Top teams in CFP rankings remain unscathed: Despite a weekend of upsets, the top 4 stay in place, but challenges await them

By Evin Hartsock, Managing Editor

     The later it gets into college football season, the harder it tends to get, especially for the top teams contending for playoff spots. As Power 5 schools dive into their conference schedules and deal with rivalry games, the gauntlet of November often separates the contenders from the pretenders. This proved to be true as a wild weekend of football left teams who were once legitimate playoff contenders, like Penn State and Ohio State, out of the conversation as both teams lost to Big Ten opponents. Each with two losses, their playoff hopes have been crushed. But after the dust from a weekend of upsets and blowouts settled, the College Football Playoff Committee’s top four teams remained the same.

     If the season ended today, Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson would all earn playoff spots on the road to a national championship, and each of those teams added to their resumes last weekend and proved why they are worthy of those spots. However, none of these teams are a dead lock to remain on top at the end of the season; and some could be on the outside looking in after facing top-10 opponents this week.

     Despite being ranked second in both the AP and the coach’s polls, the Georgia Bulldogs remain number one in the CFB rankings, as they rightfully should. Georgia has excelled on both sides of the ball this season, boasting an impressive defense along with an efficient running game. The Bulldogs rank fourth in total defense and have only allowed an average of 11 points a game, which ranks third in the country. Georgia’s potent pass-rush, combined with their speed and athleticism on the edge, has allowed them to shut down the run, allowing just 89 yards-per-game, which ranks fifth nationally.

     The backfield of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb have produced, just as many predicted they would this season, combining for 1,577 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. True freshman quarterback Jake Fromm has exceeded expectations after taking the helm in Week 2. He has thrown for just over 1,400 yards for 15 touchdowns and four interceptions. So far, the Bulldogs have outscored their opponents 329-105. Going 9-0 through the first nine weeks, being 6-0 in the SEC and having impressive wins over No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 17 Mississippi State, the Bulldogs are in good shape to maintain their spot at the top. However, this week they will have to face one of their toughest opponents yet as they take on No. 10 Auburn on the road. At 7-2, the Tigers have nothing to lose and will try their best to spoil the Bulldogs’ season.

     The second SEC team in the top four, the Alabama Crimson Tide, notched arguably their most impressive win as they defeated No. 24 LSU by a score of 24-10. It was just the second win against a ranked opponent for the Tide other than the season opener against Florida State, who has since fallen out of the top-25.

     Despite not having an incredibly strong schedule, Alabama continues to dominate its SEC opponents and has yet to lose a game. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has made a big jump this year, throwing for 1,400 yards for 10 touchdowns, and rushing for another 600 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. With Hurts playing at such a high level, and the “thunder and lighting” backfield of Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough giving the Tide one of the best rushing attacks in the country, it’s likely that Alabama will remain at the top at the end of the season. However, they will have to face No. 17 Mississippi State this weekend, who could give them some trouble. Alabama is thin at linebacker due to injuries, so that’s an area of the field worth watching.

     Notre Dame remains at No. 3 for a lot of reasons, but the largest is arguably their strength of schedule. The Irish are the only team in the top four to have wins over three schools that are currently in the top-25: USC, Michigan State (who knocked off Penn St.) and NC State. Notre Dame has bounced back from their 4-8 season in 2016, going 8-1 this season. The best offensive line in the country has bolstered this Notre Dame team. The strength of the offensive line has allowed the Irish to become one of the best rushing teams in the country, averaging 324 yards-per-game on the ground, which ranks fifth in the country. Running back Josh Adams has emerged as a Heisman candidate, rushing for just under 1,200 yards for nine touchdowns.
The Irish beat Wake Forest handily this weekend, putting up 48 points, but they’ll face a different beast this week in No. 7 Miami. This is the first time that these two rival schools will meet nationally ranked with championship implications, and the undefeated Hurricanes will be Notre Dame’s greatest test so far this season. After a statement win over Virginia Tech, the Canes will test Notre Dame’s potent offense with a staunch defense. If Notre Dame can come out unscathed, its likely that they’ll find themselves in the playoffs.

     The defending champion Clemson Tigers added to their resume this past weekend with a win over No. 20 NC State, which helped them maintain their No. 4 ranking. With one of the easiest remaining schedules in college football, the Tigers should have no problem winning out and ending up playoff eligible at the end of the season. They take on Florida State this weekend, who should not pose much of a threat, as the Seminoles are 3-5 this year. Their season has been on a downward spiral since losing starting quarterback Deondre Francois earlier this year.

     The results of the Notre Dame/Miami and Georgia/Auburn game both have the potential to rock the foundation of the playoff outlook. If Georgia is able to win, which they should, it will add to their resume and get them one step closer to playoff time. The same thing will happen for Notre Dame as well. However, if one of these teams fall, then the playoff committee will have a lot of work on their hands to decide who will take their spots and who will make the playoff.