The first College Football Playoff rankings won’t be released for three more weeks — on Oct. 31 — but the good news is that fans won’t have to wait that long to get a sneak peek at the first final four.
Thanks to spending a weekend last season taking part in a mock selection process with the playoff committee members, I can confidently and unequivocally say without any shadow of a doubt, these four teams might end up at the top in the first rankings.
1. Alabama (6-0)
The Buzz: Alabama has appeared in the first playoff rankings in each of the past two seasons and there’s nothing to indicate that the Crimson Tide won’t be there when the first rankings are revealed in late October. Nick Saban’s team is 6-0 for the second consecutive season and features a remaining schedule that is among the easiest of the four top teams. The biggest threat, it appears, could come at the end of the regular season on the road against rival Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
2. Clemson (6-0)
The Buzz: Color me surprised Clemson is undefeated at this point in the season. The Tigers lost a tremendous amount of talent, including NFL prospects Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman and Mike Williams, yet have managed to remain relevant in the playoff semifinal discussion after surviving a difficult first month of the season that included games against three ranked opponents. The schedule gets a bit easier, which is a good thing since quarterback Kelly Bryant left Saturday’s game with an injury.
3. Georgia (6-0)
The Buzz: Kirby Smart deserves kudos for the job he’s done so far at Georgia. The Bulldogs have been impressive in every game so far, including wins over ranked Notre Dame and Mississippi State. The defense has been outstanding and the offense hasn’t missed a beat even when Jacob Eason went down with an injury and was replaced by Jake Fromm. The remaining schedule features winnable games, including a showdown with Florida for what is essentially a spot in the SEC East title game. Could this be the year two teams from one conference get into the semifinals?
4. Ohio State (5-1)
The Buzz: Before you start sending me the hate mail, hear me out. The Buckeyes have been a better team since losing to Oklahoma in the second week of the season. The Big Ten is one of the best — if not the best — conference in college football right now and with a schedule that features Penn State and Michigan, there’s a chance for the Buckeyes to make a statement. Plus, does anybody remember 2014? It’s a lot easier to come back from an early loss rather than one later in the season.
On the outside looking in …
5. Washington (6-0): Don’t sleep on the Huskies, although according to Washington coach Chris Petersen that’s what’s been happening with the Pac-12 playing so many late-night games. The team has a critical road game against Stanford on Nov. 10 and the Apple Cup against Washington State, which could decide the Pac-12 North and the Huskies’ chances of earning a playoff bid.
6. Penn State (6-0): The Nittany Lions have started a season 6-0 for the first time since 2008 and are 15-1 during the past 16 games. The program has won 12 consecutive Big Ten games, but Penn State will be tested during the next couple of weeks with games against three ranked teams in Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. If the Nittany Lions survive, the path to the playoff is almost certain.
7. Auburn (5-1): Much like Ohio State, Auburn suffered an early loss — this one to No. 3 Clemson in the second game of the season. The Tigers have rebounded nicely by winning four consecutive games and are now ranked in the top 12. The rest of the schedule features challenges, including home contests against Georgia and Alabama.
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