This has been one of the most entertaining seasons of college football in recent memory. It's only mid-October, and we have six undefeated teams remaining: Mississippi State, Florida State, Mississippi, Baylor, Notre Dame, and Marshall.
At least two of those teams will definitely lose before the season ends - FSU and ND play this week, while MSU and Ole Miss play at the end of the regular season - and with how prominent upsets have been this year, it's not crazy to think that others could get picked off as well. Odds are, there will be at least one team in the inaugural College Football Playoff with a loss.
It's also a safe bet that at least one team that already has a loss could find itself in the playoff. Here are the eight with the best chances of making it.
8) Oklahoma State
The good news for Mike Gundy's team is that it has done a great job bouncing back after narrowly falling to Florida State in its season opener, despite starting QB J.W. Walsh possibly being out for the season after foot surgery. The Pokes have ripped off five victories in a row, and while none of them have been especially convincing, the squad does keep finding ways to win games. Their offense boasts several big-play receivers, as OK State has five players with nine or more catches averaging at least 14.7 yards per reception. The Cowboys also have a really nice running back duo in Desmond Roland and Tyreek Hill. On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma State is solid-but-unspectacular, although it does have the third best rushing defense in the conference.
The bad news (or good news, depending upon how you look at it) is that the Cowboys' schedule is brutal down the stretch. They have four road games remaining: No. 12 TCU, No. 14 Kansas State, No. 4 Baylor, and No. 11 Oklahoma. Even their two home games - West Virginia and Texas - could be tricky. Oklahoma State's only chance at making it to the playoff is to win the conference, and that seems unlikely given this schedule. However, if the Pokes can somehow win out, we're looking at a team that absolutely deserves to play for it all.
7) Ohio State
You have to hand it to Urban Meyer: his Buckeyes are still Big Ten contenders despite losing their star quarterback and two-time defending Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller. That's because Miller's replacement - J.T. Barrett - has been absolutely fantastic. Barrett's 186.3 passer rating and 17 touchdowns lead the Big Ten, while his completion percentage (66.2 percent) is third in the conference. His 17 touchdowns are especially impressive, because Barrett has only thrown 100 passes, which is the third-fewest in the Big Ten among starting quarterbacks.
This has made the Buckeyes' offense extremely potent, as it is fifth in America in points per game. OSU is also second in the conference in total offense, and is the only team in the Big Ten that's in the top five for passing and rushing offense. This is despite starting a redshirt freshman with no game experience under center. The Buckeyes also have one of the best passing defenses in the conference, and while teams have been able to run on Ohio State, it's hard to find a better defensive line than OSU's.
Yes, the Buckeyes do have a tricky schedule coming up, as three of their next four games include Rutgers and night games at Penn State and Michigan State, but with how well the offense has played, it's totally possible to see Ohio State going 3-0 in those contests. If that happens, it should be smooth sailing through the rest of the regular season and the Big Ten title game, something that seemed unlikely after Miller's injury.
Yes, the loss to TCU, in which the Sooners' offense was rendered useless in the second half, was embarrassing. However, Oklahoma can jump right back into Big 12 Championship contention on Nov. 8, when it hosts No. 4 Baylor. Win that game, and OU will be back in the CFB Playoff discussion.
If there's one thing Oklahoma desperately needs, it would be better play out of QB Trevor Knight. Despite massive expectations coming into the season, Knight has struggled, as he's only completed 55.1 percent of his passes for 1,503 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions. Knight has plenty of weapons - particularly WR Sterling Shepard, who has caught four touchdowns and has accumulated 714 receiving yards - but he's struggled to get the ball to his bevy of talented receivers.
Fortunately for OU's offense, it has three great running backs in Samaje Perine, Alex Ross and Keith Ford. All of them are averaging a very respectable 5.2 yards per carry or more. Perhaps as the season goes on, we'll see the Sooners take advantage of this and really lean on the run. Maybe that'll open things up for Knight and alleviate some of OU's woes in the passing game, because once that gets going, it's hard to see anyone taking down a team as talented as Oklahoma.
5) Michigan State
Getting blown out by 19 at Oregon was a bad look for Sparty, but it has bounced back in a big way so far. While Michigan State is known for its defense, it has actually been the Spartan offense that has carried the team. Michigan State is No. 4 in America in scoring offense, coming in at 45.5 points per game. This is with starting quarterback Connor Cook struggling to an extent, as he is only completing 58.3 percent of his passes this year with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. While that kind of scoring output may not be sustainable, if the Spartans can keep that up, it will almost certainly win the Big Ten.
That is especially true if the Spartan defense can come close to its 2013 form, when it was arguably the best unit in America. If defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi can get Michigan State's defense back on track, and the offense doesn't slip up too much, we're talking about a team that deserves to be ranked among the best in the country.
Of course, the big game on MSU's schedule is the Nov. 8 showdown against Ohio State, because the winner of that one will likely represent the Big Ten East in the conference title game. Just like with the Buckeyes, if the Spartans can win that game and wrap up the Big Ten without any losses, it will have a really solid resume at the end of the season that may cause the committee fits.
According to ESPN's Football Power Index, Georgia has the best chance at winning the SEC. It stands to reason that the team that wins the SEC will make it to the playoff, so if the Bulldogs can survive their schedule and take down whichever team survives a brutal SEC West slate, then they will likely be one of the four chosen.
Of course, the rest of Georgia's season may be determined by Heisman-caliber running back Todd Gurley's suspension. If Gurley comes back soon, it's going to be tough to stop the Bulldogs. However, if he's out for the entire season (which is the absolute worst case scenario for Georgia fans), then slowing down the Georgia offense won't be as difficult. Sure, Nick Chubb is a fine running back, but he's not as good as Gurley.
Losing Gurley for an extended for a period of time could also mean that Georgia's offense would likely need to throw more. While QB Hutson Mason has been an incredibly accurate passer so far this season, he still leaves a lot to be desired, and it's fair to question if his arm can keep defenses honest.
Regardless, Georgia is a great team, and is almost certainly the best squad in the SEC East. We're going to learn a lot about the Bulldogs when they host Auburn later this season, but for now, they need to be considered one of the best one-loss teams in the country.
The Tigers are incredibly talented and know what it's like to play for a championship at the end of the season. While both of these factors work in Auburn's favor, the squad will likely be killed by the fact that it has an absolutely brutal schedule down the stretch. Here are the Tigers' next six games:
- South Carolina
- at No. 3 Ole Miss
- No. 21 Texas A&M
- at No. 10 Georgia
- at No. 7 Alabama
All three road games are against top-ten ranked foes. If Auburn can somehow make it through that stretch unscathed, it won't just deserve to make the playoff, but you can make a compelling case that the Tigers would deserve to be the No. 1 team in America. Sure, Auburn fell to Mississippi State in Starkville last week, but going 6-0 to close out the regular season would be almost miraculous.
Of course, it's far more likely that Auburn loses at least once during this stretch, which would probably kill its chances. It's also why it's ranked one spot below its bitter rival...
This Alabama team certainly isn't as good as past Crimson Tide squads, which isn't as much an indictment against the 2014 team as much as it is a testament to how great the program has been over the years. Like Auburn, the team has a pretty tough schedule ahead - most notably trips to Tennessee and LSU along with a home game against Mississippi State - but its schedule is far easier than the Tigers'.
Remember, this is still a team that is one or two plays away from possibly still being undefeated. Sure, the Crimson Tide have some issues with their passing defense, but Alabama still has the best coach in the sport, and is absurdly talented across the field. On offense, Blake Sims has done a really solid job at QB, Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon are one of the best running back duos in college football, and Amari Cooper is the best wide receiver in America.
Is Alabama in trouble? Probably not. This is still a great team, and if it can survive a difficult-but-manageable schedule, the Crimson Tide will be playing for a national title.
The argument can be made that Oregon is not the best one-loss team in the country, and that's probably right. Sure, Oregon is led by perhaps the best quarterback in America in Marcus Mariota and its skill players are great, but its offensive line has struggled. Even more concerning is the team's defense. Oregon is 60th in America in points allowed per game, and the squad is 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing, passing, and total defense.
However, Oregon has a better chance of making it to the CFB Playoff than any other one-loss team by nature of its schedule. While it certainly isn't a cakewalk, Oregon will be favored in every game it plays down the stretch. Also, while the Ducks' offensive line has struggled, it is expected to improve once some of its injured players return and work off the rust.
Also working in Oregon's favor is the fact that the Ducks are in a great position to win the Pac-12. If the Ducks can win this week against Washington - which will be difficult - then the squad will be 6-1 with a 3-1 record in the Pac-12 North. With a relatively easy schedule down the stretch, Oregon will control its own destiny. Sure, a home game against Stanford and a tricky Friday night game in Utah will be tough, but Oregon should make it to Santa Clara at the end of the season. It will face a tough opponent in the conference title game, but again, the Ducks will be favored.
Will the committee be able to ignore a one-loss Oregon team that destroyed another top-10 foe in Michigan State earlier in the year? It's debatable, but if Oregon can make it through the rest of the season unscathed, then the Ducks will almost certainly be there.