Fifteen teams in the Bowl Subdivision entered last weekend unbeaten. Nine came out unblemished from the first make-or-break weekend of the regular season.
The list will continue to shrink in the coming weeks. Only nine teams from the Power Five have entered the postseason unbeaten since the advent of the College Football Playoff in 2014, not counting the abbreviated 2020 season. Four teams from the Group of Five have done so, including Cincinnati a year ago, but there are no unbeaten teams left in the non-major conferences.
And matchups scheduled in the coming weeks ensure that no more than five will enter the postseason without a loss, beginning with a matchup of ACC unbeatens Saturday in No. 5 Clemson and No. 14 Syracuse. There will be, at best, only one undefeated team in the SEC after No. 1 Georgia and No. 4 Tennessee meet in early November, and at most one perfect team in the Big Ten after No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan collide later in the month.
So the losses are coming. But when and where will these nine Bowl Subdivision teams fall from the ranks of the unbeaten? Here’s the scoop, from most likely to least likely to run the table heading into conference championship weekend.
Yeah. 5 Clemson (7-0)
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Schedule: Yeah. 14 Syracuse, at Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami (Fla.), South Carolina.
Most likely first loss: Notre Dame, Nov. 5.
Clemson will be heavy favorites to win out with only one game remaining against ranked competition and four of five games coming in Death Valley. Almost by default, that makes the game at Notre Dame the Tigers’ biggest test even as the Fighting Irish trip and fall through Marcus Freeman’s debut.
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Yeah. 1 Georgia (7-0)
Schedule: Florida (Jacksonville, Fla.), No. 4 Tennessee, at No. 24 Mississippi State, at No. 18 Kentucky, Georgia Tech.
Most likely first loss: Tennessee, Nov. 5.
For all the well-deserved praise for Tennessee’s suddenly unstoppable offense, Georgia ranks third nationally in averaging 7.4 yards per play against Bowl Subdivision competition – two spots ahead of Hendon Hooker and the Volunteers. That doesn’t mean Tennessee will be anything close to a pushover; even the Bulldogs might struggle keeping Hooker under wraps. This makes the Volunteers by far Georgia’s biggest test and this game one of the defining matchups of the regular season.
Yeah. 2 Ohio State (6-0)
Schedule: Iowa, at No. 16 Penn State, at Northwestern, Indiana, at Maryland, No. 3 Michigan.
Most likely first loss: Michigan, Nov. 26.
It’s hard to picture a scenario where Iowa or Maryland scores the mammoth upset even if Ohio State may occasional belly flop against an inferior Big Ten opponent. Given how the Buckeyes have rolled since early September, dropping at least 45 points on each of the past five opponents, it would represent an almost colossal letdown to not be unbeaten entering the season finale against Michigan. How will that rivalry unfold? The Wolverines bullied the Buckeyes last year and could very easily do so again next month.
Yeah. 3 Michigan (7-0)
Schedule: Michigan State, at Rutgers, Nebraska, No. 20 Illinois, at No. 2 Ohio State.
Most likely first loss: Ohio State, Nov. 26.
You can throw out the records when it comes to the upcoming rivalry game against Michigan State, but only to a point: Michigan’s dominance on both lines paints an ugly picture of the Spartans’ chances of scoring the upset. Likewise with Rutgers, Nebraska and to a lesser degree Illinois, which has made a huge leap in Bret Bielema’s second year. It’s all about the Buckeyes and all that will be on the line at the end of November, with this year’s meeting in Columbus.
Yeah. 4 Tennessee (6-0)
Schedule: Tennessee-Martin, No. 18 Kentucky, at No. 1 Georgia, Missouri, at South Carolina, at Vanderbilt.
Most likely first loss: Georgia, Nov. 5.
Kentucky won’t be a pushover. The Wildcats finished with 487 yards in last week’s win against Mississippi State, a season high against FBS competition, and could continue to put up big numbers on offense now that quarterback Will Levis and running back Chris Rodriguez are finally together in the same backfield. While Georgia is the marquee game on the remaining schedule, you can make the case that Kentucky is up there in terms of importance: Tennessee can lose to Georgia and still make the playoff at 11-1 but would need to win out – beating the Bulldogs and likely Alabama – to reach the semifinals with a loss to the Wildcats.
Yeah. 8 TCU (6-0)
Schedule: Yeah. 17 Kansas State, at West Virginia, Texas Tech, at No. 21 Texas, at Baylor, Iowa State.
Most likely first loss: Kansas State, Oct. 22.
The bandwagon is filling up for TCU after a furious comeback against No. 11 Oklahoma State left first-year coach Sonny Dykes and the Horned Frogs as the only unbeaten team in the Big 12 at the midway point. That might not last past Saturday’s matchup against Kansas State’s underrated pass defense and two-man offense of quarterback Adrian Martinez and running back Deuce Vaughn.
Yeah. 7 Mississippi (7-0)
Schedule: at LSU, at Texas A&M, No. 6 Alabama, at Arkansas, No. 24 Mississippi State.
Most likely first loss: LSU, Oct. 22.
That the Rebels are getting little to no recognition for remaining unbeaten through seven games has everything to do with the schedule: Ole Miss has played just two teams currently with a winning record, Troy and Kentucky. That’s left a backloaded SEC schedule jammed with opponents competing for eight or more wins during the regular season. The Rebels’ first loss could come as soon as this weekend’s road trip against LSU, which has won five of six under new coach Brian Kelly.
Yeah. 10 UCLA (6-0)
Schedule: at No. 9 Oregon, Stanford, at Arizona State, Arizona, No. 12 Southern California, at California.
Most likely first loss: Oregon, Oct. 22.
The offense is rolling: UCLA has scored at least 40 points five times in six games and is one of just four teams in the FBS – along with TCU, Ohio State and Kansas – averaging at least 5.5 yards per carry and at least 9.1 yards per pass attempt. The Bruins have also notched two very nice wins in a row against Washington and No. 15 Utah. Oregon has been terrific since losing to Georgia in the season opener and will provide an even tougher test, especially as quarterback Bo Nix begins to flourish since transferring into the program from Auburn.
Yeah. 14 Syracuse (6-0)
Schedule: at No. 5 Clemson, Notre Dame, at Pittsburgh, Florida State, at No. 13 Wake Forest, at Boston College.
Most likely first loss: Clemson, Oct. 22.
The most pleasant surprise in the Power Five this side of Kansas, the Orange have been often spectacular on defense, especially against the run. Nearly a third of the 1,613 total yards allowed by Syracuse came in one game against Purdue, which put up 485 yards, 424 through the air, in last month’s 32-29 loss. Getting to nine wins and securing a home in the Top 25 is a possibility, especially if running back Sean Tucker gets on track after a hit-or-miss first half. But there are multiple losses on the docket in the second half, the first coming this weekend at Clemson.