Way-too-early College Football Playoff Picture: Key Dates, Top Contenders entering Week 5

Week 5 promises more excitement around college football after Week 4 finally gave fans some of the top-tier matchups they’d been waiting for. Week 4 saw six ranked matchups, with Notre Dame losing a heartbreaker at the last second (literally) to Ohio State, a shootout between Washington State and Oregon State, and the end of the Colorado Cinderella story. It was the first week that offered some early clarification on where teams might stand at the end of the season, when four teams are selected to advance to the College Football Playoff. Keep reading for an overview of playoff structure, ranking timing and key dates to know, as well as how the playoff picture stands entering Week 5.

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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.

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.

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College Football Playoff Picture Entering Week 5

Entering Week 5 of the college football season, only a few teams have played games that could define them down the stretch of the season. 2016 and 2018 national champion Clemson suffered its second loss of the season in Week 4, to Florida State in overtime at home at Death Valley. Combining that with their opening-week loss to Duke, it’s hard to see a path to the CFP for the Tigers.

On the other side of that game, Florida State has two impressive wins on its resume to make it a favorite for the ACC title and a CFP spot. The Seminoles beat LSU in Week 1 by 21 points and their road win over Clemson solidified them as national contenders.

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 four as follows:

1. Georgia
2. Michigan
3. Texas
4. Ohio State

These teams are followed by Florida State at No. 5 and Penn State at No. 6.

Top-ranked Georgia, the reigning back-to-back national champions, have yet to face a formidable opponent and are largely ranked at No. 1 thanks to their resume and talented roster. Georgia has had some slow starts this season, including against South Carolina in Week 3. The Dawgs are on the road at Auburn this weekend in the 128th meeting of The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, which they’re expected to win over a struggling Auburn offense.

Michigan is in a similar situation as Georgia, having made the CFP the last two years (losing in the semifinals each time) and riding those achievements along with a deep roster of returning players for their No. 2 spot. The Wolverines opened conference play in Week 4 with a 31-7 home win against Rutgers. If they play to their ability on paper, it’s unlikely Michigan is challenged until Week 11, when the team travels to take on an ascending Penn State (currently No. 6). Of course, this top four will be shaken up in Week 13 no matter what, when Michigan and Ohio State face off in The Game.

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Unlike the top two, Texas has already proven their strength in a big game this season. Led by quarterback Quinn Ewers, the Longhorns beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa in Week 2, setting them on course for a CFP spot if they can stay in front in the Big 12. Their next big test will be Oklahoma next week in the Red River Rivalry game.

Weeks to watch for Texas include the aforementioned Week 6 against Oklahoma, Week 10 against Kansas State, and Week 11 at TCU, who last season became the first Big 12 team to make the national championship game (lost to Georgia).

The top six don't currently include a Pac-12 team – ironic because the Pac-12 is the strongest it’s ever been. But Pac-12 teams started to feel the sting of a strong conference in Week 4, when the ranked members had to face off. Utah knocked off UCLA, now unranked, and Colorado, whose turnaround under coach Deion Sanders had captured the attention of the nation, saw its Cinderella story come to an end at Oregon, where the Buffaloes got blown out.

The top of the Pac-12 is tight, led No. 7 Washington, No. 8 USC, and No. 9 Oregon, each led by Heisman hopefuls at quarterback. Michael Penix Jr. of Washington and Bo Nix of Oregon are hanging in there with 2022 Heisman winner Caleb Williams at USC. If any of these teams run the table in the Pac-12, there’s no reasonable way the CFP committee could leave them out. Reigning Pac-12 champion Utah suffered its first loss last night at Oregon State, further opening the path for the top three teams (though Oregon State and Utah, with only one loss each, could stay in the CFP mix by winning out).

Nearly every team still controls its own destiny to make the playoff entering Week 5. This week features four ranked matchups, including Utah’s loss to Oregon State on Friday night. The others are #13 LSU on the road at #20 Ole Miss, #24 Kansas at #3 Texas, and #11 Notre Dame at #17 Duke.

Notre Dame is looking to rebound after losing a tight contest at home last week to Ohio State, who drove down the field to score a touchdown with one second remaining to beat the Irish. Given the closeness of that game, Notre Dame’s playoff hopes are alive, but without a conference championship to play for, the team likely can’t afford any more losses or even questionable performances.