November has always been college football's proving ground -- the most exciting month of any regular season sport -- and this season's inclusion of a four-team, rather that two-team, national championship playoff both preserves the sanctity of the regular season and its thrilling final month as well as offering hope for the myriad one-loss programs that dot the national landscape.
At least three handfuls of teams remain in legitimate contention. Below is a breakdown of each's remaining slate, with a gut-feeling prediction at their chances for the Final Four.
(Note: I submit a weekly Top 30 Poll for Scout.com and the teams below are listed in order of my Oct. 26 rankings.)
Mississippi State (7-0)Arkansas, UT-Martin, at Alabama, Vanderbilt, at Ole Miss
November Schedule Commentary: Wins in Tuscaloosa and Oxford, in congress with a late-Sept. victory in Baton Rouge, would rank among most impressive road efforts by a team outside the pre-season Top 25 in college football history.
Prediction: One of the two road trips trips up the Bulldogs. The bet here is 'Bama.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? No, not with two of the nation's best on the road.
Florida State (7-0)at Louisville (Thurs.), Virginia, at Miami, Boston College, Florida
November Schedule Commentary: Not daunting, but land mines exist. Four of the five games could bleed into the 4th Quarter before a decision is reached.
Prediction: A slip. Florida State might still be the best team in the country, but they don't have a consistent focus commensurate with thatmantle.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? No, but they'll roll Florida.
Alabama (7-1)BYE, at LSU, vs. Mississippi State, Western Carolina, vs. Auburn
November Schedule Commentary: To borrow from Verne Lundquist: "My Goodness!"
Prediction: Arkansas had a chance to do the rest of America a favor and bury 'Bama back on Oct. 11, instead losing 14-13. Look for the revived Crimson Tide to roll to the SEC Championship game ranked #1.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? Yes, despite three head-knockers.
Notre Dame (6-1)Navy, at Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville, at USC
November Schedule Commentary: Two toss-ups, a potential let-down scenario, a definitive trap…and Navy. Four wins are all-but-guaranteed, but the fifth will be tough to attain. As important, Notre Dame's overall schedule trended down -- way down -- relative to pre-season projections.
Prediction: Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said it best of the team's oh-so-close call at FSU: "Don't walk around here like you won, because you didn't." Notre Dame needs to put its hand-wringing over a judgment call behind them and focus on a handful of teams that can beat most foes on any given Saturday.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? No, with three definitive close calls and each of the five decided in the fourth quarter -- which will give the Selection Committee more to think about if they pit the Irish in a four-team race for two spots vs. the Big 10 champion, a one-loss Big 12 champion, and Team #2 from the SEC. (And potentially against one-loss Florida State.)
But if Notre Dame wins out, they deserve a spot over every potential one-loss team with the exception of Auburn or Alabama.
Ole Miss (7-1)Auburn, Presbyterian, Bye, at Arkansas, Mississippi State
November Schedule Commentary: Did its heavy lifting in October, nearly escaping Alabama, Kyle Field, and Baton Rouge unscathed. The usual trap aspect of a trip to Fayetteville is lost as the Rebels have the equivalent of a scrimmage in the 20-plus days preceding their contest with the Razorbacks.
Prediction: A physical head-knocker with Arkansas seven days prior to the Egg Bowl might make for a less-than-fresh Rebels defense vs. the Bulldogs. (As an aside, can we petition the state of Mississippi to return the Egg Bowl to Thursday night if only for this season?)
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? No. A breakout season ends with two defeats.
Auburn (6-1)at Ole Miss, Texas A&M, at Georgia, Samford, at Alabama
November Schedule Commentary: How many of the 16 BCS-era champions would have escaped this gauntlet without a loss?
Prediction: No chance of escaping this ludicrous stretch at 11-1, but kudos for scheduling Kansas State out of conference earlier this season as well.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? How?
Oregon (7-1)Stanford, at Utah, Bye, Colorado, at Oregon State
November Schedule Commentary: Forget November, Oregon drew an incredible break missing both Arizona State and USC on its 2014 conference slate. (Kudos for bringing Sparty to Eugene, however.)
Prediction: Utah takes Oregon to the final gun after the Ducks finally survive offense-optional Stanford. The Cardinal defense will take its toll, however, and the Utes capitalize as a result.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? Yes, though Utah will prove to be a major problem.
Georgia (6-1)Florida, at Kentucky, Auburn, Charleston Southern, Georgia Tech
November Schedule Commentary: Rivalry games abound, and that tends to take its toll. After three consecutive close-call losses to its rival, reeling Florida might be due in this year's Cocktail Party.
Prediction: Look for an all-timer to be played in Athens during the 118th edition of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? Perhaps (the guess is "No"), but I think the West Division champion prevails over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, regardless. The most interesting scenario is one-loss Georgia beating undefeated Mississippi State, allowing two SEC teams to finish with but one defeat.
Michigan State (7-1)Bye, Ohio State, at Maryland, Rutgers, at Penn State
November Schedule Commentary: They'll likely win three of four, but there's only one guaranteed win on the remaining slate.
Prediction: If they hold off Ohio State next week the Spartans won't escape Happy Valley on Thanksgiving Saturday unscathed.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? No, see above.
TCU (6-1)at West Virginia, Kansas State, at Kansas, Bye, at Texas (Thanksgiving), Bye, Iowa State
November Schedule Commentary: The next two weeks will tell the tale. Thereafter, it's a scrimmage with Kansas and an ensuing bye week leading nicely into a potential Thanksgiving Night trap at Texas.
Prediction: A lot of points.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? No, but should the Horned Frogs win out, it will put a major strain on the Selection Committee if pitted against a one-loss Big 10 champion, one-loss Notre Dame, and a two-loss SEC West power.
Ohio State (6-1)Illinois, at Michigan State, at Minnesota, IU, Michigan
November Schedule Commentary: Illinois and IU provided much needed respite among land mines. Much like Arkansas against Alabama, Penn State had a chance to end Ohio State's long road back but fell short. The Buckeyes will continue their rise as a result.
Prediction: Best guess: a classic at Michigan State followed by a scare at Minnesota -- and an inspired effort from the Wolverines, albeit in defeat.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? Yes. A matchup with Nebraska or Wisconsin in the Big 10 Title Game as a result.
Baylor (6-1)Kansas, at Oklahoma, BYE, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas State (Dec. 6)
November Schedule Commentary: Just two potential losses now that Oklahoma State has shown its true colors. Four home games in the final five helps.
Prediction: Oklahoma gets revenge for last year's bundling atthe hands of the Bears.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated Finish? No, but with the Bears back in the role of the hunter rather than the hunted, it's far more likely than last season when Baylor entered the final month undefeated and we predicted its demise against the Cowboys.
Arizona (6-1)at UCLA, Colorado, Washington, at Utah, Arizona State (Thanksgiving Friday).
November Schedule Commentary: It looks nothing like the first two months when the Wildcats faced two quality teams through the first seven games; four await in the final five, and Colorado will come to play.
Prediction: Two losses, starting this week in Pasadena.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? No, but if I'm wrong, and Arizona gets to 11-1 with a win over Oregon and a two-point loss to USC as their lone blemish, they'll rue the day the PAC-12 Championship Game was conceived.
Kansas State (6-1)Oklahoma State, at TCU, Bye, at West Virginia, Kansas, at Baylor
November Schedule Commentary: The Wildcats trio of road games is unrivaled outside of the SEC West.
Prediction: Three killer road contests end the dream for an underrated squad that took Auburn to the wire in September and beat conference blue bloods Oklahoma and Texas on back-to-back October Saturdays.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? No, road woes await.
Arizona State (6-1)Utah, Notre Dame, at Oregon State, Washington State, at Arizona (Thanksgiving Friday)
November Schedule Commentary: Face a trio of one-loss teams which seems a bit too much for a solid, but not elite squad to overcome.
Prediction: 1-1, one way or the other: Beat Utah, lose to Notre Dame -- but if the Sun Devils lose to Utah, look for the Irish to fall in Tempe.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? No, two losses are more likely than a 5-0 finish.
(Note: My official Top 30 Poll has two-loss teams LSU, Oklahoma, Clemson, and West Virginia ranked ahead of Utah and Nebraska, below, but the two-loss squads are likely out of the playoff race.)
Utah (6-1)at Arizona State, Oregon, at Stanford, Arizona, at Colorado
November Schedule Commentary: Forget what I said about Kansas State's daunting finish -- this is ludicrous.
Prediction: A sub-.500 final month, and in my estimation, one win is far more likely than three while four is implausible.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? No, Good Lord no!
Nebraska (7-1)Purdue, Bye, at Wisconsin, Minnesota, at Iowa (Thanksgiving Friday)
November Schedule Commentary: Reminiscent of the first two months -- there's only one test and arguably a pair of potential slip-ups.
Prediction: Cornhusker fans can finally rejoice that they're no longer in the Big 12 and, as a result, could back in, err, work their way into the conversation for the FBS playoffs.
Gut Feeling: Undefeated November? No, and look out for Iowa if they happen to hit the regular-season finale undefeated, too.
22. East Carolina (6-1) -- Not a contender, but not a team contenders want to face.
23. UCLA (6-2) -- From pre-season playoff sleeper to fifth in the PAC-12 South entering November. Handed ASU its only loss in blowout fashion.
24. Marshall (8-0) -- Undefeated and irrelevant with the nation's least impressive schedule.
25. Duke (6-1) -- The "W" at Ga. Tech surprised me. The Blue Devils dodge both FSU and Clemson.
26. Ga. Tech (6-2) -- Back-to-back losses likely dropped them farther than it should have.
27. Louisville (6-2) -- A pair of "quality losses" but a hellacious November awaits.
28. Colorado State (7-1) -- A win at Boston College serves as the highlight to date.
29. Missouri (6-2) -- A loss to Indiana and a no-show vs. UGA aren't going away anytime soon.
30. Wisconsin (5-2) -- Yeah, I'm not proud of this inclusion, either. The Badgers can still knock Nebraska out of the hunt.