College Football Playoff Contenders: Breaking Down the Top Ten



The biggest question in college football this year is if anybody can get to the level Tua Tagovailoa (pictured) and Alabama are playing at,

By Jack Woodard, Sports Editor

The college football season is more than halfway over with now as we prepare to enter Week 9.  Some teams have lived up to expectations and others have not. As the weeks roll on, the contenders are separated from the pretenders and the College Football Playoff Committee will be picking their top four teams.  This article will give you a rundown of the current top ten teams who have differentiated themselves from the pack, and appear worthy of making the College Football Playoff.

This year it seems like everybody is fighting to finish in second behind Alabama, who comes in ranked at number 1.   The Crimson Tide sit at 8-0 and are beating their opponents on average by more than 34 points. Alabama’s offense seems unstoppable led by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.  They have blown out every opponent so far, but have only played one ranked team in Texas A&M. This does not matter because the Crimson Tide look like everything people expected them to be in the beginning of the year.  They have put up more than 50 points in six out of their 8 games played. Alabama is almost a lock to make the playoff and are predicted by many to win it all. Teams can never get too ahead of themselves, however, as college football is known for its ability to be unpredictable.  The Crimson Tide will have a battle on their hands after their bye week when they take on LSU.

Sitting right behind Alabama and also undefeated is Clemson.  The Tigers are currently 7-0 and they have faced their fair share of adversity.  Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence won the spot over Kelly Bryant, who is now transferring.  Clemson survived a battle against Syracuse, winning 27-23, after Lawrence was knocked out for the game.  This win really showed the character of the team and the depth that they have. Clemson also survived a scare against a respectable Texas A&M team, winning 28-26.  Clemson is coming off two huge wins, one of them being a 41-7 blowout of previously undefeated North Carolina State. Clemson also has star running back Travis Etienne as well as Hunter Renfrow at receiver and a stifling defense.  The Tigers will need to finish out strong against a weak schedule and not let their guard down. They will get back at it on Saturday against Florida State.

Notre Dame sits at number 3 with a record of 7-0 as well.  The Fighting Irish are a mystery as they are very inconsistent.  Notre Dame has blown out Stanford and also beat Michigan but also had close calls against Ball State, Vanderbilt, and Pitt.  Notre Dame switched things around when they switched to Ian Book at quarterback over Brandon Wimbush. Notre Dame does not have the strongest of schedules and this may hurt them in the future, but for now they can only play who they are up against and they have been winning.  Notre Dame will look for a more consistent effort in the upcoming weeks to finish out undefeated and make the playoff, as if they lose a game they will likely get passed over for another one-loss team who won their conference championship.

LSU is the 4th ranked team in the nation and are coming off a huge win against Georgia 36-16.  Joe Burrow has not been the best quarterback, but he has done enough to get the Tigers ranked this high.  LSU’s only loss was to a solid Florida team, at the Swamp. They have beaten Mississippi State and Auburn, which were expected to be tough games but both of those teams have disappointed so far this season, and sit at 7-1.  The Tigers also have a ferocious running attack led by Nick Brosette and one of the best defenses in the nation led by linebacker Devin White. LSU’s offense is not the best, and their weaknesses were exploited by Florida, which could be their downfall.  LSU has a very tough test coming up against Alabama and finishes the season playing Texas A&M. It is very unlikely that the Tigers make the SEC Championship, much less than win out and make the playoff.

The 5th ranked team in the nation is Michigan, whose only loss came in the first week with a terrible outing against Notre Dame.  The Wolverines are led by quarterback Shea Patterson and receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones on offense while the defense is anchored by standout lineman Rashan Gary.  While their offense has not always looked the best at times, Michigan’s defense will determine how far they go this season. The defense has gotten them through low scoring wins against Northwestern (20-17) and Michigan State (21-7).  Michigan also has a big win against Wisconsin to their credit as they blew out the Badgers, 38-13. The Wolverines have a tough schedule ahead of them as they play at Penn State after a bye week and finish up against Ohio State. Jim Harbaugh is looking to silence the doubters and finish out this year strong.  Michigan will likely need to win out to make the playoff and if they get through those two games, and then the Big Ten Championship, they are truly deserving.

The 6th ranked team in the nation is Texas, a team that has not lost since week 1 against Maryland.  This team, however, is an enigma. The Longhorns beat the 8th ranked Oklahoma Sooners and obliterated USC, but also has wins that they have squeaked out against lowly teams like Tulsa and Kansas State.  Sam Ehlinger is a solid quarterback for the Longhorns but they just need to start to being more consistent. Texas has some tough games coming up against West Virginia and Iowa State and will need to be playing their best football to stay undefeated.  Since the Big 12 does not have a conference championship game, there is no doubt that Texas will need to win out and have some wins by convincing margins or they will be left out by the committee.

Georgia comes in ranked 7th after suffering a setback and losing by 20 to LSU.  LSU was the first ranked team that Georgia played and they were absolutely dominated.  Georgia had very high expectations coming into the year, having made the national championship last year, and was predicted to with the SEC East.  Now they will have to survive two tough tests, this week against Florida and next week against Kentucky, to get back to Atlanta. Jake Fromm, the Bulldogs quarterback, has experience playing in high-pressure situations and will need to lead his team through this tough two game stretch.  He also has help from his dynamic duo at running back of Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift and a cast of supporting receivers. Georgia has the firepower to make it back to the playoff, but they need to focus on getting to the SEC Championship and surviving the East first.

Oklahoma is the 8th ranked team in the nation and they are an offensive oriented team.  The Sooners have shown no signs of backing down after losing Heisman quarterback Baker Mayfield and sit at 6-1, their only loss being to Texas.  Fans have gotten used to hearing the connections between quarterback Kyler Murray and his two favorite targets, CeeDee Lamb and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.  The Sooners also have a great, powerful back in Rodney Anderson. Oklahoma’s offense has been putting up points this season and they have managed to survive a couple of scares, from Army and Iowa State.  The Sooners are also negatively impacted by the Big 12 not having a conference championship game and will need to win out to make the playoff. The final week of the season for them could be a great matchup to watch as they are set to take on West Virginia, who also currently has one loss.  This game could possibly decide who wins the Big 12 and who will still be in the running to make the playoff.

The Florida Gators have been a pleasant surprise for fans this year as they currently sit at 9th in the AP poll with a record of 6-1. The Gators were expected to be in a rebuilding year, but offensive minded coach Dan Mullen has certainly disproved that theory.  All hope seemed lost for the Gators when they suffered a devastating loss to Kentucky in week 2. This loss ended the 31 game winning streak against Kentucky and left many fans upset. Looking back, this was not a bad loss at all, as Kentucky is currently ranked 12th in the country.  The Gators did lose star cornerback Marco Wilson for the year with a torn ACL, but his absence has been hardly noticed with the strong presence of C.J. Henderson, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Brad Stewart, and Tre Dean in the secondary (I guess that is how your supposed to bounce back when you name yourself d back university or DBU for short).  The Gators knocked off the 5th ranked Tigers, beat Mississippi State in Starkville, and survived an 18 point deficit against Vanderbilt. The Gators have a great pair of running backs in Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine to go along with their solid receiving core led by Van Jefferson and Josh Hammond. This team will only go as far as sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks takes them, however.  Franks has looked steady this year after a very rough season last year. The Gators have a showdown with Georgia this week and the winner of that game could win the SEC East. Florida has a very good chance to be playing for the SEC Championship in Atlanta and should not be overlooked as contenders.

Rounding out the top ten is UCF who is currently undefeated and holds the nation’s longest winning streak at 20 games.  UCF went undefeated last year and fans felt they were cheated out of a chance to play in the college football playoff. Fans are also thinking the same thing this year as the Knights are undefeated and ranked tenth.  News flash, UCF has one of the weakest schedules in the country! They are not in a Power 5 conference and play practically nobody. They have no realistic chance at making the playoff even if they do go undefeated again.  Their strength of schedule is in the bottom ten in all of college football and that cannot happen if they want to be a playoff team. Although this is a very good team, they simply will never get enough recognition unless they schedule tougher non-conference games or join a Power 5 conference. Barring a miraculous series of events, UCF will not make the playoff and fans will once again have to settle for a New Year’s Six Bowl.

With the weeks getting fewer and fewer, it appears we certainly will be in for a good finish to this college football season.  “I think Alabama will obviously go into the playoff ranked number 1 and end up winning the whole thing. The other 3 teams is where I think it will get interesting and I predict Notre Dame, Clemson, Oklahoma, Michigan, and the winner of the Florida-Georgia to all be in the conversation for the playoff,” says junior Aaron Khodarkovsky.

The only thing that is certain about college football is its ability to be unpredictable.  No matter who you are a fan of, this buildup to the end of the season will certainly be fun.