Forde-Yard Dash: Which unbeaten team has the best chance of running the table?

Pat Forde

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (flags suitable for midfield planting sold separately in Norman, Okla.):

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Goodbye, Michigan. Farewell, Oklahoma. See you later, Utah. All three were dismissed from the ranks of the unbeaten Saturday, whittling the number of teams with perfect records to 13.

Odds are that all 13 will go down at some point – the last time a team finished the season undefeated was Florida State in 2013. So The Dash got to thinking about the teams set up to go the longest without a loss.

Best chance of running the table: Clemson (1). Most likely expiration date: Jan. 8, 2018, in the College Football Playoff championship game. Between now and then: Tigers will visit North Carolina State on Nov. 4 in a game taking on added import as the 5-1 Wolfpack piled up victories after a season-opening loss. After that is a home game against Florida State. As of today, Clemson likely would be a double-digit favorite in both those games. After that, theoretically, would be an ACC championship game as at least a touchdown favorite, and then a CFP semifinal game that would figure to be legitimately competitive (although neither of Clemson’s two appearances in those semifinals has been close).

Second-best chance: Alabama (2). Most likely expiration date: Jan. 8, 2018, in the CFP championship game. Between now and then: The Crimson Tide’s Southeastern Conference winning streak is now 20 and counting, with three straight home games up next. At the risk of serving up rat poison to Nick Saban’s players, ‘Bama isn’t losing anytime soon. The regular-season-ending Iron Bowl is looming larger with each passing week, and after that a potential clash with Georgia in the SEC title game also could be a major test.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, left, talks with punter JK Scott during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Alabama coach Nick Saban, left, talks with punter JK Scott during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Third-best chance: San Diego State (3). Most likely expiration date: Dec. 30 in the Fiesta Bowl. Between now and then: Aztecs’ next game might be their toughest game, with Boise State coming to San Diego on Saturday. Then there could be a rematch for the Mountain West championship, or a matchup with Colorado State – but the league title game looks like it will be hosted by the Aztecs, as long as they have the highest CFP ranking. SDSU definitely plays in the weaker of the two divisions, so most of the remaining regular-season games should be quite manageable.

Fourth-best chance: Wisconsin (4). Most likely expiration date: Dec. 2 in the Big Ten championship game. Between now and then: More of the same soft schedule the Badgers have feasted upon to this point. As it stands now, the only regular-season game in which Wisconsin likely wouldn’t be favored by two touchdowns is Michigan on Nov. 18, and that one is in Madison. It’s easy to envision the Badgers rolling 12-0 into Indianapolis. Also easy to envision them exiting 12-1.


After completely ignoring the human polls all season, The Dash took a peek at the USA Today coaches top 25 Sunday and felt nostalgic revulsion over the goofy voting that is as much a part of college football as car flags and face paint. Thankfully, the human polls no longer are part of any equation that determines who plays for the national championship. There is, however, the possibility that the selection committee members will be scanning the polls heading into their voting in a few weeks, and could be influenced by what they see.

If they look at the coaches poll, they will see that brand-name bias (5) is alive and well. Some programs are always going to be overrated by some voters, based on laundry and tradition and preseason ranking. Some programs are always going to struggle to overcome a lack of membership in the Old Boys Club.

The snubbed:

TCU (6). The undefeated Horned Frogs beat then-No. 6 Oklahoma State in Stillwater by 13 and Arkansas in Fayetteville by 21. Saturday, they beat No. 23 West Virginia at home. If the laundry said “Texas” instead of “TCU,” the Frogs would be ranked higher. The coaches have TCU behind both Washington (three wins over Pac-12 teams that are a combined 0-9 in conference play) and Wisconsin (best win is over 3-3 Utah State). The Associated Press poll, comprised of media members, has it halfway correct – TCU is ahead of Wisconsin but behind Washington.

Washington State (7). The undefeated Cougars have a win over USC, which trumps most of what the rest of the nation’s unbeatens have on their résumés at present. They also won their first league road game by 23, despite being a mystifying underdog at Oregon Saturday. An overtime win over Boise State, while harrowing in the extreme, is also worth something. But they are ninth with the coaches, one spot behind Ohio State (see below). The AP correctly jumped Wazzu over the Buckeyes this week, to No. 8.

And the overrated:

Ohio State (8). The Buckeyes check in at No. 8 in the USA Today poll, one spot ahead of the Cougars despite owning a loss and zero wins that are even comparable to beating USC. (Ohio State’s best win to date is probably the season opener at Indiana.) And that 15-point home loss to a team that just lost at home to an unranked opponent apparently had no effect on the coaches doing the voting. Blueblood privileges in full effect.

Michigan (9). Dropping the Wolverines nine spots, from seventh to 16th, probably felt fairly precipitous to the slot-voting cabal. But the home loss to Michigan State should put Michigan’s entire résumé under the microscope for closer inspection. The signature win is over a Florida team that just lost at home to LSU to fall to 3-2. The other wins are over a Cincinnati team that was just destroyed by Central Florida; an Air Force team that just dropped to 1-4; and a decent Purdue team that is 3-2. The Spartans have the same record as the Wolverines, against a stronger schedule, and just defeated their rivals in the Big House. Yet they’re ranked six spots lower.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, right, signals to his team during warmups for an NCAA college football game against Michigan State, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, right, signals to his team during warmups for an NCAA college football game against Michigan State, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Why? Because Michigan State started the season unranked, and it’s easier to pass a health care bill than to make a humongous jump in the human polls. It’s also worth noting that both TCU and Washington State started the season unranked in the coaches poll, which undoubtedly has helped keep them behind some of those who have been ranked all along.


The Dash’s playoff quartet, if the bracket were being picked today:

Clemson. Remains The Dash’s top team after a two-touchdown victory over a Wake Forest team that will not roll over for anyone this year. The Tigers got out to an impressive 28-0 lead and then gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The biggest issue coming out of the game is the status of quarterback Kelly Bryant’s ankle, which he hurt during the third quarter. Dabo Swinney expects him to play Friday against Syracuse, but Clemson is blessed with depth at QB if Bryant is limited.

Georgia (10). The Bulldogs move ahead of Alabama in The Dash bracket, and while that might seem like heresy there is at least some logic behind it. The road victory over Notre Dame continues to look better as the Fighting Irish keep winning. And the Crimson Tide’s signature win over Florida State took another dent with the Seminoles now 1-3 after losing to Miami. Thus, for now, Georgia over Alabama.

Alabama. See above. And note that the Tide’s 27-19 victory at Texas A&M was a bit laborious, with their 355 yards of total offense checking in at 100 yards fewer than Arkansas put on the Aggies, and 200 yards less than UCLA accrued. Still, if anyone needs no style points to impress the rest of the world, it’s Alabama.

TCU. The Horned Frogs lost a seemingly secure lead at home against West Virginia, but made the necessary plays late to pull out the victory. Their previously powerful running game was held to a season-low 170 yards by a Mountaineers rushing defense that hadn’t been great, but TCU was a plus-two in the turnover department. Beating WVU and Oklahoma State is enough to put the Frogs in the bracket over Penn State.

Dropped out: Oklahoma.

Also considered: Penn State, Washington State, San Diego State, Miami, Notre Dame, Auburn.