There are five “power” conferences in college football, and there is a sixth (the American Athletic Conference) that considers itself on par with the other five, as they showed when AAC champ (and lone unbeaten team) UCF knocked off SEC West champ Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day. However, there are only four slots in the College Football Playoff, and last year there were two teams taken from the SEC (Alabama and Georgia), one from the ACC (Clemson) and one from the Big 12 (Oklahoma), as the Big Ten and the Pac-12 were locked out. Let’s take a look at which teams will — and won’t — make the 2018 College Football playoff at the end of this season, as you consider your odds on college football futures.
Why These Teams Will — Or Won’t — Make the 2018 College Football Playoff
It’s August, which means College Football returns this month!
ESPN has released its preseason CFB Power Rankings, with some familiar faces at the top.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 1, 2018
Washington enters the season as the favorite to win the Pac-12, and they return Jake Browning at quarterback. However, last year (with Browning at the helm) they couldn’t even win the Pac-12 North. This year, they open at Auburn in Atlanta, with the Tigers looking for redemption after the awful end to last season — a loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship after knocking off Alabama in regular-season play to win the division, and then falling to UCF in bowl season. Washington has to play at Oregon, at Utah, and at Washington State — all dangerous Pac-12 destinations — and after losing in Week One, I predict they will lose at least two of those conference games to finish far from the playoff.
Clemson has a couple of interesting nonconference challenges, traveling to Texas A&M and hosting South Carolina in the regular season finale, but their only road challenge in conference play will be Florida State. The real question is whether Clemson will take another boneheaded loss this season, after losing at home to Pitt two years ago and falling at Syracuse last year. I don’t see any obstacles between them and a 12-0 or 11-1 season going into the conference title game — and a slot in the playoff.
Florida State is a fascinating quantity with new coach Willie Taggart coming down from Oregon and standout quarterback Deondre Francois back from injury. Their running game has a ton of talent, and their defense is fast and physical. They have dates at Miami and at Notre Dame (in addition to that home game against Clemson) that will bring real tests. I just don’t see them winning even two of those three games, which means they won’t win the ACC, and they’ll be on the outside of the playoff.
Alabama has a cake-walk nonconference schedule, playing Louisville in a neutral-site game and then hosting Arkansas State, the University of Louisiana and The Citadel. In SEC play, their only real road test will be a game at LSU, as Auburn and Mississippi State come to Tuscaloosa. In cross-division play, they head to Tennessee. I don’t see anything keeping the Crimson Tide from a 12-win season, an SEC Championship berth, and a playoff slot.
Notre Dame has a challenge as the last big independent in college football, because they have a target on their back each week, and they don’t have a conference with some weak schools to take advantage of. They start with a contender right out of the gate, hosting Michigan in Week One, and they also open with four of five at home. They only have four true “road” games, with a neutral-site game against Navy in San Diego coming out of their bye week, but home dates with Stanford and Florida State (in addition to Michigan) make this a real minefield. I don’t see the Irish rolling to an undefeated or even a one-loss season, which they’ll need to make the playoff.
Ohio State is the biggest question mark on this list, thanks to the unknown status of head coach Urban Meyer, who is on paid leave because of issues regarding his handling of domestic abuse allegations against a former assistant. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins looks poised to lead the offense, and Nick Bosa looks ready to anchor the defense. But without Meyer on the sideline, can the Buckeyes run the table? I say that the Buckeyes are in the playoff with Meyer on the sideline, but with an acting head coach, whether on his staff or with a figurehead like Bob Stoops taking over at the last moment, the Buckeyes could slip.
Oklahoma made the playoff a year ago, but now they have a new quarterback in Kyler Murray, a tough nonconference opener with Florida Atlantic that could easily become a trap game, and Big 12 trips to Iowa State, TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia. This is a team that could easily lose two or three games but still win the Big 12, which would mean that no one in the conference, including Oklahoma, would make the playoff.
Wisconsin stands as the Big Ten team likeliest to slip into the playoff if Ohio State misses out. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook returns, along with tailback Jonathan Taylor — and the whole starting offensive line is back. Wisconsin has a fairly easy skate to the Big Ten championship game, and with some better offensive production, has a great shot to come out of that game 13-0 and with a playoff slot in hand.