Alabama, Clemson and…Kentucky? 2018’s first Playoff projections

With the college football season past its halfway point, it’s time for the Spartan Red Zone crew to give their initial Playoff projections ahead of tonight’s unveiling. There’s plenty of words underneath, so without further ado:

Kyle Turk (@KyleTurk5)

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. LSU
  4. Michigan
  5. Notre Dame
  6. Oklahoma

The race for the fourth spot is likely going to be intense again this year, but as is often the case with early rankings there is still a large clump of teams vying for the last two spots. This weekend should go a long way towards telling us who will be in play come late November, as the SEC will eliminate two teams this weekend in each division.

Look, I get it, Michigan ahead of Notre Dame is silly – or is it? Head-to-head is just one of the criteria that the Playoff committee looks at, so why not place another factor on the table – game control? Michigan has been dominant in all but one of their victories so far, and that outlier was a road game against the Big Ten West-leading Northwestern.

The margin between Clemson and LSU for me is not that large even though Clemson on paper is the better team. LSU’s resume simply cannot be ignored – even their loss came on the road, which makes it not quite so bad. Perhaps Alabama’s seemingly convincing win over LSU this weekend will tell us how much the committee looks at records alone. A narrow win for Alabama has to reward LSU somehow, if for no other reason than LSU’s strength of schedule.

Oklahoma is still in the mix and cannot be ignored – if Texas continues to play well down the stretch, that loss doesn’t appear that bad and OU is another team that has won a handful of their games in convincing fashion. Either way, this weekend will make this picture ten times clearer, at both the top and the cutoff point at No. 4.

Joey Ellis (@Jellis1016)

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. LSU
  4. Notre Dame
  5. Georgia
  6. Michigan

In terms of résumé, one could surely make the case for Notre Dame being ranked No. 1, with arguably the best win of the season over No. 5 Michigan. One could also make a case for Clemson at No. 1, who ranks No. 1 in CPI – which is essentially the football version of the RPI – and ESPN’s Strength of Record. If you look at several metrics, Clemson currently has four top-40 wins under its belt.

But, off the eye test alone, it’s clear that Alabama has been the most dominant team in the country. It would seem foolish to downgrade the Tide now right before a major matchup with LSU. Saturday’s game will sort out where the Tigers and Tide sit. LSU coming in over Notre Dame is interesting. The Irish sit undefeated but have also had close calls with 3-6 Ball State, 4-5 Vanderbilt and 4-4 Pittsburgh. You could make the case that LSU’s beatdown of Georgia was more impressive than Notre Dame’s narrow win over Michigan, and what Georgia just did to Florida (LSU’s only loss four weeks ago) probably helps the Tigers more than hurts them, considering the committee focuses more on the wins than the losses.

Deciding between Georgia and Michigan simply comes down to the better wins. While the Wolverines, who’ve won seven straight, haven’t been blown out, they don’t have a marquee win on their schedule like Georgia does over Florida.

Andy Chmura (@andy_chmura)

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. LSU
  5. Michigan
  6. Kentucky

Clemson and Notre Dame are right behind Alabama, rounding out the only three undefeated teams in a power five conference. For these teams, it’s simple. Win out, and you’re in the Playoff. After that, things get a little interesting. Should LSU beat the Crimson Tide this week, they’ll be in the SEC West drivers’ seat, probably meeting Kentucky or Georgia in the SEC championship game.

Kentucky appears in my top six simply because they have two big wins, one at Florida and the other against Mississippi State. Their only loss was to a ranked Texas A&M team. I’m not so sure this Wildcat team is better than Georgia, Oklahoma or Ohio State, but their resume is better as of right now.

Michigan’s situation is interesting. If they (or Ohio State) win out, their biggest barrier from the Playoff would be a second SEC team. So if you’re a Wolverine, you want Alabama to destroy LSU and take the SEC East crown. A one-loss ‘Bama team makes the Playoff, like it or not. One-loss Georgia, Kentucky or LSU as an SEC champion would also likely leapfrog the Wolverines. Washington State remains the Pac-12’s only hope, whereas the Big 12’s Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas are all technically still in the race. But both of these conferences need serious help to be represented in the Playoff. Most also agree that UCF is out of the picture, but it’ll be interesting to see whether or not the CFP committee agrees.

Aidan Hunt (@TheAidanHunt)

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. LSU
  5. Georgia
  6. Michigan

I have a hard time thinking that anyone wouldn’t have Alabama at No. 1 in Playoff projections. Where they lack in strength of schedule, they make up for it by steamrolling everyone. This weekend’s matchup with No. 4 LSU is the most pivotal game of the year for both these teams; the winner will likely play in the SEC championship game. Clemson owns the ACC and it’s not even close, especially with Trevor Lawrence making a name for himself as a freshman. Notre Dame struggled at the beginning of the season (despite winning all their games, including a big opening win over Michigan) but have looked like a completely different team ever since Ian Book took over the starting quarterback role in Week 4. Coupled with a very talented defense, the Fighting Irish have made a good case for themselves in this year’s playoff.

LSU has turned a lot of heads this year, with a road loss to a good Florida team as their only blemish. With five ranked wins already this season (three against top-10 teams), LSU is Alabama’s only competition in the SEC West. Georgia and Michigan sit just outside my top-4 with unfortunate losses and a tough rest of the season getting in their way from being in this year’s playoff. The formula for making the playoff is the same for these six teams: win out, and you’re in.

Ryan Collins (@ryancollins524)

  1. Alabama
  2. LSU
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Clemson
  5. Michigan
  6. Georgia

Alabama has emasculated every single opponent they’ve had this season. Maybe if they’ve struggled once I’d be more critical of the Tide’s strength of schedule but they’ve made above average SEC opponents (Missouri and Texas A&M) look like Eastern Michigan. The AP polls have Clemson slotted at No. 2 but I’d give the nod to LSU based on the insane resume they already have. 6-1 with the best win in the country (blowing out Georgia by 20) and due to the major matchup this weekend in Baton Rouge, I’d assume the committee ranks the Tigers at No. 2 to bring more even more buzz to the de-facto SEC West championship game against Alabama this Saturday.

Notre Dame simply has a better win than the ACC’s Clemson, which means I’ll take the Irish ahead of the other Tigers. Regardless of rankings, both teams must win out to make the Playoff as Notre Dame is hurt by being an independent, and the ACC is not tough enough for a one-loss champ to make the Playoff in my opinion.

Michigan and Georgia will be the next two out, these teams both control their destiny if they win out they’ll both be in. Even though I hate to talk about possible Playoff scenarios weeks before the season is over, I think an interesting debate will be if a one-loss Big Ten champ Michigan gets in over a one-loss Notre Dame team who holds the head-to-head advantage over the Wolverines.