The first College Football Playoff rankings won’t be released by the official selection committee until November 1, but we always get a jump start after the first games in October.
If you followed us last year, then you know we take a little bit different approach, however. We categorize potential playoff contenders by four groups based on the priority a team would likely receive at the end of the season if they manage to stay in that group. For example, Group 1 is comprised of all the undefeated teams that remain in Power 5 conferences. We rank the teams within that group first based on the likelihood we think they might stay undefeated, but all of those teams are ranked before we get to the second group. That means at this early stage of the season, there are teams like West Virginia and Maryland ranked ahead of Louisville and Stanford. This, of course, will likely change as more of the Group 1 teams lose, but the longer they stay in this group without losing, the more likely they are to receive priority from the committee when those rankings begin.
Ohio State leads the way for now in this group as the team that’s played the best and appears most likely to finish undefeated. They are followed by last year’s two national championship game participants — Alabama and Clemson — in the No. 2 and No. 3 slots. Then it’s No. 4 Michigan, No. 5 Washington, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 7 Tennessee, No. 8 Nebraska, No. 9 Baylor and No. 10 Miami (FL). As we mentioned previously, West Virginia and Maryland are also unbeaten in Group 1, and they occupy the No. 11 and No. 12 positions.
Next up are Group 2 teams that have one loss from Power 5 conferences. Consider that all of the eight participants in the first two years of the Playoff were either undefeated or had just a single loss, and all eight of them were champions from Power 5 leagues. Mathematically, there can be no more than five undefeated Power 5 teams at the end of the regular season due to conference championship games and the Big 12’s complete round-robin schedule, and the reality is, there will likely be no more than one or two undefeated teams from those leagues. The other playoff spots will likely be filled by one-loss league champions from our Group 2 list, but any team on this list that loses again will likely be out of the running while falling all the way to Group 4 (more on that group in a moment). We start this group with No. 13 Louisville which is still good enough to potentially win out and possibly work its way back into the ACC Championship Game. No. 14 Wisconsin lost to Michigan last weekend, but if the Badgers win out, they’d still be the Big Ten West champion and get another crack at the league title with just one loss. Similarly, No. 15 Florida could win out in the SEC East, and if Tennessee stumbles twice against maybe the likes of Texas A&M and Alabama, for example, the Gators could sneak back into the SEC championship game with one loss and a chance at working their way back into the playoff.
And that’s really the hope of any team in Group 2 which includes No. 16 Stanford, No. 17 Arkansas, No. 18 Indiana, No. 19 Colorado, No. 20 Utah, No. 21 North Carolina, No. 22 Minnesota, No. 23 Wake Forest, No. 24 NC State, No. 25 Arizona State, No. 26 Virginia Tech and No. 27 Texas Tech.
That brings us to the Group 3 teams, the undefeated teams that remain from the Group of 5 conferences (American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt). The reality is, these teams have about a snow ball’s chance in, well, you understand what we mean. And, yes, for now, that includes the Houston Cougars who have gotten a lot of attention over the last few months by beating Florida State in a bowl game before opening this season with a big win over Oklahoma. But just look at where Florida State and Oklahoma are now with two losses apiece less than halfway through the season, and a bit of the luster has worn off those wins for the Cougars. The reality is, whether they are undefeated or not, the Cougars would likely be lined up behind the conference champions from the Power 5 leagues if those champions are undefeated or have just a single loss. No team outside of Groups 1 and 2 has made the playoff field yet, and the bar remains steep for No. 28 Houston, No. 29 Boise State, No. 30 Western Michigan and No. 31 Air Force. The teams in this group have to finish undefeated, but they also need some help. For now, all they can do is keep winning and hope for the best.
So what about Group 4? Well, this group is for teams from the Power 5 conferences with two or more losses along with Group of 5 teams with a single loss that might receive consideration at the end of the season. It’s too early to project which teams might have a shot from this group so for now we’ll keep our focus on the top three groups until a potential opening emerges for any Group 4 teams.
The reality is, history tells us the four contenders will likely come from the first 27 teams in our College Football Playoff Pool. And if you want to get right down to it, it wouldn’t be shocking if the four eventual playoff teams are already currently in our Top 10 list.
THIS COMING WEEKEND
The top game on this weekend’s schedule once again involves the Tennessee Volunteers, and if they win at Texas A&M, they’ll be in the same position next week with Alabama coming to town. It’s a tough stretch for the Vols who nevertheless seem to have some luck and magic on their side after rallying from 17 points down against Georgia only to fall behind on a Hail Mary … and then win on their own Hail Mary seconds later. It was an incredible finish, but they aren’t likely to come from behind like that again if they fall behind the Aggies in College Station. This is the only game involving two undefeated teams from our Group 1, and the winner is one step closer to the playoff.
Virginia Tech and North Carolina, meanwhile, will play an elimination game as the loser here will have its second loss of the season and fall to Group 4 and most likely out of playoff contention.
Two other games involve teams from Group 1 against Group 2. That includes one-loss Indiana at undefeated Ohio State with the visitors hoping to pull the upset and strengthen their resume while staying in the Big Ten hunt. Of course, their hosts are the almighty Buckeyes so it’s a long shot at best. It’s possible the other game might represent a slightly better chance of an upset as one-loss Arkansas has the homefield advantage against undefeated Alabama.
Several other CFP Pool teams have difficult matchups against teams that already have two or more losses, and all of those matchups are listed below as well.
Battles of the Unbeaten
3:30 p.m. ET: Tennessee (5-0, Group 1) at Texas A&M (5-0, Group 1), CBS
3:30 p.m. ET: Virginia Tech (3-1, Group 2) at North Carolina (4-1, Group 2), N/A
Other Games between two CFP Pool teams
3:30 p.m. ET: Indiana (3-1, Group 2) at Ohio State (4-0, Group 1), ESPN
7 p.m. ET: Alabama (5-0, Group 1) at Arkansas (4-1, Group 2), ESPN
Other Games involving CFP Pool teams
Friday, October 7, 2016
7:30 p.m. ET: Clemson (5-0, Group 1) at Boston College (3-2), ESPN
9 p.m. ET: Boise State (4-0, Group 3) at New Mexico (2-2), CBSSN
Saturday, October 8, 2016
Noon ET: Iowa (3-2) at Minnesota (3-1, Group 2), ESPN2
Noon ET: Maryland (4-0, Group 1) at Penn State (3-2), BTN
Noon ET: Notre Dame (2-3) at NC State (3-1, Group 2), ABC
Noon ET: LSU (3-2) at Florida (4-1, Group 2), ESPN
3 p.m. ET: Houston (5-0, Group 3) at Navy (3-1), CBSSN
3:30 p.m. ET: Air Force (4-0, Group 3) at Wyoming (3-2), N/A
4 p.m. ET: Colorado (4-1, Group 2) at USC (2-3), PAC12
6:30 p.m. ET: Northern Illinois (1-4) at Western Michigan (5-0, Group 3), CBSSN
7 p.m. ET: Syracuse (2-3) at Wake Forest (4-1, Group 2), ACCN
7 p.m. ET: Michigan (5-0, Group 1) at Rutgers (2-3), ESPN2
7 p.m. ET: Texas Tech (3-1, Group 2) at Kansas State (2-2), ESPNU
7:30 p.m. ET: Washington (5-0, Group 1) at Oregon (2-3), FOX
8 p.m. ET: Florida State (3-2) at Miami, FL (4-0, Group 1), ABC
10 p.m. ET: Arizona (2-3) at Utah (4-1, Group 2), FS1
10:30 p.m. ET: UCLA (3-2) at Arizona State (4-1, Group 2), ESPN2
10:30 p.m. ET: Washington State (2-2) at Stanford (3-1, Group 2), ESPN
CFP Pool teams on bye week
Baylor, Louisville, Nebraska, West Virginia and Wisconsin
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