The halfway point of the season is closing the door to many team’s College Football Playoff chances. Looking at the AP Top 25, here’s where the field stands on their chances and what they can – and can’t do – to reach the College Football Playoff.
1. Alabama (SEC, 6-0)
Rundown: This Nick Saban team is one of the best he has ever coached with Tua Tagovailoa on the path to become the most efficient passer in college football history. The bulk of their schedule is yet to come, but this team has more problems against the spread than they do beating teams.
Can they afford a loss? Probably. Barring an influx of undefeated teams from other conferences and Notre Dame, this team might be able to afford a divisional loss or close game in the SEC championship against Georgia. Even if other conferences produce undefeated champs, the SEC still has the best chance to get two bids.
2. Georgia (SEC, 6-0)
Rundown: Georgia hasn’t been tested yet, but they look poised to run the table in a weaker SEC East. If they do and can get through Alabama, they’re the best team in the country hands down.
Can they afford a loss? Probably. Again, an influx of undefeated teams from other Power Five conferences, Notre Dame, and possibly a one-loss Penn State team (if Ohio State wins out) are the only things keeping Georgia out of the playoff if they lose. A close loss in the SEC title game against Alabama might not be enough to push them out of the top 4.
3. Ohio State (Big Ten, 6-0)
Rundown: Dwayne Haskins and company look very strong on offense, but the defense continually gives up big plays against nearly every opponent they play. Michigan and Michigan State are on the slate, but the Buckeyes have a 71% chance to win out.
Can they afford a loss? Possibly. A regular season loss can probably happen as long as they keep it close, but a loss in the Big Ten Championship to Wisconsin could knock them out of contention. Undefeated Clemson, Notre Dame, a one-loss SEC team and an undefeated SEC champ could certainly keep a one-loss Ohio State out.
4. Clemson (ACC, 6-0)
Rundown: Clemson plays in a weak ACC, but they get a crack at undefeated NC State this weekend. They have the best chance in the country at winning out.
Can they afford a loss? Probably not. This ACC is too weak for Clemson to afford a loss and still get in the playoff. Penn State’s resume will look better if they win out with their lone loss being against a possible undefeated Ohio State. However, Clemson’s remaining schedule and their defensive line shouldn’t worry any Tigers fans.
5. Notre Dame (Independent, 6-0)
Rundown: The Irish have a schedule that is just tough enough for them to be put in the same category as other Power Five programs. Their quarterback play is good and their defense is winning games. That early-season win against Michigan looks better by the week and their remaining schedule is favorable against the likes of Florida State and USC – who are both having down seasons.
Can they afford a loss? No. Their schedule doesn’t put them in position to lose and still get in over a conference champion. An undefeated Notre Dame will most likely receive a bid as long as there are not 4 undefeated conference champions – but even that might not keep them out. It will be interesting to see where they rank when the CFP rankings are released.
6. West Virginia (Big XII, 5-0)
Rundown: West Virginia has a very exciting offense in a very exciting offensive conference. The canceled NC State game would have been a nice nonconference win, but the Mountaineers have a tough schedule ahead.
Can they afford a loss? Possibly. The great thing about the Big XII is that everyone plays everyone, and the Big XII Championship game acts as a second chance for the second best team in the conference. West Virginia might be able to lose as long as they get another shot at that same team during conference championship week. A one-loss Penn State (if Ohio State wins out), a one loss Georgia or Alabama (to the other being an undefeated conference champ), an undefeated ACC team, and an undefeated Notre Dame could stand in the way. This is a team that should hope to be ranked ahead of Penn State when the CFP rankings are released.
7. Washington (Pac-12, 5-1)
Rundown: The Huskies have a good defense that should be able to run the table in the Pac-12, but this conference has suffered internal chaos before. They play a good Oregon team this weekend and it should be an indicator as to how far ahead they are from the rest of their conference.
Can they afford a loss? Absolutely not. Their lone loss against Auburn looks worse by the week and the Pac-12’s playoff hopes almost ride solely on Washington’s shoulders. Winning out might not even be enough with two Big Ten teams (Ohio State, Penn State), two SEC teams (Alabama, Georgia), Notre Dame, and Clemson having to falter.
8. Penn State (Big Ten, 4-1)
Rundown: Penn State’s offense is really good under Trace McSorley and the remaining schedule is favorable. They probably won’t be playing for a conference championship, but they could easily be considered the second best team in the Big Ten if Ohio State wins out.
Can they afford a loss? Absolutely not. Their Ohio State loss looks really good, but they can’t reach the playoff with another loss. Penn State’s chances at a final four appearance are extremely interesting. An undefeated Clemson and SEC team will certainly be ahead of Penn State, but a one-loss SEC team that doesn’t win their conference would make for a great debate. An undefeated Notre Dame could see themselves behind Penn State if they beat Michigan more impressively than Notre Dame did to start the year (a close, 24-17 game).
9. Texas (Big XII, 5-1)
Rundown: This team finds themselves in a similar situation that Ohio State was in during their 2014 national championship run. That Ohio State team had an offense ran by Tom Herman, the current Longhorns head coach who is pretty familiar to running the table after a weak loss during opening week (Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech by two touchdowns). After an impressive win against Oklahoma, this team has a great chance to bring Texas back to notoriety.
Can they afford a loss? Nope. The Maryland loss doesn’t look absolutely terrible, but it has more ramifications then most people would think. Texas has to run the table in the Big XII. An undefeated Notre Dame team, an undefeated or one-loss Ohio State, possibly two SEC teams, and a one-loss Penn State team (which will have a win over Maryland) would all probably rank ahead of Texas. They need to win out and let the rest of the Power Five run its course.
10. UCF (The American, 5-0)
Rundown: Where will they be when the CFP rankings are released? The American Athletic Conference has three undefeated teams in the East Division (Cincinnati, South Florida being the others), and UCF had their game against North Carolina canceled. As bad as North Carolina is, every Power Five win helps their case.
Can they afford a loss? Absolutely not. The American is a Group of Five conference, but year after year it feels more like a conference that is solely in their own category stuck in the middle. UCF needs to win out and hope for some major chaos in the Power Five with two-loss teams winning conferences and a bunch of other unlikely scenarios. The good news is that current undefeated teams Cincinnati and South Florida (one of which will lose to the other) are the last two games for the Knights before their conference championship game.
11. Oklahoma (Big XII, 5-1)
Rundown: Oklahoma has a Heisman candidate at quarterback with Kyler Murray and if they win out they can have another shot at Texas in the title game. But they should hope for it to be Texas and only Texas. The Big XII scheduling format plays in favor for Oklahoma to have a shot at redemption, but they need to get through TCU and West Virginia first.
Can they afford a loss? Not anymore. Oklahoma has to win out and hope for some upsets ahead of them. If Clemson or Notre Dame lose, they can fall behind a one-loss Oklahoma. But Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, and Penn State can all remain ahead of the Sooners throughout the rest of the season. This is a team that should hope to be ranked right on Penn State’s heals when the CFP rankings are released. They need some help.
12. Michigan (Big Ten, 5-1)
Rundown: Michigan has the second-best loss in the country (Notre Dame), but they get a chance at the team that has the best loss in the country (Penn State) and the team that has the best win in the country (Ohio State). Michigan’s schedule allows them to almost completely control their own destiny.
Can they afford a loss? Nope. Michigan needs to win out. They will jump Oklahoma with wins at home against Penn State and in the Horseshoe at Ohio State. They also have a cross-divisional game against the likely Big Ten West champ Wisconsin on Saturday. Michigan’s resume will be good enough if they win out, and the only thing stopping them would be two SEC teams, undefeated Clemson, and undefeated Notre Dame, but two SEC teams might be unlikely to get in over a Michigan that wins out with this schedule.
13. LSU (SEC, 5-1)
Rundown: LSU is a good team and Joe Burrow is a good quarterback. They aren’t destroying teams, but they have some decent wins (Miami, Auburn). LSU gets a shot at the top two teams in the conference and the country with Georgia on Saturday and Alabama in November. If they win out, it’ll be hard to keep them out of the playoff.
What needs to happen? A loss will keep them out of the SEC title game and put them in a mid-major bowl game. They control their own destiny barring chaos in the conference in which two Big Ten teams, Notre Dame, and Clemson get in over every SEC team; however, that seems unlikely. LSU has the toughest remaining schedule in the country and is by no means out of the playoff race.
14. Florida (SEC, 5-1)
Rundown: They beat LSU but lost to Kentucky. They could have a shot at Alabama with a win over Georgia in two weeks and control their own destiny in the SEC. Similar to LSU, they need to have some style points and prove they are the Florida of a decade ago.
What needs to happen? Win out and let the rest of the country do the rest. Remember, Ohio State was ranked 16th when the first CFP rankings were released in 2014 before their run to the title. Expect Florida to be ranked in the low-to-mid teens but with a chance to move up.
15. Wisconsin (Big Ten, 4-1)
Rundown: The Big Ten West is very weak and Wisconsin lost to BYU in nonconference play. The good news is that Wisconsin gets a shot at the top three teams in the Big Ten East with Michigan on Saturday, Penn State in November, and possibly Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game.
What needs to happen? To blame Wisconsin for their weak division doesn’t serve them justice when they have a chance to play every good team in the East Division. Regardless, they need to win out and jump ahead of two SEC teams, Clemson, and Notre Dame. If they beat the three-headed monsters of the Big Ten East, they should be able to jump any Big XII team outside of an undefeated West Virginia or possibly an Oklahoma team that redeems themselves against Texas.
16. Miami (ACC, 5-1)
Rundown: A weak schedule, a loss to LSU, and unimpressive wins at Toledo (yes, AT Toledo) and Florida State put the Hurricanes in a tough spot. They won’t get a shot at Clemson until the ACC Championship and the remainder of their schedule is a cake walk through the ACC Coastal Division.
What needs to happen? A lot. Penn State and Ohio State winning out will probably keep both teams ahead of Miami. Notre Dame, any of the Big XII teams (West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma), and any two of the SEC teams (Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida) are ahead of Miami until further notice. Miami needs to hope for only one SEC team to assert its dominance, and they should hope for it to be Alabama or Georgia rather than LSU. The LSU loss doesn’t help Miami too much as they would need LSU to take down Georgia and Alabama and THEN hope for Alabama and Georgia to finish the season with two losses. A one-loss Big XII champ will remain ahead of Miami, but Miami and Washington both winning out would provide a tough debate for teams with similar resumes.
17. Oregon (Pac-12, 4-1)
Rundown: Oregon looks about as average as any one-loss team in the country. They have a decent offense but lost their one important game against Stanford. The Pac-12 needs more help than any conference to reach the playoff.
What needs to happen? In short, Oregon needs two-loss teams to win conference championships. They also need to beat Washington on Saturday and hope they run into an undefeated or one-loss Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship game. If Oregon can run the table, they’ll need to pass the eye test to get ahead.
18. Kentucky (SEC, 5-1)
Rundown: Kentucky has not looked super impressive, but they beat Florida and lost to Texas A&M in overtime. They have the weakest schedule remaining compared to the rest of the SEC.
What needs to happen? They get Georgia to kick off November and an upset would propel them forward. If Kentucky wins out they’ll make the playoff ahead of any Pac-12 team. The only scenarios possibly keeping them out of controlling their own destiny would be two Big Ten teams (Ohio State, Penn State), an undefeated Clemson, an undefeated Notre Dame, and an undefeated West Virginia. But even then, wins over the top two teams in the country would put them in any conversation with any unbeaten team.
19. Colorado (Pac-12, 5-0)
Rundown: Colorado has been playing decent football and they have the best wide receiver in the country in Laviska Shenault Jr (708 yards, 6 touchdowns in 5 games). They get Washington in two weeks but what does that really matter when the two could play again in the Pac-12 Championship game? Beating the same team twice does not boost a resume more than beating that team once.
What needs to happen? Well, they can’t lose. A one-loss Big XII team, a one-loss Big Ten team, a one-loss SEC team, a one-loss ACC champ Miami, undefeated Notre Dame, and/or an undefeated Clemson could all remain ahead of Colorado – who will arguably have a worse resume than an undefeated UCF. Their initial CFP rank could provide more answers on what they have to do to get in.
20. North Carolina State (ACC, 5-0)
Rundown: They’ve won a lot of close games and style points don’t bode well for this team. They get a bye before facing Clemson next weekend, but the cancelled game against West Virginia could prove extremely costly if they can win out.
What needs to happen? A one-loss Big XII champ can remain ahead of NC State, especially if it’s a team that beats a team they lost to in the regular season (such as Oklahoma beating Texas in the conference championship game). They need to hope they can upset Clemson and that Miami continues to win ahead of the ACC Championship game. Can a one-loss SEC or one-loss Big Ten team that doesn’t win their conference remain ahead of an undefeated NC State? The CFP rankings will answer a lot of the questions surrounding them and Colorado.
21. Auburn (SEC, 4-2)
Rundown: Losses to LSU and Mississippi State helped nearly knock the War Eagle out of playoff contention. Auburn struggles on offense and can’t buy a first down, and they still have Texas A&M, Georgia, and Alabama on the schedule.
What needs to happen? Colorado and NC State are rightfully ahead of Auburn, and even wins against the top two teams in the country would be hard to propel them into the top four. A lot of self-destruction would have to happen in all the Power Five conferences for Auburn to get a bid, but even then it would be hard to place them above UCF – the team that beat them at the end of last season.
22. Texas A&M (SEC, 4-2)
Rundown: There isn’t much that A&M running back Trayveon Williams can’t do for this team; he has 720 yards and 7 touchdowns in only 6 games this season. The Aggies are a solid offensive team when their run game is clicking, but quarterback play remains average at best and is the reason they lost to Alabama and Clemson in the first quarter of the season.
What needs to happen? Texas A&M has a rough schedule ahead, but their toughest opponents are behind them. If the Aggies win out and chaos leads to them in the SEC title game, which is highly unlikely, they will still need help from every other Power Five conference to be considered in the top four. It might be too little too late at this point in the season.
23. South Florida (The American, 5-0)
Rundown: USF is still unbeaten and has wins over two Power Five opponents (Georgia Tech, Illinois), but the Bulls still have Houston, undefeated Cincinnati, and Group of Five powerhouse UCF to close the season.
What needs to happen? USF needs to run the table in a tough American East Division, but the conference championship game will probably be against an unranked opponent such as Houston, who USF plays at the end of October anyways. USF would need the impossible to receive a playoff bid, but the CFP rankings should paint a clearer picture.
24. Mississippi State (SEC, 4-2)
Rundown: A three-touchdown loss to Kentucky and an ugly offensive loss to Florida have the Bulldogs barely in the top 25 halfway through the season. They still have to play LSU this weekend, Texas A&M the following week, and Alabama. They don’t have much of a passing game with Nick Fitzgerald under center (49.6% completion percentage, 4 touchdowns, 3 interceptions), but he makes up for it with his legs as he broke the all-time SEC quarterback rushing mark this past week.
What needs to happen? A two-loss champ from the SEC will have to be better than multiple Big Ten teams, a Big XII champ, an ACC champ, and Notre Dame even if they lose. If Mississippi State runs the table, they’ll have to hope for Alabama to hit a roadblock in SEC West play.
25. Cincinnati (The American, 6-0)
Rundown: The Bearcats have the weakest undefeated record in the country per their scheduling. UCLA is a bad win and Cincinnati looked highly questionable against MAC foes Miami (OH) and Ohio. Their remaining schedule is a lot of fun with USF and UCF in back-to-back weeks in November.
What needs to happen? Cincinnati is in a better position than USF is in to make the playoff if they remain undefeated. If Houston can win out with their lone loss being a shootout against Texas Tech, the American Conference Championship can potentially be between an undefeated Cincinnati and a one-loss should-be-ranked-by-then Houston. USF has to play Houston in the regular season, which diminishes their resume if they simply beat them again in a conference championship. Cincinnati, however, can hope for Houston to keep winning and that November 30th game to be between two decently ranked teams. Cincinnati would obviously need some help from every Power Five conference to have a two or three-loss champion, but 8 ranked SEC teams, a top-heavy Big Ten, and a round-robin Big XII can create chaos. Though unlikely, the American Conference is putting themselves in the best position among any Group of Five contenders.