Early College Football Playoff Picture: Key Dates, Top Contenders entering Week 9

Week 9 is the final week of college football without the College Football Playoff rankings, which come out for the first time next week. This weekend, several of the key teams in contention to make the four-team playoff are in action. It’s a Saturday to be on upset alert as top-ranked teams take on unranked but formidable opponents. Keep reading for an overview of playoff structure, ranking timing and key dates to know, as well as what to watch for on Saturday and how the playoff picture stands entering Week 9.

When do College Football Playoff rankings come out?

The first CFP rankings of the 2023 season will be released on Tuesday, October 31, after Week 9 of play. From then on, new CFP rankings will come out every Tuesday for the remainder of the regular season.

Rankings are determined each week by the College Football Playoff committee, a 13-member group that includes people with experience as coaches, student-athletes, college administrators, journalists, and athletic directors.

The CFP rankings – which go up to #25 – are based on the committee’s assessment of each team. The committee looks at head-to-head results, strength of schedule, and conference titles, among other factors.

MORE: How to watch #14 Notre Dame this week

How many teams make the College Football Playoff?

Four teams will qualify for the College Football Playoff in the 2023 season. The four teams will be selected by the College Football Playoff committee and announced on December 3, the Sunday after all conference championship games have been played.

In 2024, the playoff will expand to 12 teams, with [some] less subjective selection procedures. For now, the top four teams in the final CFP rankings make the playoff.

When is the College Football Playoff?

Two semifinals will be played on New Year’s Day (Monday, Jan. 1) – the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, and the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, LA.

The national championship game takes place a week later on Monday, January 8, in Houston.

College Football Playoff Picture Entering Week 9

Now that it’s the second half of the season, fewer teams are in control of their own destiny in the playoff race than before. Week 7 and Week 8 saw crucial losses for USC, a previous playoff favorite, and some key wins for perennial top contenders Ohio State and Alabama. Washington earned a huge win in a close one against Oregon in Week 7, vaulting the Huskies to the AP top five. There’s more conference play on the line this week.

Without the CFP rankings for the first eight weeks of the season, the AP rankings are the best guide to how things may shake out down the road. The current AP rankings list the top six as follows:

1. Georgia
2. Michigan
3. Ohio State
4. Florida State
5. Washington
6. Oklahoma

Top-ranked Georgia, the reigning back-to-back national champions, travel to neutral-site Jacksonville to take on Florida this weekend for the game formerly known as The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. It’s the Dawgs’ first game without star tight end Brock Bowers, who left Week 7’s game against Vanderbilt with an ankle injury and had surgery two days later (UGA had a bye for Week 8). Bowers is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, putting Georgia without its top receiver for a majority of the remaining season. Bowers has 234 more receiving yards than the second-most productive receiver on the team (Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint), so the Dawgs will need to find solutions to replace Bowers’ impact in this tense SEC East rivalry.

Unranked Florida is also coming off a bye week; two weeks ago, the Gators won a thriller at South Carolina, overcoming a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win by two. That came on the back of a career day for quarterback Graham Mertz, who threw for three touchdowns and a career-high 423 yards. It’s unlikely the Georgia defense will give Mertz the same amount of room for success, so the Gators will have to diversify their offensive efforts to win this one.

MORE: How to watch the games of Week 9

No. 3 Ohio State is on the road at Wisconsin in a nighttime Halloween-in-Madison matchup. The Buckeyes will have to be careful of a potential letdown after they won a defensive struggle over Big Ten East stalwart Penn State last week (PSU is #10 this week). Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. continues to impress week after week, elevating the performance of quarterback Kyle McCord and the entire OSU offense. On paper, the Buckeyes should handle the Badgers easily, especially against a freshman backup QB making his first home start. Braedyn Locke will lead the Badgers at Camp Randall for the second straight week while Tanner Mordecai is out with a broken bone in his throwing hand. Locke, a transfer from Mississippi State, helped Wisconsin to an exciting comeback win last week at Illinois, with the Badgers scoring 18 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win 25-21. The last time the Badgers beat a top-three opponent was 2010, when they beat No. 3 Ohio State.

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Numbers four through six are all on the road at unranked opponents as well. Fourth-ranked Florida State plays at Wake Forest in a noon game that should be an easy win for the Seminoles. Washington is in a similar situation on the road at Stanford. No. 6 Oklahoma should win at Kansas, but the Jayhawks have shown some fight even with backup quarterback Jason Bean playing, and Oklahoma scraping by UCF last week was a little cause for concern.

No. 2 Michigan is off this week, but not out of the news as the Wolverines are at the center of an NCAA investigation related to the program’s in-person scouting and use of technology to steal signs. Like Georgia, Michigan has made the CFP the last two years (losing in the semifinals each time). The Wolverines appear to be one of – if not the – most complete teams in college football, but they have yet to face a tough (or even ranked) opponent. That said, their dominant road wins over Minnesota and Michigan State in recent weeks have been impressive. It’s unlikely Michigan is truly challenged until Week 11, when the team travels to take on current No. 10 Penn State.

While only three conferences are represented in the current top four, don’t expect it to stay that way. The CFP committee is known to depart from AP rankings, looking more at team resumes than sheer talent. That would help teams like Oklahoma and Washington jump into the top four, given their wins over top-ranked teams this season.

It’s certainly expected that the top team in the Pac-12 will make the playoff this year, as that conference has been the strongest of all Power Five conferences this year. Perhaps the biggest game of Week 9 is a Pac-12 showdown between #8 Oregon and reigning conference champions #13 Utah.