Don’t look now, but we’re already over a third of the way through the college football regular season. Time flies, right? Four games into the year, there has definitely been some stratification in the college football landscape, separating the college football playoff contenders from the pretenders. Here are two teams from each Power Five conference that I think have the best shot at being selected to the playoff.
I’m going to come out and admit that I have not watched a single Alabama game live this year. They just play a very boring brand of football and I’m not really into watching live disembowelments.
Regardless, the Crimson Tide have looked untouchable through the first third of the season, drubbing Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, conference opponents that dare show them even a modicum of imagined disrespect, by a combined 118 points.
There’s no team left on Alabama’s schedule that can match up with them talent-wise, and they already destroyed the season of the only team that could, FSU. The Tide is once again a lock to make the College Football Playoff, barring a miracle.
Just like last year, Georgia controls its own destiny in their quest to win the SEC East and has the talent to do it. The Bulldogs have looked the part so far, winning on the road against a Notre Dame team that has also looked very good, as well as easily handling conference opponents Tennessee and Mississippi State.
Georgia just has to avoid the soul-crushing loss to a hopeless SEC East opponent that seems to be a yearly tradition in Athens, and they’ll have the inside track to the SEC championship game.
The toughest part of their schedule is still ahead of them, as the World’s Largest Cocktail Party against Florida and a tough road test against Auburn will tell us if the Bulldogs are worthy contenders for Alabama.
Pretty much everyone expected Clemson to take a step back this year. The Tigers lost their superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson to the NFL, along with leading rusher Wayne Gallman and stud receiver Mike Williams.
Despite all that, the Tigers just plugged freshman quarterback Kelly Bryant into Deshaun’s role, and he’s done just fine in those massive shoes. Bryant has completed 66 percent of his passes on the year for 227 passing yards per game, and is a dynamic runner with 362 rushing yards already this season.
Bryant has one of the best receiving corps in the nation to throw to. Deion Cain is a deadly deep threat, while Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfrow round out the dynamic group.
Running back Travis Etienne has filled Wayne Gallman’s role nicely as well, averaging 10 yards per rushing attempt, good enough for third in the nation in that category.
Clemson is undefeated this year so far, with signature wins over Auburn and Virginia Tech, but still need need to watch out for a tough two-week stretch of games at NC State and against Florida State.
We’ll find out this weekend in their game against Florida State if Miami is a legit threat to win the ACC. For the last few years, Miami has looked good out of the gate, staying undefeated until they play their hated rival, Florida State.
FSU then proceeds to dominate Miami in every phase of the game, sending them into a downward spiral that lasts for a few games until the Hurricanes bounce back and finish strong.
This year, Florida State has seemed like a dead team walking since getting strangled by Alabama in their opening game and losing their starting quarterback, Deondre Francois. If Miami can get over that hump of beating FSU, they’ll have a good chance at making the ACC championship game and getting a shot at the playoff.
Saquon Barkley has been the best player in college football so far this year, and he’s quickly reaching the same level of play that Lamar Jackson did last year. No matter who Penn State’s playing, you better tune in for the show.
Penn State seems to be clearly angling for him to win the Heisman, having him return kicks and even throw touchdown passes in addition to feeding him nearly 20 times a game, and that’s completely fine because he’s insanely fun to watch. Barkley has a killer jump cut, a time-bending hesitation move and breakaway receiving speed.
Penn State is undefeated so far this year, but will have to play Michigan and Ohio State back-to-back in weeks seven and eight. If they can get by that murderer’s row, they’ll be pretty much a lock for the playoff.
Despite getting drubbed by Oklahoma in week two, Ohio State is still very much alive as a playoff contender. The Buckeyes have been boringly dominant against every other team so far this year, and definitely have enough talent to win out.
Ohio State has a good enough defense and rushing attack to completely control the game against most opponents, and I don’t think Michigan has enough offensive firepower to take advantage of Ohio State’s underachieving secondary.
The Penn State game in week eight, on the other hand, will present a larger problem for the Buckeyes. Like Oklahoma, Penn State has a quarterback who loves to whip the ball around the field, and receivers who can go up and get it.
If Washington thinks that they should be getting more playoff hype, it’s really their own fault. Washington plays on the west coast, so most people aren’t even awake to watch their games, and the Huskies infamously close themselves off from the media most of the season.
As a result, Washington struggled against lowly Rutgers in a nationally televised game, and nobody has really paid attention to them since week one. In the meantime, Washington has quietly destroyed everyone they’ve played, including conference opponents Colorado and Oregon State.
Washington is favored in all of their remaining games, but they better not slip up. The Huskies’ poor strength of schedule nearly kept them out of the playoff last year, and it might happen again in 2017.
Washington State is riding high after their upset of USC in Pullman, so their stock is arguably the highest of the PAC-12 middle class right now.
They’re still the same half-sane, unpredictable Cougars we all know and love, but this year they avoided their customary early-season loss to a FCS team. In previous years, that would all but eliminate them from being taken seriously as a PAC-12 North contender, but they seem like the real deal this year, undefeated so far.
Disregarding upset wins against USC and Boise State, Washington State has taken care of lesser opponents Oregon State and Nevada handily. The real test for this team will be tough road games against Oregon next week and Washington in the Apple Cup.
Oklahoma has dominated every team they’ve played this year, including Ohio State, another potential playoff team. The Sooners are led by star quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has looked like one of the best players in college football this year.
Mayfield is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the nation, completing 75 percent of his passes, but he’s far from a dink-and-dunk game manager. He leads the country in yards per pass thrown with 13.2. The second-place player in this category, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, is closer to 19th place than he is to Mayfield.
TCU has played like a legitimate top-ten team in the nation this year. Oklahoma State was the trendy pick to challenge Oklahoma for the Big 12 title, and TCU went into Stillwater and beat them 44-31. The Horned Frogs drubbed Arkansas and handled SMU, launching them into the conversation for number one team in the Big 12.
TCU still has tough road tests to go at Oklahoma and Kansas State in two weeks, and if they win those two games, they’ll have as good of a shot as anyone at making the College Football Playoff.
Luke Swanson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.