Four weeks before the Halloween unveiling of the first College Football Playoff rankings, 43 teams, by our count, remain alive to earn a spot in the New Year’s Day semifinals.
You know as well as we do that the list below is flawed. For instance, Wake Forest and Purdue aren’t getting anywhere near Pasadena or New Orleans. And 10 teams from the ACC? Hey, crazy things can happen, so we’re keeping all options open.
As The Eliminator returns with its first 2017 edition, few absolute truths exist in this process. We can say for sure that no Group of 5 team stands a shot with a blemish on its record. Barring complete chaos, any team with two conference losses is as good as gone. Also, if you lose at home to Troy or to any opponent by more than 50 points, you’re out.
As the bottom of the contender list gains more focus, the picture at the top — clear through four weeks — will disintegrate into hot debate.
The situation is fluid, folks. Enjoy it.
Still in contention
Alabama Crimson Tide
In obliterating Ole Miss, the Tide posted their largest point total since 1979, held the Rebels without a third-down conversion on 13 attempts and won their second straight SEC game by more than 50 points for the first time in program history.
The first team in the history of the AP poll to beat three top-15 teams in September, the Tigers might not face a test in October or November as strong as any of the trio they’ve beaten by a total of 48 points.
The Sooners put the nation’s longest win streak of 14 games to the test against Iowa State this week. The Baker Mayfield-led offense has posted more than 600 yards in three of four wins.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Star power continues to drive the Nittany Lions, as Saquon Barkley took the opening kickoff 98 yards for a TD in Saturday’s win over Indiana. Barkley’s Heisman campaign is picking up steam, and the Nittany Lions’ playoff hopes are trending the right direction as well, but meetings with Michigan and Ohio State are drawing near.
Don’t look now, but after a 41-0 thumping of Tennessee, the schedule ahead appears manageable for the unbeaten SEC East front-runners, save for a November trip to Auburn. Freshman QB Jake Fromm continues to play well, and sophomore Jacob Eason is back from injury.
The Huskies have enjoyed perhaps the quietest first month ever for an unbeaten returning playoff team. They’re still out there, people, winning five games by an average of 33.2 points.
Statistically, there’s no better defense in the country than Michigan’s, which allows a nation-low 203.3 yards per game and 2.2 yards per rushing attempt. As Michigan State looms, John O’Korn takes over for the injured Wilton Speight at QB.
TCU Horned Frogs
Still surprised by that Week 4 win at Oklahoma State? Don’t be. TCU’s talent, position by position, rates as good as any team in the Big 12. And Kenny Hill‘s completion rate of 72.6 percent is sixth nationally.
Northwestern held the Badgers to a season-low 306 yards, but Wisconsin scored 24 straight points in the second and third quarters to remain unbeaten and solidify its status as a heavy favorite in the Big Ten West.
Ohio State Buckeyes
The soft middle of the schedule turns a bit more difficult as one-loss Maryland visits the Horseshoe after three games in which the Buckeyes gained more than 1,800 yards total. Is this the real Ohio State?
Washington State Cougars
Quarterback Luke Falk alone is worth the price of admission, ranking first nationally in completions and fourth in completion percentage. Now the Cougars try to move on from an epic win over USC and attempt to slay another big name Saturday at Oregon.
Two straight SEC blowouts and an offensive awakening have bolstered the Tigers ahead of a tune-up against Ole Miss to prepare for the meat of the schedule: consecutive road games at LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M.
If there’s a real contender looming in the ACC after Clemson, this is it. The Hurricanes would be advised to keep running back Mark Walton healthy, though he’ll be needed this week in the rescheduled trip to Florida State.
It just felt like that loss was bound to happen soon, so maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised by Friday’s loss to Washington State in Pullman. What now? Well, the Trojans are at a fork in the road, no doubt, with Utah and Notre Dame up soon.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Mason Rudolph scored on a 16-yard scamper to unlock a tie with 72 seconds to play Saturday night at Texas Tech. The all-around play of the star QB helped the Pokes avert elimination and a second straight Big 12 loss.
Virginia Tech Hokies
That was uglier than the score or the stats indicated Saturday in Blacksburg. The Hokies are moving forward under Justin Fuente but aren’t yet ready for the bright lights.
South Florida Bulls
The narrative around Charlie Strong’s team involves the question of whether the Bulls are the top team in the Group of 5. As long as they continue to win, who cares? USF can answer the doubters on Black Friday at UCF.
San Diego State Aztecs
The Aztecs are 5-0 with wins over Stanford and Arizona. They’ve won seven straight and 26 of 29, better than all of the FBS other than Alabama and Clemson in that time. And running back Rashaad Penny ought to be a Heisman candidate.
The Pac-12’s third unbeaten hasn’t done anything yet to warrant serious attention as a playoff contender. Utah, which hosts Stanford on Saturday, seemingly would prefer it no other way.
Three straight SEC wins and offensive production that has increased every week isn’t enough to point the arrow up for the Gators, who lost QB Luke Del Rio for the season to a shoulder injury just as they were starting to find an offense.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
No better loss exists nationally than the one-point Irish setback to Georgia. But Notre Dame has injury trouble at running back after Josh Adams went down with a bad ankle last week.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Raise your hand if you knew the Mountaineers are the second-most productive offense nationally behind Oklahoma. College GameDay is headed Saturday to the site of QB Will Grier‘s showdown with unbeaten TCU.
NC State Wolfpack
Did you see Ryan Finley‘s one-handed catch against Syracuse? Not bad for a quarterback. Finley, in fact, has played like the best QB in the ACC through five games. Louisville and the actual best QB in the ACC are up next.
They aren’t getting the same kind of attention as USF, but FPI gives the Knights a 73 percent shot to beat the Bulls on Nov. 24 and a 20-percent chance — the best among all Group of 5 teams — to enter bowl season with an unbeaten record.
QB Justin Herbert is lost for the season with a broken collarbone, the sole reason for the Ducks’ downward trend after they bounced back nicely from a loss at Arizona State with a three-touchdown win over Cal.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Off this week, Tech can sit back and consider that it would be unbeaten if not for a one-point, double-overtime loss to Tennessee in the season opener. Yep, Tennessee. And the Yellow Jackets outgained the Vols by nearly 300 yards in defeat.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Go figure: You remove the unequivocal top player from a team that lost six of seven games late last season, and it starts strong. It helps that Patrick Mahomes‘ replacement, Nic Shimonek, ranks second nationally in passing yardage per game.
Contenders, yes, but it’s going to take more than Bryce Love‘s fantastic play to keep the Cardinal afloat. In fact, it’s going to take a lot that Stanford can’t control, starting with a mess atop the Pac-12 North.
The nation’s top rushing team averages 400 yards per game on the ground and nearly 37 minutes of possession time. Just think if Navy beats UCF, wins at Notre Dame and Houston and tops USF in the AAC title game.
Kansas State Wildcats
It’s frankly a disappointment that K-State heads to Texas on Saturday with a loss. Time remains to correct the problems of an unsatisfying September for the Wildcats, who are better than a team relegated to the spoiler role in Big 12 play.
Texas A&M Aggies
Well, hey, Aggies, what are you still doing here? Contrary to the general mood around A&M, it has lost just once — in Week 1. These four straight wins, in fact, feel pretty good. Oh, who’s that up next on the schedule? Yeah, it’s Bama.
The Terps are a resilient bunch, responding to their first loss of the season and the loss of a second starting quarterback by running for 262 yards in a win at previously unbeaten Minnesota.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Next to move into the category of eliminated from playoff contention, it’s Wake Forest. Coming off a tough loss to Florida State, the Demon Deacons visit Clemson on Saturday.
Duke Blue Devils
The Blue Devils are bad in the red zone. They’re bad on third down. They don’t throw the ball well. But they’re 4-1 with wins over teams from three Power 5 leagues.
With seven teams in the ACC that have lost once, you end up with Virginia on this list despite having yet to play a conference game. The Cavs lost at home to Indiana, so, yeah, they might not last long.
The defense is legit, and the offense is legitimately average for the Longhorns. Why are they here? Hey, Oklahoma ran the table after two nonconference losses last season and could have snuck into the playoff.
Florida State Seminoles
Let’s be honest, the Noles didn’t have any way to go but up after the first four weeks. It would take a miracle to get back in contention, but FSU has the schedule to make it happen: Miami and Louisville at home and trips to Clemson and Florida.
Michigan State Spartans
They don’t do anything well enough to gain notice as contenders, and the 20-point loss to Notre Dame didn’t help the Spartans’ bid for respect. But win at Michigan again this week, and MSU will have our attention.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Maryland last week exposed Minnesota’s defense as something less dominant than it appeared against a weak nonconference slate.
No, they won’t stick, but losses to Louisville and Michigan aren’t enough to erase all hope. Surely, Purdue’s road through the Big Ten West will deliver the knockout blow. Right?
Kentucky is four points better than Eastern Michigan and 11 points better than Eastern Kentucky. It’s also one point from being undefeated with a favorable schedule ahead. If only the Cats had held on against Florida, they might have gone to Georgia on Nov. 18 with a perfect mark.
Better luck next season
Impressive that Memphis got UCLA to visit the Liberty Bowl in Week 3. More impressive that the Tigers won the game in a shootout. Less impressive that they lost by four touchdowns two weeks later to UCF.
Coach Neal Brown’s team is most definitely trending up after four straight wins that followed a Week 1 loss to Boise State. The latest, a 24-21 upset of LSU, snapped the Tigers’ 49-game streak of nonconference wins at home.
Dark days on the Bayou after Jordan Chunn of Troy churned for 191 yards against a Tigers’ defense that deteriorated as September progressed. Offensively, it’s not much better for LSU, which committed four turnovers in the loss.
Sure, the Hogs remain alive to win the SEC. But come on, they’re 0-2 against Power 5 competition. We’ll reconsider this position only after a win next week at Alabama.
Perhaps the only SEC spot more mired in despair at the moment than LSU is Tennessee. The Vols are reeling from their first shutout loss — 41-0 to Georgia — since 1994 and the most one-sided home defeat in 112 years.
Ole Miss Rebels
Want a snapshot of what has happened to this program since July? On the heels of a five-point loss to Alabama last season that followed two straight wins over the Crimson Tide, Ole Miss lost 66-3 Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Maybe you’re noticing a trend. Saturday wreaked havoc on the playoff hopes of several SEC teams, including the Bulldogs, who were blown out for a second straight week. The 49-10 loss to Auburn dropped coach Dan Mullen to 2-15 in matchups of ranked teams.
Lose to Penn State on the final play? OK. Lose to Michigan State while gaining 226 yards and committing two turnovers? Not acceptable. Iowa is reeling. Alas, Illinois visits this weekend.
The Huskers have held three straight foes to fewer than 250 yards for the first time since 2003. Problems exist, though — notably that Nebraska lost the first game of that trio to Northern Illinois.
Florida Atlantic Owls
The need to study every move of Lane Kiffin as a head coach in Conference USA dissipated late in the six hours required to complete the Owls’ season-opening 42-19 loss to Navy.
California Golden Bears
Consecutive Pac-12 losses are bad enough when you don’t have to play at Washington a week later.
Consecutive Pac-12 losses are bad enough when you weren’t in the league title game last season. The Buffaloes are now all but eliminated through five weeks of this season.
UT San Antonio Roadrunners
Sorry, an unbeaten UTSA cannot make the playoff. But as long as they keep winning, we’ll give the Roadrunners a tip of the cap.
Others who won’t make it
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, Old Dominion Monarchs, Oregon State Beavers, Pittsburgh Panthers, SMU Mustangs, Connecticut 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, UAB Blazers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
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, 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, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, Utah State Aggies, UNLV Rebels, UTEP Miners, Western Michigan Broncos, Wyoming Cowboys.