131 college football team rankings after Week 9: Who has a path to the playoffs?

The college football playoff rankings are coming up. It’s time to ask who really has a chance to make it.

It’s been a fun season for nine-plus weeks, in part because there’s been very little CFP talk. ESPN ditched the talk during games and shows, and we were able to enjoy the unexpected and fun results for what they were, without thinking about the bigger picture.

But that bigger picture is here now, with the first CFP rankings coming out Tuesday night. It’s always been a fascinating exercise to rank 25 teams when they only pick four at the end. Ultimately, it’s content, and what sports has always been based on is content.

So instead of four or 25, and before fully ranking all 131 teams, I’m going to list the teams that I think could actually make the College Football Playoff, in order based on what I think their chances are, with their current rating Athletic 131 in brackets.

Georgia (2)
Tennessee (1)
Clemson (5)
Michigan (3)
Ohio State (4)
Alabama (7)
TCU (6)
Oregon (8)
USC (9)
Ole miss (11)
UCLA (10)
North Carolina (18)
Illinois (13)

These aren’t top 13 teams, but they are the only teams that still have a chance to make the CFP. That’s every Power 5 team with one or zero losses. Thirteen isn’t bad for a four-team field with just over a month to go.

Tennessee vs. Georgia is a big game for both the winner and the loser. The winner is almost guaranteed a spot in the CFP (see: Georgia lost the SEC championship last year but still got in). When the game is over, the loser could also be in a good spot if the winner wins the SEC.

We’ll probably get 11-0 Michigan vs. 11-0 Ohio State. The winner will likely win the Big Ten and advance to the CFP (the Big Ten West has never won the conference title game). It’s going to be a tough road for the winner because he won’t have many quality wins as the Big Ten is generally underperforming.

TCU is undefeated and has its toughest games behind it, but the Frogs still have some tough games ahead of them. Undefeated TCU will be in contention. 12-1 TCU with one close loss before the Big 12 championship can stay alive because it has quality wins. The one-loss Pac-12 champion would have a chance, but would likely need help elsewhere. One loss Ole Miss still controls its destiny in the SEC West and the SEC as a whole. If they won, the Rebels would be included in the score. One-loss Illinois would need to beat Michigan on Nov. 19 and then win the Big Ten, while one-loss North Carolina would need to win and beat Clemson in the ACC title game, but even still would probably need some help.

So that’s the situation in the CFP rankings. But don’t forget: The CFP isn’t the only important thing in college football. There are still big games for conference titles, rivalries, bowl eligibility and more. Everyone knows these rankings, so let’s get down to this week’s release Athletic 131.


Ohio State beat Pennsylvania 44-31. (Matthew O’Harren/USA Today)

1-10

Rank The team Record Previous

1

8-0

1

2

8-0

2

3

8-0

4

4

8-0

5

5

8-0

3

6

8-0

7

7

7-1

6

8

7-1

8

9

7-1

10

10

7-1

12

I wanted to see Ohio State get tested and the Buckeyes get tested by Pennsylvania. The Buckeyes were confused at times and struggled to run the ball, and they found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter. But a series of big offensive and defensive plays led to it a 44-31 win. This game coupled with Michigan’s dominance State of Michigan, leads to the Wolverines and Buckeyes ahead of Clemson. The Tigers also stumble here because their top two wins, Wake Forest and Syracuse, were devalued by their respective blast losses on Saturday. Fret not, Clemson fans, as the Tigers still have a clear and favorable path to the CFP, and three top-25 wins makes a good argument.

TCU is also ahead of Alabama, which is admittedly something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I should point out that these rankings aren’t just about schedule strength or record quality. My subjective opinion is also part of it. This is not a formula. It’s a combination of the notable things the team has done and how it looks.

Alabama will be the betting favorite to beat TCU, and the Tide narrowly beat Tennessee. Meanwhile, TCU has the best wins, best record (third vs. sixth, on ESPN) and a similar schedule strength in Estimates of Sagarin (although Bama’s is much tougher on ESPN). To win multiple games, TCU had to come back from three points down, while Alabama came within striking distance of losing vs. Texas and Texas A&M. You could make an argument to put TCU in the top four, though you could also back off by noting that the Frogs played against multiple backup or injured QBs. In the end, I put TCU ahead of the Tide this week, but Alabama’s next two games vs LDU and Ole Miss could change that quickly.

The only other changes in this group are USC and UCLA moving up due to losses Oklahoma State and Wake Forest.

Tennessee vs. Georgia No. 1 vs. No. 2 depending on which rating you use should be good.

11-25

Losing streaks to teams in this bracket lead to Illinois, Tulane and Kansas State moving into the top 15. The Illini lead the nation in scoring defense and look primed to reach the Big Ten championship game. Kansas State destroyed Oklahoma State 48-0, the worst loss of Mike Gundy’s career. Tulane has been idle this week, but is up solely on the strength of its previous win against Kansas State. Early season wins can become more impressive as the season progresses and adjustments need to be made. Tulane controls its destiny for the AAC title and a berth in Group 5 of the New Year’s Six, but the Green Wave have yet to play UCF, SMU and Cincinnati in the regular season.

Oklahoma State falls after the loss, but wins against Texas and Baylor and the overtime game against TCU keeps the Cowboys in the top 25 for now. Exactly the same Kentucky my wins vs Mississippi State and Florida and a narrow loss to Ole Miss to stay here, while Syracuse has a win vs NC State. Texas moves back to 25th. I’m sure there will be a backlash, but every other team around the Longhorns was also idle this week, so it just happened. Texas’ three losses are 11 points, for what it’s worth.


Notre Dame took an unusual route to a 5-3 record. (Mark Kanezny/USA Today)

26-50

Notre Dame my wins vs Syracuse and North Carolina, but losses vs Stanford and Marshall. The Irish are a tough team to rank. The same applies Louisvillewhich won against UCF and Wake Forest but lost Boston College. Coastal Carolina beat Marshall 24-13 on the road and probably has the best position for the G5 NY6 spot after Tulane.

UCF’s win vs. Cincinnati snapped the Bearcats’ 19-game AAC winning streak and put two teams in one pool with East Carolinawhich beat UCF last week.

51-75

Boise State has won four straight games after a 2-2 start and now looks like a Mountain West favorite once again. Missouri rises after a 23-10 win against South Carolina. BYUThe Cougars’ loss to East Carolina was their fourth in a row. Southern Miss to beat Louisiana 39-24 and is one win away from a bowl game in head coach Will Hall’s second season, despite still relying on the running back at quarterback in some situations.

North Texas dominated Western Kentucky 40-13 to finish second in Conference USA and the Mean Green are 9-1 in their last 10 C-USA games. Toledo late comeback without a win over QB Dequan Finn Eastern Michigan and remain under the control of MAC West. San Jose State to beat Nevada 35-28 with a fourth-quarter comeback, an emotional victory on a night when the program honored and celebrated running back Camden McWright, who died last week.

76-100

I’m pretty sure this is the first time since this ranking started in 2017 End is in the top 100 and deservedly so! The Huskies are 4-5 after a 13-3 win over Boston College. That program had four wins in the previous three seasons combined. Jim More has something going on.

Miami‘s 14-12 win against Virginia in four overtimes no one crossed the goal line with the ball until the winning score of two points on the final play. Really ugly stuff. Rice’s stunning loss Charlotte unexpectedly jeopardizes the prospects of the Owls. Virginia Institute of Technology blew a 21-3 lead in the third quarter against NC State and lost five straight games for the first time since 1992. The Hokies also lost every October game for the first time since 1952. Fresno State overcame a 28-17 deficit in the final two minutes to win San Diego State. with Jake Hanner finally back, can the Bulldogs make a run in the Mountain West?

101-131

How about FIU? The Panthers went 1-16 the previous two years and entered this season on a 17-game losing streak against FBS opponents. FIU is now 4-4 under first-year head coach Mike McIntyre and may have the QB to build around him in Grayson James. Four Panthers wins — Bryant, State of New MexicoCharlotte and Louisiana Tech — won’t set the world on fire, but they’re the kind of wins they need to start building the foundation.

Northwest continues to hit new lows, most recently in a 33-13 loss to an Iowa team that has one of the nation’s worst offenses. Charlotte’s 56-23 win vs Fig was one of the most shocking results of the weekend, a week later fired head coach Will Healy. UMass had a chance to climb out of No. 131, but the Minutemen lost to New Mexico State.

(Top photo: John Adams / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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