From 43 teams four weeks ago in the first 2017 installment of The Eliminator, we’re down to 17 as the light of a November dawn nears and the College Football Playoff committee toils behind closed doors at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center.
Let’s note first that this process remains an inexact science, evidenced by the inclusion of Stanford and North Carolina State as the last two teams to survive the cut. How do their résumés differ from USC and Michigan State, the first two left out? Not all that much, to be honest, but the line must be drawn somewhere.
What you’ll see is that each of the four aforementioned contenders plays Notre Dame in 2017. Three of them have already lost by varying margins of sizable stature. The fourth, Stanford, awaits a date with the Fighting Irish in four weeks, which, frankly, bodes well for both — especially for Notre Dame, which looks to sit in the best position of the nine remaining one-loss hopefuls.
What, you might ask, to make of Arizona and LSU, long ago dispatched by The Eliminator?
Well, the Wildcats were left to rot along the Pac-12 roadside after a Week 4 loss to Utah but survived a harrowing October behind the stunning play of QB Khalil Tate. The Tigers lost to Troy; we haven’t forgotten that unforgivable violation. And they dropped a 30-point decision to Mississippi State. We’ll admit, though, if coach Ed Orgeron orchestrates a win at Alabama this week, then takes down unbeaten Georgia in the SEC title game, his team could rise from the grave.
Not likely, but not impossible. And despite our name, The Eliminator maintains a desire to leave open the door to all possibilities.
Here is the final pre-CFP rankings release of our calculations. Don’t be too spooked.
Still in contention
Alabama Crimson Tide
Trending: Nick Saban’s team has scored more points than all but three teams in the Power 5 and allowed fewer points than all of the others. After three straight appearances in the College Football Playoff, the Tide are assured of a top-two spot in the initial rankings as LSU comes to town.
The Bulldogs have had to work harder in scrimmages than during the performance required to dispatch of rival Florida. QB Jake Fromm attempted just seven passes, and Georgia averaged 8.3 yards per rushing attempt, winning by five scores. It’s in great shape to enter the stretch run.
The Tigers know well the blueprint to get back into position for the playoff after a stunning league loss. They know it because they did it last year. And the climb back began Saturday with a smothering defensive performance against Georgia Tech as QB Kelly Bryant returned to good health.
That was a close call — too close — against North Carolina, but the Hurricanes remain one as of just four unbeatens in the Power 5. And with four wins in November, including matchups with Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, no one would look back with skepticism at the showing against the Tar Heels.
Instead of playing one poor half and 30 strong minutes Saturday against Texas Tech, the Sooners limited their struggles to the opening quarter. Hey, it’s a step in the right direction. OU can make more progress toward another Big 12 title this week on the road at Oklahoma State.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The top one-loss team left in the mix, the Irish have won six straight — all by 20 points or more — since a one-point, Week 2 loss to Georgia. With Miami and Stanford left to play, Notre Dame has little to worry about if it takes care of the business at hand in November.
Ohio State Buckeyes
What a headache for the committee the Buckeyes created. Sure, they’re the class of the Big Ten after rallying to beat Penn State, but how should Ohio State stack up in the rankings against Oklahoma? In the end, it won’t matter, probably, because they’d be in solid shape as a one-loss Big Ten champ.
Penn State Nittany Lions
PSU had Ohio State right where it wanted the Buckeyes. And then, in a furious fourth quarter, it all turned sour. We know what happened last year; it could happen again, sure. But the Nittany Lions need to root hard for Ohio State to lose twice in the next four weeks.
The Badgers are unbeaten, but are they one of the best four teams? It’s a hard sell, especially after star freshman running back Jonathan Taylor was hurt in the first half of a sluggish win over Illinois. Nevertheless, the path to Indianapolis with a perfect record looks navigable.
Not much soothes an angry football team quite like flattening a league rival — as the Huskies did to UCLA two weeks after a loss to Arizona State. But because of its weak out-of-league schedule, U-Dub would likely need help, even as the one-loss Pac-12 champ, to make the top four.
TCU Horned Frogs
Now the Horned Frogs know how Oklahoma feels. Iowa State is systematically leveling the Big 12’s playoff chances. Opportunity remains for TCU to win the league, but it must rebound quickly with Texas and Oklahoma up next.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Just in time for Bedlam, the Cowboys returned to form offensively at West Virginia. But they’ll need to operate on all cylinders against Oklahoma and could use the services of running back Justice Hill, who left in the first quarter with an injury on Saturday and did not return in the 50-39 win.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Are you paying attention to the Hokies, who have allowed 10 points or fewer in four of seven victories? Well, they’re headed to Miami, with the winner to take control of the ACC Coastal and to get the inside track to a likely shot at Clemson. For Tech, the title game could be a chance to avenge its lone loss.
With tight losses to Clemson and then-surging LSU, these Tigers can still dream of a scenario in which they run roughshod over Georgia and Alabama en route to an SEC crown. The committee could not ignore such a closing stretch.
The only remaining Group of 5 contender, the Knights scored 45 points in the first half Saturday against Austin Peay en route to a 73-33 win that didn’t please head coach Scott Frost. What’s it going to take to stay in the mix? A pair of two-loss conference champs and another slip by Notre Dame.
Hopes are dwindling as the Pac-12’s overall stock sinks, and the Cardinal toyed with certain elimination on Thursday at Oregon State. But the fact remains that Stanford has not lost since Week 3, and an opportunity remains to win the Pac-12 and to make a statement against Notre Dame.
NC State Wolfpack
There’s an exception to every rule, right? NC State, like Stanford, has lost twice — and once by a three-score margin. But the Wolfpack are unbeaten in the ACC, with an opportunity against Clemson, then perhaps to defeat an unbeaten Miami for the league title. Would it be enough? Only if total chaos erupted elsewhere.
Better luck next season
It was over when QB Wilton Speight went down with a back injury at Purdue. A week later, the Wolverines lost to Michigan State. Two weeks after that, they were blown out at Penn State. Now, they sit fourth in the Big Ten East.
Why is Stanford still alive when the Trojans aren’t? Well, the Cardinal, on life support, didn’t lose by five touchdowns at Notre Dame.
This went badly in a hurry for the Cardinals, who have three times allowed more than 500 yards of offense in defeat since a basketball scandal rocked their athletic department. Is there a relation? Probably not, but there has to be some explanation for it, right?
Texas A&M Aggies
Just when you thought the Aggies had turned a corner, they lost at home by three touchdowns to Mississippi State. If A&M doesn’t respond quickly, the situation might yet get ugly in College Station.
After three straight losses, the sky is figuratively falling in Gainesville. Jim McElwain is out, and the fun of a coaching search in the social media age — Steve Spurrier was spotted tubing down the Ichetucknee River with Bob Stoops and Chip Kelly, talking about the Florida job — begins.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
If Tech wasn’t officially knocked out of contention by a pair of one-point setbacks, Clemson handled matters on Saturday. Oh, and it lost to Tennessee.
West Virginia Mountaineers
If the Mountaineers weren’t officially knocked out by a pair of seven-point losses, Oklahoma State handled matters on Saturday. Oh, and you scheduled Delaware State.
Quite possibly, Texas is the nation’s best 4-4 team. Congrats. Then again, all that means is it would beat UCLA, Syracuse, Maryland, Nebraska and Kansas State. Wait, the Longhorns lost to Maryland and Kansas State.
Florida State Seminoles
A nightmarish season continued with a 35-3 loss to Boston College. The Seminoles are 2-5 overall, last in the ACC Atlantic and essentially locked into the worst year at the school since 1975.
Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans, after a triple-overtime loss to Northwestern, still control their destiny in the Big Ten. Let’s be real, though, they’re in for problems over the next two weeks. And even if Michigan State pulls off something miraculous, it lost by 20 points to Notre Dame.
South Florida Bulls
So much for the dream of that USF-UCF battle of unbeatens on Black Friday. Houston ruined our plans last week. And the remote possibility no longer exists to watch Charlie Strong coach in the playoff immediately after his three straight losing seasons at Texas.
Others who won’t make it
Eliminated after Week 9: Washington State Cougars.
Eliminated after Week 5: Cal Golden Bears, Colorado Buffaloes, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, LSU Tigers, Memphis Tigers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Northwestern Wildcats, Ole Miss Rebels, South Carolina Gamecocks, Tennessee Volunteers, Vanderbilt Commodores.
Eliminated after Week 3: Air Force Falcons, Arizona State Sun Devils, Army Black Knights, Boston College Eagles, Central Michigan Chippewas, Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, Kansas Jayhawks, Missouri Tigers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Old Dominion Monarchs, Oregon State Beavers, Pittsburgh Panthers, SMU Mustangs, ;UConn Huskies.
Eliminated after Week 2: Boise State Broncos, BYU Cougars, Cincinnati Bearcats, Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors, Idaho Vandals, Fresno State Bulldogs, Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Marshall Thundering Herd, New Mexico Lobos, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Ohio Bobcats, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Syracuse Orange, Texas State Bobcats, Tulane Green Wave, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, UAB Blazers.
Eliminated after Week 1: Akron Zips, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, Charlotte 49ers, Colorado State Rams, East Carolina Pirates, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, FAU Owls, FIU Golden Panthers, Kent State Golden Flashes, Louisiana Monroe Warhawks, Miami (Ohio) RedHawks, Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico State Aggies, Northern Illinois Huskies, South Alabama Jaguars, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Temple Owls, Troy Trojans, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, Utah State Aggies, UNLV Rebels, UTEP Miners, Western Michigan Broncos, Wyoming Cowboys.