Believe it or not, this weekend marks the midway point of college football’s regular season, which is usually the point on the calendar when the season really begins to take on a shape of its own. What happens now is what you’ll actually remember: Freshmen mature, conference races unwind, Heisman contenders cement their legends. September upstarts are lapped in the polls by resurgent outfits that had been left for dead. Embattled coaches lose the thread. Enduring narratives begin to take root. Stakes get a little higher with each passing week. Arguments get specific. Sh*t gets real.
In most years, of course, the looming drama down the stretch draws most of its fuel from the vagaries of the playoff race (or, in bygone days, the BCS standings) which has never lacked for intrigue or uncertainty. Presumably speculation over the final four will suck up much of the remaining oxygen in 2016, too, either out of habit or as the result of an abrupt plot twist. Barring the latter, though, it’s already starting to look like this year’s great playoff debate will be notable mainly for what it lacks: Suspense.
Because at this stage, honestly, what’s to debate? In a typical year, it’s well into November before the logjam at the top of the polls yields to any kind clarity about how it’s likely to shake out. This year, the pecking order is so straightforward after just six weeks that, if the status quo holds, the final four is a foregone conclusion:
1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide have a relatively steep path from 6-0 to 12-0, starting with a pair of Top-10 opponents, Tennessee and Texas A&M, in consecutive weeks; the week after that, they have to play at LSU. But navigating that kind of gauntlet is nothing we haven’t seen from Nick Saban’s teams many times before. (Toughest remaining game, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index: at LSU, 61.4 percent)
2. Clemson: The Tigers have already survived the most pressing threat in the ACC, fending off Louisville in an instant classic. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to see one more on Oct. 29, against Florida State. Otherwise, FPI pegs Clemson’s chances of winning its other five games at more than 90 percent apiece. (Toughest remaining game: at Florida State, 57.2 percent)