The first College Football Playoff rankings of the season were released on Tuesday, and several teams found themselves in a surprising spot. Alabama, the universal consensus for the top spot, find themselves behind the Georgia Bulldogs for the #1 spot in the rankings. This is the first time Georgia has been placed in the CFP top 4 since its creation in the 2014 season. Notre Dame and Clemson round out the top 4 followed by Oklahoma and Ohio State as the first two teams out. Now, the teams that are playoff contenders hold their fate in their own hands. Win out and you’re in, but drop one and you won’t be playing New Years Day football. There are a few games this week that could put playoff contenders in trouble.
6 Ohio State (-16.5) @ Iowa
Kinnick Stadium has been a place of nightmares for Top 5 teams in recent years. Iowa has won 3 of their last 4 matchups at home against Top 5 teams. The sole loss was against Penn State earlier in the year. Even this game was a struggle for the Nittany Lions, who had to drive 65 yards in the final minutes before McSorley threw a walk-off touchdown with no time remaining on the clock to beat Iowa 21-19. In my opinion, this is the toughest remaining game the Buckeyes have on their schedule. However, the Buckeyes are coming into this one on fire and look to continue this against a mediocre Iowa team. JT Barrett has vaulted himself into Heisman contention by throwing 25 touchdowns and only 1 interception this season.
Prediction: I think the Buckeyes handle their business but in a tight game, 28-19.
5 Oklahoma @ 11 Oklahoma State (-2.5)
The Sooners enter this game as #5 in the country and they have to go on the road to face Heisman contender Mason Rudolph and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. This game has serious implications on the playoffs and on the Heisman Trophy. Baker Mayfield has a chance to really cement his Heisman season with a big game this weekend. Even if Oklahoma can come out victorious this week, they would still have two tough games remaining against TCU and West Virginia. Luckily for the Sooners, these are both home games in Norman, giving the Sooners the advantage. However, the Cowboys are the favorites in this matchup according to Vegas odds by 2.5 points. Neither of these teams can afford another stumble if they hope to be one of the 4 remaining teams at the end of the season. This is going to be another great edition of the Bedlam rivalry and I am looking forward to watching the offensive firepower between Rudolph and Mayfield as they try to steer their team into the playoffs.
Prediction: Oklahoma State’s defense comes out with confusing schemes against Baker Mayfield and the Cowboys win a tight rivalry game, 27-20.
19 LSU @ 2 Alabama (-21.5)
There is a reason Alabama has only lost 1 game in the past two seasons and that is because they know how to win when it counts. Nick Saban is arguably the best college coach now and in history due to his success with not only Alabama, but LSU. For a few years, the SEC was easily the best conference in college football. Although it’s dropped off in recent years, Alabama still doesn’t have a walk-in-the-park schedule. This Saturday, the Tigers come to town ranked #19 in last week’s CFP poll. Alabama’s defense has seemingly been unbeatable as they continue to churn out NFL prospect after NFL prospect. They are allowing under 10 points per game this season and LSU scores only 27.4 points per game. LSU’s only hope for this weekend is through the rushing game, led by future-NFL RB Derrius Guice. LSU has averaged 216 yards on the ground per game but that will likely not be the case this week as they face an Alabama defense that is allowing only 66 rushing yards per game. I don’t think this game will be close, but it is a game to keep an eye on as two great defenses face off.
Prediction: the Tide wins this game 34-3 where they hold the Tigers to under 200 yards of offense.
4 Clemson (-8.5) @ 20 North Carolina State
North Carolina State is coming off a 35-14 blowout loss to the #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Led by QB Ryan Finley, NC State will try to climb back up the rankings after dropping to #20 this week. They will have a very tough task ahead of them though as they face Clemson, who righted the ship last week against Georgia Tech in a 24-10 win. Clemson has not looked great this season, losing to an unranked Syracuse team and struggling against other ACC opponents. However, their defense has kept them in games and I expect this to be the case against the Wolfpack.
Prediction: Clemson wins 24-17 to keep their playoff hopes alive.
7 Penn State (-9.5) @ 24 Michigan State
Continuing their brutal stretch, Penn State has to stay on the road and travel to East Lansing to face the Spartans. Penn State has to win out and hope for a loss by the Buckeyes because the head-to-head loss last week in Columbus severely hurts their chances to make the playoffs. Penn State’s stingy defense took a hit by Heisman contender JT Barrett last Saturday, but they should bounce back against a below-average MSU offense led by QB Ben Lewerke. Lewerke did have a great game last weekend in an eventual 3OT loss to Northwestern where he tossed for 445 yards and 4 touchdowns. Lewerke has to perform like that again this weekend if the Spartans hope to end Penn State’s playoff hopes. Saquon Barkley will also have an easier task this weekend against the Spartans defense. He was held in check for only 44 yards on 21 carries last weekend against the Buckeyes incredibly deep front seven.
Prediction: Michigan State struggles to move the ball or stop Barkley and Penn State takes this one 35-17 to keep their season alive for another week.
Also this weekend:
#3 Notre Dame faces Wake Forest in what should be a laughingstock of a game. It is a home game against a 5-3 Demon Deacon team that has lost 3 of their last 4. Notre Dame enters the game as 14 point favorites and should blow out Wake Forest.
In what could end up being a crucial game, #13 Virginia Tech travels to #10 Miami (FL) for an ACC conference game. Miami has survived their schedule so far but their wins have been less than impressive. They beat a winless UNC team by 5 last Saturday and their last 4 wins have been by a combined 18 points. They are surviving, but not necessarily thriving. Two weeks ago, Virginia Tech beat that same UNC team 59-7. Virginia Tech has been rolling of late, winning their last 3 games. They are 7-1 with their only loss coming against Clemson earlier in the season. Prediction: Miami is finally unable to pull off a miracle win and get smacked around by a talented Hokie team. VT wins 34-16.
This weekend has the potential to absolutely destroy last week’s playoff rankings. Next week’s poll could end up looking very different if some upsets occur in the Top 10 on Saturday. Conference play is heating up, so bask in the warmth and get ready for some shenanigans.