It’s never too early to talk about the College Football Playoff, right?
Thanks to the calendar gods, September gave us five Saturdays of football. For teams that played every week this month, over 40 percent of the season is already complete. The calendar flipping to October gives us the perfect opportunity to take a look at who the most likely contenders are for the playoff from each Power Five conference.
ACC: Clemson – While the Tigers may not be ranked No. 1, Clemson has the best resume of anyone in the country. Three of Clemson’s five wins have come against teams ranked in the top 15 entering Week 5 including a 31-17 teardown of No. 12 Virginia Tech on Saturday night.
Quarterback Kelly Bryant is the real deal and the Clemson defensive line is even more terrifying than it was a year ago.
There’s no one else even close in the ACC. We’re going to find out the extent of the conference’s depth over the next few weeks. There don’t seem to be any real stinkers in the bunch, though North Carolina’s season is off to a rough start.
Big Ten: Penn State – The Nittany Lions have one of the most dynamic offensive players in the country in running back Saquon Barkley and showed steely nerves in the walk-off win last week vs. Iowa.
Ohio State’s September has been a bit rocky and it’s hard to get too optimistic from the Buckeyes’ smashing of Rutgers on Saturday because, well, it’s Rutgers. Michigan’s defense has reloaded, but the Wolverines’ red zone offense issues are a tad concerning.
Big 12: Oklahoma – Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield is the most fun — and polarizing — figure in college football. The Playoff needs someone like him. Even if Oklahoma loses a game in the regular season and still wins the Big 12, the Sooners’ Week 2 win at Ohio State should be a boost in the committee’s eyes.
Right behind the Sooners are Oklahoma State and TCU. The Horned Frogs beat the Cowboys a week ago.
Pac-12: Washington – We give the Huskies a slight edge over in-state rivals Washington State, who upset USC on Friday night. The Trojans are the clear No. 3 right now thanks to beating Stanford head-to-head and the Cardinal’s loss to San Diego State.
The Pac-12 may have the most entertaining title races down the stretch thanks to Washington State’s emergence and Stanford’s Bryce Love, who has over 1,000 yards rushing through the first five games of the season.
SEC: Alabama – The Tide absolutely mauled Ole Miss 66-3 on Saturday night. You have to think that’s a bit of revenge against the Rebels for Ole Miss’ 2015 win in Tuscaloosa. As LSU struggles and Mississippi State falls on its face over the last two weeks, Auburn and Georgia have emerged as the two best teams in the conference not named Alabama.
Now that we’ve got our potential playoff field narrowed down to five it’s time to cut a team. We remain convinced that the Big 12’s decision to restart its conference championship game will backfire and deal a massive blow to the regular-season champion’s playoff hopes.
But the Pac-12 could be just as likely to be left out of the playoff too. Washington’s non-conference slate of Rutgers, Montana and Fresno State is the weakest of any of the top teams in college football. If the Huskies lose a game or two and win the conference, the playoff committee may use that as a negative against Washington.
Let’s take a look at this week’s winners and losers.
Maryland: The Terrapins knocked off an undefeated team on the road with a third-string quarterback. Seriously. Maryland beat Minnesota 31-24 in a game started by quarterback Max Bortenschlager.
Bortenschlager was making the start because Kasim Hill — who was replacing Tyrrell Pigrome — tore an ACL in Week 4 and is out for the season. Bortenschlager was 18-28 passing for 154 yards and two touchdowns as Maryland is now 3-1.
Steve Scalise: The Louisiana Congressman made an appearance at LSU’s game Saturday night. Scalise returned to the U.S. Capitol this week following his rehab from gunshot wounds suffered in the horrendous June 14 incident at a Washington D.C.-area baseball field.
— The Advocate (@theadvocatebr) September 30, 2017
Central Florida: As the coaching hot seat season ramps up get ready to hear Scott Frost’s name a lot more. The Central Florida head coach has the Knights rolling with a 3-0 start after a 40-13 blowout over Memphis. UCF put up 600 yards of total offense and forced four turnovers.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys needed a bounce back win after falling to TCU last week and delivered with a 41-34 victory at Texas Tech. Things got a lot more tense than it needed to with Tech going on a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter, but late heroics from Marcell Ateman and quarterback Mason Rudolph pushed the Pokes past the Red Raiders.
Texas A&M: The best way to keep the questions at bay about your job status is to keep winning, right? Just days after A&M chancellor John Sharp deflected when asked about coach Kevin Sumlin’s job security, Sumlin’s team scored a 24-17 win over South Carolina on Saturday night.
Not everything went well at Kyle Field, however. During the first half the running water in the stadium stopped working and fans were even reportedly asked to leave the stadium if they had to make a bathroom break. Thankfully the situation didn’t last all game.
Huge roar at Kyle Field when it is announced that bathrooms are actually working
— Gene Sapakoff (@Sapakoff) October 1, 2017
Dartmouth: How about another walk-off win to cap our Winners this week? Dartmouth beat Penn 16-13 Friday night in an FCS matchup that was broadcast on NBCSN. Dartmouth scored a touchdown on the final play of the game on fourth down in lieu of kicking a field goal and playing for overtime.
Ole Miss: The Rebels were a four-touchdown underdog to Alabama on Saturday. No one thought they’d win. But damn, was Alabama merciless. The 66-3 loss is the fourth time Ole Miss has given up 60+ points to Alabama and is the second-worst defeat to the Tide. It’s only eclipsed by a 64-0 loss to the Tide in 1917.
BYU: It was easy to write off BYU’s early season struggles as a scheduling issue. Playing then No. 13 LSU in Week 2 and No. 10 Wisconsin — with rival Utah sandwiched between them — isn’t anyone’s idea of an easy road. But after another blowout loss to Utah State 40-24, it’s clear the Cougars have some major problems well beyond their opponents. Plus, that LSU loss is officially indefensible.
At least you helped give us this awesome GIF, BYU. And you have caffeine on your campus now.
Ed Orgeron: Be careful not to stand too close to LSU’s coach. Every program he’s touched had a miserable Saturday. LSU, USC, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Syracuse all lost. All five have employed Orgeron at one point. Coincidence, maybe. But would you want him near your program right now?
North Carolina: Things are really, really rough for the Tar Heels. Thirteen players have been lost to season-ending injuries and UNC dropped to 1-4 with a 33-7 loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday. Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack sliced and diced the North Carolina defense for 403 yards on 66 carries.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs were one of the darlings of the young the season. The keyword there being “were”. Since starting 3-0 and defeating LSU, MSU has dropped its last two games by a combined score of 80-13. MSU gave up more than 500 yards of offense in a 49-10 loss at Auburn on Saturday. Those good vibes have faded fast.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have been outscored 219-24 by Ohio State since 2014 including a 56-0 thrashing on Saturday. Rutgers should just ask for an extra bye week instead of another rematch next year.