Entering the 10th and final year of the 4-team College Football Playoff, we have a 2-time defending national champion in Georgia, who is one of only five teams to win a title in the post-BCS era. It’s been an oversaturation at the top with the same teams playing in the most important games of the year. And if you’re one of those lucky handful of teams to experience a CFP game, congratulations. If not, it’s nauseating to see the same matchups over and over. A breakdown of what’s taken place in the last nine years of the CFP is downright nuts.
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Only 14 teams have made the CFP, and half of that field has made a championship game. Florida State, Washington, Michigan State and Cincinnati are one and done in CFP games. The trio of Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Michigan are a combined 0-8, with the Sooners owning four losses in the playoff by themselves. Oregon in the inaugural CFP and TCU last year were national runners-up in their only respective appearances in the playoff. Joe Burrow led LSU to a championship in the Tigers’ only appearance in the playoff. Ohio State is the only team to appear in the CFP at least five times and only have one title to show for it. Then there’s the dominance of Georgia, Clemson and Alabama to round out the group. So which teams outside that group stand the best chance to make the CFP this season?
Of the teams ranked in the AP Top 10, only Texas, USC and Penn State have never made the CFP. The Longhorns are the only ones of that trio to not have a near miss of the playoff, with Penn State clearly being the fifth-best team in the nation in 2016 and USC being one win away from making the playoff last year before losing the Pac-12 title game and then the Cotton Bowl. Expanding to the AP Top 15, three more teams that have never made the CFP can be added to the list in Tennessee, Utah, and Kansas State. You can eliminate the Volunteers from breaking that streak this season, after they struggled to blow out FCS-level Austin Peay at home. The other five aforementioned non-CFPers in the Top 15 you can’t rule out. Scanning the rest of the Top 25, and I don’t see a legitimate contender. So we’re down to five.
Kansas State surviving a tougher matchup than most would expect on the road against Missouri on Saturday would be a great start to the Wildcats making a New Year’s Six bowl for a second straight season. It wouldn’t shock me at all to see Texas vs. Kansas State face in the Big 12 championship game later this season with CFP implications on the line. I lean toward the Longhorns in that matchup because I’d be foolish to bet against Quinn Ewers. Texas also has as good of a non-conference win as anyone in college football, winning on the road against Alabama last weekend. My top choice for anyone to buck the trend is the Longhorns, with the added context that the Big 12 will be easier to maneuver through than the Pac-12 or Big Ten.
I’ll give Utah the worst odds among the five that I believe can make their first CFP this season. The Pac-12 is just too damn tough and with how the Utes have looked the first two weeks, suffering a few losses along the way seems likely. If Texas doesn’t make it, I’ll give the best odds to Penn State. There will be a bigger target on USC this season, with Caleb Williams still at the core of that team. Somehow, it feels like the Nittany Lions might be underrated in Big Ten circles with Ohio State and Michigan dominating those conversations.
Want an out-of-this-world crazy prediction for another team? Wyoming. The Cowboys have already knocked off Texas Tech this season and a spot is open for a Group of Five contender with Tulane losing to Ole Miss. Who does Wyoming play this weekend? Texas. A win over the heavily favored Longhorns and the Cowboys will be on the CFP radar the rest of the season as long as they stay undefeated.