The Journey To The College Football Playoffs Has Begun

As the calendar rolls over from October to November, it’s time to start looking forward to the College Football Playoff (CFP) Rankings. Out with the polls and in with the delegates of the committee, to rank and reason why each team belongs.

So much like the committee, it’s time for us to put together our own playoff four, as well as rank the rest of the top 10 and highlight two squads within firing range.

1.) Tennessee Volunteers (8-0) defeated #19 Kentucky Wildcats 44-6

Vols Stifle The Wildcats: Even though the Vols only amassed 422 yards, which is low from their standard, they were able to win big. The defense played their best game of the season, intercepting Kentucky’s Will Levis three times and holding him to under 100 yards. The Hendon Hooker to Jalin Hyatt connection cashed in two more touchdowns (TDs) to take Hyatt’s total to 14 TDs on the season, which is best in the country.

Reasoning For Top Four: This dominant performance is enough for the Vols to slide into the top spot in the country. The defense finally came to life to provide arguably the best offense in America with some complimentary football. The offense will get a massive test against Georgia next weekend but as of now, they hold serve having the best resume.

Next Week: Away vs. #4 Georgia

2.) Ohio State Buckeyes (8-0) defeated #13 Penn State Nittany Lions 44-31

A Buckeye Avalanche: Defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau had the game of his life with two sacks, a fumble recovery and two interceptions of which he housed one. His pick-six was the nail in the coffin and the eventual end to a surge of Buckeye scores. After going down 21-16 at the 9:26 mark in the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes went on a rampage of points, scoring four TDs in only six minutes of clock.

It was a comeback for the ages, and one that definitely saved their season. We can’t talk about this game without mentioning the elite wideout play from Marvin Harrison Jr. Every time a play was needed, he was the target and delivered.

Reasoning For Top Four: When the offense is playing up to their standard and the defense keeps playing the way they are, then this is the best team in the country. The offense has suffered slow starts the past two weeks and is struggling to run the football but the pass offense is remaining elite. Penn State and Iowa are definitely good defenses but they need to figure it out over the next three weeks before they run into Michigan.

Next Week: Away vs. Northwestern Wildcats

3.) Michigan Wolverines (8-0) defeated Michigan State Spartans 29-7

Big Brother Rolls: Michigan’s defense put the clamps on the Spartans, allowing only 252 yards. The halftime score was 13-7, but could have been more if the Wolverines didn’t settle for two field goals inside the Spartans’ 10-yard line. Either way, the Wolverines just keep consistently out-battling their opponents in the trenches and use the second half to seal the deal.

Reasoning For Top Four: Run game and defense travels, and the Wolverines have both. Michigan and the Georgia Bulldogs both attack the game in the same demeanor but with different schemes. The dynamic run which is focused on the run pass option (RPO) has proven to be hard to stop, and the Wolverines should keep rolling all the way to Columbus on November 26th.

Next Week: Away vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

4.) Georgia Bulldogs (8-0) defeated Florida Gators 42-20

Gators Get Chomped: The Bulldogs jumped out to a 28-3 lead at the half, highlighted by a Brock Bowers 73-yard TD reception. The Gators closed the gap in the third to 28-20 but that’s as close as they would get. The Bulldogs responded with back-to-back scoring drives and let their defense handle it the rest of the way.

Reasoning For Top Four: When Georgia is running the ball well and they mix in bootlegs to the best tight end room in America with Bowers and Darnell Washington, then look out. The defense has played well most of the year but will have a massive test next week against Tennessee. If they can return to the form we saw them in week one, smashing Oregon 49-3, then they have a chance to derail the high flying Volunteers.

Next Week: Home vs. #1 Tennessee Volunteers

5.) TCU Horned Frogs (8-0) defeated West Virginia Mountaineers 41-31

Horned Frogs Survive: The final score wasn’t telling of how close this game really was. It was a back-and-forth game that saw TCU finally pull away late and hold onto their 10-point lead. Survival is apart of the game though as each team, such as the Mountaineers, will give the conference leading Horned Frogs their best shot from here on out.

Why They Are The First Team Out: As it sits currently, the Horned Frogs may have the easiest road to the playoffs, outside of Clemson. They have no ranked teams remaining, until they would ultimately reach the Big 12 Championship Game. They continue to cruise but watch out for Kansas State, who is in position for the other conference title game spot and wants to amend the previous loss.

The offense keeps being diverse and hard to stop. They will need the defense to keep getting better to be able to compete with the top four, because right now the top four will score non-stop.

Next Week: Home vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders

6.) Clemson Tigers (8-0) on BYE

Why They Are Next Out: The Tigers’ defensive line can carry them all the way to the playoffs. They have a few tough tests ahead with Notre Dame, who may be on the come up, and then the conference title. However, this is the easiest remaining schedule by far and if they win out, they’ll almost surely be in.

Just getting in is all they would be doing at this point though. The offense isn’t nearly good enough to compensate for their weaknesses and come up with points against the current top four. They have protection issues, questions in the quarterback room and the wideouts aren’t like the ball winners they’ve had over the last decade.

Next Week: Away vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

7.) Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1) on BYE

Where They Stand: The Tide are in control of their own destiny, and can easily make it back to the playoffs. They need to play their best ball for the next two weeks against back-to-back top 15 foes in LSU and Ole Miss. If they do, then it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll be in Atlanta to exact some revenge on Georgia from last season or Tennessee from this season.

Next Week: Away vs. #15 LSU Tigers

8.) Oregon Ducks (7-1) defeated California Golden Bears 42-24

Ducks Cruise In Cali: Quarterback Bo Nix went off for a combined six TDs. Two Ducks possessions went over 60 yards and didn’t account for points. Had they, then this win would have been by more, but the 18-point win is respectable.

Where They Stand: When Nix plays his best ball, then the Ducks can run with anyone in a shootout. They are so far away from their week one form and have been one of the best teams since. If they run the table, a CFP berth is almost a guarantee.

Next Week: Away vs. Colorado Buffaloes

9.) UCLA Bruins (7-1) defeated Stanford Cardinal 38-13

Bruins Chop The Trees: The Bruins rebounded nicely after the loss to Oregon last week. Their run game was unstoppable, going for 324 yards and five TDs, led by running back Zach Charbonnet and his 198 yards. After allowing a field goal on the opening drive, the Bruins defense held firm, getting an interception and forcing three punts in a row. This allowed the offense to put points on the board and put the game out of reach.

Where They Stand: Charbonnet is NFL ready as they come, and as long as he keeps picking up yards, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson can play freely. He needs to be allowed to utilize his speed and arm talent because he is such a natural playmaker that anything can happen on a scramble or broken play. This team is dangerous when they play to their potential.

Next Week: Away vs. Arizona State Sun Devils

10.) USC Trojans (7-1) defeated Arizona Wildcats 45-37

Trojans Hang On: The Trojans were locked into a back-and-forth scoring affair in Tucson. Quarterback Caleb Williams was dealing, tossing five TDs on 411 yards. Running back Travis Dye put the game away with a 2-yard plunge late in the fourth to make the score 45-29. Unfortunately, the 621 yards that USC picked up is shadowed by the 543 they allowed on defense.

Where They Stand: The offense is impressive while the defense continues to be unreliable. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who came from Oklahoma with Lincoln Riley, hasn’t made many improvements. The downfall of this team will be when the offense sputters, because the defense isn’t doing any favors.

Next Week: Home vs .California Golden Bears

 

Within Fighting Range

11.) Utah Utes (6-2)

Why: If the Utes run the table and find themselves in the conference championship game, they need to hope it’s UCLA. The PAC-12 has eliminated the divisions being represented and are going with the highest ranked squads. UCLA handed the Utes their only conference loss,and they could get the change to get revenge.

Utah has to beat Oregon and UCLA has to beat USC, but this is very possible. If the Utes finish 11-2 after beating UCLA, then they essentially have beaten everyone on their schedule except the Week 1 loss at Florida. They sit at #12 but it’s well within the realm of possibility as Ohio State was #16 in the inaugural rankings the year they won the title.

12.) Kansas State Wildcats (6-2)

Why: The loss to the Tulane Green Wave seemed terrible early on but the Green Wave are actually solid at 7-1 and sit at #19 in the polls. The Wildcats need Tulane to keep winning to make that loss look not as bad, but in reality it may not matter. Their 48-0 dismantling of #9 Oklahoma State may be the best win of anyone this year.

The Wildcats are in the same boat as Utah with UCLA, as they need to avenge that loss to TCU. If TCU is undefeated when they meet, then the Horned Frogs should be #3 at worse as the current top four play each other in the regular season. A Kansas State win may be enough to propel them into the playoffs, even with the two losses.

Derek Worley

Sports Analyst

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