There are five weeks of college football remaining before Selection Sunday and there are a dozen teams that genuinely believe they’ll be in the College Football Playoff if they win out, plus three more that could get there if things break their way. Obviously, there are only four seats on this ride, so let’s sort out where everyone stands.
“Win out and you’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Auburn (7-1 record, No. 3 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings)
This week: Won at then-No. 4 Ole Miss, 38-35
The case for: Thursday night win at Kansas State is arguably the most impressive non-conference win in the nation, and certainly in the SEC. Still has more chances to impress than anyone in college football with games at Georgia, Alabama and a possible SEC championship berth waiting.
The case against: None. This was the committee’s top one-loss team before walking out of Oxford with a win.
Oregon (8-1, No. 5)
This week: Blew out Stanford in Eugene, 45-16
The case for: Has a strong argument for best non-conference win in college football with 19-point win over otherwise-undefeated Michigan State. Blew out UCLA and Washington. When it’s all said and done, Ducks could have wins over five teams that were ranked at the time. Loss to Arizona could fall under injury considerations in the eyes of the committee.
The case against: Lost at home, unlike other one-loss front-runners Ole Miss, Auburn, Alabama, and TCU.
Alabama (6-1, No. 6)
This week: Off
The case for: With games against No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 5 Auburn waiting (plus at LSU) Alabama has more chances to impress than the rest of their competition. And both must come to Tuscaloosa, where they’ve racked up 1,247 yards and 101 points in their last two games. A 10-point neutral site win over West Virginia has aged like Apple stock.
The case against: Zero wins over teams that will be ranked come Tuesday night.
TCU (7-1, No. 7)
This week: Won at then-No. 20 West Virginia, 31-30
The case for: Win over Minnesota is the best non-conference win by a Big 12 team. Frogs’ play against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech makes fourth quarter against Baylor look like a major aberration. Gets Kansas State at home. Win over West Virginia will look better before the committee than it would with the computers.
The case against: Leaving the state of Texas twice all season, plus the Baylor loss, means their only impressive road win will be West Virginia. Light closing schedule (at Kansas, at Texas, vs. Iowa State) doesn’t leave opportunity to impress after mid-November.
Michigan State (6-1, No. 8)
This week: Off
The case for: Should earn major brownie points from the committee for traveling to Oregon. Held a two-score lead in every game this season. Gets Ohio State at home, plus possible Big Ten championship berth.
The case against: Most, and only, impressive win so far is five-point defeat of Nebraska at home. Oregon loss means only chance for impressive win in an opponent’s stadium is at Maryland.
Kansas State (7-1, No. 9)
This week: Off
The case for: K-State is alone in first place in the Big 12, the only team in the conference still with a chance to run the table. The list of teams to win in Norman during the Stoops tenure is short, and Kansas State has now done it in two straight trips. Still has games with Oklahoma State, West Virginia, TCU and Baylor remaining, the latter three on the road. The loss to Auburn will play better during selection committee discussions than it would in the BCS era.
The case against: Loss to Auburn means Kansas State’s only non-conference wins are Stephen F. Austin and UTEP.
Notre Dame (7-1, No. 10)
This week: Survived Navy in Washington, D.C., 49-39
The case for: Walked into the house of the defending national champions and more than held their own. Earned a hard-fought win over Stanford. Challenging remaining schedule (at No. 14 Arizona State, vs. Louisville, at No. 20 USC) leaves plenty of opportunities to impress the committee.
The case against: Let’s be honest, the only impressive thing this team has done is nearly beat Notre Dame. Their wins are pedestrian, and they haven’t looked especially dominant in the process.
Arizona State (7-1, No. 14)
This week: Beat then-No. 17 Utah, 19-16 in overtime
The case for: Displayed great defense since UCLA lost, out-Stanfording Stanford for a 26-10 win and out-grittying Utah on Saturday. Still has home game with Notre Dame, plus trips to Arizona and a potential date with Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship.
The case against: 62-27 home loss to UCLA was the very definition of ugly at the time. So bad was that loss that Arizona State, playing without starting quarterback Taylor Kelly that night, can not use the injury consideration asterisk that Oregon and Ohio State will make their proverbial cases with.
Ohio State (7-1, No. 16)
This week: Blew out Illinois, 55-14
The case for: This team looked every bit like a top four team since loss to Virginia Tech, beating likely bowl teams Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers by nearly 30 points per game, until struggling with Penn State. Still, a conference win on the road is a conference win on the road. Chance to earn impressive road win at Michigan State. Play of J.T. Barrett since Virginia Tech loss creates a discussion point for the committee.
The case against: That Virginia Tech loss has aged like a carton of milk on a Las Vegas sidewalk in the middle of July.
“You’re going to need some help.”
Baylor (6-1, No. 13)
This week: Crushed Kansas, 60-14
The case for: Improbable as it was, this is still the team that beat TCU. Still has games with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State ahead, the latter two in Waco.
The case against: Non-conference schedule of SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo is essentially begging for a slap on the wrist from the committee.
“We’re glad you’re here, now go ahead and take a seat at the back of the room.”
Nebraska (7-1, No. 15)
This week: Beat Purdue, 35-14
The case for: Favorite for Big Ten West championship, one upset away from becoming Big Ten champion.
The case against: Loss to Michigan State means Huskers may not beat a ranked team until Big Ten championship. Best non-conference win was Miami. Needed Heisman-worthy play by Ameer Abdullah to avoid overtime with McNeese State..
Duke (6-1, No. 24)
This week: Squeaked by Pittsburgh, 51-48 in double overtime
The case for: If they can win out and beat an undefeated Florida State in the ACC championship….
The case against: Will likely finish regular season with zero wins over ranked teams. Played Elon, Troy, Kansas and Tulane in non-conference. Even if they win the ACC Coastal, it’s still the ACC Coastal. Is Duke.
Ole Miss (7-2, No. 4)
This week: Lost at home to Auburn, 38-35
The case for: The only team this season to beat Alabama, owns a solid neutral-site non-conference win over Boise State, dominant in wins over Texas A&M and Tennessee.
The case against: It’ll take a miracle. As in, a five-way tie for first place in the SEC where the Rebels somehow come out on top.