Forde-Yard Dash: 6 teams that could shake up the College Football Playoff picture

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (grief counselors standing by in Tallahassee):

[More Dash: Urban Meyer’s return | 7 bust coaches | Power Five breakdown]

FIRST QUARTER

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PLAYOFF ROAD MAP: DETOURS AHEAD?

The Dash knows what you’re thinking — here we go again, usual suspects, nothing ever changes in college football. Twenty-five percent of the way through the regular season, the College Football Playoff picture looks as diverse as a Romanov Dynasty family photo.

There is Alabama, which has been in all four previous playoffs and has won the Southeastern Conference three of the past four years. There is Clemson, which has been in the last three playoffs and won the last three Atlantic Coast Conference titles. There is Ohio State, which has been in two playoffs and won two of the past four Big Ten titles. There is Oklahoma, which has been in two playoffs and won three straight Big 12 titles. And there is Georgia, which was in the most recent playoff and won the most recent SEC title.

Those are your top five in the human polls — all undefeated and all largely unchallenged, save a close call for Clemson at Texas A&M.

But now take a look at where those five need to go the rest of this season, and realize that things can change. Suddenly there are some new addresses on the radar. The road to the playoff actually goes through these towns, where the home teams will have a chance to upset the entrenched hierarchy:

Baton Rouge (1). LSU’s legendary home field, Tiger Stadium, will be the host location for visits by both Georgia (Oct. 13) and Alabama (Nov. 3). For added measure there also is a home game in between against currently undefeated Mississippi State (Oct. 20). Those stand out as the most difficult tests remaining for both Georgia and ‘Bama — and it gives LSU its own aspirations for playoff inclusion.

The Tigers are 3-0 themselves, thanks to a zesty roux of resilience, ball security, defense and just enough offense to get by. Ed Orgeron’s team is dead last in the Southeastern Conference in both pass efficiency (115.5) and passing yards per game (180), but they made just enough plays to upset Auburn on Saturday.

If you’re going to win close ones, this stat matters most: LSU is the only school in the nation that has not committed a turnover this season. That’s a year after committing just eight, which also led the nation. Teams trying to beat LSU have to actually beat LSU, as opposed to waiting around for LSU to beat itself.

Ed Orgeron and the Tigers will host both Alabama and Georgia this season. (AP)
Ed Orgeron and the Tigers will host both Alabama and Georgia this season. (AP)

State College (2). Penn State’s Beaver Stadium will be a Whiteout madhouse Sept. 29 when Ohio State visits for what is looking like the Game of the Year in the increasingly threadbare Big Ten. Last two times the Buckeyes have visited Happy Valley, they took a bitter loss in 2016 as a 19-point favorite and were pushed into double overtime in 2014 as a 14-point favorite. Penn State also had a big lead but couldn’t hold it late last season in Columbus, losing by a point.

If the Nittany Lions do pull the upset, their home stadium will be the site of three other potentially large games: Michigan State Oct. 13, Iowa Oct. 27 and Wisconsin Nov. 10.

Chestnut Hill (3). Last time Boston College’s Alumni Stadium hosted a truly significant November game? That was 2007, when the Eagles were undefeated and ranked No. 2 and Florida State came to town to quickly restore ACC order. (BC lost that game and two others.) With that in mind, go ahead and circle Nov. 10 on your calendar, the date Clemson visits the Eagles. Maybe that game will matter.

Maybe throw some snow or cold into the forecast — things Clemson doesn’t deal with often — and see what happens.

While it very much remains to be seen what shape 3-0 Boston College will be in when the Tigers arrive, Clemson seemingly faces few legitimate challenges between now and then. A schedule of Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Florida State on the road and Syracuse, North Carolina State and Louisville at home seems rather manageable.

Morgantown (4). The Big 12 has, once again, backloaded its schedule to make November the high-impact month. And the last of the potential high-impact games in November is Oklahoma at West Virginia on Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving.

West Virginia’s Milan Puskar Stadium (just flows off the tongue, doesn’t it?) hasn’t exactly been a snake pit under Dana Holgorsen (he’s 32-15), and the Sooners embarrassed the Mountaineers there two seasons ago with a lot on the line. But this has the potential to be Holgo’s best team, and the Mountaineers’ schedule between now and November certainly is manageable: Kansas State, at Texas Tech, Kansas, at Iowa State, Baylor.

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Two other off-the-beaten-path locales to keep in mind:

Eugene (5). Oregon’s ridiculously soft entry into the season gets real Saturday when Stanford comes to town. This will be a far different challenge than Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State — but the Cardinal hasn’t been on the road this year yet, so we’ll see how they handle Autzen Stadium, and whether the place can rock like it did during the glory days.

Should the Ducks win that game, they’d also get the luxury of hosting Washington on Oct. 13.

Durham (6). No, seriously. At least maybe. Duke isn’t just 3-0, it’s a very solid 3-0. The Blue Devils have won two road games against Power Five competition by double digits (Northwestern and Baylor) and also beat Army by 20.

They get the only other unbeaten in the ACC Coastal, Virginia Tech, in Wallace Wade Stadium on Sept. 29. Facing the Hokies without injured starting quarterback Daniel Jones might be too tall an order, but it could qualify as an extreme rarity: a legitimately important Duke home football game.

FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF

Now that The Dash has laid out some trap-game scenarios for the teams at the top, let’s get back to the reality of the here and now. This is how The Dash would set the playoff, if today were Selection Sunday:

Top seed Alabama (7) vs. fourth seed Georgia (8) in the Orange Bowl.

There was some legitimate internal debate about whether to put the Crimson Tide or LSU on top — strength of schedule to date favors the Tigers, but shock and awe and overwhelming dominance favors Alabama. When your first SEC road game is a 55-point victory, and you’re averaging a whopping 3.27 more yards per play than your opposition (7.37 to 4.40), and your average halftime score is 39 to 2 … you win. Last week: No. 2. Next up: Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa.

Tua Tagovailoa (13) and the Crimson Tide have been rolling early on this season. (AP)
Tua Tagovailoa (13) and the Crimson Tide have been rolling early on this season. (AP)

Now get a load of the Bulldogs, who have an even greater yards-per-play differential than the Tide at 3.66 (7.83 to 4.17). Their signature victory, pounding South Carolina in Columbia, remains impressive until the Gamecocks prove otherwise. The other two opponents (Austin Peay and Middle Tennessee) were overmatched, which diminishes the three-game strength of schedule. Last week: No. 1. Next up: at Missouri in a matchup of unbeatens.

Second seed LSU (9) vs. third seed Ohio State (10) in the Cotton Bowl.

As stated above, LSU got strong consideration for the top seed. A thorough beating of Miami on a neutral field plus the comeback win at Auburn — snapping the home team’s 13-game winning streak in Jordan-Hare Stadium — is strong stuff. LSU hasn’t done much of anything wrong at this juncture, it just hasn’t been as overpowering as Alabama. Last week: unranked. Next up: Louisiana Tech.

Now that the Buckeyes have left home for a game, they are both eligible for inclusion and deserving. Ohio State has played three Power Five opponents and handled them all, including the first major test Saturday against TCU. With Urban Meyer out of exile and ready to coach his first game Saturday, there is little reason to think the Buckeye bandwagon won’t gather more steam. Last week: unranked. Next up: Tulane.

Dropped out: Auburn, Clemson.

Also considered: Clemson, Oklahoma, Penn State, Virginia Tech.

Methodology: For consideration, a team must have played at least one game away from home and at least one Power Five opponent thus far.

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