The 12 College Football Title Contenders After All the Upsets

A new top 12 ranking emerges at the season’s midpoint…

The leaves are turning colors, the frost is settling in, and we have reached the midpoint of the 2017 college football season. Most teams have played six games, and we are starting to get an idea of which teams are for real and which were just a product of September hype.

It was a wild weekend of football, with four of the top ten nationally ranked teams going down, and that means it’s time to check in on a new set of rankings. Alabama is back at the top after Clemson’s loss, but who else is set to join them in this year’s playoff, and what other teams are knocking on the door? Let’s choose a top 12 and look at five big games on tap next weekend…

A New Number One

1. Alabama (previous rank: 2)

Alabama’s opening win against Florida State has lots some shine, but they still haven’t struggled with an opponent at any point this season. That’s not about to change anytime soon with home games against Tennessee and LSU, the latter after a week off. Bama ends their year at Auburn and with a likely SEC title game. They’d probably have to lose both to miss out on the playoff.

A Clear Top Four Right Now

2. Georgia (3)

Alabama isn’t the only SEC squad rolling through opponents, and that early season win in South Bend is looking pretty good. But the Bulldogs have plenty of work to do, with a bye week before Florida, South Carolina, and Auburn. If both Bama and Georgia make the SEC title game unbeaten — and that’s still a pretty huge “IF” for now — we’ll have our first playoff with two teams from the same conference.

3. TCU (6)

Gary Patterson’s Frogs continue to pile up the points, and the defense got in track in Manhattan. TCU’s win at Oklahoma State remains one of the most impressive road wins in 2017, and they return to the Sooner State November 11th for a showdown with Oklahoma. They’re halfway home.

4. Penn State (4)

Penn State has their hands full the next three weeks. First it’s a visit from Michigan that may not be as daunting as it was a month ago, but then it’s trips to Ohio State and Michigan State in back-to-back weeks. There’s no clear Heisman front runner, but Saquon Barkley will be the name everyone’s talking about if Penn State is still unbeaten in three weeks.

Fallen But Not Forgotten

5. Clemson (1)

It’s hard to imagine how this week could’ve been much worse for Clemson. Quarterback Kelly Bryant wasn’t able to finish the game, and the Tigers lost on the road to lowly Syracuse. On top of that, early marquee wins against Auburn and Louisville lost a lot of their luster. Still, Clemson is fine. They have a great resume and will have the chance to defend their title if they win out and take down a strong ACC. Right now they just need to get Bryant healthy.

6. Oklahoma (5)

Hard to believe the Sooners lose a home game to Iowa State and only drop one spot, but here we are. Everyone important behind them lost too, so that always helps. So does a gritty road victory in the Red River Shootout, and that monster early win in Ohio State looks a little better every week. Oklahoma has a week to get things whirring again. A visit to Oklahoma State and a home game with TCU the week after will define their season.

Some Familiar Powerhouses Enter the Mix

7. USC (NR)

I wasn’t sold on USC early, but they continue to find a way to win the close ones and are now the class of the PAC-12 after both Washington teams took their first loss. Wins against Stanford, Texas, and California look more valuable now, but a trip to Notre Dame Saturday will show us if this team is real. It’s a pretty weak schedule after that, so win this week and USC could well be 11–1 heading into a PAC-12 title game.

8. Miami (NR)

Like USC, the Hurricanes continue to escape with wins. And like USC, it’s time to finally give some credit where it’s due. Miami doesn’t have that one big marquee win, but they’re unbeaten in a good ACC with quality wins against Florida State, Georgia Tech, Toledo, and even Duke. Late home games against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame loom large.

9. Notre Dame (NR)

The Georgia game is looking like one of the season’s best losses, and Notre Dame rolled in their other games even without a healthy Brandon Wimbush. They’re going to need him at QB the second half of the season with a brutal closing stretch, probably the toughest in the nation. USC and North Carolina State come to town next, with road trips to Miami and Stanford waiting in November. Win out and they’re in — and they’ll have earned it.

Still Control Their Destiny for Now

10. Oklahoma State (10)
11. Auburn (7)
12. Ohio State (NR)

Oklahoma State holds strong at #10 after a yawner against Baylor. They have big trap game visits to Texas and West Virginia before Bedlam.

Auburn drops with a loss at LSU but still has home games against Georgia and Alabama remaining (and maybe Georgia again), so they probably still control their destiny despite two losses already.

Ohio State still hasn’t played anyone but gets a week off before Penn State, so Urban Meyer’s guys will make their mark soon.

8 more teams to keep your eye on…

Central Florida, North Carolina State, Stanford, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, Washington, Washington State, Wisconsin

Five Games to Watch Next Week

5. Louisville at Florida State

It’s safe to say no one expected these teams to have three losses each by mid-October. This is not the game it once was, but Lamar Jackson against this Seminoles defense should still be a lot of fun.

4. (10) Oklahoma State at Texas

Cowboys fans are starting to get excited about Bedlam, but two trap road games stand in the way. Texas couldn’t get the win against Oklahoma, but they get a shot at little bro here.

3. Central Florida at Navy

The Knights still look like the best team outside the big five, and this might be their biggest test remaining. Beat the triple option on the road and they start to look like a real sleeper playoff threat.

2. Michigan at (4) Penn State

The Wolverines can’t find a quarterback, but they may have found an offense behind 200 yards from RB Karan Higdon. They’re going to need a lot more of that to have any chance when College GameDay visits Happy Valley.

1. (7) USC at (9) Notre Dame

This is the big one, with a whole lot of tradition and as much on the line since these teams met in 2005 as national title contenders. That one ended in the infamous Bush Push. Could the Irish respond with a Wimbush Push?

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