6 College Football Teams in Perfect Position to Be Playoff Spoilers

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2018

6 College Football Teams in Perfect Position to Be Playoff Spoilers

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Only three weekends stand between top-ranked teams and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Not every championship hopeful—defined here as teams ranked in the Top 10 of the second CFP rankings—will emerge unscathed, however.

    Some combination of ranked opponents, league foes, road games and conference title matchups await each of those programs.

    Each school highlighted in this list is ranked outside the Top 10 of the CFP rankings and is no longer a contender for the national title. That's why Georgia, West Virginia and Ohio State aren't included, though they all may be lower-ranked underdogs in an upcoming game.

    Upsets will happen down the stretch. And when they do, one of these schools will likely be celebrating.

Northwestern Wildcats

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Northwestern saved its wins for conference play.

    Well, not the worst strategy! For the first time in program history, the Wildcats are headed to the Big Ten Championship Game. They clinched the spot with a victory over Iowa, improving to 6-1 against league opponents after going 0-3 in nonconference action.

    Given that mediocre 6-4 record, Northwestern has no shot at a CFP bid. But what an upset the Wildcats could pull.

    Earlier this season, Pat Fitzgerald's squad held a 17-point lead on Michigan before collapsing. Northwestern knows it can compete with the Wolverines, and Ohio Stateas talented as the roster ishasn't played well lately.

    No matter whether U-M or OSU represents the East division, it'll have a motivated NU squad to navigate in Indianapolis.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Oklahoma State is a paltry 5-5 on the season, including a 2-5 record against Big 12 opponents. Knowing that alone, it would seem the Pokes probably aren't much of a threat.

    But after the upset of Texas and near-upset at Oklahoma, it's safe to say West Virginia won't be overlooking OSU.

    Even a focused Mountaineers performance might not be enough, though, as the Cowboys are hosting the conference clash. In three road games, West Virginia is 2-1 with 98 points scored and 105 allowed.

    Much of the college football world is excited about a potential showdown between one-loss Oklahoma and WVU teams on Nov. 23, but the Mountaineers need to get past the Cowboys first.

Iowa State Cyclones

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    Matthew Putney/Associated Press

    As the Cyclones mustered a 1-3 start, losses to Oklahoma and TCU dropped them from the Big 12 conversation. At that point, their margin for error was extremely thin.

    So they stopped losing. One quarterback change and five straight victories later, Matt Campbell's club has surged back into the discussion.

    Iowa State travels to Texas before closing its Big 12 slate with Kansas State. With a win in each contest and a West Virginia loss to Oklahoma State or Oklahomaor if ISU topples UT and WVU falls to both OSU and OUthe Cyclones will play for the Big 12 title.

    In either scenario, the Sooners could be 11-1 (need wins vs. Kansas and at West Virginia) heading into the conference championship game. When the programs met in September, the Sooners earned a 37-27 victory but didn't face Brock Purdy.

    This is a new, much improved, team.

Syracuse Orange

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Clemson has wrapped up the ACC Atlantic Division thanks to its victory over Syracuse, yet the Orange still hold an opportunity to derail a CFP front-runner.

    In Week 12, Syracuse has a neutral-site tilt with Notre Dame, which is 10-0 and has held nine opponents to fewer than 24 points.

    The only time the Orange scored fewer than 24 this season? That loss to Clemson. Otherwise, they've averaged 46.8 points.

    Syracuse didn't finish the job against Clemson, but the Orange could put a serious dent in Notre Dame's playoff hopes.

Washington Huskies

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Assuredly, Washington would rather be at risk of getting bounced from the CFP picture. Instead, the preseason Pac-12 favorite is hoping to eliminate its in-state rival.

    The Huskies hold a disappointing 7-3 record but boast five consecutive wins against Washington State. Not only that, but UW also owns a 189-71 scoring advantage in those games.

    Regardless of the point spread, the Dawgs will be a confident group.

    Washington State needs to get by Arizona first, but the Pac-12 Championship Game will await the Cougs if they defeat their in-state rivals. But of Wazzu's guaranteed opponents, Washington is undoubtedly the most challenging.

Pitt Panthers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    As Forrest Gump once famously said, Pitt is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

    Six of the Panthers' opponents have spent time in the AP Top 25 this season. Penn State and UCF rolled to victories by a combined 76 points, yet Pitt knocked off Syracuse, Duke and Virginia and fell to Notre Dame 19-14.

    To close the regular season, the Panthers head to Wake Forest and Miami. Winning either contest would secure their place in the ACC Championship Game opposite Clemson.

    In November 2016, Pitt sprung a shocking upset on Dabo Swinney's crew. The ACC powerhouse would be a hefty favorite in the matchup, but the Panthers might just be the chocolate the Tigers didn't want to get.