The Monday After: Breaking down the 15 remaining College Football Playoff contenders

We’re over halfway through the regular season, yet still a little more than a week away from the College Football Playoff releasing its first set of rankings. That means that all the talk surrounding college football is about to center around the CFP for the next two months, so I figure we might as well give ourselves a head start on it.

When Ohio State lost to Purdue 49-20, there was the same kind type of reactions to a top team being upset that we always see. The first kind of response you see is the, “Wow, I can’t believe that happened” response. It’s pure and reasonable. The next one you see, from both fans and some media alike, is the, “Well, their playoff hopes are dead.”

It’s a natural reaction itself, but it’s also not true. Ohio State’s playoff hopes aren’t dead. They’re severely wounded, and the Buckeyes are at extreme risk of an infection that could kill them, but they aren’t dead.

So, with that as my inspiration, I’m going to take a look at which teams are still alive in the CFP hunt at this point of the season. It’s more teams than you might think, but some have much better chances of making it than the others.

The obvious three

Alabama: Every part of my college football brain that has seen it happen year after year tells me that it’s possible Alabama could lose and put its playoff hopes in jeopardy. I wrote in this very spot a couple of weeks ago that chaos comes for everybody eventually, and it could come for Alabama. But you know what? Even with LSU coming up in two weeks, and the SEC Championship Game down the road, I don’t see this team losing. I’ve seen people talk about how boring Alabama’s excellence is, and I get it, even if I don’t entirely agree. I do feel like we could just put Alabama in the playoff now and wait to see who gets to lose to it.

Clemson: Up until the last couple of games, this was a team that felt like it wasn’t living up to expectations, but it’s turned things on as Trevor Lawrence has settled in. It crushed NC State 41-7 and is now the clear favorite in the ACC. The problem for Clemson is that the ACC hasn’t done it any favors. There are no resume wins available in the conference right now — sorry, NC State, but I don’t think you count — so if Clemson does manage to slip up, it could be costly.

Notre Dame: It’s simple for Notre Dame. Keep winning, and it’ll get in the playoff. Its wins over Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech give it one of the best resumes in the country right now. Of course, the “keep winning” part is a lot easier said than done.

Teams that “control their fate”

LSU: The Tigers are in control of their destiny. They have the best resume in the country with wins over Miami, Auburn, Georgia and now Mississippi State. The problem is that those wins over Miami, Auburn and Mississippi State might not look like much by the end of the season. Still, the Georgia win is one of the best in the country, and the loss to Florida doesn’t look bad, especially now with the Gators in the top 10. Oh, and LSU still gets to play Alabama. If it wins that game, it likely wins the West and gets to play in the SEC Championship. If it loses, the second loss almost assuredly knocks it out of the playoff picture.

Michigan: The Wolverines are in a similar position to LSU. Wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State are good, but we aren’t sure how good they’ll look come late November. The loss to Notre Dame is not a detriment. The key is to keep winning, and with games left against Penn State and Ohio State, there are more chances to boost your stock. Another loss takes them out, but if they win out, they’re almost assuredly in.

Georgia: Unlike LSU and Michigan, the Bulldogs don’t have a resume win yet. What they have is a healthy loss and three more chances to get resume wins. First up is Florida, then a road trip to Kentucky. Then, if they win the SEC East, they’ll likely get Alabama or LSU in the SEC Championship Game. You think an SEC champ is getting left out? I sure as hell don’t.

Florida: It’s here for the same reasons as Georgia, but it has an LSU win that’s far more impressive than anything Georgia has to this point, and the Kentucky loss looks a lot better now than it did at the time with the Wildcats firmly in the top 15. The Gators also qualify for the “no SEC champ getting left out” exemption as they’re still alive in the SEC title hunt.

Teams that need some help

Texas: As things currently stand, the Oklahoma win is huge, but wins over USC and TCU aren’t moving the needle much. The good news for Texas is that it gets a shot to impress against West Virginia and could have a rematch with Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game. So, if it wins out, it’s hard to see a 12-1 Texas being left out of the top four, but it needs others to lose too.

Oklahoma: I considered putting Oklahoma in the previous category, but I don’t think it qualifies. Yes, if it wins out, it has a good chance of making the playoff, but it isn’t guaranteed anything. The reason for this is I don’t know what Oklahoma’s best win is right now. Is it Iowa State? Baylor? Army? The Sooners have played one ranked team so far, and they lost that game. They need Texas and West Virginia to keep winning to have a shot to add impactful wins to their resume.

Ohio State: As I mentioned earlier, this team is still alive, but wounded. Purdue is a much better team than most people realize, but it’s still not a good loss for the Buckeyes. The TCU win looks less impressive every week. The win over Penn State is the best one the Buckeyes have so far, but Penn State has lost at home to Michigan State and had problems with Indiana. If this team wins out and finishes the season with a win over Michigan and a Big Ten title, it’ll be in the hunt, but that Purdue loss likely means it isn’t a sure thing.

West Virginia: Maybe the Mountaineers control their fate and I have them miscategorized. They still get to play both Texas and Oklahoma and have a potential Big 12 title game. Should they win out, they’d have an impressive resume. It’s just, given the way things have worked out in the past, I don’t know that we should consider a Big 12 champion to be a lock for anything. Even if they’re deserving. Also, that Iowa State loss will be used against it in a court of playoff just like Ohio State’s loss to Purdue will be wielded against it.

Overlooked one-loss teams

Kentucky: UK controls its fate just like Georgia and Florida do because if it wins the SEC, it’s getting in. I know that, but I’m putting it here because most people aren’t taking it as a serious threat, even if it is ranked No. 12 in the latest AP Top 25. Now, am I confident that this Kentucky team is going to win the SEC? No, but to be fair, I’m not confident any team that isn’t Alabama is going to win the SEC, so don’t take it personally, ‘Cats.

Washington State: The Cougars are the Pac-12’s lone hope, but the problem they face is that most people have already written off the Pac-12 entirely. Wazzu is the conference’s highest-ranked team at No. 14, and it’s in a tricky position. If it loses, it’s done. If the Cougars beat Stanford and Washington, they’ll be hurting the Pac-12’s reputation even more, as everyone will say they haven’t played anybody good enough to deserve a spot.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes don’t have an impressive win yet, but they do play Penn State on the road this week. After that, they get Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois and Nebraska. Should they win out and win the West — they’d need Wisconsin to lose again — they could get Michigan or Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. Would a 12-1 Iowa team with a Big Ten title and wins over the East champion, Penn State and Purdue be enough?

The wild card

UCF: The Knights have won 20 straight. If they finish the 2018 season undefeated and win the AAC yet again, there will be plenty of people voicing their support for UCF to make the playoff. I might be one of them, but there are significant hurdles to overcome. The first is cracking the Power Five Boys Club. That’s not going to be easy. The second is that what will be UCF’s best win? Right now, it’s either Memphis (which is now 4-4 after getting crushed by Missouri) or Pitt (which is Pitt). While games remain against Temple, Cincinnati and South Florida, I’m not sure any of those will move the needle. So, yes, UCF is still alive for the playoff, but I remain skeptical it’ll be chosen given its 2018 schedule.

Perception Poll of the Week

In line with what I just went over, I asked Twitter which conference had the best chance of getting a playoff berth right now: the Big Ten or the Big 12. It’s hard to disagree, but I think it’s closer than the results suggest. Michigan has the most juice of any team in either conference right now. If I were to rank teams from both conferences in their chances of making it I’d go: Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio State and then West Virginia.

Stat of the Week

There were 19 punts during Michigan’s 21-7 win over Michigan State on Saturday. Alabama has punted 18 times all season.

Team of the Week

Do you remember when UAB disbanded its football program? The Blazers didn’t exist in 2015 and 2016 and were a great story last season when they returned to the field and went 8-5, reaching a bowl game. Well, they’re a better story this year. After beating North Texas 29-21 on Saturday, the Blazers are already bowl eligible and firmly in the Conference USA West driver’s seat. UAB’s 6-1 start is the best start in program history. If Bill Clark doesn’t appear on a bunch of Coach of the Year ballots this winter, then I’m not sure why we even have the award. He was our CBS Sports Coach of the Year in 2017.

Staredown of the Week

Did you catch that? While Delaware’s Nasir Adderley had an impressive kick return for a touchdown, it’s not the return itself that should have grabbed your attention. If you didn’t see it the first time, go back and watch Adderley after he runs over a tackler along the sideline. Adderley trucks the dude then stops and stands over him for a second before resuming his return. Honestly, the staredown played a huge role in allowing Adderley to return the kick because it looks like the New Hampshire players thought the play had ended.

Punt of the Week

I love snow football so much.  

Trucked Ref of the Week

If only Moe Neal had stopped and stood over the ref like Delaware’s Nasir Adderley did, he might have taken it to the house.  

Smack Talk of the Week

Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich was feeling himself following Michigan’s win over Michigan State. He brought back the “little brother” angle to the rivalry that Mike Hart started a decade ago, and then doubled down on Twitter later in the day.

You know, I don’t think Michigan and Michigan State like each other very much.

Tweet of the Week


AP Voter of the Week

This week we take a look at the ballot of the Marietta Daily Journal‘s John Bednarowski. Now, before I get to my problem with Bednarowski’s ballot, I’d like to commend him for putting our Team of the Week UAB at No. 25. The Monday After appreciates the support for its Blazers.

However, there was one glaring omission on John’s ballot. I looked up and down it and couldn’t help but notice that Washington State wasn’t on it. Now, this by itself might not be an egregious offense. If you wanted to, you could make a case that Washington State isn’t one of the 25 best teams in the country. I don’t know how convincing an argument it would be, but you could make it. Of course, once the person you’re debating with points out that you have Oregon at No. 20 on your ballot — the team Washington State just beat 34-20 — your argument for keeping Wazzu off won’t have a leg left to stand on.

I’m hoping Mr. Bednarowski just made an honest mistake and didn’t intentionally leave the Cougars off.

Coaches Poll Conspiracy of the Week

Like the AP Top 25, Alabama finds itself at No. 1 in the Coaches Poll. Unlike the AP Top 25, Alabama is not a unanimous selection in the Coaches Poll, as Clemson received two first-place votes. So who are the two coaches putting Clemson at No. 1? Well, we don’t know for sure because, unlike the AP, the Coaches Poll doesn’t make its ballots public (odds are coaches wouldn’t vote if they did), but we’re free to assume anything we like.

And this is where I point out that Nick Saban is a voter in the Coaches Poll this year.

He is definitely putting Clemson at No. 1, right? He’s then showing his team the poll and how Alabama isn’t getting every first-place vote and using it to tell his team that “NO OTHER COACH IN THE COUNTRY BELIEVES IN YOU!” There is a 150 percent chance this is what is happening.

As for who the other coach is putting Clemson at No. 1, I’m going to guess it’s Dabo Swinney or Gus Malzahn.

College Football Projection of the Week

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. LSU
4. Notre Dame

Until the next Monday After!

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