We are now entering the final stretch of the 2016 College Football season. Outside of a few random SEC non-conference games against the Cupcake A&Ms of the world, it’s nothing but outstanding conference games, conference title games followed by the four-team playoff.
Last week was the start of that with three top 10 teams on the road losing and kissing their playoff hopes goodbye. We also saw the number 2, number 4, number 5, number 6 and number 10 teams all surviving tough conference games. This is what you will see from here on out for the most part. Lots of tough conference games for the playoff contenders against coaches who know them well.
Last week set us up for a perfect playoff scenario that will probably get completely blown up before we get to January. Four teams from the power conferences are left with an undefeated record. They make up the top 4 in the AP Poll, most likely the official College Football Playoff rankings and more importantly my rankings.
Each week from here on out I will break down my top 10 rankings which will be based on who the 10 best teams are in my opinion. I will also take a look at each power 5 conference and division and break down the big games of the week.
ACC Atlantic- Clemson leads the division with a 5-0 record and has the key tiebreaker with a win over 5-1 Louisville already. Their magic number(Clemson wins and Louisville losses) is now at 2. They finish the conference slate at home against Syracuse and Pittsburgh and on the road against Wake Forest. It would take two major upsets for them to not win the Atlantic. You can pretty much pencil them in.
ACC Coastal- This is really a two team race with North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Pittsburgh is only a loss behind both of those teams in the conference, but they also lost to both so it’s really a two game deficit. UNC and Virginia Tech are both 4-1 in the conference with the Hookies having already beat UNC 34-3 earlier in the season.
North Carolina finishes the season at home against Georgia Tech, at Duke and then at home against North Carolina State. Virginia Tech finishes at Duke and then two home games to finish the conference against Georgia Tech and Virginia.
Bottom line it will take a major collapse for it not to be Clemson against Virginia Tech in the ACC Title Game.
BIG 10 East- Five teams int his division either have 1 or 2 losses. It’s really close right now, but it will separate this week. Nebraska plays at Ohio State this week on the road and Wisconsin plays at Northwestern. If the favorites hold up, Wisconsin should separate themselves this week with a key win over the Wildcats and Nebraska getting their second straight conference loss.
Wisconsin would then have division wins over Iowa, Northwestern and Nebraska. Their toughest game remaining would be a home game against Minnesota. If they can compete with Michigan and Ohio State it’s hard to see them losing to the Gophers. Last week’s win over Nebraska put them in great position in the Eastern division, but only if Nebraska loses to Ohio State on Saturday.
If Nebraska wins that game, everything changes. They finish the conference slate at home against Maryland and Minnesota and on the road against a down Iowa team.
BIG 10 West- This division will come down to the Michigan/Ohio State game just like we all thought. The only way Penn State(4-1 in conference) has a shot is if Michigan slips up before that game and beats Ohio State and Penn State wins out.
Big 12- Oklahoma is in complete control of this division-less conference so far, but they haven’t played a contender yet. The Sooners are 5-0 in conference play while Oklahoma State, Baylor and West Virginia all have one loss. Oklahoma State beat West Virginia while Baylor beat Oklahoma State. Oklahoma plays at Iowa State this week and then finishes off the season against the best teams in the conference.
PAC 12 North- Washington and Washington State are the only contenders left in the division. Both are 5-0 in the conference and will play on the final weekend of the conference schedule.
PAC 12 South- The South is a three horse race with Colorado(4-1), Utah(4-2) and USC(4-2). Colorado and Utah play on the final weekend before the conference championship game. USC has beaten Colorado, but lost to Utah. If Colorado and Utah wins out before they play, the winner of that game will win the division.
USC still has to play Washington, so even a loss by Colorado before the Utah game keeps them in good shape.
SEC East- Florida is the surprise leader of the pack right now with a 4-1 conference record. Two more conference wins and they win the division. They can still win the division with only one more conference win as long as neither Kentucky or Tennessee doesn’t win out.
Tennessee owns the tiebreaker over Florida from their earlier game, but they already have 3 conference losses. Kentucky only has two losses, but has lost to Florida already and hasn’t beaten a good SEC team yet.
Florida has South Carolina at home and both Arkansas and LSU on the road.
My Top 10 CFB Playoff Rankings
1) Alabama 8-0- This may be the best Tide time Nick Saban has had which is really saying a lot. Their entire starting front 7 will probably be day 1 or 2 NFL Draft picks and a mobile quarterback has really added another dimension to their offense that I don’t think anybody in the SEC was ready for.
This week they play at LSU in prime time which is always really tough to come out of with a win, even with an interim head coach. I think they can still reach the playoff with a loss, but I would be shocked if anyone beats them before the playoffs.
2) Michigan 8-0- It isn’t shocking to see Michigan here. They brought pretty much everyone back from a really good team last season except their quarterback. Statically they have the best defense in the nation and their special teams creates more big plays than any other team.
This week they host Maryland which will probably be their toughest game before they play Ohio State. Everything in their season sets up for that game against OSU. If they win it they are at least the number two seed in the playoffs. If they lose they likely miss out on the playoffs and play the second or third best team from the SEC in a bowl game.
3)Clemson 8-0- This team reminds me a lot of the Florida State team from two years ago, the year after the wont he national championship. That team had a returning quarterback destined to be a number one pick in the NFL Draft. They also kept barely surviving week after week against inferior opponents. Clemson has been the same way, especially in that overtime win over North Carolina State at home.
Clemson is still a good team with a soft ending to their season. I want to say they’re a lock to reach the playoff, but you never know how they’ll show up week to week.
4)Washington 8-0- They’ve gotten criticized for their soft schedule up to this point, but they finished strong at Utah and still have USC, Washington State and probably Utah again before the playoffs. They’re not anyone’s favorite to win the title at this point, but if they reach the playoffs they will certainly have earned it.
5)Louisville 7-1- They are on the outside looking in because of a close loss to Clemson, but they will reach the playoffs if they win out(pretty much a lock) and if one of the above four teams loses once. Basically the only way they don’t reach the final four is if the above four each go 5-0 the rest of the way.
6)Texas A&M 7-1- I ranked the Aggies over the Buckeyes and every other one loss team besides Louisville because they are clearly the better team. They’re balanced on offense and have the best pass rusher in football right now. But they are in a weird spot. Louisville will get in over A&M and if Ohio State beats Michigan at the end of the year, they would get in over A&M as well.
7)Ohio State 7-1- The Penn State loss really hurt this team. They went from a team that probably gets into the playoffs with a loss to Michigan to a team that will need another undefeated team to lose to get in even if they beat Michigan.
8)Wisconsin 6-2- They went through a five game stretch against Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska. They came out of it 3-2 with a win over one top 10 team(in the AP Poll) and two close losses against two other top 10 teams. They also have a very good win against LSU from opening weekend. As far as two loss teams go, they get first dibs in the playoffs. It will take a lot but the good news for them is they would get a chance to take out one of the teams ranked above them in the Big 10 Title game if they keep winning.
9)Florida 6-1- The Gators have a dominant defense and a pretty mediocre offense. That defense should get them to the SEC Title game and give them a shot to beat Alabama. If they beat Bama it will be hard to keep them out of the playoffs, I don’t care if everyone else wins out.
10)Oklahoma 6-2- The Sooners had two tough losses early in the season against Houston and Ohio State, but have rallied back right in time for the toughest part of their conference schedule. If they can win out they will be one of the few teams to go through their conference undefeated and those earlier tough non-conference games will be rewarded despite the tough results. The committee will always reward a team that’s willing to play tough teams out of conference. Baylor doesn’t and that’s why they will never get in without going undefeated. Oklahoma does and that’s what will keep them in the mix even with two losses.