Heading into CFP rankings, 14 teams with championship hopes

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Even before the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season are unveiled, it is clear which teams still have a chance to play for a national championship.

A glance at the conference standings reveals 14 contenders, all in the Power Five. Sorry, there will be no Cincinnati-style interloper from the Group of Five this season for the selection committee to consider.

A conference-by-conference assessment of who is in the race and the paths to the CFP, with AP Top 25 rankings.

ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE

No. 5 Clemson (8-0)

The Tigers had their streak of six straight playoff appearances snapped last year, but are well positioned to get back, with no ranked opponents left before a likely ACC title game against North Carolina.

No unbeaten Power Five champion has ever missed the playoff. A glance at the Big Ten and SEC suggests getting in as a one-loss conference champion could be dicey for the Tigers.

No. 17 North Carolina (7-1)

Run the table, beating unbeaten Clemson in the ACC title game, gets the Tar Heels in the conversation, but they’ll need some upsets in other leagues to clear the way.

BIG 12

No. 7 TCU (8-0)

See above, re: unbeaten Power Five champions. The Horned Frogs flirt with disaster weekly and have some defensive issues. That’s a profile the selection committee tends to look upon skeptically.

They’ll probably need to stay unbeaten to get in and it’s going to be really tough for them to stay unbeaten with the way they have been playing.

BIG TEN

No. 2 Ohio State (8-0) and No. 4 Michigan (8-0)

Both have been dominant. Neither has played a particularly strenuous schedule and that won’t change much before they meet Thanksgiving weekend. Still, either is lock by winning out.

Either would stay in the mix by being a 12-1 conference champion. And the loser of the rivalry game at 11-1 probably still holds out hope to get in.

No. 14 Illinois (7-1)

The Illini have a game against Michigan the week before the Wolverines play Ohio State. That means Illinois could finish 12-1 with either two victories against Michigan or one against Michigan and one against Ohio State.

It’s not likely to happen, but that would put the Illini in the playoff.

PAC-12

No. 8 Oregon (7-1), No. 9 USC (7-1) and No. 10 UCLA (7-1)

They all need to run the table to have a chance and even then that might not be enough. The Ducks will have to overcome a 49-3 loss to Georgia in their opener. The Trojans have a a bad defense and won’t going to get much of a bump by beating Notre Dame. UCLA played one of the weakest nonconference schedules in the country.

What’s the best option for the Pac-12? The guess here is a 12-1 USC with victories against UCLA and Oregon and one-point loss to a good Utah team.

SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Georgia (8-0) and No. 2 Tennessee (8-0)

The loser of Saturday’s showdown in Athens is not eliminated, especially if its the Volunteers, with a victory over Alabama already in hand.

No. 6 Alabama (6-1) and No. 11 Mississippi (8-1)

The Crimson Tide and Rebels can’t afford another loss – they play each other in two weeks – but either would breeze into the CFP by winning out.

The most SEC-centric scenario the rest of the country needs to root against is Alabama winning out, beating Georgia in the SEC championship game, and leaving the Tide and Bulldogs at 12-1 and Tennessee at 11-1 with a close loss to Georgia.

No. 15 LSU (6-2)

A two-loss team has never made the playoff, but the SEC champion has never missed the playoff. If the Tigers beat Alabama and avenge a loss to Tennessee on the way to a conference title they could break precedent.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. returning for 2023 season

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SEATTLE – Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said Sunday he will return to the school for his sixth and final season of eligibility in 2023.

Penix announced his decision on social media and it was a surprising one at that. Penix was the national leader in passing this season, throwing for 4,354 yards and led Washington’s turnaround. The No. 12-ranked Huskies went 10-2 in the regular season, finished tied for second in the Pac-12 and will face No. 21 Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Penix will have a chance at setting Washington’s single-season record for yards passing in the bowl game. He also threw 29 touchdowns this season. Because of his performance this season, Penix saw his NFL draft stock rise to where he was being expected to be a second-day pick at the latest.

In his announcement, Penix wrote, “As I look back on this special season we had, I realized there were so many great moments and things to celebrate, but I KNOW there is so much for out there for this team and the job is still not finished. I can’t wait to be playing in Husky Stadium for the 2023 season!”

Penix started his career at Indiana and showed flashes of stardom while also battling injuries. He transferred to Washington after the 2021 season, a move that reunited him with new Huskies’ coach Kalen DeBoer, who was Penix’s offensive coordinator for one season at Indiana.

North Texas fires Littrell after .500 record over 7 years

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DENTON, Texas – Bowl-bound North Texas has fired coach Seth Littrell, who went 44-44 over seven seasons.

University president Neal Smatresk said Sunday night that the decision to make the move came after a thorough assessment of the program.

The Mean Green are 7-6 this season after losing 48-27 to UTSA in the Conference USA championship game Friday night.

Phil Bennett, their defensive coordinator the past two seasons, was named interim head coach. North Texas plays Boise State in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 17.

The 44-year-old Littrell had one year left on his contract in what was his first head coaching job. He was the youngest coach in Conference USA and one of the youngest at the FBS level when he arrived after two seasons as offensive coordinator at North Carolina with UNT coming off a 1-11 season at the time.

While the Mean Green are going to their sixth bowl since Littrell first got there, they haven’t won any of those yet. The bowl in his debut season came after only five wins since there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all of the slots. Consecutive nine-win seasons followed in 2017 and 2018, but they then had three consecutive losing records before this year.

North Texas also has an interim athletic director after Wren Baker was named as West Virginia’s AD last week.

Smatresk said Jared Mosley, the chief operating officer of UNT athletics, will serve as interim AD. The university is working with a search firm to find Baker’s successor.