Halloween brings us the official start of College Football Playoff season.
The first set of CFP rankings are set to be released on Tuesday night as we’re about to get a glimpse of how the committee sees the college football landscape through the first nine weeks of the season. There will undoubtedly be a few surprises; the committee typically has some variance from the AP Top 25.
With the initial rankings looming, we figured the conclusion of Week 9 was a good opportunity to try to predict what the committee’s top 12 will look like.
12. Notre Dame (7-2)
The Irish are the only two-loss team to crack this list but it’s deserved after the gauntlet they’ve run in the first two months of the season. With tough losses to Ohio State and Louisville offset by wins over Duke and USC, Notre Dame has a better resume than two-loss LSU or any of the lesser one-loss teams (Missouri can make its case next week at No. 1 Georgia). The Irish are on the road next week at Clemson before hosting Wake Forest and then finishing the regular season at Stanford on Nov. 25.
11. Penn State (7-1)
The Nittany Lions are going to find themselves outside the top 10 thanks to an offense that is having a hard time recently. Penn State got a couple of late gifts from Indiana in a 33-24 win as Drew Allar averaged less than seven yards a pass attempt once again. The Penn State defense wasn’t great on Saturday, but we’re giving them a pass. The offense needs to pick it up if Penn State is going to stay in contention for a New Year’s Six bowl game.
10. Ole Miss (7-1)
The Rebels made easy work of Vanderbilt on Saturday and are ahead of Penn State because of their win over LSU. But we’re still not sure what to make of Ole Miss. Is this team simply good or is it really good? A 10-2 season is looking extremely likely even if we don’t get an answer to that question. The remaining teams on Ole Miss’ schedule are Texas A&M, Georgia, Louisiana-Monroe and Mississippi State.
9. Oklahoma (7-1)
The Sooners would be chasing a spot in the top five with a win at Kansas but the Jayhawks pulled the upset on Saturday. That drops Oklahoma to the bottom of the top 10 and we think the Sooners stay ahead of both Penn State and Ole Miss thanks to their win over Texas. Oklahoma was one of the best teams in the country over the first half of the season. The last two games have not been great. If that is a trend, the Sooners are in trouble at Oklahoma State in Week 10.
8. Alabama (7-1)
The Crimson Tide were off on Saturday and should be comfortably inside the top 10 even though it hasn’t been a smooth season so far. The offense is still finding its way, but the defense has picked up the slack. We’ll know a lot more about Alabama’s offense next week if the defense meets its match against LSU’s high-powered offense. Can Alabama keep up in a track meet? We need to be convinced the answer is yes.
7. Texas (7-1)
We’d be stunned if the Longhorns were behind the Crimson Tide given their head-to-head win in Week 2. Texas didn’t need Quinn Ewers in Week 9 with an easy win over BYU. Maalik Murphy made a freshman mistake with an interception but threw two TDs to AD Mitchell and the Longhorns rushed for over five yards a carry. Next week, Texas faces a Kansas State team that has won its last two games by a combined score of 82-3.
6. Oregon (7-1)
The Ducks showed they should still be in the thick of the playoff conversation with their dominating win over Utah on Saturday. Bo Nix threw for two TDs and rushed for another as Oregon held the Utes to just 241 yards of total offense. After the way Oregon rebounded from its loss to Washington with a win over Washington State and Saturday’s easy victory, it’s hard to make an argument for any other one-loss team to be ahead of the Ducks.
5. Washington (8-0)
The Huskies haven’t been the most convincing bunch since beating Oregon. Washington needed a defensive TD to beat Arizona State a week ago and Stanford kept it close on Saturday in a 42-33 win. We could easily see Washington being above Ohio State on Tuesday night, but we think the committee will take note of the last two weeks and go with the Buckeyes in what could be an incredibly close decision.
4. Ohio State (8-0)
Splitting hairs between Ohio State and Washington right now is pointless. Washington has plenty of opportunities to move up in the rankings in November and Ohio State still has to play Michigan. There’s going to be little difference between No. 5 and No. 4 at this point. Ohio State took down Wisconsin on Saturday night and Marvin Harrison is the best offensive player in college football who isn’t a QB.
3. Florida State (8-0)
The Seminoles made easy work of Wake Forest on Saturday and have been humming since scares against Boston College and Clemson in September. WR Keon Coleman has been one of the best transfer portal additions of the offseason and Jordan Travis is going to find himself in the Heisman discussion if he keeps playing mistake-free football and Florida State keeps winning. FSU has no ranked teams remaining, but that won’t matter as long as the Seminoles go undefeated.
2. Michigan (8-0)
We can make a strong case for the Wolverines to have the No. 1 spot on Tuesday night but ultimately think they’ll be No. 2. Why? We think the committee will cite strength of schedule. UNLV, Minnesota and Nebraska are the three best teams Michigan has played so far this season and a 2-6 Purdue team looms before a trip to Penn State on Nov. 11. And before you ask, no, we don’t think the sign-stealing scandal should have any sway with the committee.
1. Georgia (8-0)
If Georgia hadn’t convincingly beat Florida on Saturday we’d strongly consider having Michigan at No. 1 in our prediction. But Georgia has won its last three games by a combined 78 points after a seven-point win at Auburn. The Bulldogs didn’t miss a beat on offense without Brock Bowers against the Gators and will have a chance to solidify their status as the best team in the country over the next three weeks against teams who will be in the committee’s rankings on Tuesday night.
Here are Week 9’s winners and losers:
Kansas: Kansas clinched bowl eligibility on Saturday and did so in style, upsetting No. 6 Oklahoma 38-33. It was a back-and-forth game and the Jayhawks took the lead with 55 seconds to play before getting the stop they needed to hand OU its first loss of the season. It marked Kansas’ first win over Oklahoma since 1997 and the Jayhawks’ first home win over a top-10 opponent since 1984. Kansas, now 6-2 on the year, is bowl eligible for the second straight season. The last time KU made back-to-back bowl trips was 2007 and 2008. And in the 11 seasons before Lance Leipold’s arrival in 2021, the Jayhawks hadn’t had a season with more than three wins. Leipold is doing an incredible job.
Georgia: The two-time defending national champion Bulldogs put up 486 yards in a 43-20 win over Florida and got another strong performance from Carson Beck. Beck threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns with Ladd McConkey (six catches, 135 yards, TD) emerging as his top target. Now 8-0, this was the first test in a challenging stretch for the Bulldogs that includes three consecutive games vs. ranked teams (Missouri, Ole Miss and Tennessee) in the next three weeks. After the game, Kirby Smart was feeling confident and levied a shot at former Florida coach Dan Mullen, now an analyst for ESPN.
Oregon: Oregon kept its CFP hopes alive with a dominant 35-6 road win over Utah to improve to 7-1. Utah had won 18 straight home games before running into the Ducks on Saturday. Oregon scored on its first offensive possession and never let up, thoroughly outplaying the two-time defending Pac-12 champions. This was a big win for Oregon in its quest for a rematch with Washington. UW beat the Ducks two weeks ago, and the two could be on a crash course for a showdown in the Pac-12 title game.
Louisville: Louisville has a very viable path to the ACC title game after posting a 23-0 win over Duke. In the win, Jawhar Jordan rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns while Brock Travelstead booted three field goals. The defense, meanwhile, limited Duke to only 202 yards of offense and a combined 2-of-14 on third and fourth down. Now 7-1 overall and 4-1 in ACC play, Louisville is one of three ACC teams with just one loss in league play vying to face undefeated Florida State for the conference crown. That would be a major accomplishment in Year 1 under Jeff Brohm.
Iowa State: Iowa State is currently tied for first place in the Big 12. Yes, you read that correctly. The Cyclones went 1-2 in non-conference play but have since won four of five against Big 12 competition. The only loss came at Oklahoma a few weeks ago. Since then, Iowa State has won three straight, including Saturday’s 30-18 road win over Baylor. Iowa State lost several key players in the offseason amid a gambling investigation, including its starting QB. But that hasn’t stopped this Cyclones team from coming together and being one of the bigger surprises in the country. ISU can clinch a bowl berth next week.
Nebraska: Nebraska has quietly rebounded since an ugly 0-2 start. The Huskers have won three straight and five of their last six after a 31-14 home win over Purdue on Saturday. The Huskers, now in a four-way tie atop the Big Ten West, look like a much more disciplined team with Matt Rhule in charge and have been taking care of business against teams with comparable talent. The Huskers can end their seven-year bowl drought with a road win over Michigan State next weekend.
Virginia Tech: Virginia Tech went 3-8 in its first season under Brent Pry and then lost three of four to start the 2023 season. After that 1-3 start, however, the Hokies have started to turn things around. The Hokies blasted Syracuse 38-10 on Thursday night to improve to 4-4 on the year. The Hokies jumped out to a 30-3 halftime lead and out-gained Syracuse 528 yards to 137 in the win. It was Virginia Tech’s third win in the last four games and now the Hokies have a realistic shot at a bowl game.
North Carolina: UNC’s College Football Playoff hopes evaporated in the span of two weeks. The Tar Heels started the season 6-0 and jumped up to No. 10 in the Associated Press Top 25. But now North Carolina is 6-2 following back-to-back losses as significant favorites. Last week, UNC lost 31-27 to Virginia at home as 24-point favorites. This week, UNC went to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech as a 12-point favorite and promptly got upset, 46-42. UNC had a 42-32 fourth-quarter lead but allowed the Yellow Jackets to score the game’s final 14 points to pull out the win. UNC started last year 9-1 before collapsing down the stretch. The collapse started early this season, it appears.
Clemson: Clemson is on pace for its worst season since 2010. The Tigers lost 24-17 at NC State on Saturday to fall to 4-4 on the year. Clemson lost to Miami in overtime last week and has not lost back-to-back regular season games for the first time since 2011. Additionally, Clemson has four regular season losses for the first time since 2010. That was Dabo Swinney’s second season as Clemson’s full-time head coach. Since the Tigers’ 8-0 start to last season, they are 7-7 and are going to have to fight just to reach a bowl game.
Kentucky: Kentucky’s season has gone sideways after such a promising start. The Wildcats were 5-0 and up to No. 20 in the country but have since lost three straight, including the last two in Lexington. Saturday’s loss was a 33-27 decision at the hands of Tennessee, and it was a winnable game for UK. The Wildcats’ offense looked much better but the usually reliable defense got gashed for nearly 500 yards and missed way too many tackles at critical times. The Vols rushed for 254 yards and Joe Milton was way too comfortable in the pocket as he completed 17 of his 20 attempts.
UCF: UCF is still looking for its first Big 12 win. The Knights nearly upset Oklahoma on the road last week and followed that up with a 41-28 home loss to West Virginia. The transition to the Big 12 was never going to be easy, but UCF is now 0-5 in Big 12 play and is allowing an average of 40.6 points per game in those five losses. And not only did the defense struggle vs. WVU, but the Knights were doomed by four turnovers, including three interceptions thrown by John Rhys Plumlee.
Maryland: After a 5-0 start, Maryland has dropped three straight. The Terps blew a lead in their loss to Ohio State and then got upset at home by Illinois. After a bye week, a trip to Evanston to play Northwestern seemed like a good opportunity to get back in the win column. Instead, the Terps lost another one, falling 33-27 in another ugly effort. The Wildcats entered the weekend ranked No. 126 nationally in total offense (299.3 yards per game), but they were able to put up 364 yards on the Terps with their backup quarterback.
Pittsburgh: Pat Narduzzi has been a consistent winner at Pitt, but this season has been ugly. The Panthers got destroyed 58-7 at Notre Dame on Saturday to drop to 2-6 on the season. It was the most lopsided loss of Narduzzi’s tenure and the coach’s postgame comments did not seem to sit well with some of his players. The Panthers have just one season with a losing record (2017) in Narduzzi’s tenure. A second losing season is coming.
Houston: Houston emptied the tank last week and almost upset Texas at home. This week, UH had to leave the state of Texas for the first time all season to face Kansas State. It was a cold day in Manhattan and the Cougars did not handle it well, falling 41-0. Houston never reached the red zone, went a combined 3-of-18 on third and fourth down and managed to gain only 208 yards in the loss. UH is now 3-5 overall and 1-4 in Big 12 play. Could Dana Holgorsen’s time be running out?