Seven full weeks have been completed in the college football season. The College Football Playoffs only has four spots this year until the format is expanded to 12 in the coming seasons. Some teams have shown us they are true contenders for a National Championship while others are pretenders just waiting to be exposed. Sorting out which category each school belongs to can be a difficult process but this is why I am here. Watching every game can be hard so I will give you my opinion on which schools are for real and which schools are pretenders.
Tennessee: Contender – Any team that can be undefeated and also defeat Alabama is instantly a contender. Hendon Hooker is arguably the favorite for the Heisman after his performance against the Crimson Tide. The Tennessee offense is rolling and one of the best in the country. Josh Huepel has brought excitement back to Knoxville this season. The defense does raise a slight concern about their title chances. Tennessee has allowed 332 passing yards per game which ranks as the third worst in the entire country ahead of Vanderbilt and Ohio University. The Volunteers will face Georgia on November 3rd which will likely determine the winner of the SEC East. A win over the Bulldogs would almost guarantee a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
Ohio State: Contender – Is this Ryan Day’s best team since he was named the head coach at Ohio State? His 2019 squad was loaded with talent on the defensive side of the ball but this year’s offense is one of the best in the program’s history. CJ Stroud is one of the front runners for the Heisman and continues to impress each week. The Buckeyes are showing off their offense even without Jaxon Smith-Njiba. The Ohio State defense has become a strength after being a liability last season. The Buckeye’s defense allows just 253 yards per game which ranks sixth in the country. Ohio State should cruise through their remaining schedule until they play Michigan. Penn State always plays the Buckeyes tough and could be a game to watch on October 29th.
UCLA: Pretender – The UCLA offense has been one of the best in the nation this season. Dorian Thompson-Robinson is playing at a Heisman caliber level. Two of his best games of the season came on the biggest stages when playing Washington and Utah. UCLA has been fortunate to play almost every game at home this season. The only road contest was against a bad Colorado team. UCLA’s strength of schedule currently ranks 78th with two premier games left on the schedule. The Bruins will hit the road this weekend to play Oregon. The UCLA defense will be put to the test once again with Oregon’s high powered offense. UCLA will need to go undefeated in order to have a chance at the College Football Playoffs. The Bruins could defeat Oregon on Saturday which will leave the looming matchup with USC. UCLA could prove me wrong but right now they are pretenders as I believe there luck will run out soon.
Georgia: Contender – The reigning national champions are going to be on this list until they lose at least one game. Georgia started the season off with a bang by obliterating Oregon in the first game of the season. The Bulldogs have been underwhelming with narrow victories over Missouri and Kent State. Georgia appears to back on track after large victories over Auburn and Vanderbilt. The defense has taken an expected step back after five players were taken in the first round of the NFL draft. The Georgia offense will continue to lean on their rushing attack along with Brock Bowers. Kirby Smart and his team are hitting the toughest part of their schedule with games against Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Tennessee occurring over the next month.
Syracuse: Pretender – Syracuse is a wonderful story. We all love Sean Tucker’s twitter posts each week where he highlights his stats from the previous game. The Orange have surprised everyone in college football after Dino Babers was considered on the hot seat entering the season. Syracuse’s dream season will likely be coming to an end over the next few weeks. Baber’s team has been fortunate with their schedule as most of the difficult games are backloaded. Syracuse will travel to Clemson, Pitt and Wake Forest while also hosting Notre Dame and Florida State over the next six weeks. Defeating NC State was impressive but they were without starting quarterback Devin Leary. The talent gap will be too much for Syracuse and they will likely lose multiple games in the second half of the season.
Michigan: Contender – Blake Corum is one of the best running backs in the entire country and he continues to prove it each week. Jim Harbaugh helped Michigan make the College Football Playoffs last year and he has a good chance to repeat his performance. The Wolverines dismantled Penn State on Saturday and are a legitimate threat to Ohio State. Michigan’s defense has been their strength since Harbaugh became the head coach. They are currently allowing just 12.1 points per game. The biggest question down the stretch is about JJ McCarthy. The second year quarterback appears to have a limited playbook where the offense does not take many chances. Michigan will need McCarthy to make big plays down the stretch so the coaches will need to trust him later in the year by opening up the playbook.
TCU: Contender – Originally I wrote TCU as a pretender but after doing further research I switched them to a contender. TCU is already battle tested this season with wins over Oklahoma, Kansas and Oklahoma State. The toughest part of their schedule is already behind them. Max Duggan has made incredible improvements to his game and could be considered a dark horse Heisman candidate. Duggan has thrown 16 touchdowns and only one interception. Kendre Miller has been one of the focal parts of the offense rushing for 578 yards and registering eight touchdowns on the season. The biggest improvement for TCU this season has been their rush defense. Last season the Horned Frogs allowed 222 rushing yards per game while this year they are only allowing 135 yards per game. TCU has remaining games against Kansas State and Texas which will be difficult. A 12-0 record would almost certainly give them a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
Clemson: Contender – The 2022 Clemson Tigers are starting to remind me of the teams Dabo Swinney helped make the College Football Playoffs in recent years. Clemson’s offense is efficient with the ball and has found playmakers to help D.J. Uiagalelei. Uiagalelei has orchestrated a massive turnaround for his career. Experts originally thought he may lose his starting job in the middle of the season to freshman Cade Klubnik if he underperfomed. Uiagalelei has since thrown 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions to help Clemson become the favorite in the ACC once again. Will Shipley has also become a playmaker averaging 5.9 yards per carry and has totaled eight touchdowns this season. Clemson continues to have a strong defense who has forced 13 turnovers already this season. Opposing offenses are averaging just 82 rushing yards per game. Clemson may only face one more ranked opponent this season and will be set up for a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
Alabama: Contender – Alabama is still Alabama. The Crimson Tide have one of the most talented rosters in college football including the reigning Heisman winner. Nick Saban lost to Tennessee for the first time in his career which has resulted in Alabama fans losing their mind on social media. Saban has won six national titles at Alabama but he only finished undefeated in two of those seasons. The target is always on the back of Alabama meaning the Crimson Tide have a difficult time finishing the season undefeated. Jahmyr Gibbs and Jase McClellan are one of the best running back duos in the SEC and will be leaned on heavily the remainder of the season. Will Anderson registered 2.5 sacks against Vanderbilt but has only totaled 2.5 sacks in the other six games. Anderson will need to step up his production in order for Alabama to have a chance at the national title this season.
Ole Miss: Pretender – For a team playing in the SEC, Ole Miss has a poor strength of schedule. Lane Kiffin’s squad ranks 68th in strength of schedule so far this season. The Rebels second half of the season will test them as they play LSU, Alabama, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Texas A&M. Kiffin has helped reload his team after Matt Corral departed for the NFL. Jaxson Dart has done a nice job filling his place throwing for 11 touchdowns but this team is built for the rushing attack. Quinshon Judkins and Zach Evans are a two headed monster with both rushing for over 600 yards and combining for 19 touchdowns this season. Ole Miss has struggled in recent weeks. The Rebels narrowly defeated Tulsa and also struggled to put Auburn away. A time will come where Jaxson Dart needs to play mistake free football and I do not have the confidence in him succeeding this season.
USC: Pretender – USC already has one loss which sets them behind most of the other teams on this list. Lincoln Riley’s first season at USC has largely been considered a success and he is still in line to win 10 games in his first season. The Trojans will be favored in their next three games and should win each contest easily. The end of season matchups with UCLA and Notre Dame will determine if USC even has a shot at the College Football Playoffs. Caleb Williams has helped lead a high powered offense which will finish one of the best in the Pac-12. The biggest concern is the defense. Utah exposed USC’s defense gashing them for over 550 yards of total offense. Riley’s Oklahoma teams were known for poor defensive performances. USC still has an outside shot at the College Football Playoffs but would need help and also impress the committee in their remaining schedule.