College Football Playoff projection: Alabama and Clemson and … altered narratives?

Nine weeks in, some narratives have been shattered. Others linger stubbornly, unwilling to go away. We are rolling toward the Game of the Century This Week – Alabama vs. LSU, Saturday night in Baton Rouge. There will be hype stacked atop the hype.

But what if – go with us here – the SEC is Alabama, then a large gap, and then a collection of decent to good teams? Because it sure looks that way.

Of course, that might also be true of Alabama's relationship to all of college football. With the potential exception of Clemson. Oh, and of Michigan’s defense and Oklahoma’s offense (which, we checked, cannot be combined; sadly, the rules won’t allow for midseason mergers).

Or maybe LSU will reveal flaws no one has yet seen in Alabama – we know, but stay with us, and consider that the Tide's schedule has been less than rugged – and throw the College Football Playoff picture into disarray. And maybe Georgia will win out and then pop the SEC West winner. That's the fun thing about all of this: All our perceptions can be radically altered, every week.

BOWL PICTURE: Who is already eligible? Who is close? Who is out?

WINNERS AND LOSERS: Highlights and lowlights from college football's Week 9

TEN OBSERVATIONS: What we leared from Week 9 of the college football season

Speaking of the CFP, those other guys will unveil their first bracket on Tuesday night, a day ahead of Nick Saban’s birthday/Halloween. The Football Four welcomes them to the conversation – where’ve y’all been? – while understanding this: As we roll toward November, things are about to get super-heated and very loud. That’s how this works. But as always, remember we pick the bracket as if the season was over.*

Football Four

1. Alabama – The Crimson Tide took Saturday off, which prevented another SEC opponent from being dominated. Could LSU present the first real obstacle? We’ll see. 

2. Clemson – Yeah, the kid is all right – and so is Clemson. A trip to Tallahassee stacked up as a potential trap game (we know, we know – and now, after a 59-10 win at Florida State, we know). The defense is routinely terrific. With Trevor Lawrence at the controls, the offense isn’t quite video-game quality, but it’s super dangerous.

BIG WIN: Clemson deals Florida State its worst home loss in school history

3. Notre Dame – No trouble with Navy, and it’s time for fans of other teams and conferences to begin watching the calendar. Irish probably have to run the table to get in – but the schedule looks doable.

4. LSU – We’re not sure the Tigers, who took Saturday off, are the fourth-best team in the country; those early wins against Miami and Auburn don’t look as impressive now. But if they beat Alabama, they’ll have a decent claim as the first-best.

Four More **

5. Michigan – The Wolverines got the weekend off. Up next, Penn State. Win that, and Michigan will likely be set up for a showdown with Ohio State that could define Jim Harbaugh’s tenure. 

6. Oklahoma –  With Kyler Murray, Oklahoma’s offense is a video game. The defense, which smothered Kansas State (yeah, but still) seems to have improved, at least slightly. The combination might be enough to power the Sooners to the playoff again.

7. Georgia – The Bulldogs bounced back very nicely to beat rival Florida, setting up an unexpected SEC East showdown at Kentucky. Georgia’s hopes consist almost solely of winning out and winning the SEC (which likely means beating Alabama).

8. Washington State – Gardner Minshew led a second-half comeback at Stanford, and suddenly Mike Leach’s Cougars are 7-1 and the Pac-12’s only (faint) hope.

COUGARS ROAR: No. 15 Washington State rallies past No. 23 Stanford

A Few More After That ***

Central Florida – Can the Knights go unbeaten again? Would it matter? With that schedule, there’s a very real ceiling – unless sheer chaos erupts in the Power Five leagues. Up next, Temple on Thursday.

West Virginia – Blew out Baylor. Win at Texas this week and the Mountaineers could be headed for a showdown (or even the first of two, maybe?) with Oklahoma.

Kentucky – The Wildcats pulled out a win at Mizzou on the very last play. This week, they host Georgia in Lexington, with a chance to turn a good season into a great one.

WALK-OFF WIN: No. 14 Kentucky beats Missouri with final-play touchdown

Ohio State – After a weekend off, we’ll see whether the Buckeyes can make us forget that loss to Purdue by rolling through November.

Futile Four ****

Washington – Chris Petersen pulled senior quarterback Jake Browning for a redshirt freshman … who promptly threw a pick-six that was the difference in a terrible loss at California. And now Washington’s season is … well, it all feels like a terrible loss. Something’s badly wrong with the offense. Something’s wrong, period.

Florida State – Clemson 59, FSU 10. Willie Taggart: “We’re a mentally weak football team.” No argument here. Clemson has won four consecutive in a series that dramatically illustrates the power shift in the ACC – and the growing gap between the programs.

Wisconsin – Remember back in the preseason, when Wisconsin seemed a decent dark horse pick for the playoff? Yeah, nah. We get it, the Badgers played Northwestern without quarterback Alex Hornibrook. But after a long, mistake-filled day, they’re now a long shot – not a dark horse, a long shot – to win the Big Ten West.

TCU – Well, hello Frogs. Welcome. You lose to Kansas, you drop to 3-5 (and 1-4 in the Big 12), you drop right into the Futile Four. Kansas snapped a 14-game Big 12 losing streak. TCU has lost three in a row, and that spirited performance against Ohio State seems like a very, very long time ago.

* The season is not over.

** Don’t be worried that your team sits just outside the cut. This is a weekly snapshot. And what do we know, anyway?

*** See the previous note, but it’s OK to be slightly concerned or very angry. But what do we know, anyway?

**** No note necessary

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