Do you hear that? Those are still the sweet sounds of chaos permeating throughout the college football landscape. While Alabama’s loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl was clearly the most exciting upset of the weekend, the demise of Notre Dame and Washington State were also equally essential in determining the remaining programs that still have a chance at making the College Football Playoff. With Conference Championships the final opportunity for Playoff contenders to strengthen their resumes (or choke away their only chance of making the Playoff), this will arguably be the most intriguing and problematic weekend of the season in terms of sifting through the remnants of those programs still left standing. Do Alabama and Georgia have a chance to break back into the top four or have the best teams in the country already cemented their place in the postseason?
1. Clemson Tigers
Some chaos at the top combined with an impressive win over South Carolina has forced Clemson into the top spot this week. The secondary of the Tigers looked much more opportunistic than they have in recent weeks as they picked off Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley twice to seal their final regular-season victory. If quarterback Kelly Bryant can work his athletic magic while completing some big-time passes downfield against Miami coming up, the Tigers could very well be the number one seed when the final rankings are revealed on Sunday.
2. Oklahoma Sooners
As has been the case all season, the Sooners will go as far as quarterback Baker Mayfield can take them. While their defense has played better in recent weeks, it will most likely struggle mightily against Playoff programs assuming the Sooners make it into the final bracket. With another emphatic win over the Horned Frogs in the BIG 12 Championship Game, the Sooners could not only make the Playoff but will have one of the deadliest and most prolific offenses out of the top-four teams.
3. Auburn Tigers
As of right now, the impressive Iron Bowl victory over Alabama has to feel somewhat bittersweet as the health of running back Kerryon Johnson is still up in the air for next week. Still, the Tigers have to be eternally grateful that they have a reliable passer in Jarrett Stidham (completed 75% of his passes against Alabama). Out of all of the programs competing in Conference Championship games, the Tigers have to be the most anxious team as they remain cautiously hopeful that Johnson will be ready to go come Saturday.
4. Wisconsin Badgers
With the defense continuing to play at an insanely high level combined with the improved quarterback play of quarterback Alex Hornibrook (three touchdowns, zero interceptions against Minnesota), the Badgers look like a physically fierce National Title contender. If the Badgers can take out Ohio State in the BIG 10 Championship game, they will have the requisite victory needed to compete in the College Football Playoff.
5. Alabama Crimson Tide
Although the Crimson Tide no longer have control of their Playoff fate, they have to feel better than most in that they need just a little bit of chaos at the top to clinch a spot. With a healthy defense, Alabama would be a serious force to compete against and their prolific rushing game has been difficult to contain this season. Until the final rankings come out next week, the Crimson Tide need to focus on getting their injured players healthy regardless of who or where they play in the postseason.
6. Georgia Bulldogs
With the Bulldogs controlling their own destiny going into the SEC Championship Game against Auburn, this is the perfect situation for a program that is on the outside looking in to steal a Playoff Spot. While the Bulldogs struggled mightily to contain the rushing attack of the Tigers the last time they faced them, running back Kerryon Johnson sustained what appeared to be a significant shoulder injury against Alabama, which would certainly give the Bulldogs a much-needed edge in the matchup.
7. Ohio State Buckeyes
After pulling away in “The Game” on the road against Michigan, the Buckeyes are now overflowing with confidence and have a realistic chance of making the Playoff if they can take out Wisconsin in the BIG 10 Championship game. However, with J.T. Barret going off the field with an injury in the second half against Michigan, the Buckeyes may have to rely on freshman quarterback Dwayne Haskins (who performed well against the Wolverines) to command an offense that will have to perform nearly flawlessly to overcome a formidable Badgers defense.
8. Miami Hurricanes
Although a road loss to Pittsburgh was less than ideal, the Hurricanes could easily redeem themselves and force themselves right back into the Playoff conversation with a win over Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. However, the benching of quarterback Malik Rosier in the Hurricanes loss is definitely a cause for concern as Miami will need to decide quickly how to best fix their sputtering offense before next week.
9. Penn State Nittany Lions
Considering where the Nittany Lions were before they played Ohio State (undefeated, a Playoff berth in hand) to where they are now since losing to the Buckeyes (two losses, will not compete in BIG 10 Championship game), Penn State is the epitome of a Playoff caliber team that regressed every so slightly at the worst possible moment. With that being said, the Lions will certainly compete in a New Years Six bowl and will get one last chance to show off the abilities of running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley before both depart for the NFL Draft.
10. USC Trojans
Unless there is immense chaos at the top of the rankings (which is certainly feasible), the Trojans chances of making the Playoff are slim to none. However, with quarterback Sam Darnold playing like every fan and pundit thought he would during the latter half of the season, the Trojans have to feel insanely confident going into the PAC-12 Championship Game against Stanford. If running back Ronald Jones II can be as prolific against Stanford as he has been all season, the Trojans will have a deadly offense that will truly test the abilities of the Cardinal’s proficient defense.
11. Washington Huskies
Similar to the Horned Frogs, the Huskies will most likely have a painful retrospective moment when they look back on their two regular-season losses, which most likely cost them a spot in the Playoff. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the Huskies will not get a chance to bolster their resume in the PAC-12 Conference Championship game. Still, Washington has to feel pleased that they handily beat their in-state rival in Washington State, garnered 10 wins on the season and will receive a berth to a high-profile bowl game, which is not a bad consolation prize when all is said and done.
12. TCU Horned Frogs
Although there may be a time when TCU looks back on their two regular-season losses and wonders what could have been, a rematch against a Sooners team that beat them soundly a few weeks ago should effectively stoke the fires of the well-rounded Horned Frogs. While Kenny Hills return as the starting quarterback for TCU is encouraging, facing the Heisman front-runner in quarterback Baker Mayfield will either be a glorious swan song moment or a glaring demerit for the senior quarterback.
13. UCF Knights
While you have to give a tremendous amount of credit to quarterback Quinton Flowers and the South Florida Bulls for pushing the Knights to their absolute competitive limits, quarterback McKenzie Milton effectively used every weapon in his vast arsenal to win a crucial game for Central Florida (five total touchdowns). Assuming the Knights can win in a rematch against Memphis in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game, this is a program that is more than worthy of being rewarded with a New Years Six bowl berth.
14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
What happened to Notre Dame’s once seemingly unstoppable rushing attack? While there are certainly numerous assertions that could clarify the Fighting Irish’s offensive ineptitude, it’s hard to imagine there is a sound reason for this team precipitous fall from grace. Given how poor the Fighting Irish were at passing the football (175.8 PYPG), some cynics will claim to be relatively unsurprised by the demise of Notre Dame down the stretch. However, when you look at Notre Dame’s entire body of work and realize that they were able to manhandle the elite defensive line of NC State and almost beat Georgia earlier in the season, it becomes apparent that is one of the more head-scratching breakdowns in college football this season.
15. Michigan State Spartans
Given how inconsistent the Spartans offense has been this year, this program has to be fairly pleased that they finished with nine wins on the season. Better still, sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke showed flashes of veteran composure in high-pressure affairs against elite BIG 10 programs. However, the Spartans need to bolster their offense as a whole if they want to compete for a Conference Championship and, ultimately, a spot in the College Football Playoff next season.
16. LSU Tigers
If there is any program that is trending upwards rapidly going into next season it’s the LSU Tigers. Given how young and ruthless their defense is (18.8 PAPG), the Tigers simply need a confident passer to lead an offense that needs a bit more gusto to compete with the big boys in the SEC West. While running back Derrius Guice will most likely forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft, he would be remiss if he did not at least consider coming back for one last ride for a program that is one vital piece away from competing for a National Title.
17. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Finishing behind both TCU and Oklahoma, the Cowboys have to feel slightly disappointed that they are unable to compete in the BIG 12 Championship Game. Given how productive the Cowboys offense was this year (46.3 PPG), their three losses have to, in retrospect, sting tremendously. With quarterback Mason Rudolph, along with wideouts Marcel Ateman and James Washington departing for NFL Draft after this season, the Cowboys will have a difficult task at attempting to reload their roster while staying competitive in a ruthless BIG 12 Conference next season.
18. Stanford Cardinal
You can discredit the Cardinal’s lack of a dynamic offense all you want. However, when Bryce Love is in your backfield and your defense is ranked 25th in points allowed per game (20.7), it becomes an easier said than done notion when it comes to stopping it. With their most recent victory over a now dazed and confused Notre Dame program, the Cardinal emphatically proved that their competitive style is highly effective and sophomore quarterback K.J. Costello looked decisive and determined for the first time all season (four touchdowns, zero interceptions against Notre Dame). While the PAC-12 Championship game against USC will provide a unique challenge for the Cardinal on both offense and defense, this program is more than up to the task of winning the conference.
19. Memphis Tigers
With their lone loss coming at the hands of the UCF Knights, the Tigers will be out for blood in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game. Sure, the Tigers defense is poor (30.8 PAPG), but their potent passing attack is amongst the best in college football (327.1 PYPG, 44.3 PPG). Even if the Tigers were to ultimately succumb to the Knights next week, their 10 wins on the season are nothing to scoff at and should allow them to compete in a fairly high-profile bowl game.
20. Northwestern Wildcats
After starting the season with a less than impressive 2-3 record, the Wildcats finally woke up and began playing disciplined defense (19.8 PAPG) while quarterback Clayton Thorson embraced the role of a cerebral game manager. With wins against Iowa and Michigan State during their seven-game winning streak, the Wildcats proved that they could compete and win tight games against reputable conference opposition.
21. Washington State Cougars
Once again, the solid albeit inconsistent defense of the Cougars was outmatched by a prolific rushing attack, this time at the hands of Washington Huskies running back Myles Gaskin (192 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns). While a 9-3 record is still terrific, their three losses were all blowouts, something that will definitely sting as the Cougars are forced to watch the PAC-12 Championship Game from their couches. Still, Luke Falk is an exciting quarterback and should draw some interest from several NFL teams as we get closer to draft day.
22. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Despite a disappointing loss to in-state rival Ole Miss on Thanksgiving, the Bulldogs should be more pleased than downtrodden with how this year transpired. Sure, losing three out four games to ranked opponents was not ideal, but when you consider that those defeats came at the hands of Georgia, Auburn and Alabama (all teams that have a chance to make the Playoff by the end of next week), it becomes readily apparent that this team was more resilient than competitively inept. With quarterback Nick Fitzgerlad most likely unavailable for postseason play, the Bulldogs will need to reinvigorate the fearlessness that has kept them competitive in the face of adversity this season.
23. Virginia Tech Hokies
Although the season could be considered somewhat of a disappointment for a program that at one point had an outside chance of making the Playoff, the Hokies bore down defensively in their last two victories, finishing the season with an impressive 9-3 record. While it has not always been pretty, for a team that was starting a freshman quarterback in Josh Jackson, it could have been a much more turbulent year for Virginia Tech. While stud wideout Cam Phillips will depart the program for the NFL Draft after this year, Jackson has shown flashes of greatness and has the potential to not only transform this program into a sleeper Playoff contender but to become an intriguing Heisman candidate at some point next year.
24. Fresno State Bulldogs
While the defense of the Bulldogs should be incredibly proud of how they man-handled Boise State on Saturday, they will have to regroup and attempt to stifle the Broncos again in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game. Win or lose next week, the Bulldogs should take immense pride in the fact that they put together a great season and should have quarterback Marcus McMaryion back for his senior year, allowing this exciting program to reach even greater heights.
25. San Diego State Aztecs
Despite their two losses to conference opponents Boise State and Fresno State earlier in the season, the Aztecs actually have a fairly impressive non-conference resume (wins against Stanford and Arizona State). Thanks to a sensational running game led by Rashaad Penny (2027 rushing yards, 7.4 yards per rush attempt, 19 rushing touchdowns), the Aztecs have a consistently explosive offense. Combined with a stingy (18.4 PAPG), it becomes apparent that the Aztecs are actually a competitive, well-rounded program that should be overjoyed with how their season turned out.