BLACKSBURG, VA – SEPTEMBER 30: Dorian O’Daniel #6 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Lane Stadium on September 30, 2017 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)

Clemson vs. Alabama. The rubber match. Part three in a series that has decided the national champion two years in a row. Pundits are telling college football fans to accept this already. Alabama and Clemson are the consensus top two teams in the country. They’re building resumes that no one can match right now. To all of this I say, slow your roll.

Before we look at the resumes, let’s remember that no team really has a resume at this point. Clemson is an excellent example of this. The Tigers have five wins, three over currently ranked teams. However, it’s a long season. Will Auburn, Louisville, and Virginia Tech all be ranked in December? Probably not. Will any of them be ranked? Probably.

The calendar just turned to October, though. So while it’s easy to say right now that some wins look good, it’s way too early to know the value of any win for sure.

Alabama has five dominant wins, but it seems very likely right now that neither of those five opponents will end the season ranked. Even the win over Florida State may not be so valuable, though as I mentioned last week, judging the value of that win over the Seminoles might be impossible for the committee to do. Alabama certainly looks unbeatable at the moment, but a loss to Texas A&M or Auburn could derail everything. Alabama looks on pace to end the season with a maximum of two ranked wins (maybe three if things break the right way).

In the short three-year history of the College Football Playoff, no team with fewer than three ranked wins (in the selection committee final rankings) has ever been selected for the Playoff. Alabama might look dominant, and the college football world may have already anointed it as a top two team, but the Tide may very well have no margin for error this season.

Week 5 CFP Implications: Teams Eliminated from CFP Contention

Like Week 4, Week 5 also saw only seven eliminations. We are at the awkward part of the season where Power 5 teams are picking up losses slowly, but there are still so many scenarios for good wins that I can’t eliminate teams. Part of that is due to a lower-than-usual number of P5 teams losing to Group of 5 teams earlier in the season, so there still aren’t as many losses as usual (and they aren’t as bad) in the P5 conferences.

As conference play kicks up in the coming weeks, though, we will see teams pick up losses and slowly eliminate themselves from the Playoff.

(Teams eliminated this week are italicized. Memphis was also eliminated in the AAC.)

AAC: Only Navy, USF, and UCF are not eliminated
ACC: Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Boston College, Syracuse
Big 12 Baylor, Kansas,
Big Ten: Rutgers, Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern, Illinois
Conference USA: All have been eliminated
Independents: BYU, UMass, Army
MAC: All  have been eliminated
Mountain West: Only San Diego State is not eliminated
SEC: Ole Miss, Missouri, Mississippi State
Sun Belt: All have been eliminated
Pac-12: Oregon State, Arizona State

It is still too early to eliminate most two-loss P5 teams, but we’re getting there. Every team is evaluated on its own, but my general rule of thumb right now is that a two-loss team needs to be able to pick up at least three Top 15 wins to remain alive.

So, for example, Mississippi State is eliminated, as the Bulldogs can only pick up two such wins the rest of the way — against Alabama and in the SEC Championship Game. Indiana, on the other hand, is eliminated even though it can earn three such wins. With such lopsided losses against Ohio State and Penn State, even beating Wisconsin twice and Michigan once won’t be enough to boost the resume, so the Hoosiers are out even if they run the table. (The Indiana men’s soccer team has a good shot at winning the national title, so not all hope is lost for fans of Hoosiers futbol.)

Too early to see Group of 5 race

In these early weeks, it’s easy to get carried away and see a solid Group of 5 pecking order. That pecking order exists, but we have to admit that it is incredibly fluid at this time of year.

San Diego State has the Group of 5’s best win so far, a home victory over Stanford. Meanwhile, UCF looks like the most dominant Group of 5 team, obliterating Maryland and Memphis in consecutive weeks. Troy suddenly made the left-for-dead Sun Belt viable again, even if just barely. The MAC seems to be Toledo, Ohio, or bust, while Conference USA seems out of it unless UTSA miraculously runs the table.

We need to talk about UCF, though. I mentioned last week that the Knights would deserve an in-depth look if they beat Memphis — and I will do that in a separate post later in the week. For now, let’s just leave it at pointing out that UCF will present a dilemma for the committee if it is still viable (and anywhere near this dominant) when November rolls around.

USC loss is bad for Pac-12

It’s still early, but right now the Pac-12 seems the most likely power conference to miss out on the Playoff. Only three undefeated teams remain, and Utah has been far from impressive in its first four games, to say the least.

USC was the highest-profile team remaining, and its loss to Washington State will make it much tougher to end the season with one or zero losses. USC is still the prohibitive favorite in the Pac-12 South, which is bad news for the conference. The Trojans still have numerous potential pitfalls on the schedule, including a non-conference road trip to South Bend.

The North, meanwhile, is hampered by the weak non-conference schedules of its best two teams. Between the two of them, Washington and Washington State did not face a team better than Boise State in non-conference play. Oregon has already lost a game. Stanford lost to USC and lost a non-conference game. Any upset of Washington or Washington State will put the Pac-12 behind the eight-ball at this point. If both of those teams lose a game, the Pac-12 will need chaos in the other Power 5 conferences to make the Playoff.

Speaking of conferences that could be behind the eight-ball, the SEC office might start to worry soon. Alabama is the country’s best team, and Georgia looks resurgent under Kirby Smart, but it’s slim pickings after that. That’s not only a bad thing for conference depth — that can be dealt with. It also means there is limited opportunity for quality wins in-conference.

Alabama will likely only face one ranked SEC opponent before the conference championship game. Georgia has an excellent strength of schedule (due to two good non-conference games), but it’s too early to trust Georgia to win 12 games. If Georgia loses two games and Alabama doesn’t run the table, it’s easy to see a ton of scenarios where no SEC team has a good enough resume to make the Playoff.

If Alabama loses a game, the committee will face quite a dilemma. Alabama is clearly one of the country’s most talented teams, but the resume just won’t be there. We’ll touch on this more if Alabama does lose to someone, but it’s important to remember there is a precedent for this.

In 2015, Ohio State was widely considered the most talented team in the country. The Buckeyes had only one quality win, though, and were left out in favor of teams with much better resumes. Could the same thing happen to Alabama? We’ll have to wait and see. That’s not something we can even guess about until we see the contenders’ resumes in late November.

Week 6 Implications

For the time being, my eyes are jumping to the big Pac-12 and SEC games each week. And let’s be honest, I’m not watching more than 15 minutes of Alabama’s games because it’s always a blowout by then. Still, Alabama travels to Texas A&M for what should be its toughest remaining test before the Iron Bowl. Georgia visits Vanderbilt and should be a heavy favorite. Can the Bulldogs keep playing at their high level so far?

Meanwhile, LSU vs. Florida is an elimination game in the SEC. Florida’s once-amazing expected strength of schedule has taken some major shots in the last few weeks with the struggles of Florida State and, well, the entire SEC East.

On the West Coast, Washington State visits Oregon to try and back up its biggest win in well over a decade. Stanford will look to knock Utah out of the ranks of the unbeaten, while the sometimes-impressive Cal will try to upset Washington. The Pac-12 really can’t afford for many games to not go its way from this point on. If upsets happen in all three (or even two) of these games, the conference will find itself in a serious mid-season crisis.

I am also interested in TCU against West Virginia in the Big 12. Not because it will be a good game (it should be), but because a West Virginia win gives the Big 12 a better chance at having four year-end ranked teams. That will be important if the conference has a one-loss champion. No one is talking about either SMU or Houston, but these are both strong one-loss AAC teams, and the winner will likely be in the Group of 5 New Year’s Six conversation in the coming weeks.

About Yesh Ginsburg

Yesh has been a fan and student of college football since before he can remember. He spent years mastering the intricacies of the BCS and now keeps an eye on the national picture as teams jockey for College Football Playoff positioning.