Seven Week 4 games that will shake up the College Football Playoff

The first three weeks of the season have provided some clues about the College Football Playoff race, but collectively?

There’s been nothing like this.

Week 4 features what will be the most impactful lineup of games in September, starting with a trio of top-20 matchups: No. 7 Notre Dame at No. 3 Georgia; No. 11 Michigan at No. 13 Wisconsin; and No. 8 Auburn at No. 17 Texas A&M. Be very careful about eliminating anyone on Sunday — the first CFP rankings don’t come out until Nov. 5 — but there’s a harsh reality that some teams could see their bubble burst this weekend.

The 13-member selection committee will be watching all the games, but these have the potential to sway their votes the most on Selection Day:

Seven Week 4 games that will shake up the College Football Playoff 1

No. 7 Notre Dame at No. 3 Georgia
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, CBS

No team has the potential to upend the top four more than Notre Dame, and if the Fighting Irish can get past Georgia, it would legitimize the possibility of that happening again. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, this is the only game Notre Dame isn’t favored to win (32.7%). Last season, Big Ten champion Ohio State was left out of the CFP in favor of the undefeated and independent Irish. The minute Note Dame loses, though, two things need to happen: The Irish need to win out and finish with one loss (no pressure), and they need to hope their résumé still stacks up against a Power 5 conference champion.

“I think that all of our players and staff understand that if you look at the enormity of it and take it as we have to win all of our games, that’s not the best way to handle this,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said this offseason. “We’ve focused much more on processing than outcomes. That’s what allowed us to start winning some football games on a much more consistent basis, because if you look at this from a big picture, you’re on a tightrope every week.”

Georgia has more wiggle room — and also a more difficult remaining schedule. Some selection committee members considered the two-loss Bulldogs last year as SEC runner-up. Even if Georgia loses this game, its playoff hopes remain intact because it can still win the SEC.

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No. 8 Auburn at No. 17 Texas A&M
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Auburn already had caught the nation’s attention with its season-opening win against Oregon, but a road win against a ranked SEC West opponent would further validate the Tigers as a playoff sleeper — and simultaneously crush whatever (if any) playoff hopes Texas A&M had.

Why still a bubble team with a win? Auburn has the No. 4 remaining strength of schedule in the FBS, according to ESPN’s FPI, which also gives the Tigers less than a 50% chance to beat Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama. The only SEC team with a more difficult schedule this year is South Carolina, and the Gamecocks have the toughest lineup in the FBS.

“Who has tougher? How in the world can anybody have tougher?

“It is a big game, but in the big picture, it’s not devastating,” Malzahn said. “With our strength of schedule, we’ve got plenty of games to make up, but it’s important to get this thing started off the right way.”

That’s why a loss — while it wouldn’t eliminate Auburn — would be such a dagger for the Tigers. It probably won’t be the only one.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M could enter the sleeper conversation with a victory. The Aggies have yet to truly put their dreadful performance at Clemson behind them and get their offense going under quarterback Kellen Mond. A road loss to Clemson won’t keep the Aggies out of the playoff, but two September losses likely will.

Fisher called it a “double whammy.”

“It’s an important game because it’s a conference game and an interdivisional game,” he said. “You have to win your own division to have a chance at your goals and aspirations. This is one of the first steps in that process and hopefully we’ll play well.”

According to FPI, the Aggies would have a 1% chance to win the SEC West if they lose, while the Tigers’ chance would drop to 2% if they fall.

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No. 11 Michigan at No. 13 Wisconsin
Saturday, Noon ET, FOX

As tempting as it might be, don’t eliminate the loser. What if they face each other again for the Big Ten title and Saturday’s loser wins it all? (See: Oklahoma vs. Texas, 2018).

Yes, at some point, Michigan’s offense needs to find its pulse, and yes, Wisconsin needs to “play somebody,” but teams have a tendency to look dramatically different between now and November.

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