October may be the most important month of the college football season in terms of shaping the Playoff.
Don’t believe us? September losses can almost be forgiven ... or at least that was the old way. And by November, the field for the four spots in the semifinal may be whittled to a dozen or so.
In between is October, when plenty of teams still feel like they have a shot. Besides the 16 teams still undefeated at the end of September, a handful of one-loss teams still have good reason to be optimistic given what could be a wild and wacky year.
Oct. 4 is just the beginning, the most important Saturday of the most important month. But it won’t be alone in shaping what the selection committee will have to consider by the time it meets in Dallas for the first time on Dec. 28.
12 Games in October that will Shape the Playoff
Alabama at Ole Miss
Both teams opened the season with non-conference wins in Atlanta, and now they open October with their most important SEC games to date. Neither team looked ready to contend for the playoff back then. Since Week 1, Alabama’s Blake Sims has established himself as the shepherd of a high-powered offense, and Ole Miss discovered it has a top-flight SEC defense.
Oklahoma at TCU
What more can we learn about Oklahoma after an impressive first month of the season? This may be OU’s toughest Big 12 road game. Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State all visit Norman, making this the Sooners’ only visit to face a ranked team. Since joining the Big 12, TCU has lost by three points and seven points to the Sooners. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin won’t be intimidated — he has two career starts and fared well despite losses to OU.
LSU at Auburn
The SEC West is so good that it may be difficult to write a team off this early in the season, but LSU may be on a razor’s edge it loses in Jordan-Hare. Lose this game, and LSU falls to 0-2 in the division. The only thing separating LSU from contender or spoiler status? A freshman quarterback.
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Early upsets of set in motion one of the most unlikely SEC games to carry weight in the Playoff race. The Aggies have handled South Carolina and Arkansas as first-year starter Kenny Hill has become a Heisman contender — despite an uneven performance Saturday against the Hogs. Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott, though, can continue to build his resume after a showcase against LSU two weeks ago.
Stanford at Notre Dame
Even though both teams have picked up key wins early in the season, Stanford and Notre Dame still need to prove their wares as national contenders. Stanford’s defense has been lights out this season — opponents have scored a red zone touchdown just once in three chances against the Cardinal all season. At the same time, Stanford’s offense has been dismal in converting scoring chances to points. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s signature 31-0 performance against Michigan doesn’t seem quite so special.
Nebraska at Michigan State
The Big Ten’s reputation has been bruised this season, but the reality is that the league still has an outside shot at a Playoff spot. Nebraska has a win over Miami on the resume and has clobbered enough other opponents to show the close call with McNeese State was an aberration. The Cornhuskers are a legit Playoff contender with a win in East Lansing. Meanwhile, Michigan State is clinging to the hope that breezing through the Big Ten will be impressive enough to excuse a 19-point loss to Oregon in Eugene.
BYU at UCF
BYU is probably a Playoff longshot with its three games against Power 5 teams coming against teams that may struggle to reach bowl games (Texas, Virginia and Cal). An undefeated season may be the only way BYU gets in. An at-large bid for one of the major bowl games in the “New Year’s Six” may be more likely. That said, the notion of “impressing voters” in a Thursday night ESPN game on the East Coast is a relic of the BCS era. The only eyes that matter are those of the 13 selection committee. Still, we say any exposure helps.
Oregon at UCLA
Provided Oregon can beat Arizona at home and UCLA can do the same to Utah — neither are guarantees — the Ducks and Bruins will be undefeated for this monster Pac-12 matchup. The favorites in the North and South might have to beat each other twice to get to the Playoff. Oh, and the quarterback showdown will be a bit entertaining.
Ole Miss at Texas A&M
Only a week after Ole Miss hosts Alabama and Texas A&M visits Mississippi State, the Rebels and Aggies meet in College Station. The two teams could conceivably go from undefeated to out of contention for the SEC West within two weeks.
Notre Dame at Florida State
As we said earlier, Notre Dame’s Playoff credentials aren’t clear, though beating Stanford would make the Irish an instant contender. Either way, Notre Dame may end up being the highest-ranked team Florida State plays all season.
Texas A&M at Alabama
Think October is a big month for the Aggies? Texas A&M plays three ranked teams in a row during the month. And that’s before the Aggies face Auburn, Missouri and LSU to round out the regular season. Even if Texas A&M enters the game with a pair of losses, Alabama may need this game to prove it can contain the hurry-up no huddle.
Baylor at West Virginia
Baylor faces TCU on Oct. 11, which may be the tougher opponent for the Bears, but this may be the tougher game. Baylor catches TCU at home while having to make a road trip to the furthest outpost in the Big 12. The likelihood of a shootout remains high. The Bears and Mountaineers have combined for 248 total points in the last two meetings.
Florida State at Louisville
This isn’t the most compelling game of the month, and it might not be all that competitive if Florida State starts to play to its potential. But it is the last major game of the month, and its one with a history of upsets. Louisville defeated fourth-ranked Florida State 26-20 in a classic upset in 2002. The Cardinals coach at the time, Bobby Petrino, is the same this time around.