Since the beginning of the Playoff era three seasons ago, most of the attention has gone to teams consistently finding themselves in the Top 10 in the rankings. There’s nothing wrong with that, the Playoff consists of the top four teams selected by the selection committee. Why would anyone care about teams outside of the Top 10 when only the top four are given a shot at the championship?
The answer is simple. This year, college football has more parody than any year in recent memory. Teams such as Michigan, ranked 19th in the AP Poll currently, have the talent to beat (almost) anyone in the country. The past two weeks have shown evidence of this parody, as Playoff favorites such as Clemson and Oklahoma suffered losses to unranked conference opponents.
The Sooners and the Tigers managed to keep themselves right in the thick of the Playoff hunt despite losing, but with nobody but Alabama seemingly safe at the top, here’s a look at a few teams outside of the Top 10 that could make a serious push towards the top four and steal a Playoff spot from a perennial favorite.
1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Currently ranked 13th (5-1)
My choice of #13 Notre Dame over #11 USC gives away who I believe will win the showdown between the two in South Bend this weekend. The Irish will be hampered by the lack of a conference championship on their resume at season’s end, but the daunting schedule they would have to overcome to win out should help make up for that. Out of the team’s six remaining games, four come against opponents currently ranked inside the Top 20 with two of those tests occurring on the road. The Irish absolutely chew up clock with a dominating running game and also feature an experienced defense that is currently playing strong football. If first year starter Brandon Wimbush can navigate Notre Dame through the treacherous stretch ahead, we might finally see a team without a conference championship win head to the Playoff.
2. North Carolina State Wolfpack – Currently ranked 16th (6-1)
NC State would probably be in the Top 8 in the country if the team had not lost to South Carolina by a touchdown in Week 1. The Wolfpack still have plenty of time to make a statement, as the team still plays both Notre Dame and #7 Clemson in back to back weeks. The matchup against Clemson will essentially determine which of the two will make the trip to the ACC Championship Game and play #8 Miami (FL) or possibly #14 Virginia Tech. The Pack also has two ranked wins already this season, although the wins hold less value as both Florida State and Louisville have fallen out of the Top 25 since then. Senior Jaylen Samuels is an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses and the team’s defense is nothing to scoff at either, led by senior defensive end Bradley Chubb who will likely end up as a first round selection in next year’s NFL Draft. In short, if the Pack can roll through the ACC, we’ll be seeing them compete for the championship in January.
3. Virginia Tech Hokies – Currently ranked 14th (5-1)
The second ACC team on this list made it almost entirely because the ACC appears to be extremely wide open this year. The PAC-12 has several teams ranked right in the area of the teams on this list, but personally I believe the PAC-12 winner has a high chance of finishing the season with two losses and a two loss team has yet to make the Playoff. The Hokies did lose to Clemson but still are very much alive in the ACC. If the Hokies can defeat Miami (FL) on November 4 the team will likely head back to the ACC Championship for the second time in two seasons. Winning out would give the Hokes three wins against the Top 25, with two against the Top 10 (assuming they defeat a Top 10 ACC team in the conference championship) and a conference championship to their resume. Virginia Tech slides in at third on this list because they do not have quite the opportunity to stack their resume that the other teams do, but do not sleep on the Hokies just yet.