With just four weeks remaining until the conference championship games and the end of the college football regular season, only six teams are still undefeated. It’s not too early to look ahead at which of those are most likely to finish unblemished and have the best chance to win it all.
Let’s separate the pretenders from the contenders.
Ohio State (10-0) – The Buckeyes have two losable games ahead … at Wisconsin on Nov. 17 and Michigan on Nov. 24. But, it doesn’t matter. They’re on probation.
Louisville (9-0) – Two road games, especially the regular season finale at Rutgers, could be losses. But, it doesn’t matter. They play in the Big East.
Notre Dame (9-0) – This one does matter. It’s been a long time since the Fighting Irish have been a factor on the national scene, so there are a lot of fans around the country, as well as many in the media, that would like to have Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game. But, let’s be real about the Irish. Despite their impressive win at Oklahoma, they are lucky to be on this list. A missed field goal in overtime helped save the win over Pittsburgh. Many still aren’t sure that Stanford didn’t win their game in South Bend with a touchdown on the final play. The Irish could easily lose the season finale against Southern Cal in the Coliseum, and as an independent, they don’t have a conference title game to add another much-needed win to help computer rankings. Two other undefeated teams would have to lose, and the loss to USC would have to be avoided, in order for Notre Dame to be a real contender.
Kansas State (9-0) – The Wildcats are the surprise name on this list. They were supposed to be good … but not this good. They have quarterback Collin Klein, who should be the Heisman Trophy frontrunner at this point. And, they have ageless Bill Snyder, who should get every vote for national coach of the year. The Wildcats’ win at Oklahoma was impressive; the win at West Virginia was dominating. They’re good in every aspect of the game.
The road ahead isn’t easy. Road games at TCU and Baylor are challenges, and the improving Texas Longhorns end the season in Manhattan. But, the Big 12 (which only has 10 teams) doesn’t have a conference title game, so K-State ends the season undefeated if they win the next three.
Oregon (9-0) – Can anybody stop the Ducks? Before the season, many thought Oregon would be less effective due to players that graduated and those choosing to leave early. Were they ever wrong! In the 62-point explosion at Southern Cal, the Ducks gained the most yardage ever gained against the Trojans in the storied history of that program. And, despite the 45 points scored by USC, Oregon’s defense has been unexpectedly improved.
Like K-State, there are losable games ahead. The Ducks play at California and host Stanford, before playing at nationally ranked in-state rival Oregon State. And, there is a Pac-12 Championship Game. But, at this stage, it’s hard to see Oregon losing to anybody.
Alabama (9-0) – The inevitability of an Alabama repeat, along with the invincibility of the Crimson Tide, vanished on Saturday night in Baton Rouge. The shock was the dominating ease with which LSU controlled everything but the final numbers on the scoreboard … almost 450 yards in total offense, 100 more than Alabama … 20 minutes more in time of possession, doubling Alabama … converting 10 of 20 third downs, compared to 1 of 9 for Alabama. But, in the end, all that matters are those final scoreboard numbers, and Alabama eeked out the only numbers that it needed.
Give credit to the Tide for that final drive, but the game did provide a reality check, as well as more reasons to question Les Miles’ coaching decisions. If LSU’s inconsistent offense could run 86 plays against Alabama (compared to the Tide’s 52), how many might Texas A&M run with Johnny “Football” Manziel? Then, after disposing of Western Carolina and Auburn, can Bama face a bigger threat than expected in Atlanta from improving Georgia? Can they stop K-State and Collin Klein in Miami … and can anybody stop the Ducks?
There’s still a lot of football to be played in the next four weeks … and the ultimate outcome doesn’t seem nearly as automatic Monday as it did to some fans last Friday night.