Welcome to Before The Snap, For The Win’s college football show where we’ll break down the sport’s trending storylines, examine each week’s biggest matchups and track the College Football Playoff and Heisman Trophy races.
It’s obviously still very, very early in the college football season, but after some quality Week 2 matchups, College Football Playoff contenders are beginning to emerge. Same goes for the teams that aren’t quite as good as previously thought.
So with that, we give you our first round of College Football Playoff contenders and pretenders. Of course, some teams are givens one way or the other unless something shocking happens. We’re not talking about them. This is about looking at the top teams that aren’t assumed to make the playoff.
College Football Playoff contenders
LSU Tigers: After beating Texas, 45-38, in Austin on Saturday night, LSU is looking more like a real playoff contender versus a dark-horse candidate like we predicted in the preseason. Quarterback Joe Burrow had a phenomenal game, going 31-for-39 for 471 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. The Tigers had three receivers with more than 100 yards, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire held down the run game basically by himself.
On the other side, LSU’s defense stepped up when it mattered most. While Texas pushed to play catch-up from a 20-7 halftime deficit, LSU’s defense sacked Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger three times in the fourth quarter — twice on the same drive that resulted in a field goal when a touchdown (and extra point) would have made it a two-point game. Yes, LSU has a not easy schedule with a road game against Alabama waiting for it in November. But this group right now is looking good and better than a dark-horse playoff team.
It’s not even the middle of September so it’s probably too early to say this, but between LSU and Auburn and the consistency of Alabama and Georgia, the SEC might be looking at two playoff teams this season.
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Utah Utes: We gave this team a super outside shot at the playoff this year, and it’s on the verge of cracking the top 10 should it close out September with wins against USC and Washington State. Depending on chaos in other conferences and how the Utes keep up, a potentially undefeated Pac-12 champ could be hard to ignore — although we still might be getting ahead of ourselves with this one.
College Football Playoff pretenders
Michigan Wolverines: Army played an incredible game at Michigan Stadium on Saturday and was so close to pulling off an upset. While Michigan snuck away with a 24-21 double-overtime win, what the Black Knights really did was highlight the flaws in the Wolverines’ offense, which has the same struggles despite a supposed makeover from first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. Some bad coaching calls didn’t help, and Army’s strong run game did its thing.
And Michigan did not look like a playoff contender. This is not a knock on Army, which was more than a three-touchdown underdog. But quarterback Shea Patterson and the offense struggled, largely with what Gattis called “self-inflicted wounds.” The Wolverines have an early bye in Week 3, so this might be their chance to regroup before a challenging schedule in the next 10 weeks. Otherwise, this team isn’t going to the Big Ten championship game, much less the College Football Playoff.
Washington Huskies: They entered the season already not looking like the best Pac-12 team, and now that they already have a loss — they fell, 20-19, to Cal — any playoff hopes have disappeared. They’d probably have to win out with Oregon, Utah and Washington State still to come, win the Pac-12 and pray for madness in the other Power 5 conferences to be considered for a playoff spot. That’s a lot of ifs.
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