Every year around this time, people look around college football at the plethora of undefeated teams still left and wonder aloud how many of them are going to make it to the end of the season without a blemish. The answer is, always, almost certainly no more than one of them.
College football is a fickle monster. It’s cruel and cunning and crafty. It finds new and exciting ways to trick you into believing we’ll end up with four, five, or even six undefeated teams by the time mid-December rolls around. And yet, even in times when we have headed into the final week of the season with a large group of unbeaten squads, the game has an uncanny knack for figuring out inventive ways to crush hopes and shatter dreams.
So, as we look around the college football landscape in late September and find 21 teams in FBS without a loss so far on the season, know that anyone who tries to tell you many of them will still be undefeated three months from know is a liar and a crook. Hell, half of them will probably have a loss by the time we get to October and if more than two of them remain unbeaten by mid-November it will be a minor miracle. (Feel free to report me to Freezing Cold Takes for this).
Instead of trying to figure out who will be left standing come December, let’s try to figure out when that inevitable first loss is coming. Because for almost all of these schools, it is most certainly coming.
WATCH: Nick Saban asks media to write something bad about Alabama Football 🤣🤣🤣
— BamaInsider.com (@bamainsider) September 23, 2018
No. 1 Alabama
Okay, we’ve made life hard for ourselves right off the bat. By all accounts, it’s pretty hard to see the Crimson Tide losing to anyone this season. And chances are, they will indeed be the Last One Standing in the end. However, if we are going to play the odds and assume some kind of massive epic trip-up is in their future, we see it happening in Baton Rouge. The Tide take on the No. 5 LSU Tigers in an epic showdown on November 3 that will likely determine the SEC West champion. Bama will be favored in spite of being on the road, but it’s likely to be the game that pushes them closest to their limits.
No. 2 Georgia
When they actually hold on to footballs before breaking the end zone plane, they’re a pretty dominant squad. As with Alabama, their biggest test will come in the form of No. 5 LSU, who the Bulldogs also play on the road. Their October 13 showdown will tell us everything we need to know about both squads. If Georgia finds a way to steal a win in Baton Rouge, they’ll almost certainly have to worry about a match-up with the mighty Crimson Tide or the Tigers again in the SEC Championship. Point being, one way or another, only one undefeated team can make it out of the conference if once does at all.
No. 3 Clemson
By all accounts, the Tigers should walk through the ACC en route to yet another conference title and College Football Playoff berth. Of course, stranger things have happened than this team stumbling along the way. Boston College didn’t look impressive this past weekend, but there’s something about playing at BC in mid-November that should concern Dabo’s team. It’s just late enough in the season for Clemson to start looking ahead and the Eagles have a penchant for stealing big wins when you least expect them. If the Tigers do make it out of the conference without a blemish, their annual meeting with Alabama in the CFP should eventually do the trick.
Updating ACC power rankings:
7) a hot
— A David Hale joint (@DavidHaleESPN) September 22, 2018
No. 4 Ohio State
As much as Clemson looks like they can cruise through the ACC, Ohio State appears likely to run wild over the middling Big Ten. Urban Meyer is back (gross) and the team survived the three-game stretch without him. There are going to be a lot of fans out there hoping for some schadenfreude to come the Buckeyes’ way and the most likely possibilities appear to be this upcoming weekend’s showdown with No. 9 Penn State in Happy Valley and a November 10 date with No. 21 Michigan State. The Buckeyes have been pretty resilient under Meyer but there could be something in the air that keeps OSU from reaching the CFP unblemished.
No. 5 LSU
We’ve mentioned the Tigers a few times as dream-killers but the truth is that they’re also in a lot of danger when it comes to marking their first loss sooner than later. LSU lucked out by getting No. 2 Georgia, No. 25 Mississippi State, and No. 1 Alabama at home, but they still have to play No. 2 Georgia, No. 25 Mississippi State, and No. 1 Alabama in consecutive games. That is a brutal stretch, even with a bye week before Bama. The odds that the Tigers come out of that stretch unscathed are pretty low. There are also some serious trap games at Arkansas and Texas A&M to consider as well. We can’t tell you when the Tigers will lose, we just know they will.
No. 6 Oklahoma
The Sooners are once again the class of the Big 12, but that’s not enough to keep them from getting bit before the championship game. All eyes are on the Red River Showdown now that “Texas is back.” OU might drop 70 on them or the No. 18 Longhorns might actually fulfill their forever-presumed destiny with a win on October 6. We’ve got our eye on something a little later in the season: a matchup with No. 12 West Virginia in Morgantown on November 23. If they’re still unbeaten by then, OU could absolutely get caught looking ahead and that is prime territory for it to happen. It’s also entirely possible the two teams could meet again in a couple weeks in the Big 12 Championship Game and provide another chance.
— Nate Feken (@TheGreat_Nate) September 24, 2018
No. 7 Stanford
The Cardinal are the team of destiny right now after an epic comeback win over Oregon. They’ll put that moniker to the test when they head to South Bend this weekend for a showdown with No. 8 Notre Dame. One of the mighty will fall and the odds say it’ll be Stanford. If they do survive, the road to perfection will not be easy. Road games against No. 11 Washington (November 3) and No. 24 Cal (November 17) make for a rough final month of play, and that’s before the Pac-12 Championship Game if they make it that far. We’re gonna go out on a limb and say they don’t, either losing to ND or UW.
No. 8 Notre Dame
Waiting for Notre Dame to lose is practically a national pastime for many college football fans. They might get their wish this weekend when No. 7 Stanford comes calling. The Cardinal have won three in a row and seven of the last nine meetings. If they can buck the trend, the Irish have plenty of potholes to avoid in the coming weeks. The trickiest games on the schedule include a visit from Pitt, who always has one out-of-nowhere performance each year, a game against currently unbeaten Syracuse in Yankee Stadium, and a visit to USC on November 24. It’s entirely possible the Irish manage to make it this far, and that would put them in the CFP, but we can’t imagine they’d get past Alabama or Clemson if they had to.
No. 9 Penn State
As noted, the Nittany Lions host No. 4 Ohio State this weekend, and one of them is going into the following week with an L. If the Lions are the ones that survive, they’ve got a road game against No. 21 Michigan State looming after that, a clash with Iowa on October 27, a road trip to No. 14 Michigan on November 3, and another road game at No. 15 Wisconsin on November 10. Penn State might be a pretty good squad, but they’re not making it to the end of November with a blemish or two.
YOU READY, HAPPY VALLEY?
We're coming to your city for Ohio State vs. Penn State! pic.twitter.com/xCTGzFPQkO
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) September 23, 2018
No. 12 West Virginia
The Mountaineers could be a surprise team lurking in the Big 12 shadows while Oklahoma gets all the glory. The schedule isn’t daunting for a while and if they can survive a road game against No. 25 Texas Tech this weekend, they can certainly fatten up on conference basement-dwellers. There’s a decent chance they’ll be 7-0 by the time November rolls around. However, November includes a road game against No. 18 Texas, a visit from TCU, a trip to Oklahoma State, and a visit from No. 6 Oklahoma to close it out. They might enter November among the unbeaten, but they surely won’t leave it as one.
No. 13 UCF
The defending national champions* are due for a loss and chances are it’s coming sooner than later. The Knights don’t have any ranked opponents on the schedule, which gives the impression they will run the table once more, but anyone who knows how college football works knows their day is coming. It could be this weekend when a weird Pitt team decides to play well. It could be their road trip to Memphis on October 13 or their road trip to East Carolina on October 20. There are also those late November contests with Cincinnati and USF to consider. The odds are strongly against UCF repeating as champs*, let alone reaching the AAC Championship Game without a loss once more.
No. 17 Kentucky
The Wildcats have wowed their way into the Top 25 for the first time since 2007. How long they stay in it, however, remains to be seen. They’ve earned some impressive wins over quality SEC opponents, but they’ve got a few trip-ups to consider. South Carolina comes calling this weekend and a road trip to Texas A&M could also spell trouble. It’s entirely possible the Wildcats make it to 8-0 until November 3, but that’s when the Georgia Bulldogs come to town and that’ll be that.
Kentucky is 2-0 in SEC play for the first time since 1977. pic.twitter.com/vBPfHrXRJX
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 23, 2018
No. 22 Duke
Is the best team in the ACC Coastal actually the No. 22 Duke Blue Devils? It sure seems possible right now since they’re 4-0 and everyone else is reeling. The Devils get to see their division rivals up close and personal in the coming weeks with home tilts against Virginia Tech and Virginia as well as road trips against Georgia Tech and Pitt. We feel like there’s a loss or two in there somewhere. If they somehow survive beyond that, they have to play both Miami and Clemson on the road and that’s a recipe for disaster.
No. 24 Cal
The Bears haven’t looked overly impressive in their wins so far, but they have earned the wins all the same. Things pick up in a hurry for them as a pissed-off No. 19 Oregon comes to town this weekend followed with a road trip to Arizona. If they somehow survive that, a date with No. 11 UW looms for late October. The Bears will have at least one loss by the time November rolls around.
ARE YOU SERIOUS!?
— #MACtion (@MACSports) September 22, 2018
The Bulls are the lone undefeated team left in the MAC but all that means is everyone else will be gunning for them. We’re gonna keep an eye on that October 13 match-up with Akron. That one could decide the MAC East division pretty early on and the Bulls might have used up all their magic by then.
The Bearcats find themselves at 4-0 after a strong start and they’ll likely fatten up on lowly UConn this weekend to make it 5-0. Cincy actually has a pretty decent chance to make it to November without a blemish but things get difficult in a hurry when they host USF on November 10 and then travel to play the mighty No. 13 UCF on November 17. If they don’t stumble before that stretch, it’s likely to happen right around there.
The win over Nebraska doesn’t look quite as impressive as it used to, but the Buffaloes are in a great spot to challenge for a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Of course, there’s a perilous October stretch to consider first. Colorado travels to LA to take on USC on October 13 and then heads north to Seattle for a showdown with No. 11 Washington. It’s unlikely they make it out of that undefeated, but if they do, it’ll be about avoiding pitfalls before the title game.
— NC State Football (@PackFootball) September 24, 2018
The 3-0 Wolfpack didn’t get their reputation-making match-up with West Virginia because of Hurricane Florence, but they’ll certainly get their chance to prove their mettle in the coming weeks. They host Virginia and Boston College in games they are expected to win but could be trouble. Then, they travel to Clemson and Syracuse. By all accounts, they’ll have a loss or two by the time November gets here.
All hail the Mean Green, who are dominating so far and have a win over the SEC’s Arkansas to give them a little cred. CUSA doesn’t have very many world-beaters in there but everyone should be circling that November 10 showdown between North Texas and Old Dominion, where we’ll find out which of these teams is actually for real.
While Central Florida gets the glory, South Florida is putting together another solid season with a 4-0 start. They’ve got wins over an ACC school (GaTech) and Big Ten school (Illinois) and might just end up making the most noise in the AAC after it’s all said and done. The conference has scheduled wisely, giving the Bulls, Bearcats, and Knights all the chances in the world to make it to November unbeaten before they all start knocking each other off. In the end, only one of them has a chance to go unbeaten.
Dino Babers gave an EPIC speech after Syracuse's win 🔥 pic.twitter.com/P7XHNoUKUp
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) September 15, 2018
The 4-0 Orange are hoping to make it back into the AP Poll for the first time since 2001, but that seems pretty unlikely considering they have to deal with No. 3 Clemson on the road this weekend. They’ll almost certainly lose here, especially since the Tigers want to exact some payback for last year’s upset, but the Orange could end up better for it if they hang tough. They’ve got a decent chance to compete for the No. 2 spot in the ACC Atlantic, which is basically the most any team not named Clemson can hope for.
The point is, good luck to everyone for your efforts, but we fully expect Alabama to be the last team standing in January. And while the odds dictate that they won’t get there without a loss, they seem like the only one who has got the goods to pull it off. (Except UCF, of course).