What does a College Football Playoff contender look like?

At this point, they look an awful lot like the contenders from the past several years.

Alabama, Georgia and Clemson have separated themselves from the rest of the pack (among teams that have played so far, of course). Notre Dame looks the part as well, though the Fighting Irish still have to prove they are on the same level as the top 3.

But everyone has flaws and that’s what we are here for. In the past couple of weeks, we looked at the flaws for every SEC championship contender. Now we are widening our scope to include other team around the country bidding for CFP glory.

It’s possible that a 2-loss team could claw its way into the CFP in this crazy 2020, but the chances of anybody outside the SEC doing that are pretty much zilch. The chances of an SEC team doing it are extremely slim, for that matter. That means 2 CFP participants from last year, LSU and Oklahoma, have played themselves out of contention already, at least for the purposes of this analysis. These teams are listed in order of their AP poll ranking as of Sunday. Cincinnati is ranked No. 10 and BYU is No. 13 but, until the committee actually puts a Group of 5 team in the Playoff, I refuse to believe that it will happen.

We have yet to see the Big Ten and Pac-12 in action so we’ll wait until they hit the field before we make any judgments on those teams. Programs such as No. 5 Ohio State, No. 8 Penn State, No. 15 Wisconsin and No. 16 Oregon could well make CFP noise from those conferences. But for now we’ll only include teams we have seen, separating the list into SEC and everybody else.

This is the biggest flaw that could keep them out of the Playoff.


Alabama: Entire defense

Ole Miss has an exciting offense that will give foes fits. But what happened Saturday in Oxford has to be giving Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban nightmares. The Rebels put up 647 yards of offense and displayed great balance: 379 yards passing and 268 rushing. They almost became the first team to hang half a hundred on No. 2 Bama without going to overtime since Sewanee — in 1907. This is simply not the playmaking, intimidating Tide defense that we’re used to seeing.

Georgia: Rushing offense

To complement what might be the nation’s best defense, and to help a new starting quarterback, the No. 3 Bulldogs would do well to grind it out on the ground, at least in certain situations. A top-flight running game has been a hallmark of Dawgs teams in the recent past, but this year is different. UGA gained 193 yards rushing against Tennessee but on 50 carries, only a 3.9-yard average. That tracks with their season average of 4.0 ypc, which ranks just 44th in the nation out of 76 teams that have played so far.

Florida: Also entire defense

This was a sticking point that was hard to ignore in the first 2 weeks, but fans could maybe get past it because the Gators won anyway. It’s impossible to ignore now. UF allowed scores on 4 of Texas A&M’s final 5 drives on Saturday, including an 8-play, 40-yard drive to set up Seth Small’s winning field goal on the final play of the Aggies’ 41-38 win. No. 10 Florida allowed 543 total yards and ranks 72nd in the nation in total defense — again, that’s out of 76 teams that have played.

Texas A&M: Turnovers

The Aggies nearly coughed up their shot at upsetting the Gators on Saturday when Ainias Smith fumbled after a reception and Florida recovered. This was part of a worrying trend for the Aggies, who have turned it over an average of 2.0 times per game; only Mississippi State has turned it over more often in the SEC. No. 11 A&M held it together and rallied to win, and a significant victory it was over the Gators. But the Aggies will want to clean this up if they are to truly contend in the SEC West, much less the CFP.

Auburn: A little of everything

Auburn probably should not have beaten Arkansas on Saturday. Read that sentence again. That does not sound like something that should be written about a team with CFP hopes, does it? Sure, the Razorbacks have improved. But the No. 14 Tigers did everything wrong except on the scoreboard on Saturday. Arkansas had 437 total yards, nearly equaling Auburn’s 446. The Tigers had 3 sacks; so did the Razorbacks. Auburn’s offense was better on Saturday, but have y’all seen what teams such as Alabama and Florida (or Ole Miss) are doing on offense?

Around the country

Clemson: Um … somebody could trip running down that hill in intros?

We’re really trying to come up with something for Clemson fans to truly worry about. But the closest result for the No. 1 Tigers was a 41-23 win over Virginia in a game that was not close at all. Clemson pulled away from a good Miami team on Saturday, beating the No. 12 Hurricanes 42-17. Clemson is 10th in the country in total offense and 11th in total defense despite playing a couple of games where Dabo Swinney pumped the brakes before blowouts became any worse. A CFP spot seems destined already.

Notre Dame: Forcing turnovers

The No. 4 Fighting Irish have done a lot of things pretty well in starting 3-0, but forcing turnovers is not one of them. Notre Dame has forced 3 turnovers so far, which means that Ian Book and the offense have to do a lot of work. The offense has been up to the task so far, but it’s worth noting that Notre Dame got off to slow starts against Duke (led 10-6 at halftime) and Florida State (trailed 17-14 after a quarter). Forcing turnovers early would help cure that. It needs to happen before Clemson comes calling on Nov. 7.

North Carolina: Penalties

No, I don’t think the Tar Heels will stay this high in the rankings, either. But give Mack Brown huge credit: He has the Tar Heels ranked No. 5 and scoring for fun. Now the wily veteran coach needs to get his team to be more disciplined. North Carolina is averaging 9.7 penalties committed per game, 8th-most in the country. Two pass interference penalties on a late Boston College drive nearly cost UNC the game in a 26-22 win on Oct. 3. Brown has time to clean this up before the Heels face Notre Dame and Miami late in the season.

Oklahoma State: Passing offense

This is a Big 12 offense we’re talking about here, right? Well, Oklahoma State is 62nd in passing yards with 191.7 per game, though the completion percentage (68.1) is pretty good. Like North Carolina, it’s prudent to take a wait-and-see approach with the No. 7 Cowboys. But with Texas and Oklahoma down, Okie State could be the best shot that the Big 12 has at a playoff spot. Heck, considering the embarrassing nonconference losses that Iowa State and Kansas State suffered, the unbeaten Cowboys are the only shot that the Big 12 has.