Predicting When Every Undefeated College Football Team Will Lose

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2017

Predicting When Every Undefeated College Football Team Will Lose

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    After Iowa State shocked Oklahoma in Norman and Michigan State continued its recent run of dominance against Michigan last weekend, we're left with 13 unbeaten teams in college football.

    That won't last long.

    This is the time of year when wacky things happen, the top programs in the country begin to separate themselves from the rest of the pack and the conference season serves as a major divider between the best and the rest.

    It looks like the sport's two premier teams of the past couple of seasons—Alabama and Clemson—are primed to be right there at season's end again. Others such as Georgia, Washington, Washington State, Penn State and TCU are making noise, too.

    But they can't all stay undefeated forever. A couple could even fall off this weekend.

    Let's take a look at all of the unbeatens and consider when they'll suffer their next setback.

Lower-Ranked and Unranked Unbeatens

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    No. 19 San Diego State Aztecs (6-0)

    First loss will come: Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, Dec. 30

    Everybody is focusing on the undefeated Florida "Group of Five" teams, and they may stay unbeaten throughout the season. At least one of them will lose, however, as South Florida and Central Florida meet Nov. 24. 

    The Aztecs are the best bet to win out and be the representative in the New Year's Six bowl games. That win against Stanford will age nicely, and SDSU won't get beaten until it makes it to the Fiesta Bowl.


    No. 22 Central Florida Knights (4-0)

    First loss will come: South Florida, Nov. 24

    Scott Frost is one of the hottest coaching commodities out there. The only thing that stopped the Knights from scoring Saturday night in the 51-23 win over Cincinnati was the rain that ended the game in the third quarter.

    This is a team that has several tough games remaining, but they're legit. This offense is too good to get beaten until a major showdown with the Bulls in Orlando late in the season. That's when USF's defense should be the difference. Then, they'll both have a loss.


    Unranked Navy Midshipmen (5-0)

    First loss will come: at Memphis, Saturday

    You're not going to find a more disciplined, fundamentally sound team than the Midshipmen, and it's obvious why.

    While this is a quality squad head coach Ken Niumatalolo has built, there are more talented teams with too much offensive firepower for Navy to hang with. That starts this weekend with a road trip to Memphis to take on Riley Ferguson and the Tigers.

    It'll be close, but Memphis will hand the Midshipmen their first loss. 

No. 18 South Florida Bulls (5-0)

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    Brian Blanco/Getty Images

    First loss will come: vs. Houston, Oct. 28

    This is an excellent South Florida team.

    Not only is quarterback Quinton Flowers a dynamic dual-threat athlete who has lit up scoreboards throughout his career in Tampa, but USF has also got a lot of other offensive playmakers.

    Defensively, the Charlie Strong effect is beginning to manifest itself in the Bulls' mentality. They're second nationally in rush defense, trailing only Alabama. They're 15th in total defense, which is strong considering most expected USF's offense to carry it.

    Strong looks like a good replacement for departed head coach Willie Taggart, who went to Oregon just when it looked like the Bulls were going to break through with a magical season.

    This team could go undefeated in the regular season and be in a battle with San Diego State to get the best bowl bid of the Group of Five squads. But occasional early-season struggles, against San Jose State and Stony Brook, are still fresh.

    This team is also capable of playing a poor game.

    Though the Bulls are probably better than Houston, the Cougars are improving, and they've got a stout defense that looked good against SMU last weekend in a 35-22 win. This may be the biggest upset on this list, but that's one that needs to be circled later this month.

    The Bulls will lose that game, rally, regroup and win the AAC. 

No. 11 Miami Hurricanes (4-0)

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    First loss will come: vs. Georgia Tech, Saturday

    A week after dominating Duke on a Friday night in what was a battle of unbeatens Sept. 29, the Hurricanes produced a dramatic comeback victory against Florida State last weekend in one of the best games we'll see all year.

    After a back-and-forth contest, Miami quarterback Malik Rosier found Darrell Langham on a 23-yard scoring strike to cap a frenetic finish and break a seven-year drought against the Seminoles. But it was a costly, taxing win.

    The Hurricanes lost star running back Mark Walton to a season-ending ankle injury, per coach Mark Richt (via the Miami Herald's Susan Miller Degnan). Offensive guard Navaughn Donaldson (ankle) and star receiver Ahmmon Richards (hamstring) are question marks this week, too.

    The Hurricanes host Georgia Tech this weekend, and the Yellow Jackets haven't lost since a season-opening, double-overtime setback to Tennessee in a game they dominated for stretches. This will be a scary foe at a tough time for Miami.

    Tech runs like crazy and comes at you from all different directions, and Miami hasn't been particularly good in that area this year, ranking 62nd in run defense. The Hurricanes haven't faced anybody like this, either, and Paul Johnson's team is tough to scheme against.

    The 'Canes have to find some playmakers to go along with Rosier, and though Richt has done a great job in two years, they aren't deep enough to sustain success yet. If they get by Georgia Tech, they may go unbeaten until Nov. 11 versus Virginia Tech.

No. 8 Washington State Cougars (6-0)

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    First loss will come: vs. USC in Pac-12 Championship Game, Dec. 1

    Last year when Washington State battled Washington in Pullman late in the season, the Huskies demoralized the Cougars, 45-17. 

    This year, it will be a different story.

    With California, Colorado, Arizona, Stanford and Utah remaining before that rivalry game, Washington State will face several potential pitfalls. But the Cougars will win all of those if they remain relatively healthy and quarterback Luke Falk continues his air assault on the Pac-12.

    They don't just feature Falk, either. They've got a running game and solid defense, and Mike Leach's team is legit. That's going to be a great battle in Seattle at the end of the season, but look for Wazzu to exact a little payback.

    Once that happens, it'll meet Southern Cal in the Pac-12 title game, and it will be the Trojans' turn to return the favor. If WSU wins that one, the College Football Playoff may be its reward. That seems far away right now, but it's reachable.

    The win over USC two weeks ago proved WSU is legit, and a domination on the road of Oregon last week only bolstered that proof. Look for Leach's team to roll into the conference championship unscathed. That's when quarterback Sam Darnold will have the opportunity to exact a little revenge.

    And the Trojans are too good to beat twice in one season. They'll have their turnover issues figured out by then.

No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers (5-0)

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    First loss will come: vs. Purdue, Saturday

    You just know there are going to be major upsets of highly thought-of teams on this list and at the top of the rankings. If you don't believe that, just ask the Sooners and Wolverines, who are licking wounds from last weekend's shockers.

    There will be another this weekend when the Boilermakers head into Camp Randall as double-digit underdogs, per OddsShark.

    The Badgers are defensively sound and disciplined, and they just came off a three-touchdown beatdown of Nebraska that got worse than it looked on the scoreboard late in the game. Purdue is going to be a tough out, though, and while you may expect Wisconsin to handle business at home, it's not a guarantee.

    Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm is causing everybody to take notice of his coaching chops, especially after last weekend's upset of Minnesota. This team believes it can win, and though Wisconsin is 5-0, it may be time for a letdown game.

    The Boilermakers' two-quarterback system is giving opponents fits, and few question Brohm's offensive acumen. But the defensive turnaround is just as vital to Purdue's resurgence. It is second in the Big Ten in takeaways with 12, and it could force a couple of turnovers from Wisconsin Saturday.

    Purdue is the best team Wisconsin has played this season, and the Boilermakers are getting better every week.

    If Wisconsin gets through this weekend, it won't have a real test until the Iowa-Michigan-Minnesota trio to close the year. But watch out for the Boilermakers.

No. 6 TCU Horned Frogs (5-0)

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    First loss will come: at Oklahoma, Nov. 11

    Nobody expected this kind of start from TCU, but the Horned Frogs proved they're legit with a convincing road win over Oklahoma State, followed by a home victory against a better-than-advertised West Virginia.

    That game against the Mountaineers in Fort Worth last week went back and forth late, but coach Gary Patterson's team showed everybody it can win games in pressure-packed moments. Quarterback Kenny Hill grew up a lot in the 31-24 victory, even if it was in front of the home folks.

    Because of that, there are plenty of reasons to believe TCU can return to its winning ways after a few years' worth of lulls. Even though the Sooners lost at home against Iowa State this past weekend, that will still be a tough matchup.

    If TCU's veteran defense is still playing at a high level, it would not be a surprise to see the Horned Frogs go into Norman and pull out another big-time win. But quarterback Baker Mayfield and Co. rebounded last year after a disappointing start. So, don't think they'll lie down after the setback to the Cyclones.

    As well-rounded as this TCU team is, it's going to be difficult for it to navigate through a treacherous Big 12 schedule unscathed. A late-season loss to the Sooners will harm their chances for a playoff berth.

    But this will still be an outstanding year for Patterson's team, which is proving it's the top squad in Texas.

No. 5 Washington Huskies (6-0)

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    Timothy Gonzelez/Associated Press

    First loss will come: Washington State, Nov. 25

    After last season's march to the College Football Playoff, the Washington Huskies look primed to repeat that run. With quarterback Jake Browning throwing darts, Dante Pettis getting it done as a receiver and on special teams, a quality two-headed monster at running back and a strong defense, U-Dub is back.

    But a home game at the end of the season against Washington State looms large.

    This year, the Cougars are for real, and this looks like an evenly matched game between Leach's team and Chris Petersen's Huskies. Last season, Browning struggled against good defenses. He'll face one when the Huskies host WSU late in the year. The Cougars have the nation's sixth-rated pass defense.

    This isn't your older brother's Wazzu; it's a complete team. Against Oregon, WSU had four sacks, 11 tackles for loss and forced three turnovers. The Ducks were 2-of-17 on third down.

    "We're happy," WSU safety Robert Taylor told the Spokesman-Review's John Blanchette, "but we're not satisfied."

    They'd probably be a lot closer to their desired state if they could avenge the 45-17 loss to the Huskies from a year ago. Washington, on the other hand, will also probably be unbeaten, and the winner of that game will have a strong shot at the College Football Playoff.

    This has all the trappings of what Bedlam between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State looked like it would be earlier in the year.

No. 4 Georgia Bulldogs (6-0)

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    First loss will come: at Auburn, Nov. 11

    With defenders flying around everywhere, running backs shuffling in and out and not missing a beat and freshman quarterback Jake Fromm playing like a veteran, the early season has been fun for the Georgia Bulldogs.

    Athens is in a frenzy. Dawgs fans believe this could be the team to unseat Alabama as the best in the SEC. But though UGA looks like it'll win the SEC East, it'll be interesting to see how the Bulldogs stack up against the top squads from the West.

    We'll get to see later this season.

    As always, UGA will play Auburn, and this year, that game will be on the Plains. If everything goes as expected, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart will get the opportunity to face his teacher, Nick Saban, and Alabama in the SEC title game.

    That may be for a spot in the College Football Playoff, but Georgia will enter it with a loss, suffered at Auburn.

    The Tigers are beginning to look like the team many thought they'd be at the beginning of the year. Their only loss was a sack-filled setback at Clemson, but quarterback Jarrett Stidham is improving every game. Running backs Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway are strong.

    This AU defense is as good as any in the nation, too. So, the game against Georgia is going to be fun.

    Give the slight nod to the Tigers' chances of handing Smart his first loss of the 2017 season.

No. 3 Penn State Nittany Lions (6-0)

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    First loss will come: vs. Clemson in the College Football Playoff, Jan. 1, 2018

    The game against a surging Ohio State team in Columbus on Oct. 28 looms like an ominous cloud on Penn State's horizon, but the Nittany Lions are up to the challenge.

    Last year in Happy Valley, the upset of the Buckeyes helped head coach James Franklin, running back Saquon Barkley, quarterback Trace McSorley and Co. turn things around. Now, they have to go on the road and win to keep that playoff train chugging.

    They will.

    But even after PSU beats Ohio State and wins the Big Ten title game, things will get even tougher for the Lions. If the situation stays the same (and, if you're reading these predictions, you know we think it will) the Lions will be the No. 3 seed against No. 2 Clemson.

    That will be a fun game to watch.

    Even though PSU has plenty of weapons to put up points, Clemson's front seven is the best in college football. So, that'll be a tall task. In the end, the Tigers will do what it takes to make it to a third consecutive national championship game.

    Then, Barkley will be off to the NFL, and things will get tougher for Franklin to keep the Lions playing at the highest level. 

No. 2 Clemson Tigers (6-0)

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    Todd Bennett/Getty Images

    First loss will come: vs. Alabama in the national championship game, Jan. 8, 2018

    Everybody knew head coach Dabo Swinney could recruit, but it's still difficult to believe the Tigers aren't missing a beat after losing generational talent Deshaun Watson at quarterback and all those playmakers.

    They even lost a few defensive stalwarts such as Ben Boulware.

    Yet, here are the Tigers, undefeated and looking like one of the nation's top two teams. Quarterback Kelly Bryant is a different kind of star than Watson, but he's growing into his own as a leader.

    If he returns unscathed from an ankle injury suffered late against Wake Forest last week, it will be a big deal for the Tigers.

    The best news for them is the ACC isn't as strong as it was a season ago. So, they look like they can run the table, at least until a conference championship game where a rematch with Virginia Tech is possible. Get through the Hokies a second time, and it's back to the College Football Playoff.

    Who's betting against Swinney to do that again? No detractors here.

    After they've dispatched Penn State, we'll all get to see Round 3 of the battle between the Tigers and Crimson Tide. Unfortunately for Clemson, this round will go to Bama because of UA's ability to perform well in every facet of its offense.

    If the Tigers load up to stop UA's run, quarterback Jalen Hurts has developed enough to hit Calvin Ridley and Co. over the top. The Tide also have too many weapons to throw at Clemson's massive front seven in waves. Eventually, they'll do enough to win, and while Bryant is good, he won't be able to help them hang in a shootout.

No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0)

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    First loss will come: Next season

    If you're looking for a loss for this Alabama team, look again.

    This squad isn't as dominant as the one Watson shredded to win the national championship last year, but it's still elite. When players get hurt, Saban just inserts another former 5-star. Rinse, repeat.

    The 2017 rendition of the Crimson Tide will win the national championship because of its offense. Like he's done time and time again, Saban made a terrific hire in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, and the longtime NFL assistant has done a masterful job so far.

    It's not too tough when you have the weapons he has.

    After a shaky passing performance as a freshman, Hurts is again one of the top playmakers at his position. He's still not a finished product in the vertical passing game, but he's good enough to make big plays and is a threat with his legs.

    Though it's ranked seventh in yards per game, Bama's running attack is the best in the country. Damien Harris is the most underrated, least discussed star in all of college football, and when he needs a break, UA brings in Bo Scarbrough to mow down defenses. Najee Harris and Joshua Jacobs aren't bad out of the backfield, either.

    Think about this: In its first two SEC games, Alabama won a combined 125-3. That's insane.

    This Alabama team isn't invincible, but it'll be tough to stop this offense from piling up points. Too tough. The Tide are going all the way for the second time in three seasons.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of Sports Reference and cfbstats, and recruiting data courtesy of Scout.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @Brad_Shepard.