Alabama Crimson Tide (AP #1)
Business as usual in Tuscaloosa. There will be a point down the road where the Tide do not make the playoff, but it’s hard to see where that will be given the on field and recruiting consistency that Nick Saban has produced during his tenure as head ball coach. ‘Bama may be the best team in the country over the course of the season, but that’s mostly irrelevant once the final four teams are locked in. It’s all about who is riding the momentum wave from that point onward. Alabama is as close to a lock as you can get for the playoff in a sport where nothing is guaranteed. Nothing to see here, as they are unlikely to face real competition until they run into (likely) Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Prediction: IN
Georgia Bulldogs (AP #2)
UGA’s signature win came all the way back in Week One, and that is concerning. Teams evolve over the course of the season and it’s almost certain that Notre Dame is a better team now than they were way back in Week 2. Since then, Georgia has coasted by, easily handling numerous pushovers on their path to 9-0. The “Dawgs” have fed their bell cow in Nick Chubb and the senior has been reliable as ever, churning out 6.2 yards per carry as the memory of his gruesome knee injury sophomore year continues to fade out of sight. Georgia has done this all with true freshman QB Jake Fromm, who took over after an injury to Jacob Eason and never looked back. Kirby Smart has done a great job revitalizing this young team and finally giving the SEC a second team to hang their hat on, but this one feels like a fairy tale without the happy ending. The Bulldogs should have no issue escaping the regular season unscathed (though rivalry games can be tricky-Georgia Tech could surprise), but for as good as Fromm has been, the odds don’t look good for a true freshman facing the Crimson Tide defense in the SEC Championship Game. It would be unwise to put the cart before the horse-both teams need to lock up their spots-but at this point in the season, the undefeated Bulldogs have big goals in mind. The Bulldogs will have a tough time in the SEC Championship game, and recency bias may kill them here. Prediction: OUT
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (AP #3)
The Irish have the feel of a dangerous team-there are shades of 2014 Ohio State in Brian Kelly’s squad. The narrow early loss kickstarting a championship campaign is tried and true, and the ND offense looks unstoppable. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush has been adequate, but not exceptional-he hasn’t shown that he can win the team a game by himself. Running back Josh Adams isn’t a big name like Saquon Barkley or Baker Mayfield, but has produced the best offensive season in the country hands down thus far. Notre Dame is playing with confidence and composure-a dangerous combination for any opponent. The defense surrendered their first real hiccup last game. Bizarrely, it was against Wake Forest, while they shut down potential No. 1 overall pick Sam Darnold and the vaunted USC offense without blinking an eye. Next week’s matchup with Miami has massive implications for both teams. A victory there should lock up a spot in the playoff. Prediction: IN
Clemson Tigers (AP #4)
The Tigers have avoided the championship hangover to land themselves squarely in this year’s championship race. Credit to Dabo Swinney for replacing his three most important offensive players (DeShaun Watson, Mike Williams, and Wayne Gallman) and maintaining a spot in the top 5. The bread and butter of this Clemson team truly lies on the less heralded side of the ball, led by Dexter Lawrence, Austin Bryant and Dorian O’Daniel. Most championship teams are built on defense, but Clemson’s chances look iffy here. There is no sugarcoating the loss to Syracuse-it’s devastating no matter which way you try to slice it. To the committee, that will look worse than Oklahoma’s loss to an Iowa State team that has thrived off of upsets this year. There’s no margin of error left for Clemson, but name brand will help them here. Prediction: IN
As for the rest…
Oklahoma (AP #5) has a good shot at making the final four, but their uninspiring performance last time they made the playoff will hurt them. Big 12 defenses are nothing short of pathetic, and the likelihood that Oklahoma would advance to the championship game is slim. The committee may hold their weak conference against them, but they have the superstar QB and the name brand. They’re in but they will get bounced before getting the chance to make any real noise. Prediction: IN
It’s tough to see TCU (#8) beating Oklahoma in Norman. If that were to happen, they’re a lock to make the playoff and will be out for blood after getting squeezed out of the last spot back in the inaugural year of the CFB despite thrashing a solid Baylor team in their season finale. The lack of a championship game has hurt the Big 12 in the past, but the implementation of that game means there can be no excuses this time around. Prediction: OUT
Both Wisconsin (#9) and Miami (#7) have feasted on weak schedules to this point. Miami features a ferocious defense but has a humongous test this week with Notre Dame. Winning that almost guarantees them a spot as the ACC representative. Wisconsin beating a red hot Iowa team would give them nice transitive property win credit, but football doesn’t work like that. At this point, no team in either division of the Big 10 has been overly impressive, but it would be tough to leave out Wisco if they run the table in a premier conference. Prediction: OUT
The Ohio State Buckeyes (AP #11) were in the pole position to sew up one of the final spots of the playoff after a thrilling comeback win over Penn State. As the premier team in Ohio State could afford a loss to Iowa in a tough road environment. What they couldn’t afford was an absolute shellacking combined with a Penn State collapse taking the sheen off their signature win.
The image of a calm and composed Nate Stanley rifling a touchdown pass to the back right corner of the end zone with a 265 pound defensive lineman draped all over his leg will live on in fame for Iowa fans and in infamy for Buckeye fans. It’s curtains for the Bucks with two losses.
Washington’s loss to Arizona State, coupled with the limited media exposure that comes with being a small market team, may doom the Huskies to falling just outside the final four. It’s going to take them ripping off several consecutive impressive victories, plus a serious stumble by Notre Dame or Clemson, to get their foot in the door. They no longer control their own fate.
The ramifications are major in this weeks slate of games. It’s the best time of the year.