The college football playoff rankings haven't started coming out yet — the first one is slated to be released on Halloween — so the only clues as to who we may see playing in early January come from the polls.
And current polls are suggesting that Alabama (of course) will be one of the four teams in the New Year's Day semifinals. Probably the top seed. The third–ranked Georgia Bulldogs, who are the presumptive champs of the SEC East, could shake things up by beating Alabama in the SEC championship game. They don't figure to be in the national Final Four unless they manage to do that.
There will probably be a representative from the Big Ten, and Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin are the leading candidates for that. Penn State and Ohio State face each other this weekend, and the winner will likely be in the driver's seat in the Big Ten East (although #16 Michigan State will face both in the first couple of weeks of November and may grab the top spot on the field).
Wisconsin leads the Big Ten West and is not scheduled to play any of the Big Ten East contenders in the regular season. Logic says that whoever survives the conference championship game between Wisconsin and one of those other three teams will be in the playoff field.
It seems likely that the Big 12 will be represented in the Final Four, too, and right now that slot would have to go undefeated and fourth–ranked TCU. The Frogs are 4–0 in the Big 12, and there are a whole bunch of teams who are a single game back at 3–1 — #10 Oklahoma, #11 Oklahoma State, #22 West Virginia and #25 Iowa State. TCU plays Iowa State on Saturday, then Oklahoma on Nov. 11. The Frogs have already beaten Oklahoma State.
The fourth and final slot should go to the conference in which the defending national champion resides — the Atlantic Coast Conference. The champions, the Clemson Tigers, are in a battle with #14 North Carolina State for the lead in the ACC's Atlantic Conference. If they survive that, they probably will face the currently eighth–ranked team, Miami (Florida), in the ACC's title tilt.
In the ACC's other division, Miami could have problems of its own with its leading challenger, unranked Georgia Tech, who faces Clemson this weekend. Tech already lost to Miami (by a single point) and needs Miami to lose at least twice for Tech to sneak in and grab the Coastal Division crown. A win over Clemson would give Tech momentum and national prestige, but Tech will need help from Miami if it is to compete for the national title.
Idle: #1 Alabama, #19 Auburn, #23 LSU
- #20 Stanford at Oregon State, 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Stanford holds a seven–game winning streak against Oregon State and has won more than two–thirds of the games these schools have played against each other since 1919.
What's more Stanford is a three–touchdown favorite to win this time.
Good enough for me. I pick Stanford.
- Tulane at #24 Memphis, 7 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: Memphis has won 10 in a row against Tulane and hasn't lost at home to Tulane since 1998.
The oddsmakers have established Memphis as a 10½–point favorite.
I think the choice is clear. I pick Memphis.
- #2 Penn State at #6 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This is probably the game of the week.
Penn State beat Ohio State last year, but now the Nittany Lions face the challenge of doing something they haven't done in nearly 40 years — beat Ohio State in consecutive seasons.
Can they do it? The oddsmakers don't think so. They made Ohio State a 6½–point favorite. But I do think they can do it. I make Penn State an upset special.
- #3 Georgia at Florida, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: When the season began, this looked as if it might be the game of the year in the SEC East.
But in advance of this year's game, the speculation has been about the future of Florida's football coach. Of all the hot seats in college football, his may be the hottest right now.
Florida has beaten Georgia three straight times, but I suspect that the Bulldogs have the momentum. My choice is Georgia.
- #4 TCU at #25 Iowa State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Few people would have picked Iowa State to be ranked at this point in the season. In fact, few people probably would have picked Iowa State to be ranked at any point in the season.
And yet here they are.
The Cyclones had better enjoy it while they can, though. TCU leads the series 7–1, and the Frogs have looked pretty good. But the Cyclones haven't been too shabby, either, upsetting Oklahoma a week before the Sooners were to play their rivals from the University of Texas.
TCU is only favored by 6½ points.
So I'm going to do what few people are probably doing. I pick Iowa State in an upset special.
- #5 Wisconsin at Illinois, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Historically this has been a tight series with Wisconsin holding a 40–36–7 advantage.
But the Badgers have seized the lead in recent years, winning the last seven in a row and 11 of the last 12 meetings.
Wisconsin is favored by more than three touchdowns. I have to pick Wisconsin.
- Georgia Tech at #7 Clemson, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Over the years, these schools have faced each other 80 times, and Tech holds nearly a 2–to–1 advantage in the series.
But most of Tech's wins came before the teams became conference rivals. In recent years Clemson has won four of the last five over Tech, and the Tigers are favored to win this one by more than two touchdowns.
I have to take Clemson.
- #8 Miami (Fla.) at North Carolina, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: This is a pretty competitive series.
Miami had a chance to even things up last year but lost at home. Now the Hurricanes travel to North Carolina, where they have struggled in the past but have won the last two times they played there.
Oddsmakers say that Miami will win by 20 points, and I think Miami will win as well — but that does not mean they should take the Tar Heels lightly.
- #14 North Carolina State at #9 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: North Carolina State probably enjoys a unique status — the Wolfpack may be the only team that has played Notre Dame more than once and has not lost to the Irish yet.
They first met in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day in 2003, which N.C. State won 28–6. Then the Wolfpack won at home last year 10–3.
The oddsmakers think that will change. They have made Notre Dame a 7½–point favorite this time.
As the rankings suggest, this ought to be a good game. I give the edge to the home team, Notre Dame.
- Texas Tech at #10 Oklahoma, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: You can always expect a lot of scoring when these two teams meet.
Last year was the wildest yet, with OU surviving by 66–59.
The oddsmakers clearly expect the Sooners to do some scoring. They made OU a 20–point pick at home, where they have lost to Tech only twice in a dozen previous meetings.
I think it will be closer than that, but I agree that Oklahoma will win.
- #11 Oklahoma State at #22 West Virginia, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Oklahoma State evened up this series at four wins apiece with the Cowboys' 37–20 victory in Stillwater last year.
But now the scene shifts to Morgantown, which is a tough place for visitors to play.
Oddsmakers have made OSU a 7½–point pick to win for the third straight time against West Virginia.
But I'm going to take West Virginia in an upset special.
- UCLA at #12 Washington, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Washington has had its moments in this series that dates to 1932, but the Bruins have tended to hold the upper hand.
The latest trend has the Bruins winning 13 of the last 16 meetings — but all three of the Huskies' wins came when they were playing at home, as they are this year.
And the Huskies are favored to win this time by 17 points.
UCLA has been questionable at times this season, and I have to think that Washington will win this one.
- Duke at #13 Virginia Tech, 6:20 p.m. (Central) on ACCNE: It should come as no surprise that Tech leads this series, but it might surprise you to know that Duke was the dominant one in the first half of the 20th century.
But between 1982 and 2012, Tech seized control of the series with 12 straight wins.
The teams have met four times since with both teams winning twice. While Tech won last year's meeting, the margin was only three points.
And that was the widest margin of victory in those four games. That suggests that this year's game might be close, too — but the oddsmakers don't think so. They pick Tech by 15½ points.
I'm inclined to pick Virginia Tech as well.
- #15 Washington State at Arizona, 8:30 p.m. (Central): Arizona has dominated this series, but Washington State has won three of the last four meetings. And last year's outcome was the worst for Arizona fans — a 69–7 drubbing.
Washington State has a two–game winning streak at Arizona, and Washington State is a three–point pick to make it a three–game winning streak. This will be the 43rd meeting between these schools, and Washington State has only won three in a row against Arizona once.
I pick Washington State.
- #16 Michigan State at Northwestern, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Historically Michigan State has beaten Northwestern nearly 75% of the time, but Northwestern has been competitive in recent years. In fact, the Wildcats won 54–40 at East Lansing last year.
But that leads me to one of the quirks of this series. The Wildcats actually fared better in East Lansing than they have at home. Michigan State has won five in a row at Northwestern, and the oddsmakers have made the Spartans 2½–point favorites to make that six in a row.
I'm inclined to look at last season's 3–9 campaign as an anomaly for the Spartans, who have been much more likely to log 10 wins or more in a season in recent years.
So while it is tempting to take Northwestern as an upset special, I have to go with Michigan State in this one.
- Houston at #17 South Florida, 2:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Both teams are 1–1 at each other's home field.
South Florida is a 10½–point favorite. I can go along with that. South Florida is the pick.
- Austin Peay at #18 Central Florida, 4 p.m. (Central): There really isn't much to say about this one.
Central Florida should win.
- #21 Southern Cal at Arizona State, 9:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Southern Cal leads this series 21–12, but the Trojans largely built their lead by sweeping the annual showdowns between 2000 and 2010.
The series was competitive between 1978 and 1999, just as it has been since 2011, a period in which each team has beaten the other three times.
It is hard to get a reading on Southern Cal. Some weeks the Trojans look invincible, but then there are weeks when they look incapable of almost anything.
The oddsmakers favor Southern Cal by 2½ points, but I'm going to take Arizona State in an upset special.
Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4
Last week's upset specials: 1–2
Overall upset specials: 5–14