Last weekend gave us the wildest, most chaotic Saturday of the season, a roller-coaster ride of upsets that… uh, changed almost nothing, actually. If anything, high-profile flops by previously unbeaten Clemson, Michigan, and Washington only served to reinforce the status quo: With three weeks to go before the playoff field is etched in stone, all three remain very much alive for one of the four golden tickets.
Still, simply watching three of the top-ranked teams in the nation go down in rapid succession, two of them at the hands of unranked opponents, also reinforced how little we really know about how the rest of the season will unfold and how quickly all of our standing assumptions can go up in smoke.
With that in mind, and with respect to the latest Top 25 released by the Playoff Selection Committee on Tuesday night, this week I’ve re-ranked the national contenders according to each team’s chances of actually making the playoff field in December, regardless of its current status. These projections take future schedules and multiple possible scenarios into account to determine the true pecking order, with the understanding and acceptance that the real winner in the end will be chaos. Always chaos.
ROOM TO BREATHE
The only team that can conceivably survive a loss at this stage…
1. Alabama (10-0). Obviously: The defending champs opened the season at No. 1 and remain as entrenched there as any front-runner in recent memory. Besides top billing from the committee, last weekend’s purge left Bama with all 124 first-place votes in the AP and Coaches’ polls, plus the high score in every notable computer ranking, for good measure. The Tide are so far ahead of the pack right now that it often feels like they’re not competing against other teams so much as they’re competing against themselves, and against the standard set by the championship outfits that came before them. So far, they’re winning.
Within the SEC, the margin is so wide that, hypothetically, Alabama could take the next two weeks easy, rest its starters against Chattanooga and Auburn, even — and again, I stress this is hypothetical — suffer a loss against the Tigers, and still cruise into the playoffs with a win over whichever sacrificial lamb the East Division offers up for slaughter in the SEC title game. That’s not going to happen, of course, in part because winning the Iron Bowl is a biological imperative in the state of Alabama independent of any broader context, and in part because Bama’s backups might still be favored. But it could, because in a season with no other unbeaten teams remaining in the Power 5 conferences, historic dominance is not a requirement.