ON THE OUTSIDE
10. NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS
Pat Fitzgerald’s boys certainly deserve a Top 10 ranking heading into bowl season. A final record of 10-2 with a top 10 win over Stanford, top four loss to Iowa and top 25 loss to Michigan should elevate Northwestern to 10th.
9. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
ACC Coastal champion North Carolina should finally make its break into the Top 10 after a slow and steady climb up the rankings.
The Tar Heels’ resume is bereft of really attention-grabbing wins, and their Week 1 loss to South Carolina is a clunker. Even with a win over Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, the Tar Heels are guaranteed nothing.
However, a loss ensures North Carolina is out of the running.
8. NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
The unfortunate irony of Notre Dame almost assuredly missing the Playoff is that this Fighting Irish bunch is superior to the 2012 version, which played for the BCS Championship.
Two losses on the road. Dropped to a pair of Top 10 opponents. By four total points. With a bevy of injuries along the starting lineup. Whew.
Forget 2012, the 2015 season is more likely to cause Notre Dame fans pain in the vein of 1993.
7. STANFORD CARDINAL
Stanford’s ranking heading into Championship Week may be the most telling insight into the committee’s collective thought process for this season.
Last week’s win over Notre Dame was the missing, signature line on a wholly impressive resume. The Cardinal have two losses, both to Top 25 opponents with a combined 19 wins, but they also played more Power Five competition than any other Playoff competitor.
There’s a compelling argument to be made that two-loss deserves ranking ahead of one-loss Ohio State — and, if the committee is serious about making strength-of-schedule a priority, the Cardinal will indeed be positioned ahead of the Buckeyes.
6. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Ohio State is best positioned among at-large hopefuls to steal a bid next week. The Buckeyes finished the regular season with the dominant performance that eluded them much of the fall, and they provided it against a quality opponent in Michigan.
Ohio State can’t sustain another loss, and at 11-1, could jump the loser of the Big Ten Championship Game.
With the right amount of breaks, the defending national champs can give the Big Ten two Playoff participants. Any combination of North Carolina beating Clemson, USC upsetting Stanford, or Florida stunning Alabama would suffice.
5. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Michigan State’s path to the Playoff is quite clear. With a win over Iowa in Indianapolis, Sparty is in, no questions asked.
A defeat of Iowa should even elevate Michigan State into the No. 1 seed conversation, depending how Championship Week shakes out. A resume featuring wins over Iowa, Ohio State and Oregon compares favorably to any of the other potential No. 1 seeds.