Week 6, while short on games between ranked opponents, still yielded plenty of results to alter the college football rankings and the future playoff landscape. Most notably, both Michigan and Oklahoma suffered upsets at the hands of double-digit underdogs. Those previously undefeated teams proceeded to tumble in the rankings.
But they’re far from out of the playoff picture, especially at this early juncture.
Since the College Football Playoff began at the conclusion of the 2014 season, a one-loss team has won the national championship every time. Some of those teams lost early (Ohio State in 2014). And others lost later (Clemson fell to Pitt in mid-November). However, it does show that a single loss is fine for any and all Power Five programs.
Now that we’re at the season’s midway point (for most, anyway), how do current one-loss teams stack up as national title contenders? We rank the top 10:
1. Auburn Tigers (5-1)
Auburn’s lone loss is to second-ranked Clemson, and they already own three SEC wins, all in resounding fashion. Since starting slow, quarterback Jarrett Stidham has now thrown for over 1,300 yards and seven touchdowns while completing 71.2 percent of his passes. Running back Kerryon Johnson has 504 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. The Tigers’ defense is also allowing just 287.5 yards per game. Auburn’s schedule has plenty of perils left, but those are also opportunities to keep adding to the resume.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (5-1)
The Buckeyes have yet to really beat any team of note, and their one loss to Oklahoma took a hit since the Sooners fell last weekend. However, Ohio State is still one of the country’s most talented teams and the defensive line is still likely to be an elite group. If the Buckeyes run the table, the loss to OU is fine as long as the Sooners don’t surprisingly crater (and that’s not a result anyone should bank on).
3. USC Trojans (5-1)
USC has been tested by the quality competition on the schedule so far, but the Trojans are also a field goal away from being unbeaten (which is more than most current one-loss teams can say). Even without consistency from Sam Darnold, the offense can rely on Ronald Jones in the backfield and Deontay Burnett as a formidable pass-catcher. Utah and Notre Dame are challenges the next two weeks, but then it looks like a straight shot to the end of the season. The Washington State loss gets increasingly defensible by the week, as well.
4. Oklahoma State Cowboys (4-1)
Oklahoma State may not be a better team than Oklahoma, but they’ve also faced TCU already (something the Sooners haven’t done). The Cowboys’ defense could use some work, but only a handful of opponents left on the schedule could even test it. Early November’s matchup with OU will automatically eliminate one of these teams, and State has the benefit of being in the driver’s seat between the two schools — for now.
5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-1)
A one-point loss to unbeaten Georgia is the only blemish thus far, which puts them in a better light than the rest of these teams. However, the schedule ahead creates some doubts about Notre Dame’s abilities to get through the remainder of the year unscathed. The offense has been great so far, but five out of the Irish’s final six are against ranked teams (including USC and Miami). Win those and they’ll have a legitimate case to be the No. 1 team in the country. It’s just a tall order.
6. NC State Wolfpack (5-1)
Since falling to (a full-strength) South Carolina in the opener, NC State has reeled off wins against both Florida State and Louisville to likely set up a big matchup with Clemson for the ACC Atlantic crown and more when the teams meet in November. The other largest hurdle, Notre Dame, is just a few weeks out. The way the Pack’s defense is getting pressure, coupled with the offense’s efficiency of late, puts them in real position to move up this list as the season progresses.
7. Oklahoma Sooners (5-1)
Yes, Ohio State made the 2014 playoff with a loss to a 6-6 Virginia Tech team. But as mentioned in the OK State section, the Sooners still have to face both TCU and the Cowboys (and that’s without considering Texas this weekend, too). Even if OU wins out, they face one of those teams again in the Big 12 Championship. Given the holes this Oklahoma defense showed against the Cyclones on Saturday, they’re on a little less certain footing than they were previously.
8. Michigan State Spartans (4-1)
Sparty got blown out by Notre Dame a couple weeks back, so that can’t be forgotten. Already owning a win over a team on this list (Michigan), though, is what gives them a shot to be in the title conversation. Michigan State’s defense is back to the levels we saw from them just a few years ago and those teams were Big Ten contenders. Games against Penn State and Ohio State are clear challenges to consider, though. It would be an impressive feat for this team to escape both of those games with a win.
9. Virginia Tech Hokies (5-1)
Tech didn’t show much in a loss to Clemson, but has looked fine otherwise behind its typically aggressive defensive scheme and the emergence of QB Josh Jackson. An early November showdown at Miami will likely decide the ACC’s Coastal division, with the winner facing (probably) Clemson in Charlotte. The ‘Canes have looked improved, though the offense still has some things to work out. It’s possible the Hokies could exploit some of those issues and take control of the division when they meet.
10. Michigan Wolverines (4-1)
Saturday’s close lose to MSU gets a caveat for weather, sure. But Michigan’s offense has still looked anemic all year, and now they’ll be without Wilton Speight for the remainder of the year. Backup John O’Korn hasn’t shown much since his freshman season at Houston (2013), and that didn’t change against the Spartans. Remaining games against Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State create a bear of a challenge for this wounded Wolverines team.