College Football Playoff predictor: ESPN updates rankings for Week 8


Each week of the 2021 college football season brings its own share of surprises. For instance, in Week 7, unranked Purdue raced past No. 2 Iowa in one of the more shocking Big Ten results in recent memory. 

Every year, ESPN’s Football Power Index makes a week-by-week analysis of all 130 FBS team’s chances at making the playoffs. There are some seismic changes to this week's rankings, including several new faces and significant drops. Despite the loss, the Hawkeyes are not out of contention yet. They are one of five Big Ten schools in this week's rankings, far exceeding any other conference. 

Before Week 8 gets under way with Friday night’s action, here is a look at the top playoff contenders, according to the FPI rankings.

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NOTE: For brevity, only teams with above a 3% chance to make the playoffs are included.

College Football Playoff predictor: ESPN updates rankings for Week 8

Make Playoff: 3.8%

Reach National Championship: 0.9%

Win Title: 0.2%

Last week, I wrote that Iowa’s destiny was in its own hands. That much was true at the time, as the Hawkeyes simply had to get past a slew of inferior teams after knocking off No. 4 Penn State. This is college football, though, so it was foolish to assume things were as simple as that. Not only did Iowa fail against its first post-Penn State opponent, but the Hawkeyes got run out of the stadium in a 24-7 loss to Purdue. The Boilermakers are used to crushing the souls of College Football Playoff hopefuls (see: 2018 Ohio State), but that’s not an excuse. Now Iowa has to win out and capture the Big Ten Championship to even have a hope at the playoffs, a monumental task given that four teams from the Big Ten East all look better. 

College Football Playoff predictor: ESPN updates rankings for Week 8
Penn State senior quarterback Sean Clifford fires a pass in the first quarter against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021.

Make Playoff: 4.9%

Reach National Championship: 1.4%

Win Title: 0.4% 

Sean Clifford is back at practice, which is a great sign after the steady quarterback exited the Iowa game with an unspecified but seemingly serious injury. Penn State’s hopes at success for the rest of the season hinge on his availability. The offense completely stagnated under backup Ta’Quan Roberson. It may look better if he has more time to prepare and is not facing a defense the caliber of Iowa’s, but the dropoff in skill level was still apparent. If the Lions survive the upcoming gauntlet that is Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, then it would be hard to keep them out of the playoff conversation — one loss or not.

College Football Playoff predictor: ESPN updates rankings for Week 8

Make Playoff: 5.0%

Reach National Championship: 1.1%

Win Title: 0.3%

This is a year in which not playing for a conference championship really hurts Notre Dame. One would think that upcoming games against USC and Stanford would be quality wins to put on a postseason resume, but both of those traditionally strong teams are fairly pitiful this year. Notre Dame’s only quality win is setting up to be its 27-13 trouncing of Purdue in Week 2, though that’s only elevated by the Boilermakers’ recent win against Iowa. The Irish lost their real chance at playoff relevancy by losing at home to Cincinnati. One-loss teams almost always need a conference title to earn consideration from the committee.

College Football Playoff predictor: ESPN updates rankings for Week 8

Make Playoff: 10.5%

Reach National Championship: 2.7%

Win Title: 0.8%

Not to discredit what Mel Tucker has accomplished thus far (he should be a front runner for coach of the year), but it gets real for the Spartans beginning next week. They have a bye to get ready for Oct. 30’s seismic clash against Michigan. Michigan State closes the year at Ohio State and a home tilt against Penn State. Those are three very difficult games to get past completely unscathed.

College Football Playoff predictor: ESPN updates rankings for Week 8

Make Playoff: 16.1%

Reach National Championship: 5.4%

Win Title: 1.9%

Since joining the ACC in 2013, Pittsburgh has yet to win a conference title. They did make it to the championship game in 2018 after winning the Coastal Division with a 6-2 conference record and a 7-5 overall record. That drought is in good shape to end this year. The Panthers look like the strongest team in the league, thanks to the play of CBS Sports midseason All-American Kenny Pickett. That loss to Western Michigan is really bad. Bad enough that it alone could, and likely will, be enough for the committee to keep Pitt out of the playoff. Even so, this team keeps rising in the rankings each week. 

College Football Playoff predictor: ESPN updates rankings for Week 8

Make Playoff: 36.4%

Reach National Championship: 19.2%

Win Title: 8.9%

The Oregon loss seems so much longer ago than just a handful of weeks. Since that slip up, and a couple of lackluster showings against the likes of Akron, the Buckeyes look like a completely different team. They have beaten their last three opponents by an average of 46.7 points. Sure, Ohio State is not likely to do that against Michigan and Penn State, but it is encouraging progress. C.J. Stroud is getting better each week, as he is now a dark horse to win the Heisman. It helps that the Buckeyes have skill talent that can completely overwhelm any opponent. 

College Football Playoff predictor: ESPN updates rankings for Week 8

Make Playoff: 38.1%

Reach National Championship: 14.8%

Win Title: 5.3%

Nebraska was a trendy pick to upset the Wolverines, so Michigan escaping that game thanks to a herculean effort from its defense late in the fourth quarter should not be scoffed at. There is not a more important regular-season game nationally remaining than that Nov. 27 tilt between Michigan and Ohio State. Not only is it likely to decide the loaded Big Ten East’s champion, but the winner of that game will have the inside track to representing that league in the College Football Playoff.

College Football Playoff predictor: ESPN updates rankings for Week 8
A bad, bad man.

Make Playoff: 59.8%

Reach National Championship: 39.7%

Win Title: 21.8%

Alabama is just too talented to realistically keep out of the College Football Playoff. The rest of the schedule plays out nicely, as well. That season finale against Auburn is the only game that really stands out. Tennessee does not have the skill to match up despite its ability to score points, LSU recently announced Ed Orgeron will not return after this season, so that tells you where that program is at and Arkansas, despite an impressive showing and climb to the AP Top 10 earlier in the year, is on a bit of a skid lately. Alabama cannot sleepwalk to the SEC Championship, but its appearance there is an inevitability.  

College Football Playoff predictor: ESPN updates rankings for Week 8

Make Playoff: 61.8%

Reach National Championship: 21.5%

Win title: 7.8%

UCF is in a down year, yes. First-year coach Gus Malzahn has had his fair share of struggles and the loss of Dillon Gabriel hurts. Still, the Bearcats’ 56-21 win against the Golden Knights is an incredible accomplishment against a traditional American Athletic Conference power. Now, Cincinnati’s biggest remaining hurdle is an impressive SMU squad, currently ranked No. 21 in the AP Poll. Tanner Mordecai is a great quarterback capable of scoring in droves. That will be a real test for Cincinnati's staunch defense. 

College Football Playoff predictor: ESPN updates rankings for Week 8
Oklahoma's Brian Asamoah (24) brings down TCU's Max Duggan (15) to stop TCU on a fourth down play during a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021.

Make Playoff: 61.8%

Reach National Championship: 24.7%

Win Title: 8.6%

This is Caleb Williams’ team now. The freshman quarterback made one of the most impressive debuts in recent memory, tossing for 295 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for an additional 66 yards and one touchdown. After limping through the first six games with Spencer Rattler, this offense — completely loaded at almost every position — can finally breathe. With the quarterback conundrum now situated, all eyes are on the season finale against Oklahoma State. Bedlam likely serves as a prelude to the Big 12 Championship.

College Football Playoff predictor: ESPN updates rankings for Week 8

Make Playoff: 90.2%

Reach National Championship: 65.6%

Win Title: 43.2%

There is no joy in playing against Georgia. Moving the ball against that defense is nigh impossible. Teams are lucky to eclipse 200 total yards of offense. Forget even thinking about scoring. Once the defense is done eviscerating teams, the offense vacuums up any remaining life from the opposition with its methodical, ground and pound attack. The Bulldogs average 192.7 rushing yards per game, led by the duo of Zamir White and James Cook, who serve as perfect complements to one another. Georgia may as well set up camp in Atlanta and wait for the Tide to roll in.