It’s never too early to think about the College Football Playoff, and which four teams will be the last four to ever need to be this good to play for the national championship (remember we’re switching to 12 teams next season, format TBA).
Let’s dive into who will gain ground and who will lose it this weekend. Here’s our projection as to the best four as of now.
No. 3 Texas (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) vs. No. 12 Oklahoma (5-0, 2-0 Big 12): 3:30 p.m.
If it surprises you that we’re leading with Red River, you might be unaware that the Sooners appear to have cleaned it up quite nicely in Brent Venables second season. They’ll head to the Texas State Fair as 5.5-point-ish underdogs, but the stats for OU have been much stronger than Year 1 despite a light schedule.
Arky State, SMU, Tulsa, plus Cinci and Iowa State isn’t exactly Murderer’s Row, but 6.9 yards per play on offense with 15 TD’s and 2 interceptions for Professor Dillon Gabriel is good. But so is holding opponents to 3.1 yards per rush.
As for the Longhorns, they’ve got the most impressive win in all of college football this season, beating Saint Nick and the Crimson Tide 34-24. You can bet Venables will be actively involved in dialing up the defensive game plan against Quinn Ewers (1358 yards, 10 TD’s, 1 INT), but the key here is to stop UT on the ground. Jonathon Brooks and company are averaging 5.0 yards per carry, and they smoked a Jalon Daniels-free Kansas last week.
These are also the only two ranked teams in the Big 12, so the winner will be the chalk in every game down the stretch. It also just might be the tune-up for a rematch in Jerry World the first weekend in December for the conference championship. But if either team can end up 13-0, they’re a lock for the final four.
No. 20 Kentucky (5-0, 2-0 SEC) vs. No. 1 Georgia (5-0, 2-0 Big 12): 7:00 p.m.
I mean... could they?
Georgia has looked rather human through five games (0-4-1 ATS), and the Wildcats (4-1 ATS) come in with a run game that should be unafraid. UK ran amok against the Gators last week in a 33-14 win; 36 totes for 329 yards and three touchdowns.
But this is still the Dawgs under Kirby, and those kind of numbers aren’t happening between the hedges on Saturday. The difference is likely the Kentucky defense, who should be light years ahead of the Auburn unit Georgia needed an all-world performance from Brock Bowers to sneak by last week.
UGA is a 14.5 point favorite at DraftKings Sportsbook as of now, but they’ll need to score points against the 10th-best defense by SP+. Georgia is the 11th-best offense by that same metric, but the eyes might question this: 5.8 yards per play against a down South Carolina to hang on 24-14 thanks to two USCe turnovers, and 6.7 YPP in a 27-20 win over lightly-regarded Auburn with two turnovers of their own.
The winner of course controls their destiny in the SEC East and would be a favorite until they get to Atlanta for the title game, but only because Kentucky hosts Tennessee this season.
No. 11 Alabama (4-1, 2-0 SEC) vs. Texas A&M (4-1, 2-0 SEC) 3:30 p.m. ET
If you subscribe to the theory that the winner of the SEC is basically given an automatic bid to the College Football Playoff (and we very much believe this), then this is an eliminator game. Because the loser would likely need the winner to drop two games in the league to advance, and that ain’t happening.
Quarterback Max Johnson has unexpectedly injected some life into the Aggies after the season-ending injury to Conner Weigman, and after getting manhandled by the Miami Hurricanes in Week 2, wins over Auburn and Arkansas have been solid. Throw in one of the best homefield advantages in sports, and being 2.5-point dog sounds perfectly reasonable despite being unranked.
As for Bama, have they truly fixed it? You can’t win 17-3 at a South Florida team that had won all of one FBS game since 2019 to that point and not have the Crimson masses worried. Beating Lane Kiffin on the road and the hapless Mississippi State Bulldogs at home was somewhat of a balm, but it wasn’t the sunblock a beatdown of Jimbo Fisher on the road would be.
Jalen Milroe looks to be entrenched as the starting quarterback for better or for worse, but you better believe OC Tommy Rees has transfer portal alerts going directly to his phone. And remember, we are just 18 months removed from this press conference that will live infamy.