With the 2018 college football season well underway, there are few surprises among the top contenders in the race for the College Football Playoff. Out of the 130 FBS programs, there are only 8 programs who legitimately have a shot at hoisting the trophy when it is all said and done.
No. 1 Alabama (4-0, 2-0 SEC)
After resurrecting the Crimson Tide in last year’s National Championship, sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is off to a blistering start, posting the second-highest QBR through the season’s first four games among FBS quarterbacks within the past 15 seasons. The Tide have dominated thus far, and their schedule ahead proves favorable, with only one game against a ranked opponent on the road.
No. 2 Georgia (4-0, 2-0 SEC)
Last year’s runners-up look to avenge their defeat on the game’s biggest stage. So far, the Bulldogs are off to a strong smart. Coach Kirby Smart has a few weeks to tinker with his team before the first big test of the season in Death Valley against fifth-ranked LSU in a game that will cement Georgia’s fate for the remainder of the season.
No. 3 Clemson (4-0, 1-0 ACC)
No surprise here as coach Dabo Swinney has his Tigers primed at another run at a national title. True freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence beat out returning senior Kelly Bryant for the starting job after a competitive battle all summer. Clemson’s biggest opponent will be itself, with only one ranked opponent on its schedule in what has become a down year for the ACC. Don’t be surprised to see Clemson go undefeated in the regular season.
No. 4 Ohio State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten)
The Buckeyes couldn’t have asked more from Ryan Day, who took over as head coach after Urban Meyer was suspended the first three games of the season following off-field allegations prior to the season opener. The Buckeyes have looked strong, but their biggest test of the season is tomorrow night in front of a hostile crowd at Penn State. The winner of the showdown has a relatively easy path to the Playoff.
No. 5 LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC)
LSU proved it was for real on the national stage with its Week 1 victory over then eighth-ranked Miami. Two weeks later, it defeated a top-ten team in Auburn on the road, sending a loud message throughout the SEC that the historic program has reclaimed relevance. The team’s work is far from over, as it faces a grueling three-game set against Georgia, Mississippi State, and Alabama next month.
No. 7 Stanford (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12)
Stanford escaped Eugene last week with a miraculous win over No. 20 Oregon, and you get the feeling that it could be David Shaw’s year to sneak into the Playoff. Even if the Cardinal were to drop one game during the regular season, road games at Notre Dame, Washington, and Cal will give their resume a boost. However, the team needs more from their defense if it wants to have a shot.
No. 9 Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten)
After surviving a scare in overtime against Appalachian State, the Nittany Lions have found their groove, posting 50+ points their last three games. The team has a difficult road ahead, with games remaining against Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. As mentioned, the Lions host Ohio State tomorrow. This will be a critical game that will have playoff implications.
No. 12 West Virginia (3-0, 1-0 Big 12)
Quarterback Will Grier fueled his Heisman campaign with five touchdown passes in last week’s 35-6 rout over Kansas State. This year’s high-powered offense looks to take advantage of a down year in the Big 12. The Mountaineers have a very favorable schedule, with their biggest contest saved for the season’s final week as they play host to Oklahoma.
No, This Isn’t a Typo: These Teams Won’t Win It
No. 6 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12)
Oklahoma has a very good team this year; this is not to discredit that. Quarterback Kyler Murray has exceeded already lofty expectations in filling the shoes of Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield from a season ago. Nevertheless, it will be extremely difficult for this Sooners team to even make an appearance in the Playoff unless they go undefeated. Following last week’s overtime scare against Army, the Sooners face a tall task against the rest of the Big 12 down the stretch.
No. 8 Notre Dame (4-0)
Last week’s result against Wake Forest showed improvement, but the Irish do not have a dynamic offense. The team failed to dominate lesser competition in both Ball State and Vanderbilt. While their biggest test of the season comes tomorrow night at home against Stanford, don’t expect Notre Dame to compete for a national title while riding the arm of Brandon Wimbush.
No. 10 Auburn (3-1, 1-1 SEC)
This would be a different story if Auburn played in a conference not named the SEC. With one loss already to their name, the Tigers have no room for error the rest of the way, and let’s be honest, that’s too much to ask for any team. Road games at Mississippi State, Alabama, and Georgia await, and it is hard to imagine the Tigers walking away from these contests victorious.
No. 11 Washington (3-1, 2-0 Pac 12)
With two SEC teams and a Big Ten team almost guaranteed a spot in the top four, the Huskies will have to compete with the Big 12 and ACC champions for that last spot. With a loss to Auburn, Washington must win each of its remaining games to have a shot to have their name called, and even then, it may not be enough.