The Fourth of July has come and gone, which means college football will officially be back in our lives the next time we celebrate a U.S. holiday. Labor Day comes on the heels of Week 1 of the 2019 college football season, when marquee games like Oregon-Auburn, Oklahoma-Houston and Stanford-Northwestern kick off the fall.
That got us wondering: Which top-25 caliber teams have the best chances of entering October undefeated?
We went through preseason top 25 rankings from various outlets and publications and chose 25 teams that appeared frequently. We then analyzed their schedules through the first five weeks of the 2019 season and ranked them in order of which schools are most likely to carry a 4-0 or 5-0 record into Week 6.
This isn’t a power rankings of which teams we think are the best entering the season, but that certainly plays a role in the rankings. Other factors like the number of road games, the presence of an early-season bye week and challenging non-conference games help determine which teams we think have the best chance of being undefeated when the calendar turns to October 1.
For example, playing Clemson and Alabama early in the season significantly hurts a team’s chances of making it to October undefeated. Having a bye week in Week 2 helps because it means a school only plays four games in the first five weeks, when other schools play five games in that span.
25. Texas A&M
- Aug. 29: vs. Texas State
- Sept. 7: @ Clemson
- Sept. 14: vs. Lamar
- Sept. 21: vs. Auburn
- Sept. 28: vs. Arkansas (Arlington)
The Aggies’ trip to the reigning national champions in Week 2 is as tough as any single game that exists in the college football season. Throw in a Week 4 game against Auburn and Texas A&M’s opening month-plus is very challenging.
Texas A&M finished last season ranked No. 11 in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ ratings and the Aggies might be a legitimate top 10-to-15 team this season but a schedule that features road games at Clemson, Georgia and LSU, plus home games against Alabama and Auburn does them no favors.
- Aug. 31: @ Stanford
- Sept. 7: BYE
- Sept. 14: vs. UNLV
- Sept. 21: vs. Michigan State
- Sept. 28: @ Wisconsin
Stanford opened as a 6.5-point favorite over Northwestern in their Week 1 contest and the early portion of the Wildcats’ schedule doesn’t get easier.
The defending Big Ten West champs host Michigan State before traveling to Wisconsin. The Spartans and Badgers may not be playoff contenders this season but both programs can hope to exceed their seven regular season wins from last year.
Northwestern ranked 68th in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ ratings last season, indicating the Wildcats weren’t as good as their Big Ten Championship appearance would suggest, but if Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson can be an immediate-impact player under center, then perhaps Northwestern can sustain its conference success.
- Aug. 31: @ Liberty
- Sept. 7: @ Maryland
- Sept. 14: vs. Clemson
- Sept. 21: vs. Western Michigan
- Sept. 28: vs. Holy Cross
Having Clemson on your schedule in the first five weeks of the 2019 season is a bad sign for any team’s spot in these rankings but there could be some reason for optimism among the Syracuse faithful, starting with the Orange’s Week 3 matchup with the Tigers coming at home.
Syracuse has played Clemson incredibly tough the last two seasons both the Orange benefited from the Tigers’ starting quarterback getting knocked out of the game on both occasions. They defeated the Tigers two years ago after then-starter Kelly Bryant left the game with a concussion and then last year, Bryant had recently left the team after Trevor Lawrence was named the starter, setting up a nightmare scenario for Clemson when Lawrence was then knocked out of the game.
Now the focus on quarterback depth will be on the Syracuse sideline as the Orange will replace the departed Eric Dungey with Tommy DeVito. That’s a tall task for a new starter to try to keep pace with the firepower of Lawrence, Travis Etienne and a receiving corps led by Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross.
22. Notre Dame
- Sept. 2: at Louisville
- Sept. 7: BYE
- Sept. 14: vs. New Mexico
- Sept. 21: @ Georgia
- Sept. 28: vs. Virginia
The Fighting Irish’s first three weeks should be manageable as they have a bye week sandwiched between games on the road against Louisville and at home against New Mexico, which won a combined five games last season.
But the end of Notre Dame’s September ramps up in intensity as it travels to Athens to face a Georgia team that has established itself one tier behind Alabama and Clemson in the last two seasons. The Bulldogs have to replace an alarming amount of their receiving production from last season but they’ll certainly be favored at kickoff.
Then it’s back to South Bend, where the Fighting Irish will take on a Virginia team that should contend for the ACC Coastal this fall.
- Aug. 31: vs. Oregon (Arlington)
- Sept. 7: vs. Tulane
- Sept. 14: vs. Kent State
- Sept. 21: @ Texas A&M
- Sept. 28: vs. Mississippi State
The Tigers have a pretty grueling opening five weeks with a neutral-site game against Oregon, which is on the short list of favorites to win the Pac-12, followed by a trip to Texas A&M and a home game against Mississippi State at the end of September.
The Ducks and Aggies could debut among the top 15 teams in the preseason AP Top 25 poll and the Bulldogs peaked at No. 14 last year.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn trimmed the team’s quarterback competition to Bo Nix, the former 5-star recruit who’s making a push for the starting job as a freshman, and Joey Gatewood, the early enrollee in 2018 who made his debut against Purdue and is now a redshirt freshman.
Malzahn is resuming play-calling duties, which showed their value in the Tigers’ blowout of the Boilermakers in the Music City Bowl, and he likely enters the fall on the hot seat following his third 8-5 season in five years. That puts all the more pressure on early wins for Auburn in some high-profile showdowns.
- Aug. 30: vs. Rice
- Sept. 7: @ Michigan
- Sept. 14: @ UTSA
- Sept. 21: vs. Morgan State
- Sept. 28: BYE
The Black Knights went 11-2 last season – the program record for single-season win total. One of their two losses was in overtime against playoff-bound Oklahoma and they beat high-powered Houston 70-14 in the Armed Forces Bowl.
So while playing a likely top-10 Michigan team in the Big House is a daunting task, is it any more challenging than taking Oklahoma to the wire on the road last season?
The Wolverines have to replace a number of key contributors on defense, namely Devin Bush, Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich and David Long, so the Black Knights’ pursuit of an undefeated September relies on their option attack giving Michigan fits while the Wolverines are figuring out who will replace the production of their departed stars.
- Aug. 30: @ South Florida
- Sept. 7: vs. Central Michigan
- Sept. 14: BYE
- Sept. 21: vs. Michigan
- Sept. 28: vs. Northwestern
While an early bye week obviously improves a team’s chances of taking an undefeated record deep into the season, a Week 1 road game combined with challenging Week 4 and Week 5 matchups is a cause for concern for a program that went 7-5 last regular season.
South Florida ranked outside of the top 65 in offense and defense last season, according to Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings, so Wisconsin can expect to return to Madison with a win.
However, hosting Michigan, even after a bye week, followed by reigning Big Ten West champion Northwestern to close September is less than a desirable start to conference play.
- Aug. 31: vs. Auburn (Arlington)
- Sept. 7: vs. Nevada
- Sept. 14: vs. Montana
- Sept. 21: @ Stanford
- Sept. 28: BYE
We’ll know quickly if Oregon is the dark horse College Football Playoff contender that many believe the Ducks could be in 2019. They play Auburn in Arlington, Texas, in Week 1 and the last time we saw the Tigers in action, they put up 63 points on Purdue in the Music City Bowl before calling off the dogs.
Auburn opened as a slight favorite over Oregon in Vegas.
A road trip to Stanford in Week 4 is quite a way to start Pac-12 play, too. The Cardinal defeated the Ducks in Eugene in overtime last season and that game in late September should feature one of the premier quarterback battles of the season with Justin Herbert and K.J. Costello.
Maybe the Ducks are 4-0 in late September and rolling towards a top-10 ranking or maybe they’re 2-2 and trending closer to their 9-4 record last season.
- Aug. 31: South Alabama
- Sept. 7: @ Colorado
- Sept. 14: vs. Northern Illinois
- Sept. 21: @ Illinois
- Sept. 28: vs. Ohio State
Even though the Huskers have two road trips in their first four weeks, it’s their Week 5 game against Ohio State that will likely be their most difficult pre-October matchup.
The Buckeyes will have had a month of game action to get quarterback Justin Fields comfortable in his new school’s system and if he plays to his 5-star potential, the juggernaut that is Ohio State football will be a tough one to defeat, regardless of where stadium it plays. While a tall task, a win for Nebraska would certainly jump-start Year 2 of the Scott Frost era at his alma mater.
16. Michigan State
- Aug. 30: vs. Tulsa
- Sept. 7: vs. Western Michigan
- Sept. 14: vs. Arizona State
- Sept. 21: @ Northwestern
- Sept. 28: vs. Indiana
With the possible exception of a trip to defending Big Ten West champion Northwestern in Week 4, there’s not a game in Michigan State’s first five that should really scare Spartan fans on paper.
Sure, Arizona State beat Michigan State by three last fall and it’s only been three years since the Hoosiers beat the Spartans but Michigan State fans could pencil those games in as wins, especially if the Spartans’ defense continues to be nationally elite.
The key for them is on offense, where Brian Lewerke threw two more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (8) last season and the team’s leading rusher, Connor Heyward, barely cracked 500 yards on the season.
A 4-1 start is arguably more likely than an undefeated one but if Michigan State’s defense can continue to stifle opponents, the Spartans are unlikely to find themselves in too many insurmountable deficits.
- Aug. 24: Miami (FL) (Orlando)
- Aug. 31: BYE
- Sept. 7: vs. UT-Martin
- Sept. 14: @ Kentucky
- Sept. 21: vs. Tennessee
- Sept. 28: vs. Towson
Florida opens the 2019 season a week earlier than many teams with a neutral-site game against Miami (FL) in Orlando, where the Gators are favored by more than a touchdown in Vegas. It’s probably fair to project that Kentucky will be slightly worse than its 10-3 season last fall and that Tennessee will take a step forward after going 5-7 in Jeremy Pruitt’s debut season.
The Gators should be a preseason top-10 team after winning 10 games in Year One under Dan Mullen so even though playing three likely bowl teams in the first four games is far from easy, it’s a road Florida can navigate unscathed.
- Aug. 29: Florida A&M
- Sept. 7: @ FAU
- Sept. 14: vs. Stanford
- Sept. 21: @ Pittsburgh
- Sept. 28: UConn
UCF’s worst-case scenario for the 2019 season leaves the Knights with more losses in September than they’ve experienced in the last two seasons combined.
We’re referring to a home game against Stanford followed by a trip to Pittsburgh the next week. The Cardinal were a borderline top-25 team last season and it could be again this season with quarterback K.J. Costello back.
Pitt was a rare 7-7 team last season after no one wanted to win the ACC Coastal but at the very least, the Panthers are a competent Power Five team. Sure, UCF beat Pitt 45-14 last season but UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton threw for 328 yards and four touchdowns, plus two more on the ground.
After Milton suffered a horrific leg injury last season, the Knights must move on without their star quarterback this fall, setting up a position battle between Darriel Mack Jr. and Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush.
If either of those signal-callers can continue the electric play of Milton, UCF could ride into October with an undefeated record. If not, the Knights could have a loss, or two, in the first month of the season.
- Aug. 29: @ BYU
- Sept. 7: vs. Northern Illinois
- Sept. 14: vs. Idaho State
- Sept. 20: @ USC
- Sept. 28: vs. Washington State
Utah opened as a touchdown-favorite over BYU, according to Vegas, but back-to-back games at USC then home against Washington State should prove to be a tougher test.
Still, the Utes are quietly one of the most consistent Power Five programs in the College Football Playoff era, appearing in the CFP rankings in 24 weeks – the sixth-most nationally. Utah won the Pac-12 South last season and it could stay atop the division pecking order with a win at USC in Week 4.
- Aug. 31: vs. Louisiana Tech
- Sept. 7: vs. LSU
- Sept. 14: vs. Rice (Houston)
- Sept. 21: vs. Oklahoma State
- Sept. 28: BYE
The Longhorns should enter the 2019 season with as much momentum as any program that’s seeking its first-ever College Football Playoff appearance. Texas won 10 games last season for the first time since 2009 and a Sugar Bowl win over Georgia got the Longhorns to that double-digit win total.
Texas is currently a home dog to LSU in the eyes of Las Vegas oddsmakers but the Longhorns are certainly capable of defending their home turf if quarterback Sam Ehlinger plays to his Heisman Trophy finalist potential.
Texas doesn’t have to leave the state until October, if you’re someone who pays attention to travel schedules and how they affect win totals.
- Aug. 31: vs. Miami (OH)
- Sept. 7: vs. Rutgers
- Sept. 14: @ Iowa State
- Sept. 21: BYE
- Sept. 28: vs. Middle Tennessee
There’s only one game among Iowa’s first four that jumps out as a significant challenge. The Hawkeyes have won at least eight games in each of the last four seasons and they have a friendly start to their 2019 slate with the exception of their trip to Ames in Week 3.
Iowa State will likely be in the second tier of Big 12 teams behind Oklahoma and Texas, making the Cyclones the Hawkeyes’ biggest early-season test before traveling to Michigan in Week 6.
If Iowa arrives in Ann Arbor at 4-0, the Hawkeyes will be well on their way to another eight-plus win season.
- Aug. 31: vs. Eastern Washington
- Sept. 7: vs. California
- Sept. 14: vs. Hawaii
- Sept. 21: @ BYU
- Sept. 28: vs. USC
It was long assumed that Georgia transfer Jacob Eason was guaranteed to be Washington’s starting quarterback but reports indicate he was firmly in a quarterback battle with Jake Haener in the spring.
If he wins that competition and plays up to his prep potential as a 5-star recruit who was ranked among the top five recruits in the 2016 recruiting class, Washington could challenge for another Pac-12 title and potentially a College Football Playoff appearance.
But if quarterback is a position of concern for the Huskies, then it could show cracks in September.
The Huskies lost an ugly 12-10 game to Cal last season and this is likely a make-or-break season for USC coach Clay Helton, whose Trojans travel to Washington in Week 5.
9. Iowa State
- Aug. 31: vs. Northern Iowa
- Sept. 7: BYE
- Sept. 14: vs. Iowa
- Sept. 21: vs. Louisiana-Monroe
- Sept. 28: @ Baylor
The Cyclones lost 13-3 in Iowa City to the Hawkeyes in their season opener last fall before freshman Brock Purdy leap-frogged Kyle Kempt and Zeb Noland as the team’s starting quarterback. Iowa State finished the regular season 7-1 once Purdy took over under center.
The Cyclones will have to replace leading rusher David Montgomery and leading receiver Hakeem Butler but a full offseason of first-team reps for Purdy, plus the continuation of one of the Big 12’s best defenses, should give Iowa State fans confidence that their team can enter October with a 4-0 record.
Iowa State doubled up Baylor last season, 28-14, despite Purdy leading the team in rushing with just 56 yards after Montgomery was ejected.
- Aug. 31: vs. Georgia Southern
- Sept. 7: @ Texas
- Sept. 14: vs. Northwestern State
- Sept. 21: @ Vanderbilt
- Sept. 28: BYE
There’s only one game worth circling in the first month-plus of LSU’s schedule and that’s in Week 2 at Texas. It should be a top-10 matchup and the winner will certainly vault into the College Football Playoff discussion (while the loser can remain in it if it wins the rest of its games).
LSU opened as the betting favorite in Vegas against Texas and if quarterback Joe Burrow can progress after a full offseason in Baton Rouge, there’s reason to believe the Tigers could take an undefeated record not just through September but into late October.
- Aug. 31: vs. Middle Tennessee
- Sept. 7: vs. Army
- Sept. 14: BYE
- Sept. 21: @ Wisconsin
- Sept. 28: vs. Rutgers
This year could be the year that Michigan breaks through and wins the Big Ten, potentially making the College Football Playoff. That’s because Urban Meyer is no longer on the sidelines for Ohio State, which has a young quarterback room, and the Wolverines host the Buckeyes this year.
But if the Wolverines are going to realize their potential, they have a lot of games to win before that November 30 showdown with the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor.
Army and Wisconsin represent top-25-caliber teams but the former travels to Michigan and the latter is coming off a disappointing season, which was followed by starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook transferring in the offseason.
Rutgers is, well, Rutgers.
In short, if Michigan takes a loss before October, there will probably be much bigger problems in Ann Arbor than the Wolverines yet again being unable to beat the Buckeyes.
6. Ohio State
- Aug. 31: vs. FAU
- Sept. 7: vs. Cincinnati
- Sept. 14: @ Indiana
- Sept. 21: vs. Miami (OH)
- Sept. 28: @ Nebraska
Realistically, Ohio State’s chances of entering October undefeated likely hinge on the progress Nebraska coach Scott Frost and his program can make in Year Two.
Sure, there are questions about what the Buckeyes look like in the inaugural season of the Ryan Day era and how game-ready Justin Fields is as a first-time starting quarterback but Ohio State has only lost at home in August or September twice this decade: to the Baker Mayfield-led Oklahoma Sooners in 2017 and the weird Virginia Tech loss in 2014 that proved to be the only loss the national title-winning Buckeyes would endure.
So we’ll chalk up games against FAU, a much-improved Cincinnati and Miami (OH) as wins.
Ohio State has been tested in its last three trips to Indiana (the Hoosiers led 21-20 with less than 20 minutes to play in 2018, they had a pass to the end zone as time expired that could’ve led to a game-tying PAT in 2015 and they rallied for a not-as-close-as-the-score-would-indicate 52-49 loss to the Buckeyes in 2013) but the Buckeyes are 79-9-4 all-time against the neighboring Hoosiers, who are coming off of back-to-back 5-7 seasons.
That leaves the Huskers.
Ohio State only beat Nebraska, which was 2-6 at the time, 36-31 last season. Now replace Heisman Trophy finalist Dwayne Haskins with the largely unproven Fields and put the game in Lincoln, not Columbus, and things get interesting.
- Aug. 31: BYE
- Sept. 1: vs. Houston
- Sept. 7: vs. South Dakota
- Sept. 14: @ UCLA
- Sept. 28: vs. Texas Tech
Coming off of back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, Oklahoma should like its chances to get off to another strong start.
Two of the Sooners’ first four opponents have new head coaches – Dana Holgorsen at Houston and Matt Wells at Texas Tech. Their only road trip of the month is against a UCLA team that went 3-9 in its first season under Chip Kelly.
The biggest questions for Oklahoma are internal: What does its offense look like with a power-running quarterback in Jalen Hurts and what impact will new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch have on the other side of the ball?
- Aug. 29: vs. Georgia Tech
- Sept. 7: vs. Texas A&M
- Sept. 14: @ Syracuse
- Sept. 21: vs. Charlotte
- Sept. 28: @ North Carolina
In a vacuum, Clemson’s first five weeks are as challenging as many of the schedules that are on this list. The Tigers play four Power Five opponents, two road games, and a Texas A&M team that could crack the top 15 this fall if the Aggies stay afloat through their brutal schedule.
But Clemson will likely enter the season as the preseason No. 1 team with Heisman contenders at quarterback and running back.
So while many Power Five head coaches might lose sleep over a schedule featuring games against Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Syracuse and North Carolina before the start of October, the Tigers are coming off of a 15-0 season and there’s a reason their over/under win total for this season is 11 wins.
Don’t be surprised to see them at 5-0 after September 28.
- Aug. 31: @ Vanderbilt
- Sept. 7: vs. Murray State
- Sept. 14: vs. Arkansas State
- Sept. 21: vs. Notre Dame
- Sept. 28: BYE
Georgia will likely be a preseason top-five team this fall and there’s a chance it could be favored in every game in the regular season, depending on how Florida (neutral site on November 2) and Auburn (on the road on November 16) fare this fall.
A season-opening road trip to Vanderbilt is manageable for junior starting quarterback Jake Fromm and a deep and talented backfield, which could be heavily relied upon early in the season as the Bulldogs try to replace Mecole Hardman, Riley Ridley, Isaac Nauta, Jeremiah Holloman and Terry Godwin.
The Week 4 game against Notre Dame is the one to highlight. The Fighting Irish made their first-ever College Football Playoff appearance last season and the two schools played a competitive and pivotal game in Week 2 of the 2017 season, when Georgia won 20-19 in South Bend.
The Bulldogs opened as a 9.5-point favorite, according to the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, which means Georgia should expect to travel to Tennessee in Week 6 with an undefeated record.
2. Penn State
- Aug. 31: vs. Idaho
- Sept. 7: vs. Buffalo
- Sept. 14: vs. Pittsburgh
- Sept. 21: BYE
- Sept. 27: @ Maryland
The Nittany Lions could be a dark horse to win the Big Ten East, if not the conference as a whole. They do, however, have to replace quarterback Trace McSorley, who was the heart and soul of the team, as well as running back Miles Sanders. Redshirt sophomore Sean Clifford appears to be the incumbent to win the team’s starting job at quarterback and he’ll have the chance to ease into the role with games against Idaho and Buffalo to start the season.
With a bye week before Penn State’s first road trip of the season against Maryland, which is under the new leadership of coach Mike Locksley, the Nittany Lions could reasonably take an undefeated record into mid-October.
- Aug. 31: vs. Duke (Atlanta)
- Sept. 7: vs. New Mexico State
- Sept. 14: @ South Carolina
- Sept. 21: vs. Southern Miss
- Sept. 28: vs. Ole Miss
The Crimson Tide may not play a ranked opponent until Week 7, when it travels to play division foe Texas A&M in College Station. Alabama kicks the season off with a neutral-site game against Duke in Atlanta and we saw what happened last season when the Crimson Tide opened the season against a non-Clemson ACC opponent.
Alabama left Orlando with a 51-14 win over Louisville last season.
The Crimson Tide travel to South Carolina to kick off conference play in Week 3, when it’ll face senior quarterback Jake Bentley, who will leave Columbia as one of the program’s all-time greats. On paper, Alabama’s road game at South Carolina appears to be its toughest test before October considering the Crimson Tide beat Ole Miss 62-7 on the road last season.