Winners and losers: Predicting first CFP ranks

It’s time to seriously start thinking about the College Football Playoff.

The first set of CFP rankings are due on Tuesday and if history is any guide then they’ll look different than the AP Top 25. What you see on Sunday in the latest edition of the AP poll is not what you’re going to see on Tuesday during the CFP rankings show. 

With that in mind, here’s our attempt to decipher what the committee is thinking. A year ago we correctly predicted the top seven teams in the committee’s first set of rankings and got the exact spot correct for five of those seven teams. Maybe we’ll be even better in 2021 than we were in 2020. Here’s a look at our predicted top 10. 

Again, these are a prediction of what we think the committee’s rankings will look like, not what we think the rankings should be. 

10. Michigan (7-1)

The Wolverines suffered their first loss of the season on Saturday at Michigan State after holding a 30-14 lead in the third quarter. A Week 2 win over Washington isn’t nearly as impressive as we thought it could be entering the season, though a 21-point victory over a resurgent Wisconsin keeps looking better and better.

9. Wake Forest (8-0)

The Demon Deacons are the lone undefeated team in the ACC and demolished Duke 45-7 on Saturday. Wake Forest hasn’t played a ranked team all season thanks to a down ACC but has games against North Carolina, NC State and Clemson looming over the next three weeks. The Demon Deacons could be favored in all of them. Wake should keep climbing the rankings as long as it keeps winning.

Wake Forest running back Quinton Cooley (28) and defensive back Ja'Sir Taylor (6) pose after defeating Duke in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Matt Kelley)
Wake Forest running back Quinton Cooley (28) and defensive back Ja’Sir Taylor (6) pose after defeating Duke in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Matt Kelley)

8. Notre Dame (7-1)

While we think Notre Dame will be in the top 10 on Tuesday night we won’t be surprised they are at No. 11 or No. 12. But after beating North Carolina on Saturday night we think that Notre Dame’s loss to Cincinnati is what keeps it in the top 10. Three of the Irish’s seven wins have been by three points, though the Irish did convincingly beat Wisconsin.

7. Oklahoma (9-0)

Where would you rank Oklahoma if you saw a list of its wins without realizing it was the Sooners? That’s the dilemma facing the committee. Oklahoma’s best win so far is over a Texas team that took a huge lead and is now 4-4 on the season. And it’s hard to forget what it took to win against Kansas a week ago. That’s why Oklahoma could be behind two one-loss teams on Tuesday. But the good news for the Sooners is that their final three games of the season vs. Iowa State, Baylor, and Oklahoma State provide ample opportunity to move up. 

6. Oregon (7-1)

Yes, it’s hard to disregard the fact that Oregon beat Ohio State in Week 2. Since they have identical records it reasons that the Ducks should be ahead of the Buckeyes. But we think that Ohio State’s recent run of form and convincing wins will be the determining factor that vaults the Buckeyes ahead of the Ducks in these rankings. Oregon beat Cal and UCLA by a combined 10 points before easily dispatching Colorado on Saturday.

Oregon running back Travis Dye (26) celebrates a touchdown during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Colorado, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Andy Nelson)
Oregon running back Travis Dye (26) celebrates a touchdown during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Colorado, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Andy Nelson)

5. Ohio State (7-1)

It wasn’t pretty in Columbus on Saturday night but the Buckeyes moved to 5-0 in the Big Ten with a win over Penn State. And that victory came after four consecutive wins of 39 points or more. Those blowouts didn’t come against great competition — it’s hard to figure out which of the four is the best win — but we think they’re impressive enough to combine with OSU’s name recognition to vault the Buckeyes into the top three.

4. Michigan State (8-0)

No matter where MSU is in the rankings, the Spartans should be ahead of Oklahoma. Michigan State beat a Miami team that had D’Eriq King — a win equal to the Sooners’ comeback victory over Texas — and now has the victory over Michigan. Michigan State can challenge Ohio State for the Big Ten East and we can’t wait for their game in two weeks. Could Michigan State even be as high as No. 2? It’s possible if the committee is looking for an undefeated Power Five team for that spot. 

Michigan State players celebrate with the Paul Bunyan trophy after defeating Michigan in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 37-33. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Michigan State players celebrate with the Paul Bunyan trophy after defeating Michigan in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 37-33. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

3. Cincinnati (8-0)

This is the team we’re the most unsure of ahead of Tuesday. The committee has tended to undervalue non-Power Five teams and it’s easy to see how Cincinnati will get the same treatment. The Bearcats are going to be lower than their current AP Top 25 ranking of No. 2. That seems very certain. It’s just a matter of how much lower. The win over Notre Dame gives Cincinnati something that most Group of Five teams haven’t had — proof that the schedule hasn’t been all empty calories so far.

2. Alabama (7-1)

Alabama was off on Saturday night. The Crimson Tide’s loss to Texas A&M looks better with every win the Aggies get and this is a team that’s scored 38 or more points in all but one of its games so far this season. Preseason rankings shouldn’t matter, but we think it’s going to be hard for the committee to ignore Alabama’s status ahead of the season and put the Tide outside the top two.

1. Georgia (8-0)

This one is a given. It’ll be a shock if anyone other than Georgia is in the top spot on Tuesday. The Bulldogs have been the most dominant team in the country so far. So good, in fact, that it’s hard to get intrigued by a QB debate between Stetson Bennett and J.T. Daniels. A Georgia win feels inevitable no matter who is playing quarterback. After beating Clemson 10-3 to start the season, Georgia has beaten every other opponent by at least three scores.

– Nick Bromberg

Georgia players celebrate with fans in the stands after getting the win over Florida in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Georgia players celebrate with fans in the stands after getting the win over Florida in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Here are this week’s winners and losers.

WINNERS

Georgia: The Georgia defense is simply too good. Late in the first half on Saturday against Florida, UGA’s lead was only 3-0. But thanks to the Bulldogs defense, that lead ballooned to 24-0 at halftime. First, the defense stripped Anthony Richardson to set up an 11-yard James Cook TD run. Richardson was intercepted on Florida’s next drive, setting up a 36-yard Stetson Bennett TD pass to Kearis Jackson. And then on Florida’s next drive, Nakobe Dean picked off Richardson and returned it for a touchdown. From there, UGA cruised to a 34-7 win and clinched the SEC East thanks to Kentucky’s loss to Mississippi State. 

Michigan State: Michigan State rallied from a 30-14 third-quarter deficit and pulled out a thrilling 37-33 win over rival Michigan on Saturday. With the win, MSU is the final undefeated team remaining in the Big Ten and is going to be featured prominently in the first CFP rankings show on Tuesday night. Kenneth Walker III had a Heisman-level effort in the win, rushing for 197 yards and five touchdowns on 23 carries. In the fourth quarter alone, Walker had rushing TDs of 58 and 23 yards.

Kansas State DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah: The Kansas State defensive end had an unbelievable afternoon in the Wildcats’ 31-12 victory over TCU. Anudike-Uzomah set a Big 12 record and tied an FBS record with six sacks. That’s right, six sacks. Anudike-Uzomah entered the game with six sacks this year and seven in his college career. And now he’s in the record books, tying Western Michigan’s Ameer Ismail (2006) and Louisville’s Elvis Dumervil (2005). Now with 12 on the season, Anudike-Uzomah is the new single-season record holder at K-State.

Baylor: Baylor just keeps on winning. The Bears came back from a 21-10 second-half deficit and beat Texas 31-24 at home on Saturday to improve to 7-1 on the year and 4-1 in Big 12 play. Baylor went 2-7 last year and had one of the Big 12’s worst offenses. A year later, the Bears are a top 20 offense nationally thanks to the hire of Jeff Grimes as offensive coordinator. Grimes was the OC at BYU last year and has proved to be a tremendous addition in Waco.

Miami: Things were looking bleak for Manny Diaz and Miami, but now there’s reason for optimism for the Hurricanes. Behind 426 yards and three touchdowns from freshman QB Tyler Van Dyke, Miami pulled off a 38-34 upset over No. 17 Pittsburgh. Miami jumped out to a 31-17 halftime lead and held off a comeback attempt from Kenny Pickett and the Panthers. Now 4-4 with several winnable games ahead, there’s a real chance Miami can finish the season strong and Diaz can stave off the hot seat talk.

West Virginia: A few weeks ago, it looked like WVU had lost three straight games, was 0-4 and looked like it could be in for a long season. After a bye week, the Mountaineers rebounded with back-to-back wins. Last week was a road win over TCU. This week was a much more impressive showing — a 38-31 upset of No. 22 Iowa State. Much-maligned quarterback Jarret Doege threw for 370 yards and three touchdowns and the defense got the crucial stops (with the help of some questionable officiating) it needed to hold on to the lead.

Auburn: Did you know that Auburn can win the SEC West if it wins out? With games against Texas A&M and Alabama looming, Auburn can represent the West in the SEC title game against Georgia. The Tigers kept Ole Miss in check on Saturday night in a 31-20 win to move to 6-2. Auburn will probably be in the top 15 — and maybe even the top 12 — of the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday. 

AUBURN, ALABAMA - OCTOBER 30: Head coach Bryan Harsin of the Auburn Tigers celebrates after defeating the Mississippi Rebels at Jordan-Hare Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
AUBURN, ALABAMA – OCTOBER 30: Head coach Bryan Harsin of the Auburn Tigers celebrates after defeating the Mississippi Rebels at Jordan-Hare Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)

Houston: The Cougars are now 7-1 and undefeated in the American after a 100-yard kickoff return by Marcus Jones with 17 seconds left provided the winning points in a 44-37 win over No. 19 SMU. Houston can advance to (likely) play Cincinnati in the AAC title game if it beats South Florida, Temple, and Memphis over the next three weeks. The Cougars will likely be favored in all three of those games. Maybe Dana Holgorsen’s rebuilding plan is paying off. 

Minnesota: Minnesota has sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West. Yes, really. The team that lost to Bowling Green on Sept. 25 has won four straight games and is now 6-2 with a 4-1 record in Big Ten play. Minnesota’s only Big Ten loss came to Ohio State in Week 1. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Gophers have found a recipe to win games. Saturday’s 41-14 road win over Northwestern was the latest example of that. The Gophers rushed for 308 yards in the victory.

Wake Forest: Wake Forest just keeps on winning. The Demon Deacons cruised past Duke 45-7 on Saturday to improve to 8-0 on the year. Sam Hartman threw for 402 yards in the win as the Deacs put up a whopping 677 yards of offense. Not only do the Deacons have a clear path to the ACC Atlantic title, but they need to be part of the College Football Playoff conversation. Entering Saturday, Wake was ranked No. 13 in the AP poll. We’ll see what the committee does on Tuesday.

Syracuse RB Sean Tucker: With three games to go, Syracuse is on the verge of a bowl berth. Sean Tucker is a huge reason for that. Tucker, who led the nation in rushing entering the weekend, has emerged as one of the best running backs in the country. He proved that again by going off for 207 yards on 26 carries in the Orange’s 21-6 victory over Boston College. Tucker now has 1,267 yards and 11 TDs on the year. Cuse went 1-10 last year but is now 5-4 headed into a bye week. 

LOSERS

Iowa: We might look back at Iowa as the No. 2 team in the country as one of the stranger moments of the 2021 season. Since then, the Hawkeyes got blown out at home by Purdue, had a bye week and then got blown out again on Saturday. This time it was a 27-7 loss to Wisconsin on the road. The Iowa offense was terrible. The Hawkeyes had 12 yards in the first half and did not pick up a single first down until there was 1:20 remaining in the half. In all, the Hawkeyes had 156 total yards, were 2-of-13 on third down, 0-of-3 on fourth down and had four turnovers.

Texas: It happened again. For the third consecutive game, Texas had a double-digit second half lead and lost. Texas led Oklahoma 41-23 in the third quarter and lost 55-48. Texas led Oklahoma State 24-13 in the third quarter and lost 32-24. And on Saturday against Baylor, Texas led 21-10 in the third quarter and lost 31-24. It’s the first three-game losing streak for Texas since 2016. UT is now 4-4 on the year with a trip to Iowa State coming next week.

AUSTIN, TEXAS - OCTOBER 16: Head coach Steve Sarkisian of the Texas Longhorns reacts in the second half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TEXAS – OCTOBER 16: Head coach Steve Sarkisian of the Texas Longhorns reacts in the second half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Arizona State: The ASU season has gone sideways in a hurry. Just a few weeks ago, Arizona State was 5-1, sitting in first place in the Pac-12 South and had a 21-7 lead over Utah at halftime. Utah then rattled off 28 straight points in the second half, giving ASU a 35-21 loss. After a bye week, ASU hosted a mediocre Washington State team and promptly got blown out. WSU jumped out to a 28-0 lead and led 34-7 late in the fourth. ASU scored twice in the final five minutes to make the final score a bit more respectable. But make no mistake, this was a very ugly loss.

Nebraska: It’s getting harder and harder to envision Scott Frost returning as Nebraska’s head coach next season. Coming off a bye, the Huskers dropped to 3-6 with a 28-23 home loss to Purdue. Nebraska actually had a 17-14 lead at halftime but played a disastrous second half offensively that included four punts and three interceptions. The schedule doesn’t get any easier either. Nebraska hosts Ohio State next week and then closes out the season at Wisconsin and at home vs. Iowa. Nebraska hasn’t had a winning season under Frost and now is staring at a 3-9 record in the face in Year 4 of the Frost era.

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost walks off the field following his team's 28-23 loss to Purdue in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost walks off the field following his team’s 28-23 loss to Purdue in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

TCU: Is it time to start asking questions about Gary Patterson’s future at TCU? The Horned Frogs dropped to 3-5 with an ugly 31-12 loss at Kansas State on Saturday. And with games against Baylor, Oklahoma State and Iowa State still on the schedule, TCU could very well have its second losing season in the last three years. Over the last four seasons, TCU has a combined 13-19 record in Big 12 play.

Kentucky: Even with an extra week to prepare, No. 12 Kentucky had no answers for Mississippi State’s Air Raid offense. The Wildcats went into Starkville and couldn’t get off the field. MSU was on the field for 41:10 as Will Rogers picked the Kentucky defense apart in a 31-17 win for the Bulldogs. Rogers completed 36 of his 39 throws for 344 yards and TD. Conversely, UK’s Will Levis was 17-of-28 for 150 yards, one TD and three interceptions. 

Oregon State: Oregon State had a chance to keep pace with Oregon in the Pac-12 North on Saturday. Instead, the Beavers lost 39-25 on the road to Cal, a team that entered the day with a 2-5 record. The Beavers turned the ball over three times offensively while the defense allowed Cal to put up 517 yards of offense and go 13-of-19 on third down. The Beavs are an improving program, but not quite ready to compete for the division title.

Oregon State running back B.J. Baylor (4) is tackled by California linebacker Marqez Bimage (46) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Berkeley, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)
Oregon State running back B.J. Baylor (4) is tackled by California linebacker Marqez Bimage (46) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Berkeley, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

Tulsa: Tulsa played for the AAC title last year but might not make a bowl game this year, The Golden Hurricane lost 20-17 to Navy at home on Friday night to drop to 3-5 on the year. Navy entered that game with a 1-6 record. Tulsa still has road games against Cincinnati and SMU, so a bowl trip seems unlikely. That would mean four losing seasons in the past five for Tulsa.

Wyoming: Wyoming opened the year 4-0 but has since dropped its first four Mountain West games. During that span, the Cowboys have scored a combined 38 points — and 21 of them came in Saturday’s 27-21 loss to San Jose State. Wyoming has one of the worst offenses in the country.