We’re into the final month of the season, and there still isn’t much clarity concerning the College Football Playoff picture. All five Power 5 conferences still have multiple teams in the mix, and Notre Dame is in the top four — and they could keep two conferences out of the playoffs.
The Week 11 tilt will clear things up a bit, but there will likely be 7-8 teams who realistically have a chance to make the playoffs heading into the first weekend of December.
We’ll learn more this week with several marquee matchups, but this year we might have the most controversial top four in the playoff’s young history.
Here are the six teams who just missed the cut for our rankings: UCF (8-0), Washington State (8-2), Penn State (7-2), Mississippi State (7-2), Virginia Tech (7-2), Michigan (7-2).
The Big 10
14. Ohio State
One week after Ohio State seemingly got back in the playoff picture with a win over Penn State, they suffered an embarrassing 55-24 loss at Iowa. The Buckeyes’ playoff chances aren’t completely gone — they can still win the Big 10 and sneak in with two loss — but they’ll need a lot of help down the stretch.
The Trojans are starting to get healthier, and back-to-back double digit wins over the Arizona pretty much guarantees they’ll win the Pac-12 South. They should win easily over Colorado and USC, which would set up a Pac-12 title game against either Washington or Washington State.
12. Oklahoma State
The 62-52 loss put the Cowboys behind the 8-ball in the Big 12, and now they’ll rely on TCU or Oklahoma to lose twice down the stretch to get back into the mix for the conference championship. They’ll have to get through a tricky road game at Iowa State on Saturday to keep their hopes alive.
11. Michigan State
Mark Dantonio has turned this Michigan State around from a 3-9 team to a squad who is in position to win the Big 10 this season. The winner of Saturday’s showdown between Ohio State and Michigan State will likely represent the East division in the Big 10 title game.
Despite having two losses, Auburn controls its own destiny in the SEC and possibly even for the playoffs. The Tigers host Georgia on Saturday in a major showdown, and it’s a must-win game for Auburn if they want to remain in the conference championship conversation. The matchup against the Bulldogs should tell us everything we need to know about both teams.
Here we are in mid-November, and once again Chris Petersen has his Huskies in Pac-12 title contention and battling for a College Football Playoff spot. They are ranked No. 1 in the country in total defense and are giving up only 11 points per game. Besides the one slip up at Arizona State, Washington has outscored their conference opponents by an average of 30 points per game. The biggest test of the season thus far for the Huskies will be Friday night on the road at Stanford. Washington blasted the Cardinal 44-6 last year in Seattle. — Lance Barton
This has been a classic Gary Patterson season at TCU. Whenever the Horned Frogs have a down year, Patterson almost always responds by producing a championship caliber team. If the Horned Frogs upset Oklahoma on the road, they’ll likely make the Big 12 title game and have a chance to reach the playoffs.
Wisconsin is 9-0, which is great for them. And if the Badgers finish the season 13-0, they’ll almost certainly make the playoffs regardless of their soft schedule. But this team hasn’t played anyone, and while the schedule toughens a bit down the stretch, it’s hard to really gauge how good they are because their toughest opponent has been Northwestern. Back-to-back games versus Iowa and Michigan will show us something, but we might not really find out anything about them until/unless they play Ohio State in the Big 10 title game. — Cole Frederick
Miami was in the same boat as Wisconsin until last week’s resounding win over Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes had won several close games over inferior opponents, and we didn’t really know if they were back. We still aren’t totally sure, but Saturday’s game against a very talented Notre Dame squad will let us know if the Canes are contenders or pretenders. — Cole Frederick
The Sooners took care of business at Bedlam, and now they turn their attention to a dangerous TCU team. This will be the best defense Oklahoma has seen all year, and I don’t think Baker Mayfield and Co. will put up 62 on the Horned Frogs. The winner of this game will almost certainly be in the Big 12 championship game.
Week 11 College Football Playoff Field
The Tigers are coming off their biggest conference win of the season in a 38-31 thriller in Raleigh against N.C. State. Quarterback Kelly Bryant’s ankle seems to be improving each week since he injured it against Wake Forest on Oct. 7. The healthier his ankle gets, the more dangerous Clemson becomes. A win versus division rival Florida State this week will lock up an ACC Atlantic division title for the Tigers and bring them one step closer to a third straight College Football Playoff berth. — Lance Barton
3. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish have perhaps the best offensive line in the country, and their dynamic running game will be tested against a stout Miami defense. If Notre Dame can win out, they’re a lock to reach the playoffs. Another loss would make things far more challenging since they don’t have a conference championship game to impress the committee.
The undefeated Bulldogs will face their toughest challenge of the season as they travel to take on Auburn, but it’s not exactly a must-win game for Kirby Smart’s team. A loss here wouldn’t end Georgia’s chances to reach the playoffs. They could still win out, win the SEC title game and make the playoffs. Regardless, this will be the biggest game of Smart’s young head coaching career, and we’ll learn a lot more about his Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon. — Cole Frederick
The injuries are piling up for the Alabama defense, and the schedule will toughen over the next few weeks for the Crimson Tide. They should still get by Mississippi State on Saturday, but an upcoming showdown in the Iron Bowl against Auburn and a possible matchup with Georgia in the SEC title game could be difficult for a hobbled Alabama defense.