As this college football season enters its home stretch, the playoff picture is becoming slightly more clear. There are currently eight teams with one loss that have a chance of making the playoffs, and there are two teams with two losses with a realistic chance of getting in — not to mention undefeated Mississippi State (for now) and Florida State, which plays in the ACC.
For Mississippi State, Oregon, Florida, and Alabama, the path to the inaugural playoffs is simple: win the rest of your games and you’re in. This likely also applies to Baylor and Arizona State, although the case for the latter might not be strong enough unless it gets some help.
TCU is currently fourth in the rankings and probably playing better than anyone else in the country right now. However, they’ve already maxed out their schedule, and their head-to-head loss to Baylor could be detrimental if both teams finish 11-1 and there’s only one spot available.
Like the Horned Frogs, Ohio State is currently playing excellent football. The Buckeyes’ win at Michigan State was among the most impressive wins from anyone this season. J.T. Barrett should be a Heisman candidate and Ohio State is in pretty good shape to win out. If that happens, and the Buckeyes finish 12-1, they would be in position to earn a playoff bid. The only factor keeping them out of the mix would be its loss to Virginia Tech, which looks worse and worse each week.
Auburn and Ole Miss each have two losses, but they’re not quite out of the picture yet. Both need a lot of help from teams in their own division, and I’m also banking on the premise that if the SEC champion is from the West division, then they will make the playoffs. Auburn needs to beat both Georgia and Alabama, and the Tigers need Mississippi State to lose twice. In that scenario, Auburn would be in four-way tie at 10-2 in the SEC West, and the Tigers would win the tiebreaker. Ole Miss needs Auburn to lose to Georgia but beat Alabama, accompanied with Mississippi State losses to Alabama and Ole Miss. It’s a long shot for either team, but we’ve seen crazier things happen in college football.
The Big 10
Note: This is based on how teams are playing right now, and not necessarily on resumes or projections.
Just Missed the Cut: Michigan State (7-2), Arizona (7-2), Notre Dame (7-2), Clemson (7-2), Duke (8-1), LSU (7-3)
14. UCLA (8-2) The Bruins are finally trending in the right direction. They still need some help to win the Pac-12 South, including Arizona beating Arizona State at the end of the year, but if they get to the Pac-12 title game, they could give Oregon some trouble in the rematch.
13. Kansas State (7-2) Kansas State has one of the toughest road schedules in all of college football, and they weren’t even close to beating TCU last Saturday night in Waco. They’re probably out of the mix for a Big 12 championship, but they could play spoiler against Baylor in a few weeks.
12. Nebraska (8-1) The Cornhuskers have a chance to win the Big 10 West division this week against Wisconsin. A win doesn’t necessarily clinch the division just yet, but the winner will have a great chance of meeting Ohio State in the Big 10 title game.
11. Ole Miss (8-2) The Rebels have a much needed bye week this week before two tough games against Arkansas and Mississippi State. The path to Atlanta for the SEC title game is complicated, and Ole Miss fans will be watching the Mississippi State/Alabama game and the Auburn/Georgia game very closely on Saturday.
10. Georgia (7-2) The Bulldogs finally get the best player in the country back this weekend. Todd Gurley makes his triumphant return against Auburn, and he should have a monster game against the porous Auburn defense. Georgia needs Missouri to lose at least once more to win the East, which seems realistic since the Tigers have games against Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Arkansas remaining.
9. Auburn (7-2) Auburn’s loss to Texas A&M was pretty terrible, especially how it ended, but the Tigers still have some hope remaining. Even if Auburn had finished the season 11-1, they still would have needed Mississippi State to lose twice to win the West.
8. Arizona State (8-1) Last week’s rout of Notre Dame was an impressive win for Arizona State, and now the Sun Devils control their own destiny in the Pac-12.
7. Florida State (9-0) Having the undefeated Seminoles at 7 sounds ridiculous, and as long as they keep winning they’ll make the playoffs. Florida State has yet to play a great game all year. The competition has ranged from average (Virginia, Louisville, Oklahoma State) to pretty good (Notre Dame, Clemson). The ‘Noles are better than anyone in the ACC, and they’re still better than most teams in the country, but they aren’t the best.
6. Ohio State (8-1) For several weeks, Ohio State had beaten mediocre opponents soundly. Throughout that stretch, it was tough to gauge exactly how good the Buckeyes actually were. Prior to Saturday’s win over Michigan State, the last time we had seen Ohio State in the spotlight was the loss to Virginia Tech. The win over Michigan State indicated that this team can play with anyone, and they’re starting to peak at just the right time.
5. Baylor (8-1) Baylor’s blowout win over Oklahoma on the road was the first glimpse we’ve had at seeing just how dominant the Bears can be. The schedule was pretty soft up until that game, but the Bears put on a show in Norman. Only one test (Kansas State) remains in the way from the Bears earning a playoff bid.
4. Alabama (8-1) 3. Mississippi State (9-0) Saturday’s game at Bryant-Denny Stadium might be an elimination game. While it’s had to imagine a one-loss Mississippi State team not making the playoffs, try out this scenario: Alabama wins on Saturday and the Crimson Tide go on to win the SEC at 12-1. Oregon and Florida State both win out as well, and they join Alabama as playoff locks. The fourth spot would come down to 11-1 Baylor (with a conference title), 11-1 Mississippi State and 12-1 Ohio State. It’s hard to say anything for sure because we don’t know how the committee would weigh the Bulldogs’ loss to ‘Bama, but I think Baylor would get the nod over Mississippi State. The strength of schedule and quality wins would be about the same, but the Bears would have the conference championship next to their name that would give them the edge.
2. Oregon (9-1) If I had to pick one team that I thought was a lock for the playoffs at this point, it would be the Ducks. Oregon should easily defeat Colorado and Oregon State, and the only game standing between them and the playoff would be the Pac-12 title game against UCLA, Arizona State or Arizona. Marcus Mariotta is the Heisman frontrunner right now (sorry, Dak), and Oregon is playing its best football of the season.
1. TCU (8-1) On a neutral field right now, I’d take TCU over anyone in the country. The only problem with that is even if they win out, there’s a chance they miss the playoffs altogether. If TCU misses the playoffs at 11-1, and Ohio State misses at 12-1 (both possible), we might see an 8-team playoff sooner than expected. But after such a fun season, something Joe Mags and I discussed at length yesterday, it would have to be a bit discouraging if the nation’s hottest team missed the postseason.
Last Week: 2-4; Season: 10-20
If you’re not fading all my picks by now, you should.
Home team in ALL CAPS
1. Clemson (-3) over GEORGIA TECH – Deshaun Watson is back at quarterback for the Tigers, and the Clemson offense hits another gear when he’s at the helm. Prediction: Clemson 41, Georgia Tech 34.
2. Florida State (-2.5) over MIAMI – Remember what I said about Florida State not playing a great game all season? Well, they’re due. Somehow, the Seminoles are only a 2.5-point favorite over Miami. I think Florida State wins big on the road. Prediction: Florida State 45, Miami 24.
3. South Carolina (+7) over FLORIDA – I swear this will be the last time I take South Carolina this year if they don’t cover (I’ve said this for six weeks now). I don’t think the Gators should be favored by this much over any SEC team not named Vanderbilt. Gamecocks win this one outright. Prediction: South Carolina 31, Florida 28.
4. TEXAS A&M (-4) over Missouri – After three consecutive blowout losses, it looked like the Aggies were finished. The win at Auburn gave this team new life, and they now have the opportunity to finish the season 9-3. Prediction: Texas A&M 45, Missouri 37.
5. OREGON STATE (+7.5) over Arizona State – I mentioned on the podcast with Joe Mags that I thought the Sun Devils were frauds. After last week’s huge win over Notre Dame, this is a tricky spot for the Sun Devils. They haven’t won in Corvallis since 2005, and the Beavers pull off the major upset here. Prediction: Oregon State 41, Arizona State 38.
6. Auburn (+2.5) over GEORGIA – Homer Pick of the Week Alert. I said before the season that Auburn would lose this game, if only because the football gods owe the Bulldogs this one. Georgia gets Todd Gurley back. They can still win the East. Everything points to Georgia winning this game. But every time I’ve thought Georgia was in a great position to win, they went on to lose in the most perplexing way possible. I wouldn’t be surprised at any outcome in this game, but I’m trusting Gus Malzahn more than Mark Richt here. Since arriving at Auburn last season, Gus Malzahn is 7-0 against the spread as an underdog, and he’s won five of those games outright. Prediction: Auburn 41, Georgia 34.
• More on Auburn-Georgia: While the Alabama-Auburn rivalry is obviously bigger, any Auburn or Georgia fan will gladly tell you how important this rivalry is for these schools. Known as the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, Saturday night will be the 118th meeting between the two teams. After last year’s unbelievable Hail Mary from Nick Marshall to Ricardo Louis, Auburn now leads the series 55-54-8.
The Tigers haven’t won in Athens since 2005.
• Has the no. 1 team in the country ever been this big of an underdog this late in the regular season? Mississippi State is now a 9.5-point dog to Alabama. I think Alabama wins 31-24, but I’m surprised that the number is big in Vegas.
• Predictions for other ranked teams: TCU 66, Kansas 14; Ohio State 41, Minnesota 28; Michigan State 38, Maryland 20; Arkansas 24, LSU 19; Arizona 27, Washington 17; Nebraska 31, Wisconsin 30; Notre Dame 41, Northwestern 24; Duke 24, Virginia Tech 20; Stanford 20, Utah 17.