As we enter Week 11, here’s a rundown of what probably needs to happen for each contender’s playoff hopes to remain in play:
CFP rankings stay steady ahead of a potentially momentous weekend
The explanation for all five of these teams is the same: An undefeated power conference team is not going to be excluded from the semifinals — especially because there isn’t an unblemished Big 12 team left on the board.
(An asterisk means the team has not yet clinched a berth in its conference championship game.)
Florida State (9-0, 7-0 ACC)
Remaining schedule: Miami, North Alabama, at Florida, ACC title game
Remaining schedule: Mississippi, at Tennessee, at Georgia Tech, SEC title game*
Michigan (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten)
Remaining schedule: at Penn State, at Maryland, Ohio State, Big Ten title game*
Ohio State (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten)
Remaining schedule: Michigan State, Minnesota, at Michigan, Big Ten title game*
Washington (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12)
Remaining schedule: Utah, at Oregon State, Washington State, Pac-12 title game*
Win out and get one assist
Alabama (8-1, 6-0 SEC): A 12-1 SEC champion Crimson Tide getting left out? Suppose Florida State, Washington and the Michigan/Ohio State winner all get to 13-0, and Texas (which won in Tuscaloosa in September) finishes 12-1 with a Big 12 title. Some pretzel logic would be required to get Alabama into the playoff at that point.
Remaining schedule: at Kentucky, Chattanooga, at Auburn, SEC title game*
Oregon (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12): The Ducks might not even need a hand if they plow through their next four games, which could include the chance in the Pac-12 title game to avenge their loss to Washington and create an opening in the top four. But might a 12-1 Texas team bump Oregon? Doesn’t seem impossible.
Remaining schedule: Southern California, at Arizona State, Oregon State, Pac-12 title game*
Texas (8-1, 5-1 Big 12): The Longhorns would get squeezed out with four undefeated teams left on the board. But their victory at Alabama is a major asset with the potential to carry significant value if a one-loss team must be included.
Remaining schedule: at Texas Christian, at Iowa State, Texas Tech, Big 12 title game*
Win out and get two assists
Mississippi (8-1, 5-1 SEC): The biggest impediment for the Rebels is winning at Georgia this week. But even then, it faces a similar predicament to Alabama’s. Could Mississippi hopscotch either an undefeated ACC, Big Ten or Pac-12 champ or a 12-1 Texas? And worse for the Rebels, they lost to Alabama and can’t make the SEC title game unless the Crimson Tide loses twice. Come to think of it, that means Mississippi probably needs three assists. But it definitely needs two teams in front of it to lose.
Remaining schedule: at Georgia, Louisiana Monroe, at Mississippi State, SEC title game*
Penn State (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten): A victory over Michigan would go a long way — especially if the Wolverines hold serve at home against Ohio State later this month. If Penn State can forge a three-way tie with Michigan and Ohio State at 8-1 in the conference, the other assist it needs is to win the tiebreaker. And for that to happen, it could use the West Division teams it has handled (Illinois, Iowa and Northwestern) to win as much as possible over the next three weeks.
Remaining schedule: Michigan, Rutgers, at Michigan State, Big Ten title game*
Svrluga: Let JMU play in a bowl game. It’s just common sense.
Win out and get lots of help
Louisville (9-1, 6-1 ACC): Everyone the Cardinals defeated has at least three losses already. That’s not the underpinnings of a great argument for a one-loss team, even one that would have to go through Florida State to get to 12-1. Louisville needs a scenario with no more than four other power conference teams (one of those being Florida State) holding one loss or a perfect record.
Remaining schedule: at Miami, Kentucky, ACC title game*
Oregon State (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12): No two-loss team has reached a playoff yet, so it’s a long shot for the Beavers. But if they could secure a total of three victories against Oregon and Washington as part of a finishing push? There might be a case … if Alabama, Mississippi, Penn State and Texas all lose, along with the eventual Michigan/Ohio State loser also taking on an additional stumble down the stretch. Even with that, a loss to a Washington State bunch that has flopped over the past month would have to be ignored or discounted. That’s a tough ask.
Remaining schedule: Stanford, Washington, at Oregon, Pac-12 title game*
Tennessee (7-2, 3-2 SEC): Not only do the Volunteers require pretty much all the assistance Oregon State does, they also need Georgia to lose to Mississippi to create a path into the SEC title game. A 10-2 record with a loss to a pedestrian Florida team just won’t be enough.
Remaining schedule: at Missouri, Georgia, Vanderbilt, SEC title game*
The joys of #Pac12AfterDark aren’t limited to Washington and Oregon chasing a playoff berth and Southern California failing to demonstrate the slightest ability to stop anyone.
Over the past month, it has also meant appreciating the conspicuous improvement of Arizona, which has gone from an afterthought to a nuisance to a genuine handful for the best teams out west with remarkable rapidity.
Arizona (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) enters Saturday’s game at Colorado on a three-game winning streak, with a road rout of Washington State followed by a 27-24 defeat of Oregon State and then last week’s 27-10 smothering of UCLA. That victory sealed bowl eligibility for the Wildcats for the first time since 2017.
Since then, Arizona fired Rich Rodriguez in early 2018, endured three increasingly poor seasons under Kevin Sumlin (capped by a 70-7 loss to Arizona State during a winless 2020) and then turned to Jedd Fisch to pull the program out of a crater. The Wildcats went 1-11 in his first year, then improved to 5-7 in 2022.
That trajectory suggested a bowl berth was in play this season. But the turn to redshirt freshman quarterback Noah Fifita (1,521 yards, 14 touchdowns, four interceptions) five games into the season because of starter Jayden de Laura’s ankle injury was a jolt, and it has helped Arizona take a pronounced step in the middle of the season.
But it isn’t just the quarterback. The Wildcats are 36th nationally in total defense and 30th in total offense, a degree of all-around competence that has served them well — and could permit them to be a factor in the Big 12 immediately upon entering the league next year.
For Colorado, reality bites
Considering what a circus Colorado was in the season’s opening weeks, is it any surprise the Buffaloes have leaned into their reality show vibe even more when things went south?
Coach Deion Sanders stripped offensive coordinator Sean Lewis of his play-calling duties last week after a 28-16 loss to UCLA. It didn’t make much of a difference; the Buffaloes mustered 78 yards in the first three quarters before scoring a couple of late touchdowns in a 26-19 setback against Oregon State to tumble under .500.
Turns out it doesn’t matter who is making the calls when the offensive line can’t hold up, a shortcoming that has grown ever more glaring. It’s a lesson about as old as the game itself, and Colorado (4-5, 1-5 Pac-12) has learned it the hard way. Its frenzied 3-0 start has dissolved, and it needs to beat two of Arizona, Washington State and Utah simply to earn a postseason berth.
The Buffaloes’ regression illustrates just how hard it is to instantly transform a bad team (1-11 last year) into a good one, even with the benefit of largely unrestricted player movement permitting the type of roster overhaul Sanders utilized during the offseason.
But most of all, it further exposes those who tried to sell how Colorado represented a radical and lasting transformation of the sport as either incredibly gullible for parroting the idea or incredibly cynical for exploiting the setup and largely moving on when things crumbled.
Five with the most at stake
A look at teams with plenty on the line in Week 11.
1. Penn State. The Nittany Lions’ season was always going to be judged on how they fared against Ohio State and Michigan. Defensively, they held up well in Columbus on Oct. 21 but couldn’t manage much offense and left with a 20-12 loss. Now, Michigan comes to Happy Valley a year after rolling up 418 rushing yards against Penn State. The Nittany Lions (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten) are bounced from Big Ten and national title contention with a loss.
2. Mississippi. The Rebels (8-1, 5-1 SEC) could already be bounced from conference contention by the time they kick off at Georgia (9-0, 6-0) if Alabama handles Kentucky. But Mississippi would still be a playoff contender if it gets into the barn at 11-1 and owns a victory in Athens. A loss means those hopes evaporate.
3. Oregon. It’s Bo Nix’s turn to carve up Southern California’s hapless defense, which is now without fired coordinator Alex Grinch. But as the Trojans reminded everyone last week, they can still pile up points. Oregon (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) can’t afford to trip up against Southern Cal (7-3, 5-2) for playoff purposes, and a head-to-head loss could even be enough to knock it out of a conference title game, too.
4. Michigan. The Wolverines (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) have won every game by at least 24 points. Is that because they’re a juggernaut, or because the Big Ten beyond its top three teams is pedestrian? Probably a mix of both. Michigan gets its first substantive test Saturday at Penn State.
5. Georgia. The Bulldogs can lock up the SEC East with a victory over Mississippi. Lose, and they might be stuck with a trip to Tennessee with both the division and any sort of playoff hopes on the line.
Blackistone: Big Ten should throw the book at Jim Harbaugh. He’ll never see it coming.
A weekly look at the race for college football’s favorite stiff-arming statue
1. QB Bo Nix, Oregon (2,723 yards, 25 touchdowns, two INTs passing; 116 yards, five TDs rushing). Nix actually threw his second pick of the season in last week’s 63-19 rout of Cal. He also had a season-high 386 yards passing and accounted for six touchdowns (two rushing). If there’s an Oregon-Washington rematch in the Pac-12 title game, it could also decide the Heisman. (Last week: 3)
2. QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington (3,201 yards, 26 TDs, seven INTs). Penix has thrown an interception in four consecutive games, but his team is still undefeated, so it’s not as if his chances have dwindled much. The Huskies relied on the run to wear out Southern Cal last week, but they’re going to need Penix to be sharp with Utah coming to Seattle on Saturday. (LW: 2)
3. QB Jayden Daniels, LSU (2,792 yards, 27 TDs, four INTs passing; 684 yards, six TDs rushing). Will Heisman voters look past the Tigers’ three losses and acknowledge Daniels has been the sport’s most electrifying quarterback to this point in the season? That doesn’t happen much. Just as important: Will the injury that knocked Daniels from last week’s loss at Alabama affect him moving forward? (LW: 1)
4. RB Ollie Gordon II, Oklahoma State (1,224 yards, 12 TDs rushing; 22 catches, 219 yards, one TD receiving). The sophomore still leads the country in rushing, even if he didn’t add another prolific yardage day last week in the Bedlam game against Oklahoma. But Gordon was still plenty valuable, scratching out 138 yards and two touchdowns on a season-high 33 carries in a 27-24 victory. (LW: 5)
5. WR Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State (52 catches, 914 yards, 10 TDs). Rutgers did a commendable job on the Buckeyes junior, whose 25 receiving yards were his lowest total since the season opener. He still scored on two of his four catches and remains a difference-maker on an unbeaten team. (LW: 4)
T-6. QB Jordan Travis, Florida State (2,469 yards, 19 TDs, two INTs passing; 190 yards, seven TDs rushing). The longer the Seminoles maintain an unblemished record, the better Travis’s chances at landing an invitation to the Heisman ceremony become. Topping 350 yards passing in back-to-back games helps, too. He’ll face Miami next. (LW: Not ranked)
T-6. QB Carson Beck, Georgia (2,716 yards, 16 TDs, four INTs passing; 70 yards, three TDs rushing). Beck had a clean day — 254 yards and two touchdowns — against Missouri last week as the Bulldogs remained undefeated.