A look at every legitimate playoff contender

The College Football Playoff field is narrowing along with the Power 5 conference races. Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and UCF are the only undefeated teams left after South Florida’s 57-36 loss to Houston on Saturday.

With four contenders — Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Kentucky — the SEC enters the first official College Football Playoff ranking on Tuesday with the deepest pool of candidates for the 13-selection committee members to evaluate in their first meeting of the season.

Here’s a look at the most legitimate remaining playoff contenders from each conference (one loss or undefeated), and where they stand after Week 9:

ACC

Clemson Tigers
Over the past two games, Clemson has asserted itself not just as a top-four team, but a dominant one. After outscoring its past two Atlantic Division opponents, NC State and Florida State, by a combined 100-17, quarterback Trevor Lawrence should have erased all doubts about coach Dabo Swinney’s decision to name him the starter. Clemson also ranks No. 1 in defensive efficiency. The only question on Tuesday is if one-loss LSU has done enough to usurp Clemson for the No. 2 spot. Clemson has only beaten three Power 5 opponents currently over .500 (Texas A&M, Syracuse and NC State). Watch to see where those opponents might be ranked on Tuesday.

Playoff Predictor says: The Tigers have a 91.9 percent chance to reach the playoff, the best of any team.

SEC

Alabama Crimson Tide
The Tide had a bye this week to prepare for the LSU game and should feel confident in a No. 1 ranking Tuesday, as no team has been as consistently dominant through nine weeks. Alabama is No. 1 in offensive efficiency and No. 2 in defensive efficiency. Alabama has only played two Power 5 opponents with winning records (Ole Miss and Texas A&M), but it hasn’t even shown a hint of a close game. The Tide’s weak strength of schedule would likely only spark a real debate if Alabama loses at LSU.

Playoff Predictor says: Alabama has an 84.6 percent chance to make the playoff, second only to Clemson.

LSU Tigers
The Tigers also had a bye this week and should be the selection committee’s highest-ranked one-loss team on Tuesday, especially since Florida (which beat LSU) lost to Georgia. Now LSU doesn’t have to worry about the committee debating that head-to-head result. The question is how high LSU can climb in the first ranking. While the committee does consider how many ranked opponents a team has beaten, it will also reward LSU for five wins against Power 5 opponents with a combined record of 26-13. Will that be impressive enough to be ranked ahead of undefeated Clemson and/or Notre Dame?

Playoff Predictor says: LSU has a 13.2 percent chance to reach the playoff and a 10.4 percent chance to win the division.

Georgia Bulldogs
By beating Florida, Georgia set up a division-clinching, playoff-elimination game against Kentucky next Saturday. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Georgia has a 78.5 percent chance to beat Kentucky and head to the SEC championship for the second straight season. Even if Georgia wins the East, though, it will either have to beat Alabama or LSU (which it already lost to in convincing fashion). The committee won’t be looking beyond Saturday’s win against Florida, though. It will rank one-loss Georgia based on the Bulldogs’ résumé to date, which is underwhelming to say the least. Not only was Georgia’s win over Florida its first against a ranked opponent, it was also the only win Georgia has had against a Power 5 opponent over .500. The committee will likely do a side-by-side comparison between Michigan and Georgia for the No. 5 spot. While Georgia’s win over Florida is better than any of Michigan’s wins, the Wolverines have the better overall résumé, as four opponents (Northwestern, Wisconsin, Maryland and Michigan State) are all 5-3.

Playoff Predictor says: Georgia has a 40.2 percent chance to reach the playoff and a 3.9 percent chance to win the conference.

Kentucky Wildcats
Is Kentucky really a playoff contender? Not if its offense continues to play like it did against Missouri on Saturday, but if it wins the East, it can be a factor. Any one-loss SEC team playing in the conference championship game is in the playoff mix. If Kentucky were to somehow upend Georgia and Alabama, how could the committee leave out the SEC champ? It’s a long shot, but if — if — Kentucky wins, its last three games are against Tennessee, Middle Tennessee and Louisville, which are a combined 10-13. Kentucky is favored to win all of them.

Playoff Predictor says: Kentucky has a 0.5 percent chance of reaching the playoff.

Big Ten

Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines had a bye to prepare for Saturday’s home game against Penn State and have made noticeable improvement offensively since the season-opening loss to Notre Dame — which might wind up being the best loss in the country. Michigan is No. 3 in defensive efficiency and can further impress the committee with wins over Penn State and at Ohio State. It’s possible the committee could do a close comparison between Michigan and LSU for the highest-ranked one-loss team on Tuesday, but LSU’s win over Georgia is arguably more impressive than beating either Michigan State or Wisconsin.

Playoff Predictor says: Michigan has a 40.7 percent chance to reach the playoff and a 3.9 percent chance to win the conference.

Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes had a bye, but other results impacted their résumé. Ohio State’s bad loss got worse, as Purdue was held to a season-low 339 yards and 17 points in the loss to Michigan State. But the more damaging score was TCU’s 27-26 loss at Kansas, which dropped the Horned Frogs to 3-5. Ohio State’s early-season win over TCU had been a résumé highlight. Penn State is the only opponent with a winning record Ohio State has defeated, and the teams the Buckeyes have defeated this season have a combined winning percentage of 40.3 percent (23-34). Ohio State also hasn’t been passing the eye test lately, particularly on defense, which allowed Purdue 49 points and 539 yards. Tuesday’s ranking should indicate all of this, and reflect that while Ohio State isn’t out of the race, it still has something to prove to the committee.

Playoff Predictor says: Ohio State has a 25.8 percent chance to make the CFP and a 27.5 percent chance to win the Big Ten.

Big 12

Oklahoma Sooners
It hurt the Big 12 that Texas lost, as the best-case scenario would have been for the one-loss rivals to meet again in the conference championship game and for OU to avenge its regular-season loss to the Longhorns. Instead, Oklahoma enters the first ranking with its best win against … Iowa State? Kansas State? As good as Kyler Murray has looked in what has been a season worthy of Heisman Trophy consideration, Oklahoma hasn’t played consistently well enough against difficult competition to win a resume battle against other one-loss teams like Michigan, Georgia and LSU.

Playoff Predictor says: OU has a 26.3 percent chance to reach the playoff and 50.7 percent chance to win the conference.

West Virginia Mountaineers
The Mountaineers’ schedule is backloaded, with road trips to Texas and Oklahoma State before the Friday night regular-season finale against Oklahoma. But we’re not there yet, and neither is West Virginia’s strength of schedule. If WVU can win out and win the Big 12, it would be considered by the committee, but the Tuesday ranking will probably reflect the Mountaineers’ current status as a dark horse.

Playoff Predictor says: WVU has a 4.7 percent chance to make the playoff and an 18.4 percent chance to win the Big 12.

Pac-12

Washington State Cougars
The Cougars are the only one-loss team left in the Pac-12 after Saturday’s win at Stanford, but they might not be able to overcome the nonconference schedule, which doesn’t include one Power 5 opponent (Wyoming, San Jose State and Eastern Washington). How high the Cougars are ranked on Tuesday will depend in part on if Oregon and Stanford are ranked, as they are Washington State’s best wins to this point. Washington and Stanford each have three losses, which is a devastating position for the Pac-12.

Playoff predictor says: Washington State has a 0.5 percent chance to reach the CFP and an 18.4 percent chance to win the league.

Independents

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Irish avoided an upset by Navy in what was a tricky game in San Diego, and the win over Michigan continues to resonate. Notre Dame should earn a top four spot on Tuesday; the only question is if it’s looking up at a one-loss team. Stanford losing to Washington State for its third loss of the season didn’t help Notre Dame, nor did Virginia Tech losing to Georgia Tech on Thursday night. Still, winning three games away from home will impress the committee, and Notre Dame is right where it needs to be — nationally relevant heading into November.

Playoff Predictor says: The Irish have a 64.6 percent chance to make the playoff.

Group of 5

UCF Knights
The Knights will likely face the same criticism on Tuesday that they did all of last season: The schedule isn’t strong enough. UCF has not beaten one team over .500 and has only played one Power 5 opponent, Pitt (4-4). There’s no guarantee UCF will even be in the selection committee’s top 10, and it probably wouldn’t get much higher than No. 8 (this is assuming some semblance of Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Notre Dame, Michigan, Georgia and Oklahoma are ahead of them). Would the committee rank UCF ahead of Ohio State? Kentucky? Who the Knights are ahead of could be equally as telling as how many one loss-teams UCF is behind.

Playoff predictor says: The Knights have a 0.1 percent chance to win the playoff and a 52.2 percent chance to win the American Athletic Conference.

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