The first College Football Playoff ranking will be released on Nov. 24, almost exactly one month from now. That’s plenty of time for what you think you know to change.
All it takes is one upset — for one-loss Penn State to redeem itself on Halloween with a home win against Ohio State — for an entire conference to be thrown into chaos. (Yes, even two games into a season.) If the Nittany Lions instead start the season 0-2, the Big Ten boils down to the Buckeyes vs. the best in the West.
The question is how long each Power 5 conference can hang on to an undefeated team, which is the closest thing to a guarantee when it comes to a CFP semifinal spot. Alabama and Clemson have been the best, most consistent contenders, but Ohio State can prove the same with more opportunities. Undefeated Notre Dame saw its offense wake up in a 45-3 road win at Pitt, and the Big 12 still has an undefeated team in Oklahoma State.
The Pac-12 hasn’t even joined the party yet.
To be clear, one-loss teams have not been eliminated from the playoff conversation — but as long as there are undefeated teams remaining, it’s far more difficult for a contender such as Georgia to make a top-four case.
Here’s a look at the undefeated playoff contenders, ranked in order of who has the best shot to finish the regular season undefeated:
Quick playoff take: The Tigers rank in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency, which is what could separate them from Alabama in the eyes of the committee. The Tigers have a top-15 win against Miami, and though it was fair to question Dabo Swinney about mistakes in Saturday’s 41-27 win over Syracuse, that game isn’t going to change Clemson’s playoff position (though you can certainly debate who’s No. 1). Three of Clemson’s final five games are on the road, but ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Tigers at least an 82% chance to win all of them.
Toughest remaining test: Nov. 7 at Notre Dame. If the Irish continue to build on Saturday’s offensive success at Pitt, this game could be close. The bigger question is if Notre Dame’s defense — which is the reason the Irish beat Louisville 12-7 — can slow down Trevor Lawrence & Co.
Quick playoff take: The Tide defeated Tennessee but lost star receiver Jaylen Waddle to a season-ending ankle injury. Although Bama’s offense is still loaded, that’s a devastating blow, as Waddle has a great ability to make big plays and was a threat to score off kick returns. His absence shouldn’t derail the Tide’s playoff hopes, though. Alabama’s most difficult stretch of the season is behind it, as the Tide might not face another ranked opponent in the regular season. ESPN’s FPI gives Bama at least an 82% chance to win each of its remaining games. Alabama’s defense has also shown steady improvement