ATHENS – And then there were 11.
The Georgia Bulldogs are in the thick of it, folks. They’re right in the middle of the national championship conversation. That you already knew.
On Friday, the Bulldogs were one of 13 undefeated FBS teams in the country. When they awoke Saturday morning, that number had dwindled to 11.
Second-ranked and defending national champion Clemson fell to Syracuse 27-24 on Friday evening in the Carrier Dome. About 4 hours later, the eighth-ranked Cougars of Washington State were run out of Berkeley 37-3 by Cal. And just like that, two College Football Playoff contenders went down.
First, that’s what they get for playing on Friday. Friday nights are for high school football.
Second, Georgia should move up to second or third in the national rankings if it takes care of business Saturday night against Missouri. The Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0 SEC) are favored by 30 1/2 points, so the thinking is they should be able to eke this one out against the Tigers (1-4, 0-3).
With that in mind, it’s time to start paying attention to what’s going on in the rest of the country. All those teams in the top 10, and some not quite there yet, are competition for the Bulldogs landing one of the coveted four spots in the playoff.
For Georgia, we know that comes down to simply winning them all. There are scenarios in which the Bulldogs could lose, then beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. But we’ll tackle all that later.
For Saturday, let’s take a look around and examine the other undefeated teams that are vying for those spots. By the way, the first College Football Playoff rankings come out on Oct. 31 – Halloween night – so this stuff is becoming pertinent.
Alabama (6-0): Arkansas, Tennessee, Bye, LSU, at Miss. State, Mercer, at Auburn
I’m sorry, I’ve seen into the future, and the Crimson Tide won’t lose. At least not until the SEC Championship Game and maybe not then. The toughest part of Bama’s schedule is behind it. It has three in a row at home, and they’re against Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU, with a bye before the latter. The good news is if Georgia takes care of business, it will get to handle this itself.
Georgia (6-0): Missouri, Bye, Florida, South Carolina, at Auburn, Kentucky, at Ga. Tech
The Bulldogs likely will be favored in every game except the Nov. 11 trip to Auburn. That’s assuming the Tigers, who lost to Clemson in the second game of the season, don’t fall to Texas A&M the previous week. Georgia’s biggest hurdle, of course, comes before that on Oct. 28 against Florida in Jacksonville. That will be more of a mental challenge as the Gators are expected to still be without nine suspended players and have injuries galore. For UGA, it always comes down to Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech.
Miami (4-0): Georgia Tech, Syracuse, at UNC, Va. Tech, Notre Dame, Virginia, at Pitt
Georgia fans, insert your Mark Richt joke here. Seriously, though, the Hurricanes have one of the tougher rows to hoe. That starts with the game Saturday against Georgia Tech in Miami. The Bulldogs had the Yellow Jackets’ number when Richt was coaching in Athens, though they suffered a few devastating slip-ups. But the Hurricanes’ toughest tilts are at home, so they could run the table. How the committee might handle Miami playing one fewer game – it canceled the Arkansas game because of Hurricane Irma – is a question we can’t answer now.
Navy (5-0): at Memphis, UCF, at Temple, SMU, at Notre Dame, at Houston, AAC Champ., vs. Army
The Midshipmen could run the table, but it’s doubtful the committee would choose them over four other undefeated Power 5 teams and probably not a 1-loss conference champion. Navy is an underdog on the road against Memphis on Saturday, and undefeated UCF awaits next. Too many potholes here.
Penn State (6-0): Bye, Michigan, at Ohio State, at Michigan State, Rutgers, Nebraska, at Maryland
The Nittany Lions have one of the more difficult paths of all the unbeatens. After its bye on Saturday, Penn State gets Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State in consecutive weeks. If they can come through that stretch unscathed, and, of course, the Big Ten Championship Game, the Nittany Lions will deserve to be included.
San Diego State (6-0): Boise State, Fresno State, at Hawaii, at San Jose State, Nevada, New Mexico
Something called the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) gives the Aztecs the best shot of all teams for going undefeated at 67.1 percent. Looking at San Diego State’s competition, I could see that. People on this coast might not have even noticed SDSU’s 20-17 win against Stanford in September, but it happened. They’ve won their three since by only 15 points, though. Won’t matter. Not gonna get in.
TCU (5-0): at Kansas State, Kansas, at Iowa State, Texas, at Oklahoma, at Texas Tech, Baylor
Thanks to Oklahoma falling to a 31-point underdog in Iowa State last week, the Horned Frogs are the only undefeated team in the Big 12. They answered their biggest challenge to date with a 31-24 win at then-No. 23-ranked West Virginia last week. No stranger to the playoff scenario, TCU will be favored in every remaining game except one. It has to play the Sooners on Nov. 11 in Norman.
UCF (4-0): [Ga. Tech game called off] E. Carolina, at Navy, Austin Peay, at SMU, UConn, at Temple, South Florida
The Golden Knights already would have a loss if they hadn’t gotten the break of not having to play Georgia Tech. That game was canceled because of Hurricane Irma. Their next big challenge comes next week at Navy. But the American Athletic Conference will be decided when they face Charlie Strong’s South Florida Bulls in Orlando in the final regular-season game on Nov. 24.
South Florida (5-0): [UMass game called off] Cincinnati, at Tulane, Houston, at UConn, Tulsa, at UCF
The Bulls have had the easiest path, and they’ll be favored until they get to the end. That’s when they’ll face UCF in essentially an elimination game. South Florida also will play only 11 regular-season games because of the hurricane cancellation (UMass).
Washington (6-0): at Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon, at Stanford, Utah, Washington State
The Huskies look like the best team in the Pac-12 and surely will be included in the playoff if they can get through unblemished. The biggest obstacle to that end looks like a Nov. 10 trip to Stanford. Of course, all bets are off when it comes to the battle with Washington State for the Apple Cup. That will be at Husky Stadium.
Wisconsin: (5-0): Purdue, Maryland, at Illinois, at Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, at Minnesota
The Badgers are benefiting from a weak Big Ten West and have a relatively smooth road to the conference championship game. Only Michigan, which has to come to Camp Randall Stadium on Nov. 18, looks like a viable threat now.