Analyzing CFP race after Week 8 of 2021 season
At this time of year, there are things that College Football Playoff contenders can control, and other things they can’t.
This deep into the season, teams’ CFP arguments center on who they have defeated so far. After all, one of the directives that CFP voters are supposed to follow is to start with a “clean sheet of paper” every week and just look at what contenders have done to that point.
But to really carry CFP hopes into December, a team has to have opportunities in front of them as well.
Some teams don’t have to worry about this. Georgia doesn’t have a single ranked team left on its schedule, but it’s an absolute consensus that the Dawgs are the best team in the country, and it’s the only unbeaten team left in the SEC. As long as they keep winning, the No. 1 seed almost certainly beckons for UGA in the Playoff.
The 3 teams in the B1G East that are still unbeaten in conference play – Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State – all still have to play each other, so there is plenty of opportunity to raise their profile.
But for teams like Cincinnati, Oregon and Iowa, the chances of building a stronger résumé than they already have are not as abundant. Those teams have to rely on what they have already done (for Cincinnati it’s that win in South Bend; for Oregon it’s the victory in Columbus) and those wins are why they’re to be considered contenders to this point.
For this edition, we are considering the top 10 teams in the Associated Press poll. The first CFP rankings will emerge in November and we will get a better picture at that time of who stands where.
The Bulldogs and their opponent on Saturday, old rival Florida, were both off last weekend. The Gators are the last team with a winning record left on Georgia’s schedule, which means the Dawgs should have 5 fairly easy hurdles to clear on their way to a CFP bid (at 12-0, we think UGA could even lose the SEC title game and still reach the Playoff). Georgia’s awesome defense should pave the way.
The Bearcats need to sweep all before them in the American Athletic Conference to make their CFP case, but Cincinnati did not really do that Saturday. A close game against a Navy team with a 1-6 record will not impress CFP voters. Still, the Bearcats are taking care of what they can and they continue to get help: The more Notre Dame and future opponent SMU win, the better Cincy’s résumé looks.
It didn’t always look pretty against Tennessee, but the Crimson Tide just wore down the Vols in the 4th quarter. But for all the talk about how Bama’s offense isn’t quite the record-setting All-American unit of 2020, the Crimson Tide is still 10th in FBS in total offense at 494 yards a game, and surpassed that against the Vols with 574 yards.
The Sooners are starting to resemble the 2002 Ohio State team that ended Miami’s dynasty: Oklahoma never blows anybody out, they have all kinds of questions, but they just keep winning because they have a knack for making big plays at the right moments. The play where QB Caleb Williams snatched the ball from his own teammate to convert a 4th-down run against Kansas is the latest example.
The Buckeyes barely broke a sweat in defeating Indiana and CJ Stroud again put up fantastic numbers. The freshman quarterback has 14 TD passes and no interceptions over the past 3 games, all against the lower half of the B1G East. He has completed 73.8% of his passes (62 for 84) in that span for 1,002 yards. And the OSU defense continues to turn the corner, allowing 128 yards to the banged-up Hoosiers.
The Wolverines warmed up for next week’s huge clash at rival Michigan State by pasting Northwestern. Michigan is No. 5 in the FBS in rushing offense after both Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins rushed for more than 100 yards against the Wildcats. UM is consistent too, having rushed for 200-plus yards 5 times in 7 games and breaking 100 yards on the ground in the other 2.
The Ducks rose 3 spots in the AP poll after barely beating UCLA. Oregon was the big beneficiary of the losses by previously No. 7 Penn State and No. 8 Oklahoma State. The one place where the Ducks excel is turnover margin; at +1.29 per game, the team is ranked No. 5 in FBS. But again, Oregon’s CFP hopes rest with a whole lot of chaos elsewhere because the Pac-12 falls off steeply after the Ducks.
The Spartans are putting together a remarkable turnaround season heading into Saturday’s showdown against Michigan. But one caveat for MSU: It is No. 89 in total defense. The good news is the Spartans are much better at defending the run (ranked 31st) than the pass (121st) and against the Wolverines, you have to stop the running attack first.
The Hawkeyes had an off week to recover from a stunning loss to Purdue and prepare for Saturday’s game against Wisconsin, a matchup with major implications in the B1G West Division. Iowa doesn’t face any currently ranked teams the rest of the way, so even if the Hawkeyes run the table they won’t have a chance to boost their résumé in the same way that their B1G East brethren can.
The Rebels are 100th in total defense, the worst of any team on this list. But the Rebels are perfectly capable of winning shootouts thanks to Heisman Trophy candidate Matt Corral. The quarterback passed for only 185 yards and a TD against LSU, but one key for Mississippi that is easy to miss is the running game. The Rebels are ranked 3rd in the nation in both total offense and rushing offense.