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The first College Football Playoff rankings of the season are released on Tuesday night. With pivotal conference matchups on the horizon, it is finally time to rank those teams on the outside looking in, attempting to play spoiler and sneak into the top four by the end of Championship Weekend.
Clemson Tigers (8-0)
AP Ranking: 5
Although this has not been the best Clemson team to take the field in the past few years, the Tigers have still found ways to get the job done, sitting with a rather quiet 8-0 record on the season. With limited competition in the ACC, Clemson has full control over their own destiny and chances to make the Playoff. Their next two opponents, Notre Dame and Louisville, will prove to be the hardest two remaining matchups on the schedule. Assuming Clemson takes care of both of these games, they are on a clear path to most likely take on North Carolina in the ACC Championship. A victory in this game should all but secure an undefeated, conference championship Clemson team a spot in the CFP.
Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1)
AP Ranking: 6
The Crimson Tide’s season is on the line over the next two weeks, traveling to Death Valley to take on LSU (15) before a primetime matchup at Ole Miss (11). If Alabama can come away with a win in both of these matchups, they should be representing the SEC West in the SEC Championship. There they will take on either Georgia (1) or Tennessee (2),with a trip to the College Football Playoff within reach. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out if Alabama does win the SEC Championship. If they can avenge their lone loss with a victory over Tennessee, their resume would show that they are more than worthy of a top spot in the country, but will be compared to a one loss Georgia or Tennessee team depending on next weekend’s outcome. Only time will tell for the Tide.
Oregon Ducks (7-1)
AP Ranking: 8
Oregon has had a rather interesting season through 8 weeks. Their only loss came in brutal fashion against Georgia, but it was Week 1 against the best team in the country at a “neutral site” in Atlanta. Since then, the Ducks have quietly won seven straight games while climbing the AP Poll. Oregon has scored over 40 points in all of their victories, and it appears that Bo Nix has finally found his rhythm in a new offense. The last two weeks of the season have the most impact for the Ducks, a home game against Utah (12), and ending the season on the road in a matchup with Oregon State (24). Assuming Oregon wins out, they will likely take on USC in the PAC-12 Championship. A win against a top ten team may have enough force for the Ducks to sneak into a playoff spot depending on how the rest of championship weekend plays out.
USC Trojans (7-1)
AP Ranking: 9
USC finds themselves in a very similar situation as Oregon. The Trojans have just one loss this season, coming in a game against a tough Utah team where they lost 43-42 on the road. USC still has the chance for two more quality wins. They take on UCLA (10) at the Rose Bowl, and if they win out the Trojans will have a chance to beat Oregon (8) in the PAC-12 Championship. This hypothetical one-loss USC team will have a legit argument to claim a final playoff spot, but will most likely be compared to one of the few one-loss teams in the SEC or Big 10. The amount of “what if’s” surrounding USC is why they are below Oregon on this list, but is the same reason they can claim that final spot in the CFP this year.
TCU Horned Frogs (8-0)
AP Ranking: 7
The Horned Frogs are undefeated through eight weeks of play, and the biggest reason I have them at the bottom of this list is strength of schedule. The Big 12 is not as competitive as it has been in years past, and even if TCU goes on to win their conference championship game, their resume is just not strong enough to clinch a playoff spot. Strength of schedule has been at the top of the selection committee’s list of importance for the past few seasons, and although it is frustrating as a player or fan, there is very little that can be done about the competition of your opponents. I believe that TCU will be given the short end of the stick by the committee, but should represent the Big 12 in a primetime New Year’s 6 Bowl.