It is becoming increasingly difficult to find four teams worthy of the College Football Playoff.
A week after three top-five upsets caused a dramatic shift in the rankings, Louisville blew its opportunity to shine with a 36-10 loss to Houston. It is now hard to imagine a situation where the Cardinals can jump back into the top four.
All of a sudden, teams that appeared out of the running are back in the thick of the discussion. The fourth spot will be heavily debated, although a lot can and will change in the coming weeks.
There are always arguments when rankings are involved, but it’s near impossible to make a case against Alabama being the top team in the country.
Not that the win over Chattanooga was overly impressive, it’s that this is the only major conference team still undefeated, and the Crimson Tide’s wins are as good as any team’s. The Tide has cruised to easy victories over USC, Tennessee and Texas A&M, while also grinding close wins over LSU and Arkansas.
They still have a tough matchup coming up against Auburn, but that game might not even matter. They have already clinched the SEC West and are 21-point favorites in the conference title game against Florida, per the Golden Nugget sports book, (h/t Todd Fuhrman of CBS).
Even with a loss to the rival Tigers, Alabama would be 11-1 with a chance to win arguably the toughest conference in the country. Not only would this be enough to remain in the top four, it might be enough to stay with the No. 1 seed.
With that said, the dominant defense and playmaking of Jalen Hurts should be enough to finish the regular season undefeated.
2. Ohio State
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There could end up being a bit of controversy if Ohio State doesn’t even make the Big Ten title game but becomes the conference’s only representative in the college football playoff. However, no one else would be anywhere near as deserving if the Buckeyes beat Michigan on Saturday.
The Wolverines haven’t looked great in limited road games this year (except against Rutgers) and are down to their backup quarterback, which should help Ohio State pull out a win on the last game of the regular season. If this happens, the Buckeyes would have a resume that no one besides Alabama will be able to match.
Road victories over Wisconsin and Oklahoma, two teams that will have their own legitimate argument for the playoff, are impressive enough. Adding in a blowout win against Nebraska and impressive performances throughout the season, it’s clear this is one of the best teams in college football.
The loss is also excusable, coming against a solid Penn State team on the road on a fluke play.
Even without looking great against Michigan State this past weekend, Ohio State earned the win and should remain as the No. 2 team in the country.
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Not every game has been dominant for Clemson. Half of the Tigers’ 10 wins have been decided by a single possession. The 43-42 loss to Pittsburgh at home was a bad one, showcasing a lot of the issues that had plagued the squad throughout the year.
Despite those question marks, the Tigers are still clearly a top-four team now, and they will clinch a spot in the playoffs with a win over South Carolina and a victory in the ACC title game.
Clemson’s early victories over Auburn and Troy looked better as the year progressed, while Louisville and Florida State have fallen out of the top five—those are also two quality victories.
Just as importantly, the playoff committee has expressed its desire to evaluate the teams themselves to find the best four squads. This helps Clemson, a team with one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country in DeShaun Watson. While his numbers have dropped a bit from last season, he is still capable of beating almost anyone in the nation with his arm or his legs.
Adding in running back Wayne Gallman and receiver Mike Williams, this offense has a lot of weapons that few opponents can match. As long as they avoid another loss, the Tigers will have a chance to go back to the title game this season.
This is where the real debate comes. Michigan would be deserving of a spot if the season ended today, but an upcoming matchup against Ohio State might not end well.
As a result, there is a bit of a gap between the top three teams and the rest of the contenders.
Washington certainly has a legitimate argument with a 10-1 record, but the Huskies lost their best chance to prove themselves against USC last week. Wins over Washington State and Colorado in the next two games would definitely help their case, although these victories might be difficult to come by.
The Big Ten has a chance to get a second team in if either Wisconsin or Penn State win the conference title. The problem is that while the Badgers’ losses are solid (Ohio State and Michigan), the wins that looked good earlier in the year over LSU and Michigan State aren’t quite as impressive.
Penn State hasn’t done much outside of its win over Ohio State, and it’s hard to argue for a team to be considered as one of the top four in the country after a 49-10 loss against Michigan earlier in the season.
This leaves Oklahoma, which started 1-2 before rattling off eight straight wins against Big 12 opponents. The most recent win was a 56-28 throttling of West Virginia on the road, a team that previously had only one loss.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield provided his thoughts, per Jake Trotter of ESPN:
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield on the playoff: "The way we're playing right now, I think we deserve some consideration."
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) November 20, 2016
The Sooners have a loaded offense averaging 45.3 points per game and are peaking at the right time. With a win over Oklahoma State, they can clinch the Big 12 title and have a real argument for inclusion in the college football playoff.
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