On Tuesday night, we will find out what the College Football Playoff selection committee thinks.
The first CFP rankings will be released, and there’s not any drama about who will be No. 1. And with the way Clemson has been playing lately, there shouldn’t be much drama about who will be No. 2.
After that, who knows?
What we do know is that the month of November is always good for a few twists and turns that nobody sees coming. So, really, the playoff has already begun.
And imagine if somebody would have predicted back in August that Kentucky would head into the final month of the regular season ranked in the top 10. And, yes, in football. The Wildcats moved to No. 10 in ESPN’s latest Power Rankings after scrapping and grinding their way to a 15-14 comeback win on the road against Missouri on Saturday night thanks to Terry Jackson’s walk-off touchdown pass after being benched earlier in the game.
If the vote were conducted right now, Mark Stoops would be in the thick of the conversation for national coach of the year. The Wildcats are assured of their first winning season in SEC play since 1977 but have their eyes on a lot bigger prize than merely a winning season in league play. They get Georgia at home next week, and at stake is a berth in the SEC championship game.
1. Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC)
Week 9 result: Open week
What’s next: at LSU (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, CBS)
Alabama has outscored its five SEC opponents by a 269-92 margin, and nobody has even made the Crimson Tide break a sweat in the second half this season. And while it might be dreaded rat poison to the ears of Nick Saban, Alabama has looked darn near unbeatable, especially with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa spreading the ball around to the deepest group of playmakers Saban has had in Tuscaloosa. But coming off of a bye week, the Crimson Tide face their stiffest test of the season against an LSU team that has been lights out at home. Moreover, this will easily be the best and most talented defense Alabama has seen this season.
2. Clemson (8-0, 5-0 ACC)
Week 9 result: defeated Florida State 59-10
What’s next: vs. Louisville (Saturday, 12 noon ET, ABC)
Remember when everybody was wondering what was wrong with Clemson after the narrow escape at home against Syracuse and all of the drama surrounding Kelly Bryant’s decision to transfer? Nobody’s wondering now. The Tigers are playing their best football and absolutely steamrollering everybody in their path. Clemson obliterated Florida State 59-10, the Seminoles’ worst beating at home in program history, and the Tigers have now outscored their opposition by a 246-26 margin in the 14 quarters since trailing Syracuse 16-7 at the half.
3. Notre Dame (8-0)
Week 9 result: defeated Navy 44-22
What’s next: at Northwestern (Saturday, TBA)
Well, here the Irish are, headed to November unbeaten and playing the kind of defense that it takes to win championships. It hasn’t always been pretty, but Notre Dame has proven to be solid in every facet of the game, and that has been good enough so far. The trip to Northwestern next week looks even more challenging given what the Wildcats did to Wisconsin. One of the big differences with this Notre Dame team has been quarterback Ian Book and his ability to throw the ball down the field. He passed for 330 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Navy.
4. LSU (7-1, 4-1 SEC)
Week 9 result: Open week
What’s next: vs. Alabama (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, CBS)
Seven straight losses to Alabama feels a lot more like 17 straight losses down on the Bayou. The Tigers’ résumé this season is impressive. They’ve beaten four teams ranked in the AP top 25, including three ranked in the top 10. But a win over the Tide would trump all of those wins multiplied by about a thousand. Nobody has been able to pressure Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa all season, but that will be a must for the Tigers if they’re going to remain in the College Football Playoff race and create another memory for the ages in Tiger Stadium.
5. Michigan (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten)
Week 9 result: Open week
What’s next: vs. Penn State (Saturday, 3:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)
This is more like it, exactly what Michigan fans were hoping for when Jim Harbaugh came marching back home four years ago. The Wolverines, coming off of a bye week, head into November right in the middle of not only the Big Ten race but also the national championship race. The Wolverines have won seven in a row since the season-opening loss to Notre Dame and haven’t given up more than 21 points in any of those seven wins. Getting star defensive lineman Rashan Gary back from a shoulder injury this season would make an already fearsome Michigan defense that much nastier.
6. Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1 Big 12)
Week 9 result: defeated Kansas State 51-14
What’s next: at Texas Tech (Saturday, TBA)
With Kyler Murray having another huge day, Oklahoma made quick work of Kansas State to set up what will be a critical November for the Sooners if they’re going to work their way back into the College Football Playoff picture. On the surface, the defense has looked better the past two weeks, but bigger challenges await against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. The Sooners have scored 214 points in their past four games.
7. Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC)
Week 9 result: defeated Florida 36-17
What’s next: at Kentucky (Saturday, TBA)
Hello Jake Fromm. Georgia’s sophomore quarterback threw three touchdowns passes, all on third down, and it’s pretty clear now that there’s no quarterback controversy in the Bulldogs’ camp, even though there were some rumblings before the game that freshman Justin Fields could get more playing time. The Dawgs still have some concerns on offense and weren’t able to run it at all against the Gators, but the way Fromm threw the ball in key situations was exactly what Georgia needed to stay alive in the SEC and national championship race.
8. Ohio State (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten)
Week 9 result: Open week
What’s next: vs. Nebraska (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, Fox)
The Buckeyes have had two weeks to lick their wounds from a 29-point beating at the hands of Purdue, and in the process, deal with reports about friction within the football program. Most pressing for Ohio State, though, is figuring out how to quit giving up so many big plays on defense, something that has hounded the Buckeyes all season. At this point, there’s a real chance the Big Ten could beat up on each other, meaning it’s way too early to count the Buckeyes out of anything.
9. UCF (7-0, 4-0 American)
Week 9 result: Open week
What’s next: vs. Temple (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
The Knights have won 20 straight games dating to last season but remain on the outside looking in when it comes to the College Football Playoff. Their only scare this season was a one-point win over Memphis two weeks ago. UCF athletic director Danny White last week called the CFP model “broken,” and it’s true that under a four-team format that a Group of 5 team faces long odds of ever making the field. The only thing the Knights can do is keep taking care of business and hope for chaos in the Power 5 conferences.
10. Kentucky (7-1, 5-1 SEC)
Week 9 result: defeated Missouri 15-14
What’s next: vs. Georgia (Saturday, TBA)
Just like everybody predicted, the SEC East title will go through Lexington, Kentucky. The Wildcats, despite being anemic offensively, found a way to grind out an improbable comeback win on the road against Missouri and will face Georgia next week at home for the SEC East title. Quarterback Terry Wilson was benched after struggling to throw the football but returned to lead the Wildcats to the victory. This is the first time since 1977 that Kentucky has been assured of a winning record in SEC play.
11. Penn State (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten)
Week 9 result: defeated Iowa 30-24
What’s next: at Michigan (Saturday, 3:45 p.m., ESPN)
Close games had haunted the Nittany Lions dating to last season. In fact, their past four losses heading into the win over Iowa had been by a total of nine points. But quarterback Trace McSorley showed why he’s one of the gutsiest players in college football by coming back from a knee injury suffered in the game and leading Penn State to a win James Franklin’s team had to have after losing its last two home games.
12. Washington State (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12)
Week 9 result: defeated Stanford 41-38
What’s next: vs. Cal (Saturday, TBA)
It has not been a season to remember in the Pac-12, but don’t tell that to anybody on the Palouse. Washington State, with its thrilling 41-38 win at Stanford on Saturday, now represents the Pac-12’s only real threat to make the College Football Playoff. That’s barring total chaos elsewhere. And what about the Pirate? Mike Leach now owns three straight wins over Stanford and four straight wins over Oregon, and Gardner Minshew has been one of the best stories in college football, not to mention one of the best quarterbacks.
13. Texas (6-2, 4-1 Big 12)
Week 9 result: lost to Oklahoma State 38-35
What’s next: vs. West Virginia (Saturday, TBA)
Just when you were ready to settle in for a potential Oklahoma-Texas rematch in the Big 12 championship, the Longhorns get ambushed in Stillwater by an Oklahoma State team that has specialized in pulling home upsets. Texas had its six-game winning streak snapped and faces a win-or-else contest next week at home against West Virginia. The Longhorns have given up a total of 72 points in their two losses this season.
14. Florida (6-2, 4-2 SEC)
Week 9 result: lost to Georgia 36-17
What’s next: vs. Missouri (Saturday, TBA)
Florida played well enough on defense to win Saturday against Georgia, even though youth in the secondary was an issue for the Gators. But Florida simply wasn’t able to generate enough in the passing game with quarterback Feleipe Franks making some crippling mistakes. That figures to be a problem the rest of the way for Florida, which still has a chance to win 10 games. The defense will keep the Gators in every game, but they’ve got to find some pop in the passing game.
15. West Virginia (6-1, 4-1 Big 12)
Week 9 result: defeated Baylor 58-14
What’s next: at Texas (Saturday, TBA)
Even with the blowout loss on the road two weeks ago to Iowa State, don’t forget about West Virginia just yet in the Big 12 race. The Mountaineers bounced back Thursday night with their most complete performance of the season in routing Baylor. November looks daunting with road games against Texas and Oklahoma State and home dates with TCU and Oklahoma, but with Will Grier and that passing game, the Mountaineers won’t be an easy out for anybody.
16. Utah (6-2, 4-2 Pac-12)
Week 9 result: defeated UCLA 41-10
What’s next: at Arizona State (Saturday, TBA)
After back-to-back losses to the Pac-12 Washington schools (Washington and Washington State), Utah has found its groove again with four straight wins and has scored 40 or more points in all four wins. Zack Moss rushed for 200 yards in the win over UCLA, and the Utes — with their ability to run the ball and stop the run — have put themselves in good position in the Pac-12 South race, especially with the win over USC.
17. Houston (7-1, 4-0 American)
Week 9 result: defeated South Florida 57-36
What’s next: at SMU (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
The Cougars were missing one of the best defensive players in college football. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver was unable to play against South Florida because of a bruised right knee, but Houston quarterback D’Eriq King showed that Houston is hardly a one-man team. King accounted for seven touchdowns, including five touchdown passes, and the Cougars maintained their lead in the American Athletic Conference West Division. Houston has scored more than 40 points in all eight games this season.
18. Northwestern (5-3, 5-1 Big Ten)
Week 9 result: defeated Wisconsin 31-17
What’s next: vs. Notre Dame (Saturday, TBA)
Within the confines of the Big Ten, Northwestern has played like a top-20 team. The Wildcats have five wins this season, all in conference games, after taking down Wisconsin on Saturday. Not only does Pat Fitzgerald’s club sit atop the Big Ten West standings, but Northwestern could also play a prominent role in the College Football Playoff picture. The Wildcats face Notre Dame at home next week, and the Big Ten West race could very well be decided the week after that when Northwestern visits Iowa.
19. Iowa (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten)
Week 9 result: lost to Penn State 30-24
What’s next: at Purdue (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)
The Hawkeyes’ chances of winning the Big Ten West took a major hit after they simply couldn’t find any offensive rhythm in losing on the road to Penn State. An interception for a touchdown and two safeties kept Iowa in the game, but it wasn’t enough after the Hawkeyes had climbed back into the race after three straight wins. In both games against nationally ranked teams this season (Wisconsin the other), Iowa’s offense has struggled to score touchdowns.
20. Mississippi State (5-3, 2-3 SEC)
Week 9 result: defeated Texas A&M 28-13
What’s next: vs. Louisiana Tech (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
A rejuvenated Nick Fitzgerald was more than Texas A&M could handle Saturday night. Fitzgerald was coming off a forgettable performance a week earlier in a loss to LSU but threw the ball as well as he has all season against the Aggies. If Fitzgerald can continue to play at the level he did against Texas A&M, the Bulldogs have a chance to finish the season with a flurry, especially with one of the most talented defensive fronts in the league.
21. Texas A&M (5-3, 3-2 SEC)
Week 9 result: lost to Mississippi State 28-13
What’s next: at Auburn (Saturday, TBA)
The only blemishes on the Aggies’ schedule in Year 1 under Jimbo Fisher were to the top two teams in the country until running into a maroon wall Saturday in an ugly loss at Mississippi State. Texas A&M couldn’t run the ball against the Bulldogs’ defensive front and was victimized by drops in the passing game. Three of the next four games for Texas A&M are at home, so the Aggies still have a chance to put a positive stamp on Fisher’s first season in College Station.
22. Michigan State (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten)
Week 9 result: defeated Purdue 23-13
What’s next: at Maryland (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
A week after a bitter loss to rival Michigan, Michigan State bounced back in a big way with a 10-point win over surging Purdue. Rocky Lombardi stepped in for the injured Brian Lewerke at quarterback and passed for 318 yards and two touchdowns. It’s a real long shot that the Spartans will win the Big Ten this season, but they can still factor into who wins the league, especially with Ohio State coming to East Lansing in two weeks.
23. Syracuse (6-2, 3-2 ACC)
Week 9 result: defeated North Carolina State 51-41
What’s next: at Wake Forest (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ACC Network)
How close is Syracuse to being unbeaten right now? The Orange’s only two losses were both on the road, in overtime to Pitt and to No. 2 Clemson in a game that Syracuse led most of the way. After losing seasons in his first two years at Syracuse, Dino Babers has the Orange in line for a bowl game in Year 3, and they’re scoring points in bunches after Eric Dungey accounted for four touchdowns in holding off the Wolfpack.
24. Georgia Southern (7-1, 4-0 Sun Belt)
Week 9 result: defeated Appalachian State 34-14
What’s next: at UL Monroe (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
All the talk last week in the Sun Belt Conference revolved around Appalachian State making its first appearance in the AP top 25 in school history, but it was Georgia Southern that stole the show Thursday with a convincing win at home over the Mountaineers. Georgia Southern’s only loss this season was to No. 2 Clemson, and the Eagles have won five in a row since that loss.
25. UAB (7-1, 5-0 C-USA)
Week 9 result: defeated UTEP 19-0
What’s next: vs. UTSA (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. TBA)
It was just a few years ago that UAB didn’t even have a football program after dropping the sport, but Bill Clark has done an amazing job of reviving the Blazers and steering them to the top of the Conference USA’s West Division. Their 19-0 win over UTEP was their third shutout of the season.
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