We have hit Week 6 of the college football season and the top two teams from last year — Clemson and Alabama — are still the top two teams of 2017. So far.
There is still a lot of football left to be played, but history shows us that the four weekends of gridiron action in October will go a long way in determining who will be the final four teams that make the College Football Playoff.
The season started in earnest over the Labor Day weekend with 130 teams all vying to be one of college football’s Final 4. Today (Saturday), some 37 days later, there are only 45 teams that have a shot at being one of those four teams.
In the three previous seasons of the CFP, no team has been selected that has two or more losses. And, as of right now, there are no signs pointing to that changing anytime soon.
Of the 12 teams that have made the CFP, only three — Ohio State ’15, Clemson ’16 and Alabama last year — were undefeated. There have been seven teams make it with 12-1 records and two teams that were 11-1.
The best bet of making the CFP and winning the national title is to enter the playoffs with a 12-1 record. The three previous undefeated teams all lost in the CFP and the two teams that made it with 11-1 records also were bounced without a title.
When today’s action kicks off, there are 16 teams that are undefeated and 29 with one loss.
Of those 45 teams, based on the last three seasons, you can eliminate 12 of those teams because they don’t play in a Power 5 conference.
Fair? No. But it is what it is.
So, that leaves us with 33 teams vying for the four spots. Of those 33, you can whittle it down to a field of 18 teams because 15 of the one-loss teams are highly likely to lose at least once more this season. That means sayonara for current one-loss teams Duke, Florida, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and West Virginia.
And we also have the following 12 undefeated teams: Clemson and Miami (ACC), Oklahoma and TCU (Big 12), Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin (Big Ten), Utah, Washington and Washington State (Pac 12) and Alabama and Georgia (SEC).
In each of those Power 5 conferences, there is no scenario where there can be two undefeated teams. So, at the absolute best, there can only be five undefeated Power 5 conference teams left once the conference title games have been played. And that ain’t happening.
There are six one-loss teams that can get right back into the CFP mix after stumbling early — Auburn, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Oregon and USC. But none of them can suffer one hiccup, or it’s adios.
Of the previous nine teams that have made the CFP with one loss, only two (Michigan State ’16 and Washington last year) suffered their lone defeat of the season after the month of October. And both of those teams were bounced in the semifinals of the CFP.
That means that the six teams above that have lost once this season have a solid shot at making the playoff as long as they win out.
History has also shown that only one team per year has made it through the regular season undefeated and into the CFP. But, like I mentioned before, none has gone on to win the national title.
But the question still remains — who will be the four teams that will make the CFP?
The first CFP ranking isn’t due out until Halloween and much can, and will, happen to alter the CFP landscape between now and then.
At the start of the season, I picked Alabama, Oklahoma State, USC and Wisconsin to make the CFP.
Today, Bama still looks like a solid selection. Oklahoma State and USC have both suffered early-season setbacks and have to run the table to be invited to the dance. And Wisconsin gets its first “real” test of the season today when it visits Nebraska.
If I were to make a revision of those preseason picks, it would go like this: I would stick with Alabama and Wisconsin. I would have to put Clemson in based on its performance so far and the winnability of the Tigers’ remaining games. And for my fourth selection, I would drop the State and just stop at Oklahoma.
However, I am still holding out hope that a couple of my preseason selections will rebound and I can get all four correct.
The four weekends of college football in October will go a long way in deciding how right, or how wrong, I am.
Josh “The Guru” Nichols is former sports editor of the Leader-Call. He lives in Jones County.