The College Football Playoff Hope-O-Meter: Week 1
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, to the unveiling of perhaps the greatest technological innovation of our time: THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF HOPE-O-METER! Over the course of the next 12 weeks, we will put our ultra-violet spectrum of college football emotion to the test, processing each weekend's scoreboard—and it's array of hopes, dreams, and delusions—to determine the state of the all-important CFP push. From favorites to road kill and every FPI-crunching fanbase in between, this is where things stand after Week 1 in the wide, wild world of college foosball.
Week 1 was business as usual for last year's College Football Playoff finalists Clemson and Alabama, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 overall to start the season. Clemson hung 52 on Georgia Tech on Thursday night while Alabama held Duke to a mere field goal on Saturday, each beginning their long, slow death march to the CFP as they were expected to: By dominating. Tougher tests will come, but Alabama likely gets a freebie loss—maybe even to its SEC West foes LSU on Nov. 9. Depending on how the chips fall, that could mean missing the SEC Championship and still getting into the CFP, a precedent Alabama previously set back in 2017. For Clemson, it’s even simpler: Steamroll a VERY weak ACC, and the Tigers are in. That means surviving the next two weeks—a non-conference showdown with Texas A&M and a trip to the Carrier Dome to face a top-25 Syracuse squad who nearly upset them last year—but after that it’s calm waters and clear sailing.
Both Oklahoma and Ohio State came into the year facing big transitions and bigger questions. Ranked fourth and fifth respectively while trotting out shiny new transfer-portal QBs Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields, both the Sooners and Buckeyes took control of the board on opening weekend, with the former spoiling Dana Holgorsen’s Houston debut and the latter making good on new head coach Ryan Day’s, scoring 28 unanswered before the end of the first quarter. Ohio State still has to run a murderer’s row of a Big Ten schedule, including five top-25 programs, but as long as the Buckeyes avoid laying an egg like they did at Purdue in 2018 and Iowa in 2017 (neither of whom are on the schedule this season), they’ll view this an opportunity, not an obstacle. The story at Oklahoma, meanwhile, is the same as it always is: Just. Beat. Texas.
Is it weird to be pessimistic about two legacy programs who won their opening games of the season by a combined scored of 70-38? This is college football, so of course it isn't. Scott Frost has gone on record saying his Nebraska team is not ready for the CFP dark-horse tag it’s been slapped with, and Saturday proved that, with the Cornhuskers needing a second-half pick-six, punt-return TD, and a fumble recovery in the end zone to see off South (not regular) Alabama. Meanwhile, Notre Dame—statistically the worst big-game program in modern college football—looked rocky in its Labor Day opener at Louisville, expected to be one of the worst programs in FBS this year. On the bright side, both of these teams have room and time to grow, but in college football, the bright side is usually a mirage.
On Saturday night, the Pac-12’s CFP chances died peacefully in their sleep. It was a bold move (Cotton) for the Pac-12 to schedule their last, best hope at a CFP berth against 11th-ranked Auburn on Saturday night, but the bet didn't cash thanks to a last-second Bo Nix touchdown strike that drove a stake into the cold, dead heart of the Pac-12’s playoff chances. In addition to removing Oregon from the playoff picture, the loss also dinged Utah and Washington’s already remote chances, taking potential statement victories against a top-10 Ducks team off the table. Garnish everything with UCLA’s limp loss to Cincinnati on Thursday night, and you have a certified dumpster fire of an opening weekend for the poor Pac-12.