The College Football Playoff Committee released its second set of rankings Tuesday, and the postseason picture continues to takes shape.
Texas A&M dropped from immediate playoff consideration for the moment after its 35-28 loss to Mississippi State. Although the Aggies only fell to No. 8, it would take a lot of work for a two-loss squad like this to get back in the Top Four.
A lot can change with three regular-season weeks remaining plus conference championships, but realistically, there appears to be only six or seven teams battling for the final four spots.
Along with the latest rankings, here is a look at projections for the programs likely to challenge for a national title at season’s end:
Projected Playoff Seeds
The latest win certainly wasn’t pretty. Alabama fought for every inch to beat LSU 10-0 on Saturday.
Matt Zenitz of AL.com gave high praise for the performance, however:
One of the great defensive performances in recent college football history. Bama held LSU to one first down during the final 2-plus quarters
— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) November 6, 2016
Although it might not excite people who love points, the Crimson Tide shut down one of the top running backs in the country, holding Leonard Fournette to just 35 rushing yards on 17 carries in the shutout. After holding Texas A&M to just 14 points and Tennessee to 10 points, this is clearly a dominant unit.
Per Marq Burnett of SEC Country, the 2.09 yards per carry allowed is the best of the Nick Saban era.
The defense has also produced points on its own this year with 12 non-offensive touchdowns scored.
Opponents like Ole Miss and USC aren’t as good as expected coming into the year, but Alabama continues to shut down everyone in its path. The only realistic challenge remaining comes against Auburn, a team that has looked good since its 1-2 start but still isn’t likely to pull the upset in Tuscaloosa.
This is the best team in the country and is a relatively safe bet to earn a spot in the playoff.
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The CFP committee cares about wins and who those wins came against. This is good for Clemson, whose record and quality victories look a lot better than the games themselves.
With a remaining schedule that features only Pittsburgh and South Carolina at home, Wake Forest on the road and likely whoever comes out of the ACC Coastal division, there is no reason the Tigers shouldn’t end the year undefeated. They will have a resume that features an ACC title and wins over Louisville, Auburn, Florida State and probably either Virginia Tech or North Carolina.
Five of Clemson’s nine wins have been decided by a single possession, so it’s not like this squad has been dominant. However, wins are what matter, and it will be impossible to keep this team out of the playoff with its victories and no losses.
As questionable as the wins have been, however, this is still a team that can be a serious threat if it reaches the semifinals. DeShaun Watson has lacked consistency but is still as talented as any quarterback in the entire country with his dual-threat ability. The defense is coming off a shutout against Syracuse and has held five teams to 13 points or less.
Based on what we have seen, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the national championship game be a rematch of last year’s.
3. Ohio State
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Minds are going to change weekly, but what we do know is the late-season battle between Michigan and Ohio State is going to be a great one that will likely play a major role in the hunt for a national championship.
The Buckeyes had a few questionable performances in recent weeks, including a loss to Penn State and a narrow win over Northwestern. However, they bounced back in a big way Saturday with a 62-3 pummeling of then-No. 10 Nebraska.
“I didn’t see that one coming,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said after the win, per Omaha.com. “I thought—a lot of respect for Nebraska and their coach is a friend of mine. And their only loss a hard-fought overtime game last week. One of those back-to-back night games, so just the wear and tear. But just an A-to-Z very good performance by our guys.”
This wasn’t just a usual blowout versus an inferior opponent; it was a sign of how good Ohio State can be when it is playing at its best. Adding this to road wins over Wisconsin and Oklahoma, the resume is already as good as almost anyone in the country.
Even the loss to Penn State clearly wasn’t as bad as originally thought.
Still, the Buckeyes will have to beat Michigan at home on Nov. 26. A loss will likely end their season, but a win should put them back in the playoff regardless of what anyone else does. No one in the country will have a better collection of wins.
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It would be hard for Michigan to get into the playoff over an undefeated Washington, although it’s not impossible.
Of course, assuming the Huskies are going to run the table is also a bold move. As good as they have looked so far this season, they still have tough upcoming games against USC and at Washington State, plus whomever they face in the Pac-12 title game.
According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Washington has only a 36.4 percent chance to end the year undefeated.
With the unimpressive schedule, even a conference championship with a 12-1 record might not be enough to top a one-loss Michigan (or Ohio State or Louisville). The same could probably said for whoever wins the Big 12.
In this scenario, Michigan wouldn’t even win its own division but would still have wins over Wisconsin, Penn State and Colorado and some truly dominant showings over the rest of the country. The defense has been impressive all year long, and the offense is only getting better.
If the Wolverines lose a close one on the road against Ohio State, they should get the last spot over a one-loss Louisville, Washington or West Virginia if it comes to that.
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