CFP chase: Assessing Playoff contenders after Week 3
We promise, by this time next week the rumbles will start to happen and the cracks will start to show.
Nothing on Saturday shook up the list of contenders for a College Football Playoff spot, no matter how hard Florida tried to play its way out of the conversation when the Gators played Kentucky.
None of the usual suspects at the top were threatened even as a few of them entered conference play. The SEC has 3 teams making a legitimate case for inclusion in the CFP and 3 more that could break in should they knock off the league rivals above them.
Teams that popped into the rankings for a week like Maryland and USC got knocked right back down, not that they ever made people think they were Playoff contenders anyway. The 16 teams listed below have the talent, résumé and/or history to at least have a seat at the table for the CFP talks. Some other Power 5 teams remain unbeaten after 3 weeks but they have a lot more to prove before we mention them in this space.
Here is our weekly look at the CFP contenders, broken down by groups.
Bama passed the first SEC test at South Carolina and the Crimson Tide looks every bit the College Football Playoff contender in some facets of the game. It’s fair to ask a few questions about the defense and the running game — those are still a little bit important in 2019, right? — but Bama is a CFP team until somebody proves otherwise.
As we suspected, Arkansas State was no match whatsoever for the Dawgs. Now the unbeaten Notre Dame Fighting Irish travel to Athens on Saturday. It will be interesting to see which style of offense succeeds: Georgia’s bulldozing rushing attack (No. 7 nationally) or Notre Dame’s passing game (16th nationally), which has been revitalized behind quarterback Ian Book.
Syracuse shocked the Tigers in 2017 and gave them a mighty scare in 2018. No such thing happened Saturday as Clemson went on the road to face the Orange and dominated with a 41-6 victory. Trevor Lawrence passed for 395 yards and the Tigers ran for 221, sending running backs at the Syracuse defense in waves. Can anybody in the ACC even give Clemson a fight?
The Tigers never really needed to get out of second gear against Northwestern State as coach Ed Orgeron saw his Tigers beat up his alma mater. The SEC slate for the Bayou Bengals begins Saturday at Vanderbilt, then a final nonconference game against Utah State intervenes before the huge showdown Oct. 12 against Florida in Baton Rouge.
The Wolverines had the week off before their Big Ten opener this Saturday at Wisconsin. The Badgers also had a bye week, so both teams will be well rested. We have discussed this before, but Michigan in particular and the B1G in general have not been that impressive, aside from Ohio State (against weak competition). The Michigan-Wisconsin loser might face an impossible path to the CFP.
Sooners quarterback Jalen Hurts had 99 yards rushing Saturday — on the first drive! Oklahoma had no problem at all on the road against UCLA (didn’t the Bruins used to have a football program?) as Hurts accounted for 439 total yards and 4 touchdowns.
Jalen Hurts earned some respect from Chip Kelly. pic.twitter.com/zh68iuILuk
— ESPN (@espn) September 15, 2019
Oklahoma gets a week off before opening Big 12 play, and remember that this is a 9-game conference schedule, so no more out-of-conference play.
The Buckeyes and quarterback Justin Fields kept chugging along in the Big Ten opener, dominating Indiana. OSU did not schedule a Power 5 foe out of the conference this season and will end nonconference play with a tuneup against Miami of Ohio on Saturday. Again, assume little margin of error even for a team this talented.
Knocking at the door
The Tigers are on the cusp of entering the next category up and can make a solid case if they escape Kyle Field with a win Saturday. The schedule makers did Auburn no favors: Four of the next 5 games are on the road, all in the conference, ending with a trip to LSU. That’s life in the SEC West.
They keep winning, and the Gators deserve credit for rallying at Kentucky after losing Feleipe Franks. But boy, does this team make life difficult on itself. The way Florida looks right now, does a win over LSU or Georgia look even a little bit likely?
The Aggies get the 1-2 punch from the state of Alabama in the next few weeks, as Auburn visits Saturday and Alabama rides into College Station on Oct. 12. Lose both and the Aggies, already with a loss, disappear from this list entirely.
A demolition of New Mexico put the Fighting Irish back on track after a week off. Now comes one of the best nonconference games of the season as Notre Dame visits Georgia on Saturday. With a win, the Golden Domers would have to move into the “Prime-Time Players” category.
The Pac-12 continued to be the least powerful of the Power 5 (goodbye Stanford, and oh yeah, USC is still not back to being USC yet). This isn’t the Utes’ problem, because if they run the table it would be hard to keep them out of the CFP. They have to run the table, though.
On the fringes
Sunday red just doesn’t have the same effect on Saturdays in the Bounce House 😬 pic.twitter.com/TqnVDWk8Su
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) September 14, 2019
The voices coming from Orlando, decrying UCF’s fate as an unbeaten team unloved by the CFP, will pick up volume after the Knights took Stanford apart on Saturday. With that feather in UCF’s cap, another Power 5 foe awaits as the Knights visit Pittsburgh this week.
The Ducks are in a similar position as Utah, but even more so because Oregon already has a loss. This is probably the most talented team in the Pac-12 and one of the most veteran-laden teams in the country, but that Auburn loss will continue to haunt this team.
The fact that the Longhorns are still here after losing to LSU is a testament … to how good Oklahoma is. You see, if Texas tops the Sooners on Oct. 12 (wow, that day is packed) then presumably does so again in the Big 12 title game to finish 12-1, this team’s CFP worth will be a hot topic of debate.
The Nittany Lions are still here because they have not lost yet. We say yet because, after 3 games, this team has shown no signs of being able to beat Michigan or Ohio State in the B1G. One loss and the Nittany Lions are done. It won’t be long.