cincy is coming off a COVID-19 postponement). If the Mustangs are going to keep their winning streak alive, they probably will have to continue living on the right side of the turnover ratio (plus-four at the moment).

Chances of being 11–0 on Nov. 29: Slim.

Liberty (9). Record: 5–0. Closest game: Beat Florida International by two. Best win: Beat Syracuse by 17. Road ahead: Southern Mississippi, at Virginia Tech, Western Carolina, at North Carolina State, at Coastal Carolina. Record of remaining opponents: 12–5.

Power 5 outcast Hugh Freeze is winning his way back onto the radar of bigger programs. His Flames are sixth nationally in rushing offense, and surprisingly solid defensively. (Liberty is holding opponents to just a 27.7% third-down conversion rate.) But there is tougher competition ahead, most notably Virginia Tech and North Carolina State.

Chances of being 10–0 on Dec. 6: Extremely slim.

Coastal Carolina (10). Record: 4–0. Closest game: Beat Louisiana-Lafayette on a field goal at the gun. Best win: Same. Road ahead: Georgia Southern, at Georgia State, South Alabama, at Troy, Appalachian State, at Texas State, Liberty. Record of remaining opponents: 17–12.

This is the most surprising unbeaten of all. Coastal hasn’t had a winning record the past three seasons, and is 6–18 in the Sun Belt during that time. But here the Chanticleers are, in all their teal glory, riding the hot hand of redshirt freshman quarterback Grayson McCall (11 touchdowns, one interception, efficiency rating of 197.05). It will come to an end sometime—perhaps soon—but it’s been a fun start for a program that is a relative newcomer to the FBS level.

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