College football playoffs picture comes into sharper focus

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The favorites for the four slots in the College Football Playoff have faced little resistance during the first three weeks of the season. But that’s about to change. 

There are three matchups of Top 25 teams this weekend, headlined by No. 7 Notre Dame at No. 3 Georgia. There were none last Saturday. 

The Fighting Irish and Bulldogs are both given a 39 percent chance of reaching the playoffs, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. 

Add to that a Big Ten showdown between Wisconsin and Michigan, Utah traveling to Los Angeles to take on USC, No. 8 Auburn facing No. 17 Texas A&M in College Station and Oregon playing at Stanford and we might see some shuffling of teams’ CFP hopes. 

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Clemson (78 percent) and Alabama (75 percent) have the best shots at making the playoff, according to the FPI. Ohio State is next at 43 percent. 

The sixth-ranked Buckeyes have one more non-conference walkover — against Miami (Ohio) — before taking on Nebraska, Michigan State and Wisconsin over a four-week span. 

Clemson is given a 62.5 percent chance to complete the regular season undefeated. The Tigers play at North Carolina, Louisville and South Carolina and host Florida State but are likely to be double-digit favorites in each. 

Alabama’s schedule is more difficult: The Crimson Tide plays at Texas A&M on Oct. 12, hosts No. 4 LSU on Nov. 9 and has road games at Mississippi State and Auburn later in November. 

The Pac-12 has six teams in the AP Top 25 this week, but none of them has much traction in the CFP race. 

Oregon, Washington and USC all have losses. Stanford, ranked to start the season, has been reduced to a spoiler role after back-to-back blowout losses to USC and Central Florida. 

And undefeated Utah looked unremarkable in wins over Northern Illinois and FCS Idaho State. But the Utes have an opportunity to impress voters when they travel to Los Angeles face the Trojans on Friday night. 

FPI suggests Oregon has the best chance of winning the Pac-12, and the Ducks had the best kind of loss: against a ranked opponent (No. 8 Auburn) in the first game of the season.  

Do they have a chance at a CFP bid? The Pac-12’s sorry recent record says no. 

In the Big Ten, Wisconsin and Michigan are both clearly behind Ohio State in national perception. But a win by either on Saturday in Madison would put the Badgers or Wolverines squarely in the playoff picture. 

The game might be even more important for Michigan, which has the harder remaining schedule. 

The Wolverines have home games against undefeated Iowa, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. The Badgers travel to Ohio State and Nebraska but get the Spartans and Iowa at home. 

It’s hard to know how much room there will be for one-loss —non-SEC — teams in the CFP. 

At this point, six teams — Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Georgia and LSU — appear to be frontrunners for the four CFP spots. 

But, with more than a month to go before the committee releases its first rankings, there’s plenty of time for other schools to jockey for position. 

Saturday

Michigan at Wisconsin -3: The Badgers have been flawless in beating South Florida and Central Michigan by a combined 110-0 while putting up more than 1,000 yards in total offense. Wisconsin also has the nation’s No. 1 defense through two games. 

The Wolverines, meanwhile, have failed to establish as identity on either side of the ball in ho-hum wins over Middle Tennessee and Army. 

The Black Knights rushed for 200 yards and sacked Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson four times in the Wolverines’ 24-21 overtime win. WISCONSIN 

Appalachian State +3 at North Carolina: Former North Carolina State offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz has picked up where his predecessor, new Louisville coach Scott Satterfield, left off at App State. 

With Drinkwitz calling the plays, the Mountaineers have piled up more than 550 yards on the ground in wins over East Tennessee State and Charlotte. 

The Tar Heels surprised with wins over South Carolina and Miami to open the season but gave up 222 rushing yards in a loss to Wake Forest on Saturday. APP STATE 

SMU +9.5 at TCU: The whispers started after the Horned Frogs’ 34-13 win at Purdue on Saturday: Is TCU a sleeper for the College Football Playoff? 

The Horned Frogs have a typical Gary Patterson defense. The Boilermakers managed just 204 yards in the loss. But the Mustangs present a challenge. 

During SMU’s 3-0 start, quarterback Shane Buchele has completed 66.3 percent of his passes while the team is averaging almost 250 yards per game on the ground. SMU 

Last week: 1-3

Season: 3-8

 

About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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