Starting 11: Notre Dame To the Playoffs Edition?

We are officially halfway through the college football season for most top teams. Really, honestly, we are. This is what makes college football so bittersweet — we wait around all year for it and then the season is over in the blink of an eye.

At this point my playoff four would be pretty clear as well: 1. Alabama 2. Georgia 3. Notre Dame 4. Ohio State

I understand that Clemson fans want to make an argument that their team should be included, but the resume doesn’t remotely justify it compared to these other four teams.

As is, I think we have a clear cut top four and let me explain why as we roll into the Starting 11.

But before we go any farther, reminder, if you want to buy an autographed copy of my new book — as well as receive all our gambling picks, which come out on Monday on the VIP message board and are winning at a 59% rate so far this season, then click here.

1. My playoff four is Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame and Ohio State.

There are three additional teams that I think could make arguments for inclusion at the halfway point of the season, but they aren’t very good arguments: Clemson, West Virginia, and Central Florida. Of these three teams, the best win is Clemson’s on the road against Texas A&M and that was a narrow victory.

Right now, if you judge entirely based on what’s happened on the field, not on what you expected to happen on the field, I think the playoff four would be an easy call.

The biggest playoff storyline through the halfway point of the season, to me, is how the Pac 12 and the Big 12 have likely played themselves out of the playoff picture already. We’ll discuss that a bit more later in the column, but there are only two undefeated teams left among these 22 teams in those two conferences — West Virginia and Colorado.

2. The Oklahoma loss was very bad for the Big 12. 

I know there is a ton of the season left, but with Texas’s win over Oklahoma there is now only one undefeated team remaining in the Big 12 — West Virginia.

The Mountaineers have a very difficult schedule remaining: at Iowa State, Baylor, at Texas, TCU, at Oklahoma State and then to finish against Oklahoma in Morgantown. Plus, if they made it, a challenging Big 12 title game.

The odds of West Virginia winning out and going 13-0 are incredibly small.

If West Virginia doesn’t go undefeated, I don’t see the Big 12 champ, even at 12-1, having that great of a resume unless Oklahoma gets to play Texas again in the Big 12 title game and crushes them to vanquish its loss.

Then, maybe, Oklahoma could find itself back among the top playoff contenders. But the challenge for Oklahoma is to get to the Big 12 playoff game. The Sooners have no more margin for error and it seems likely now that the final game of the season in Morgantown may well be a play-in game for the Big 12 title match up.

I think the Big 12’s playoff chances, at this point in time, look remote.

3. Texas is back!

I know we’ve been arguing about whether Texas is back for a decade or so now, but this was a huge, massive win for Tom Herman.

The Longhorns have won five straight games after losing to Maryland to begin the season and now have a clear path to the Big 12 title game.

I don’t want to get Texas fans jumping too high for joy here because every time we’ve thought Texas is back they go out and lose to confirm they are not, in fact, back, but here is the remaining schedule for Texas: Baylor, at Oklahoma State, West Virginia, at Texas Tech, Iowa State, and at Kansas.

Sure, there are some landmines on that schedule, but if Texas can go 5-1 in these six, which seems doable, then the Longhorns will likely find themselves in the Big 12 title game. That’s a hell of an accomplishment for Tom Herman in year two.

Could Texas even, deep intake of breath, find themselves in the playoff picture? That seems unlikely given the loss to Maryland to begin the season, but stranger things have happened.

4. Notre Dame will make the playoff if the Fighting Irish can run the table. 

Before Oklahoma lost you had the possibility of a five way undefeated jumble. (Which four would you have picked between Alabama/Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame?)

Now the Irish know if they can win these six games: Pittsburgh, Navy in San Diego, at Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse in New York City, and at USC they will be in the playoff.

The pressure is ratcheted up to an extreme level now on the Irish because 11-1, unless Michigan wins the Big Ten, probably isn’t good enough to get in the playoff.

Are the Fighting Irish up to it? We shall see.

But the Irish figure to be at least a touchdown favorite in every remaining game.

5. What’s going to happen in the Big Ten?

Here are the Big Ten teams that still have playoff life at the halfway mark of the season: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

By playoff life, I mean if they won every game remaining on their schedule they could potentially make the playoff.

Michigan and Wisconsin play this coming weekend and one of them will be eliminated from playoff contention by notching their second loss on the season. That will leave just three Big Ten teams with a chance at the playoff. Given that Penn State will also play Wisconsin and at Michigan, it’s impossible for these four teams to stay alive very long.

The best case scenario for the Big Ten at this point is probably Ohio State wins out and Penn State wins out because then you’d have a 13-0 and an 11-1 team. Who knows what might happen, but 11-1 Penn State’s resume would be very sound as a potential at large contender.

The second best scenario is probably Michigan runs the table and plays against Ohio State for the Big Ten East title, but even in that scenario we’re left with a Big Ten title game that will only offer an opportunity for the Big Ten West team, aka Wisconsin, Northwestern! or Iowa to ruin the chances of the Big Ten East team to make the playoff.

Honestly, it kind of feels like Ohio State or bust for the Big Ten.

6. Tua’s first half stat line against Arkansas: 10-11 for 334 yards and four touchdowns. 

I know the Alabama defense gave up 31 points to Arkansas — including a backbreaking Razorback touchdown to cover by .5 points with under twenty seconds to play — but this is probably good for the Tide because it will give Nick Saban something to be angry about.

The simple truth of the matter is this — Tua is a video game cheat code for Nick Saban, the equivalent of the Golden State Warriors adding Kevin Durant.

Right now Tua is completing 75.2% of his passes! and he has 18 touchdowns and no interceptions. Want an even wilder stat? Tua has only 25 incomplete passes on the entire season. Wilder still? He’s averaging 14.8 yards per pass attempt.

And, remember, these are all stats posted against starting defensive players in the first half, when the teams are the freshest and most able to compete against him. He’s not even getting to rack up stats in the second halves of most games this year.

Tua is number one in all of college football for completion percentage, yards per attempt, adjusted yards per attempt and passing efficiency rating.

As insanely high as the expectations were for Tua coming into this year? He’s drastically exceeding them.

Just go ahead and give him the Heisman.

Alabama’s remaining schedule is as follows: Missouri, at Tennessee, at LSU, Mississippi State, The Citadel, and then Auburn.

As long as Tua stays healthy, I just don’t see anyone beating them. And I’m not sure I see anyone even staying close to the Tide.

7. Auburn’s loss pretty much dooms the Pac 12 playoff chances.

Why is that? Because Washington’s loss to Auburn isn’t going to look very good at the end of the year now that the Tigers are pretty much guaranteed, at best, a three loss SEC season. (And that’s probably being generous considering Auburn has to go on the road at Georgia and at Alabama. An 8-4 season, at best, is much more likely).

Unless you think Colorado is going 13-0 then Washington is the class of the Pac 12 and the Huskies just aren’t likely to end up with a resume that compares very favorably with, for instance, a 12-1 Alabama or a 12-1 Georgia as the second best SEC team.

Or even an 11-1 Penn State or 12-1 Big 12 champ.

I think the Pac 12 is going to be left out of the playoff for a second straight season.

8. The SEC is in very good shape for two playoff teams again if both Alabama and Georgia enter the SEC title game 12-0. 

Why do I think this?

I believe it’s unlikely the playoff is made up of four unbeaten teams. In order for four unbeaten teams to emerge we’d need for four of these teams to be 13-0: Alabama or Georgia to run the table in the SEC, Ohio State in the Big Ten, Clemson in the ACC, West Virginia in the Big 12, Colorado in the Pac 12, and Notre Dame would need to go 12-0.

I think it’s fair to say the odds of West Virginia or Colorado going 13-0 are slim.

If I were ranking the teams most likely to go undefeated, I’d rank them thusly: Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia. (That’s based on analyzing the difficulty of the schedule combined with the quality of the team).

Is it possible we get 13-0 Alabama/Georgia, 13-0 Ohio State, 13-0 Clemson and 12-0 Notre Dame? Certainly.

If that’s the case then the playoff committee would be ecstatic and the job would be easy to pick the contending teams. But I think it’s far more likely that every team isn’t undefeated.

If that happens then the best one loss resume in the country would be 12-1 Alabama or 12-1 Georgia.

Which would mean the SEC would have a very good chance of getting two teams in the playoff again.

9. The SEC East may be better than the SEC West this season. 

So far the SEC East is 3-1 against the SEC West and the only SEC West win is Texas A&M in overtime against Kentucky.

But I think one of the most interesting questions through the first half of the season, is what’s up with Auburn’s offense? The Tigers have committed $49 million to Gus Malzahn.

Yet this offense has not worked at all with Jarrett Stidham at quarterback. Maybe it’s just the case that Malzahn needs a mobile quarterback for his offense to work and Stidham is a bad fit, but it’s pretty shocking that Auburn is averaging 21 points a game against FBS opponents so far this season.

If the Tigers go 8-4 or 7-5 this season, which seems likely, what in the world is Auburn going to do with Malzahn’s massive contract? Is Malzahn really one of the top five coaches in America?

Gripe of the week: can we get cameras down the goal line in every major college football game? I don’t think Mississippi State scored on the final play of the first half against Auburn and I think Auburn might have scored late in the third quarter, but we don’t know for sure because we didn’t have good footage down the length of the goal line. How is it possible that we didn’t have better replay angles on both of these plays? Whatever small additional cost there is for stationary cameras on both sides of the end zone has to be a drop in the bucket considering how massive these television contracts are. Let’s get better footage, please.

Also, what’s going to happen with LSU? If the Tigers lose to Georgia this coming weekend, which seems likely, and then to Alabama on the first weekend of November, then we’re looking at a 6-3 LSU team. Would I have to rescind my apology to Coach Orgeron and LSU if the Tigers finish 8-4 with a loss to Texas A&M?

I might have to do that.

10. Here’s the Outkick Top Ten for week 6. 

1. Alabama

2. Georgia

3. Notre Dame

4. Ohio State

5. West Virginia

6. Clemson

7. Central Florida

8. Penn State

9. Washington

10. Tie: Florida, LSU, Miami, Oklahoma, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan, NC State, basically I have no idea who deserves this final spot.

11. SEC power rankings:

1. Alabama

2. Georgia

3. Florida

4. LSU

5. Texas A&M

6. Kentucky

7. Mississippi State

8. Auburn

9. South Carolina

10. Ole Miss

11. Missouri

12. Vanderbilt

13. Tennessee

14. Arkansas

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.