The College Football Playoff rankings are going to shuffle week to week through the rest of the season. The four teams at the top right now are Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, and Notre Dame. It’s hard to argue that these aren’t the four most deserving teams as of right now, but which of these teams are here to stay?
With wins over Notre Dame and Florida State, Clemson has done enough to stake their claim as one of the top teams in the nation. Deshaun Watson is now arguably the leading candidate in the Heisman Trophy race and they have a stout defense that is 9th in points against. They don’t have a real test until their last regular season game of the year at South Carolina and then the ACC Championship game, most likely against North Carolina. While they have the easiest road to the CFP, that only means that any stumble will most likely leave the Tigers out of the dance. They need to win out.
Their win against LSU was a pure demonstration of power and NFL talent. They completely shut down a running back in Leonard Fournette who many are already comparing to Adrian Peterson. With that win plus victories at Georgia and at Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide clearly have the best resume of the current top four. Two tests remain in the regular season with a game at Mississippi State and then the Iron Bowl. If they get past those two games they will most likely face a much improved Florida Gators team in the SEC Championship. If the Tide run the rest of their schedule they will undoubtedly have the most impressive set of wins which should garner them a #1 ranking, even over potentially undefeated teams.
#3 Ohio State
Like Florida State from last year, the Buckeyes are really struggling to get over the championship hangover. They have been unimpressive against a cupcake schedule and can’t seem to decide who their quarterback is. However, unlike the Seminoles from last year Ohio State is much more talented. They probably have the most NFL-ready talent in the entire NCAA other than Alabama. They will need that talent to play to its capabilities as they have Michigan State and Michigan both remaining on their schedule. In the Big Ten Championship game they will likely play an undefeated Iowa team, who will be looking to sneak into the CFP themselves by upsetting the Buckeyes.
#4 Notre Dame
Irish fans will tell you this team should easily be undefeated while the rest of the world will tell you they hate Notre Dame and they’re overrated like always. Wins over Georgia Tech and Temple have put the Irish in the top four, though it would’ve been nice to see them beat Temple a little more convincingly. One benefit ND has going for them is that the CFP committee is supposed to factor in things like injuries, which the Irish have had a litany of. This includes their starting quarterback who was gaining Heisman momentum early. However, they do not play a conference championship game unlike most of the other contenders which will hurt them towards the end. We saw that happen to TCU last year as they moved from #3 to #6 in the final rankings because the Big 12 also does not have a championship game. The Irish will have to play very well at Stanford in the last game of the year to avoid this fate.
The Big 12 Factor
Speaking of the Big 12, most of the big boys in this conference have yet to play each other. Baylor and Oklahoma State both control their own destiny as winning out would undoubtedly give them a very popular bid to enter the CFP. Oklahoma and TCU would need a little help but still have opportunities to make their case. Of course, as always happens they’ll probably all end up beating each other making it too confusing to choose the best team, thus leaving the Big 12 out of the CFP for another year.