Predicting what the first CFP rankings will look like

It’s time to start seriously thinking about the College Football Playoff.

The 2019 college football season is now through 10 weeks and the first set of College Football Playoff rankings arrive on Tuesday. What will they look like? We have an idea.

It’s pretty obvious that the top five teams in the AP Top 25 entering the week will be in the top five of the CFP rankings. After all, four of those top five didn’t play on Saturday. But the order could be a little different. We’re taking our stab at what the order of the top 15 teams in the CFP rankings will be on Tuesday. We’ll likely be wrong. But we also think the rankings will look very similar to what you see below.

The Bearcats only beat East Carolina 46-43 on Saturday thanks to a last-second field goal. But Cincy gets this spot over a two-loss Notre Dame team that needed a last-gasp drive to beat Virginia Tech at home. The Bearcats’ only loss came at the hands of Ohio State.

Yes, the Wolverines will probably be in the top 15 of the rankings. That’s because of Michigan’s domination of Notre Dame in Week 9. Saturday, Michigan handily beat Maryland. The path to the playoff is nonexistent for the Wolverines but a New Year’s Six bowl game is still available, especially with a win over Ohio State.

The undefeated Gophers get their first real test of the season next week against Penn State. Minnesota has improved as the season has gone on but was the country’s most tenuous undefeated team through the first three weeks of the season. With the Nittany Lions, Iowa and Wisconsin still to come on Minnesota’s schedule, we’re going to get a good idea of just how good the Gophers are in November.

The Tigers are ahead of Minnesota in the rankings because of a win over Oregon in Week 1 and losses to Florida and LSU. Both of those SEC foes should be ahead of Auburn on Tuesday. Auburn boasts one of the best defensive fronts in the country and the offense has looked much better in 2019 now that coach Gus Malzahn is calling the plays again. Auburn beat Ole Miss 20-14 on Saturday night.

There’s a decent chance that Florida could end up in the top 10 on Tuesday even though the Gators lost 24-17 to Georgia on Saturday. Florida’s other loss came to LSU and the Gators have beaten Auburn. With three winnable games left on the schedule, Florida has a real good shot at finishing the season 10-2. That should be good enough for a New Year’s Six bowl berth.

The Bears were not convincing in the slightest in a 17-14 Halloween night win over West Virginia. Baylor tried to give that game to the Mountaineers and West Virginia simply refused to take it. Like Minnesota, Baylor’s strength of schedule is a detriment at the moment. The Bears have not played Texas or Oklahoma yet. Baylor’s best win this season is over Oklahoma State.

We think the Sooners will come in behind two Pac-12 teams in the first set of the rankings because of how that Week 9 loss to Kansas State unfolded. While Oklahoma’s defense had played much better in 2019, it fell apart as the Wildcats rushed for six touchdowns. The Sooners’ signature win of the season is over Texas and that win doesn’t look as good thanks to Texas’ loss to TCU in Week 9.

8. Utah (8-1)

Utah came back from a 14-3 deficit to beat Washington 33-28 on Saturday in a win that could prove pivotal in the race for the Pac-12 South. While the Utes’ only loss of the season came on a Friday night at USC, we think Utah will end up behind Oregon in the rankings because that loss isn’t “as good” as Oregon’s loss to Auburn. And while Arizona State was ranked at the time it lost 21-3 to Utah, none of Utah’s previous opponents entered Week 10 in the AP top 25.

7. Oregon (8-1)

The Ducks took care of business against USC on Saturday night and still have a shot at the College Football Playoff. Heck, Utah does too. We’re salivating at the prospect of an 11-1 Oregon facing an 11-1 Utah in the Pac-12 title game with a possible College Football Playoff spot on the line. While QB Justin Herbert has gotten a lot of NFL draft attention, Oregon’s defense has been the key to its strong start.

6. Georgia (7-1)

Georgia looked like the superior team in Saturday’s win over Florida. And, in the process, it made its Week 7 home loss to South Carolina look even more inexplicable. The Bulldogs are in control of the SEC East and five more wins will certainly put Georgia in the College Football Playoff. Georgia’s win over Notre Dame — a team that did need a last-minute escape over Virginia Tech on Saturday — is what makes the Bulldogs the best of the one-loss teams.

5. Penn State (8-0)

It’s absolutely possible that Penn State ends up at No. 4 instead of No. 5 on Tuesday. Its wins over Iowa and Michigan are better than any win that Clemson has on the season. If the committee takes that into account more than Clemson’s status as the defending national champion, don’t be surprised if the Nittany Lions are one spot higher than they are here. Penn State was off on Saturday ahead of its Week 11 matchup with Minnesota.

Clemson is 9-0 after an easy win over Wofford. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

More4. Clemson (9-0)

Clemson had an easy game on Saturday against FCS opponent Wofford. After beating North Carolina 21-20 on Sept. 28 the Tigers have steamrolled their last four opponents to a tune of 208-45. That’s an average score of about 52-11. None of those teams are any good, however. And that’s playing against Clemson at the moment. Texas A&M was No. 12 when the Tigers beat the Aggies in Week 2 but A&M has since fallen outside the top 25. As long as Clemson keeps winning it’ll be in the top four and will make the College Football Playoff.

3. Alabama (8-0)

Controversy! If the committee wanted to help the hype for next week’s game between Alabama and LSU, it would have the Crimson Tide and Tigers at Nos. 1 and 2 in some order. But what if the committee avoids thinking about a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game and instead looks at Alabama’s résumé vs. Ohio State’s and concludes the Buckeyes are a better team at this point in the season?

It’s a reasonable conclusion. Like Clemson, Alabama’s best win is over Texas A&M and none of the teams it’s played are currently ranked in the top 25. While Alabama has been impressive in every single game, the Tide could end up at No. 3 because of that relatively weak schedule. A convincing win over LSU next week would certainly put Alabama at No. 1.

2. Ohio State (8-0)

Week 10 was the first week since 1996 when the top three teams in the AP top 25 were all off at the same time. And while Ohio State is the No. 3 team in that group in the AP poll, we think the Buckeyes’ 38-7 win over Wisconsin in Week 9 will be what puts Ohio State at No. 2 ahead of Alabama in the rankings.

Ohio State also beat Cincinnati 42-0 in Week 2; the Bearcats are ranked in the top 20 and are one of the best teams in the AAC. OSU’s closest games this season have been a 34-10 win over Michigan State and a 45-21 win over Florida Atlantic in Week 1 after cruising in the second half. Meanwhile, Alabama has two wins with a smaller margin of victory on a weaker schedule.

1. LSU (8-0)

The Tigers moved to No. 1 after beating Florida in Week 8 and will be the top team in the first set of rankings because it has the best set of wins among the top five undefeated teams. A Week 2 road win against Texas (remember the air-conditioning debate?) looks less impressive now but wins over Florida and Auburn are each better victories than Ohio State and Alabama have. Couple that with an offense that has scored over 40 points in six of eight games in 2019 and you have the No. 1 team.

Being No. 1 in the first set of rankings is also a good omen. The last four teams ranked No. 1 in the first set of rankings have made the playoff at the end of the season. Mississippi State in 2014 — in the first-ever College Football Playoff rankings — is the only early No. 1 to not make the final four. With Oklahoma losing a week ago, the Tigers have a great shot at making the playoff with an 11-1 season even with a loss to Alabama on Nov. 9.

WINNERS

Wake Forest: Wake Forest is on track to play in a New Year’s Six bowl this season. The Demon Deacons trounced NC State 44-10 at home on Saturday to improve to 7-1 on the season. Three of Wake Forest’s next four games are very winnable. The one that isn’t is a trip to play unbeaten Clemson. With Clemson appearing to be en route to another College Football Playoff berth, the second-best ACC team would slide into the Orange Bowl. Wake Forest is in a very good position.

Liberty: Hugh Freeze’s Liberty Flames are inching closer to bowl eligibility. After an 0-2 start to the season, Liberty — which moved up to the FBS level in 2018 — improved to 6-3 by demolishing UMass 63-21. The UMass defense just had no answers for Liberty quarterback Stephen “Buckshot” Calvert. He had 441 yards and four touchdowns through the air by halftime. Calvert didn’t play much in the second half, but that didn’t stop the Flames from racking up a total of 730 yards on the afternoon. Two of Liberty’s six wins came against FCS teams, so the Flames need one more victory to clinch bowl eligibility. Liberty’s final three games: at BYU, at Virginia and vs. New Mexico State.

Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleers entered Saturday’s game against Troy without a Sun Belt win. When CJ Marable scored with 30 seconds left to cut Troy’s lead to 35-34, the team could have kicked the extra point and gone to overtime. Nope.

Marable scored a two-point conversion that turned out to be the winning play in a 36-35 win for CCU. The victory brings the Chanticleers to 4-4 on the season and just two wins away from a bowl game. And with games remaining against Louisiana-Monroe and Texas State, a bowl berth isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Indiana has seven wins already. Indiana! (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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Indiana: Hello 7-2 Indiana. Yes, really. Indiana is 7-2 and could easily be in the AP Top 25 on Sunday. The Hoosiers easily dispatched a downtrodden Northwestern team 34-3 on Saturday to seal a winning season.

A winning season is a big deal in Bloomington. Want to know how big of a deal? This will be just the fourth season since 1990 that Indiana has gotten seven or more wins. Two more wins — that’s asking a lot, since Indiana has Penn State, Michigan and Purdue remaining — will be the winningest regular season for the Hoosiers since Indiana was 9-2 and went to the Rose Bowl in 1967.

Central Michigan: CMU is bowl eligible 10 games into the season. That’s a huge achievement when you consider that the Chippewas were 1-11 in 2018. Things are looking good under Jim McElwain.

CMU beat Northern Illinois 48-10 on Saturday to jump to 6-4 on the season. QB Quinten Dormady — he of Tennessee and Houston previously — threw for three touchdowns to set up a pivotal MAC West clash with Ball State on Nov. 16. The winner of that game could end up going to the MAC championship game.

LOSERS

West Virginia: Undefeated Baylor was ripe for an upset on Thursday night, but West Virginia just couldn’t take advantage of it. Baylor, leading 17-14, gifted the Mountaineers excellent field position with a muffed punt with under five minutes to play. West Virginia’s offense couldn’t move the ball, but appeared to have tied the score with a 43-yard field goal by Casey Legg — a freshman who had never attempted a FG before. But Legg’s field goal was wiped off the board by a delay of game penalty. After being pushed back five yards, the 48-yard try was blocked and Baylor hung on 17-14.

Syracuse: Syracuse might not win a single ACC game this season. The Orange dropped to 0-5 in conference play on Saturday following a blowout at the hands of Boston College. It was not pretty. In a 58-27 decision, Boston College scored a whopping 44 points in the first half alone — the most BC has ever put up in a first half since joining the ACC. By the time the dust settled, the Eagles compiled 496 rushing yards and a school-record 691 yards in all. And that was with backup Dennis Grosel starting at quarterback. Syracuse started the year ranked, but is now 3-6 overall with road trips to Duke and Louisville and a home game against Wake Forest still on the schedule.

Willie Taggart is 9-12 as Florida State’s head coach. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

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Florida State: Things are not getting better in Tallahassee. The Seminoles lost 27-10 at home to Miami to drop to 4-5 on the season. QB Alex Hornibrook was 17-of-24 passing for a paltry 135 yards with one touchdown and an interception while running back Cam Akers had 22 carries for just 66 yards.

FSU coach Willie Taggart is now 9-12 in his tenure with the school and a bowl game may hinge on next week’s game at Boston College. If FSU doesn’t win that game, it’ll have to beat Alabama State and Florida to get to 6-6 and .500 on the season.

Arkansas: Saturday was supposed to be Arkansas’ chance to get an SEC win. Instead, the Razorbacks lost at home 54-24 to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs rushed the ball 57 times for 460 yards as Arkansas lost a 17th straight SEC game dating back to 2017 and before Chad Morris was hired as the team’s head coach.

With games against LSU and Missouri left on the conference schedule, it’s not out of the possibility that Arkansas will have a 19-game conference losing streak when the 2019 season ends.

Rutgers: Putting Rutgers in the losers’ column feels like piling on. But the Scarlet Knights lost 38-10 to Illinois on Saturday night. The good news is the 10 points that Rutgers scored is the most the team has scored in a Big Ten game this season. The bad news is this stat right here.

Rutgers is the first @B1Gfootball team ever to lose its first 6 conference games of a season by 28+ PTS. The only other FBS team to do that in the last 20 seasons was Ball State (MAC) in 2017.

— Elias Sports Bureau (@EliasSports) November 2, 2019

It’s also probably bad that Rutgers has scored just 24 points in six conference games this season. Whoever ends up taking over in Piscataway has a huge rebuilding task ahead of him.

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