2017 College Football Playoff Scenario Heading into October

kelly-bryant-clemson-starterThe College Football Playoff (CFP) picture is far from complete. After all, we’ve only seen five weeks of college football so far.

But on the other hand, we’re almost halfway through the season. And this means that we can at least begin discussing the CFP picture right now.

Let’s look at the leading playoff contenders from each of the Power Five conferences. We’ll also check out some winners and losers from Week 5 of college football.

ACC CFP Leader: Clemson

The Tigers but are still #2 behind Alabama in the latest AP poll. Nevertheless, Clemson has played the best schedule in the country so far. Three of their five victories have come against top-15 teams. This includes last Saturday’s 31-17 win over No. 12 Virginia Tech.

Deshaun Watson may be gone, but quarterback Kelly Bryant has stepped in and played great. And Clemson’s defensive line is even more talented than it was last year.

Nobody in the ACC is a real threat to the Tigers right now. That said, we look for Clemson to go undefeated in the regular season and walk into the CFP.

Big Ten CFP Leader: Penn State

saquon-barkley-penn-stateThe Nittany Lions look really strong so far. This especially the case with their running game, which is led by Saquon Barkley. Barkley is quite possibly the best back in the game and has rumbled for 574 yards and 4 touchdowns thus far.

The only problem for Penn State is that the Big Ten is extremely competitive this year. Both the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes play in the Big Ten East and could foil the Nittany Lions’ run.

But then again, Ohio State has gotten off to a rocky star after losing to Oklahoma in Week 2. Michigan’s defense is elite, but their red zone offense is weighing the team down.

Big 12 CFP Leader: Oklahoma

baker-mayfield-soonersThe Sooners are definitely in the driver’s seat for a CFP spot right now. They have one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Baker Mayfield, who’s thrown for 1,329 yards and 13 touchdowns. Even if they lose, Oklahoma can bank on their win over Ohio State to boost their playoff resume.

TCU and Oklahoma State could also challenge for a CFP slot. The Horned Frogs are leading between these two because they beat Oklahoma State last week.

Pac-12 CFP Leader: Washington

washington-huskiesThe Pac-12 is shaping up to be a very competitive race. The Washington Huskies have a slight lead in the CFP standings. But Washington State, who beat USC on Friday night, are very close to the Huskies right now.

Standford could also make a run at the conference title and CFP. But their playoff chances took a hit with a recent loss to San Diego State.

Regardless of how the Cardinals finish up, it’ll be exciting to see if running back Brice Love continues his torrid pace. He has 1,088 rushing yards on just 98 carries (11.1 YPC).

SEC CFP Leader: Alabama

nick-saban-alabama-1The Crimson Tide are firmly entrenched as the nation’s #1 team. And this doesn’t look to change after they destroyed Ole Miss 66-3. This helped Alabama avenge a 2015 lost to the Rebels in Tuscaloosa.

Auburn and George are both playing some good football right now. But it’s hard to see either of these schools being able to defeat Alabama. Furthermore, I highly doubt that the SEC will get more than one team into the College Football Playoff this year.

Overall Take on the 2017 CFP Picture

Again, we’re not even close to a complete College Football Playoff picture. Nevertheless, here are my educated guesses on who’ll be playing for the title:

  • No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Michigan (Wolverines smother the Lions on Oct. 25, then beat OSU on Nov. 25)
  • No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Oklahoma (Sooners are for real and hold off TCU & Oklahoma State)

As for the Pac-12, Washington and Washington State will probably both lose a game. And losses from these teams would eliminate the conference from CFP talk.

Other Happenings from Week 5 of College Football

While most of the attention is at the top of college football, there were plenty of other great stories from last Saturday. That said, let’s take a look at the winners and losers from Week 5.

Week 5 Winners

Central Florida – The Knights are off to a hot 3-0 start, which includes a 40-13 blowout over Memphis. UCF racked up 600 yards of offense against the Tigers last Saturday. Be prepared to see Scott Frost earn a Power Five conference head coaching gig next season.

Maryland – How do we know that the Terrapins are a really good overall team? They beat undefeated Minnesota on the road with their third-string quarterback. Third-stringer Max Bortenschlager had to fill in for backup Kasim Hill (ACL), who was already replacing the initial starter Tyrrell Pigrome.

Oklahoma State – Earlier we mentioned how the Cowboys have a chance to make the College Football Playoff. Their chances took a big hit when they lost to TCU a week ago. But they came back strong this Saturday with a 41-34 victory over Texas Tech.

Texas A&M – Head coach Kevin Sumlin has had plenty of reason to fear for his job security. But his team pulled out a 24-17 victory over South Carolina Saturday night to help ease his fears.

Losers

BYU – It was easy to chalk up BYU’s rough start to a brutal schedule. They played No. 13 LSU in Week 2, rival Utah in Week 3, and No. 10 Wisconsin a week ago. But after a 40-24 loss to Utah State, it’s clear that the Cougars just aren’t that good. And the LSU loss is looking pretty bad at this point too.

Mississippi State – The Bulldogs started this season off with a bang after going 3-0, including a win over LSU. But they’ve since lost their last two games by a combined score of 80-13. The 49-10 loss to Auburn last Saturday – where they gave up over 500 yards of offense – is a telling sign that Mississippi State isn’t a true SEC contender.

North Carolina – The Tar Heels have had some really bad luck this season, losing 13 players to a season-ending injuries. And the injuries really took their toll in a 33-7 loss to Georgia Tech this past weekend. The Yellow Jackets dominated UNC by rushing for 403 yards on 66 carries.

Ole Miss – Most sportsbooks had the Rebels as a four touchdown underdog to the Crimson Tide. That said, it’s little surprise they lost to Alabama. But a 66-3 loss? This is Ole Miss’ second-worst defeat to the Tide, only to be outdone by a 64-0 loss in 1917.

Rutgers – Another team that suffered an embarrassing blowout last Saturday is the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. They were crushed 56-0 by the Buckeyes. This means that Rutgers has been outscored 219-24 by Ohio State since they start playing them in 2014.

Are the Washington State Cougars Real CFP Contenders?

Washington State hasn’t been on the national college football radar since 2002, when they went 10-3 and made a Rose Bowl appearance. But suddenly the Cougars are drawling national attention after beating No. 5 USC 30-27 on Friday night.

Washington State has now started the season 5-0. That said, they’re contenders for the Pac-12 title and also have a shot at earning a College Football Playoff (CFP) spot.

Of course, we’re only five weeks through the 2017-18 season. And this begs the question of whether or not the Cougars are a serious contender.

Let’s discuss this matter below by analyzing the USC victory along with the challenges that Washington State will face as the season moves on.

First Major Win in the Mike Leach Era

Topping the Trojans is not only Washington State’s biggest win of the year, but it’s also the most-important victory in the 5-year Mike Leach era.

washington-state-cfp-2Some say that USC simply didn’t deserve to win this game. But the Cougars must be given credit for standing in with a highly talented team for 60 minutes. Washington State did what USC’s last 13 opponents couldn’t do by winning.

“These are once-in-a-lifetime moments,” WSU quarterback Luke Falk told the Seattle Times. “I’m definitely going to enjoy it with teammates tonight. Couldn’t be more proud.”

Prior to Friday, the 16th-ranked Cougers had never notched a marquee win under Leach. And they’ve certainly had their chances since he took over the program in 2012. Washington State has:

  • Lost to Oregon three straight times when the Ducks were No. 2 overall.
  • Been beaten by Stanford when they were ranked No. 5 and No. 8.
  • Lost to a No. 10 Colorado Buffaloes team.
  • Were defeated by the No. 5 Washington Huskies last year.

What’s even more painful is that some of these losses were close heartbreaks. The best example is when they missed a last-second field goal to beat Stanford in 2015.

But this past week was different because the Cougars played with a mental and physical toughness that they haven’t exhibited in the past.

For starters, they did a good job of containing USC quarterback Sam Darnold, who’s projected as the top NFL quarterback prospect.

washington-state-cfp-3Granted, this wasn’t Darnold’s finest performance as he finished with 15-of-29 passing for no touchowns and one interception. But the Washington State defensive line was dominant and played a large role in his struggles.

Darnold was able to limit Washington State to two sacks thanks to his elusiveness. But this is misleading because the Cougars constantly pressured him throughout the game. This includes when linebacker Jahad Woods ended the game with a strip-sack on Darnold late in the fourth quarter.

Moving to offense, Falk and running back Jamal Morrow both had strong games. Falk passed for 340 yards while completing 34-of-51 passes. Morrow rushed for 91 yards on just six carries.

Perhaps more impressive than the stats is how resilient Washington State was throughout the game. Here are some examples of what the Cougars had to deal with:

  • USC running back Ronald Jones ran for an 86-yard touchdown to give USC a 14-10 lead.
  • Falk was intercepted on Washington State’s own 3-yard-line (Cougars held them to a field goal).
  • Falk converted on a fourth-and-two play to lead a late touchdown drive.
  • Converting on fourth-and-13 to eventually get a go-ahead field goal (30-27 score).

These examples show that Washington State is not only talented, but also able to deal with pressure-packed moments.

Washington State Gains National Relevance

washington-state-winThis is the first time in the last 15 years that WSU has defeated the Trojans in Pullman. And it’s the first time in the last 25 years that they’ve beaten a top-5 team.

That said, it’s no surprise fans rushed the field following the upset victory over USC.

Now the question is where Washington State will rank in the AP top 25 poll. Most expect them to leap into the top 10 and become a talking point in the CFP race.

Let’s look ahead at Washington State’s remaining schedule before discussing their CFP chances:

Sat, Oct 7 @ Oregon (4-1)
Fri, Oct 13 @ Cal (3-2)
Sat, Oct 21 vs Colorado (3-2)
Sat, Oct 28 @ Arizona (2-2)
Sat, Nov 4 vs Stanford (3-2)
Sat, Nov 11 @ #20 Utah (4-0)
Sat, Nov 25 @ #6 Washington (5-0)

Mike Leach won’t want his squad celebrating too long. After all, they have some tough remaining games. And they’ll likely need to win every one if they’re going take the Pac-12 title and earn a CFP spot.

First off, they must travel to Eugene to face Oregon. The Ducks lost at Arizona State, but they’re still a tough team.

Washington State finishes with a gauntlet to end their Pac-12 season, including games vs. Stanford, at Utah, and at Washington.

The Huskies will present the biggest test because they’re in the national title picture. And the Cougars will certainly be an underdog in this contest.

Stanford will be a difficult game because they feature Brice Love, one of the nation’s best running backs. Love is currently on a blazing pace with 1,088 rushing yards on only 98 carries (11.1 YPC).

Utah is going to provide one more hurdle. The undefeated Utes own road wins over BYU and Arizona, and could make some noise in the Pac-12.

Realistically, though, Washington State could win all of their games leading up to the Washington contest. I think that the Huskies have a good chance to win at home. But the Cougars have proven that they’re capable of beating talented teams thanks to the USC victory.

This being said, don’t be surprised if they run the table and land their first-ever CFP bid.