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College Football Playoff watch: Things aren't looking good for Clemson, Ohio State early on

For The Win logo For The Win 9/23/2021 Michelle R. Martinelli
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It’s only Week 4 of the college football season, but the top teams usually in contention for the College Football Playoff have already been challenged (and some have obviously lost). And that opens the door for possibly more playoff chaos and debates than usual.

In Week 3, Alabama survived a strong, second-half comeback attempt from Florida, and Oklahoma held off Nebraska. Earlier this season, Clemson fell to Georgia, Ohio State lost to Oregon and Notre Dame isn’t making the strongest argument for why it deserves yet another playoff berth.

But what does that all mean when it comes to the College Football Playoff picture? It doesn’t look like it usually does — even if it’s still very early in the season.

Going into the Week 4 games, Alabama and Georgia have the best chances to make the playoff, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index on Thursday. While the Crimson Tide’s chances are up slightly to 77.5 percent from 75.5 percent last week, the Bulldogs saw a greater jump to 73.0 percent from 68.5 percent.

What’s particularly interesting here, though, is Georgia has a 45.8 percent chance to win the SEC title, while Alabama is at 40.7 percent. And because the two teams are at the top of these rankings, it seems likely that if they win out and the conference title game is close, both will make the playoff.

And Oklahoma and Oregon round out the top-4 teams at this point in the season. They’re the same four teams as last week, but Georgia and Oklahoma switched places after the Bulldogs rocked South Carolina and the Sooners struggled to keep Nebraska at a distance.

Here’s a look at the teams with the best chances to make the College Football Playoff going into Week 4, according to ESPN’s FPI as of Thursday.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (3-0)

Playoff: 77.5 percent National championship game: 52.0 percent Win championship: 31.2 percent

2. Georgia Bulldogs (3-0)

Playoff: 73.0 percent National championship game: 45.9 percent Win championship: 26.4 percent

3. Oklahoma Sooners (3-0)

Playoff: 59.4 percent National championship game: 30.2 percent Win championship: 14.4 percent

4. Oregon Ducks (3-0)

Playoff: 39.8 percent National championship game: 13.0 percent Win championship: 4.4 percent

Video: Which Top Team Can Be Trusted? (Stadium)

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Even if those aren’t the four teams we’d usually expect to be at the top with the best playoff chances at this point in the season, they’re unsurprising after the first few weeks of football. But the remaining teams in the top-10 with the best shots at the playoff are where things get fun and interesting.

Clemson — and particularly the Tigers’ offense — isn’t looking nearly as tough as it usually does. And while it’s still favored to win the ACC, that might not be enough this year for a playoff bid, especially since it already has an early loss. Plus, the Tigers’ chance to make the playoff has dropped 10 percentage points since last week on ESPN’s FPI.

Also, Michigan, Ole Miss and Cincinnati have jumped into the top-10 teams with the best playoff chances for the first time this season, so the Big Ten and the SEC each have three teams on the list.

And with some of these powerhouse teams being challenged early in the season, maybe the Bearcats could become the first Group of 5 team to get invited to the playoff. Their next game is against Notre Dame in Week 5, and if they can pull off the win — which seems like a real possibility with a shaky Fighting Irish squad — their playoff chances should get a real boost.

Here’s a look at the remaining teams with the 10-best chances to make the College Football Playoff ahead of the Week 4 games, per ESPN’s FPI.

5. Clemson Tigers (2-1)

Playoff: 29.9 percent National championship game: 13.0 percent Win championship: 5.6 percent

6. Michigan Wolverines (3-0)

Playoff: 25.6 percent National championship game: 11.2 percent Win championship: 4.8 percent

7. Ohio State Buckeyes (2-1)

Playoff: 22.7 percent National championship game: 10.8 percent Win championship: 4.8 percent

8. Penn State Nittany Lions (3-0)

Playoff: 15.3 percent National championship game: 5.3 percent Win championship: 1.8 percent

9. Ole Miss Rebels (3-0)

Playoff: 10.5 percent National championship game: 4.0 percent Win championship: 1.6 percent

10. Cincinnati Bearcats (3-0)

Playoff: 9.3 percent National championship game: 2.4 percent Win championship: 0.7 percent

And for what it’s worth, Notre Dame currently has the 15th-best chance to make the playoff at just 3.3 percent. Looks like the Fighting Irish will be sitting this one out, barring some disastrous meltdowns from the top teams.

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