Forde Yard Dash: How Wide Open Is The College Football Playoff Race?
TCU's Trevone Boykin is firmly in the Heisman race after seven weeks. (Getty)
TCU (4). First-place votes: 3. AP ranking: fourth. Current Dash ranking: seventh. The Horned Frogs began the season No. 2 and haven’t lost a game, but they’ve lost ground anyway. Most of that is attributable to an injury-riddled defense that has given up 52 points to Texas Tech, 45 to Kansas State and 37 to SMU. TCU is surrendering nearly 400 yards per game, 5.25 yards per play and 26.6 points per game – not numbers normally associated with a Gary Patterson defense. On the flip side, TCU is third nationally in total offense and second in yards per play. November is the money month in the Big 12, and the Frogs will face Oklahoma State on Nov. 7, Oklahoma on Nov. 21 and Baylor on Nov. 27. They’re off on the final weekend, which could be a blessing or a dangerous chance to slip out of sight and mind while others are playing huge games. Like Baylor, TCU should get in the playoff field by going 12-0. But a loss would make things dicey, especially since the lone Power 5 non-conference opponent, Minnesota, has been a disappointment.
LSU (5). First-place votes: 1. AP ranking: fifth. Current Dash ranking: second. The Tigers started the season No. 14 but have risen after beating five Power 5 opponents, two of them on the road. They will only continue to pile up strength-of-schedule clout in the SEC West, and even their canceled opener was an SOS bonus – FCS McNeese State, while undefeated and better than, say, Big 12 bottom feeder Kansas, is ranked outside the Sagarin top 100. LSU is averaging more than seven yards per play, but moving at a deliberate pace (65 plays per game) limits the Tigers’ point production. The surprise has been allowing 23 points per game, most since 2008. LSU hasn’t held anyone to fewer than 17 points. The Tigers are the last unbeaten in the SEC, and an undefeated SEC champion is getting in the playoff, period. But if they lose to Alabama on Nov. 7, they’d have to get help from someone to win the West and win the SEC. And this doesn’t feel like a year when the SEC would have a very good chance of putting two teams in the playoff.
Clemson (6). First-place votes: 1. AP ranking: sixth. Current Dash ranking: fourth. The good news for Tigers fans is that the Tigers started the season 12th and moved up, passing fellow unbeaten Michigan State in the process. The bad news is that they have been passed by Utah and LSU. The best news of all, of course, is that the AP rankings don’t matter – but that’s what we have while we’re waiting for the committee to show us something Nov. 3. Clemson’s linchpin win was a nail-biter over Notre Dame – and as long as the Fighting Irish keep winning, it will keep helping the Tigers. But the ACC victories to date don’t resonate: Louisville has lost to Houston and Auburn; Georgia Tech is a major disappointment; and Boston College might be the most lopsided team in the country (all D, no O). The Nov. 7 game against Florida State will likely mean everything, in a league where any loss likely would knock the champion out of playoff contention.
Other Power Five Unbeatens Who Theoretically Control Their Own Playoff Destiny: