Ranking the College Football Teams Most Likely to Enter December Unbeaten

Just seven undefeated college football teams remain after SMU lost at Memphis on Saturday night.

Those seven programs come from four different conferences and there are still three upcoming games in the regular season between those seven currently undefeated teams, so at the most, there will be no more than five undefeated teams left in the sport prior to conference title games.

Last month, we ranked the 18 teams that had an undefeated record through September based on the likelihood that their perfect record would survive October. We correctly forecasted Clemson (No. 2 in our rankings), Alabama (No. 3) and Ohio State (No. 5), while whiffing on Georgia (No. 1) and being too low on Penn State (No. 15).

Now we’ll do the same exercise for the month of November. Since Week 10 included two undefeated teams playing on Halloween night, we’ll define the game weeks in the month of November as Week 11 through Week 14.

We’re trying to answer the following question: Based on the next four weeks, which of the remaining undefeated teams are most likely to still be undefeated on December 1?

 

7. Minnesota (8-0)

With all due respect to Minnesota’s undefeated start, we’re going to sell short on the Gophers’ chances of entering the Big Ten Championship with a perfect record. They host No. 5 Penn State on Saturday, travel to No. 18 Iowa the week after that and host No. 16 Wisconsin in their season finale.

That’s a worst-case scenario of a 9-3 regular season and missing the Big Ten Championship despite their current two-game lead in the Big Ten West with four games left. The SP+ rankings are higher on Penn State (by 4.6 points) and Wisconsin (1.5 points) than Minnesota, so even though the Gophers will host both schools, advanced analytics say they’re probably not as good as those two opponents.

Penn State opened as a 6.5-point favorite over Minnesota, according to Vegas Insider, so there’s a good chance the Gophers’ undefeated season comes to an end on Saturday, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they lose to at least one of Iowa or Wisconsin.

 

6. Penn State (8-0)

Maybe you could make the case that Penn State deserves to be last on this list because the Nittany Lions are the only remaining undefeated team that has to travel to face two of the other remaining undefeated teams this month. They go to Minnesota in Week 11 and play at Ohio State in Week 13.

Sandwiched in between is a home game against Indiana, which is knocking on the door of being ranked and won’t be a push-over. Even if Penn State is the second-best team in the Big Ten East (and the conference overall), the SP+ rankings see Ohio State as being 9.3 points better, which doesn’t include the home-field advantage of the Horseshoe.

 

5. Baylor (8-0)

The Bears finish the regular season with three games against top-35 opponents, according to the SP+ rankings, most notably No. 9 Oklahoma in Week 12. They have two road games left – at TCU in Week 11 and at Kansas in Week 14 – with a pair of home games against the Big 12’s two biggest brands – Oklahoma and Texas – sandwiched in between.

On a game-by-game basis, that’s a navigable schedule. Sure, from a single-game viewpoint, Baylor could win at TCU, it could upset Oklahoma at home and it could beat a disappointing and injured Texas team.

But can the Bears win all three of those games in consecutive weeks?

It’s unlikely, but if they do, they could earn their highest ranking ever in the CFP rankings – topping the No. 5 ranking they earned in 2014.

 

4. LSU (8-0)

Is it unfair, or at the very least unwise, to have the AP poll’s No. 1 team this low in the rankings?

Well, we’ll find out on Saturday. Among national title contenders (sorry, Minnesota), only Oklahoma and Oregon’s defenses ranks worse (No. 30 and No. 19, respectively) in the SP+ rankings than LSU’s defense (No. 18), and the Tigers travel on Saturday to face a rival that they haven’t beaten in almost a decade, so it’s OK to be cautious about LSU’s chances of going 12-0.

The Tigers opened as a seven-point underdog to the Crimson Tide, according to Vegas Insider.

LSU’s second-toughest remaining game is at home against Texas A&M, which beat LSU 74-72 after seven overtimes last season, but the SP+ rankings see the Tigers as almost a 14-point favorite on a neutral field, so Alabama is likely the only game left on the Tigers’ schedule that should be a serious challenge.

An 11-1 LSU team could still potentially make the College Football Playoff, so we’re not selling on the Tigers, just potentially their chances of going 12-0.

 

3. Alabama (8-0)

The Crimson Tide will host No. 1 LSU this weekend, and Alabama opened as a seven-point favorite, according to Vegas Insider. The SP+ rankings see the Crimson Tide as 4.5 points better on a neutral field, so the sharps and the computers say that Alabama is the better team.

That all depends on the health and availability of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. (If it doesn’t depend on Tua, who hypothetically somehow doesn’t play Saturday and Alabama’s offense is just as lethal with Mac Jones, then the rest of the country better watch out.)

LSU hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2011, which is pretty crazy for a rivalry of this magnitude, so this year’s data and recent historical trends suggest that the Crimson Tide will win this year.

But that’s far from a guarantee.

Alabama closes the season at No. 12 Auburn, which has a top-10 defense and has beaten the Crimson Tide twice in the last six years.

 

2. Ohio State (8-0)

It speaks to the dominance of the Buckeyes that they can close the regular season against two top-15 teams that are probably the second- and third-best teams in the division, including one on the road, and they still have an excellent shot at going 12-0.

The next two weeks should be a cake walk. Ohio State opened as a 44-point favorite (!) over Maryland this week, and if you think that’s a big spread, just wait until the Buckeyes go to Rutgers in Week 12.

Then it’s the two big ones: home against currently undefeated Penn State and at Michigan. ESPN’s FPI currently gives Ohio State an 80.5 percent chance of victory against the Nittany Lions and an 80.8 percent chance in Ann Arbor. So not only would the computers expect Ohio State to finish 12-0, they’d say it would probably take five games against both of the Buckeyes’ last two opponents for them to lose once to either.

 

1. Clemson (9-0)

If you’re still referencing Clemson’s narrow win over North Carolina, you need to get a new talking point.

No, the defending national champs haven’t faced a murderers’ row of opponents, but they’ve won each of their last four games by at least 31 points. Maybe Trevor Lawrence hasn’t lived up to his billing as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner but the Tigers are currently No. 5 in the SP+ rankings with the No. 7 offense and No. 5 defense.

They only have three games left – at NC State in Week 11, home against No. 22 Wake Forest in Week 12, a bye week, then a road trip to South Carolina. Maybe one of those last two games, if not both, are at least competitive for a quarter or two but the Demon Deacons rank No. 46 in SP+ so you can argue they’re maybe not as good as their record, and the Gamecocks, despite beating Georgia on the road, are a fringe top-40 team, according to SP+.

Prepare yourself for a 13-0 Clemson team being in the College Football Playoff once again.

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