College Football: Whittling down field of unbeatens

FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, file photo, Clemson's Kelly Bryant (2) celebrates a touchdown with Christian Wilkins (42) and Cannon Smith during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Boston College in Clemson, S.C. With a quarter of the college football season in the books, 24 undefeated teams remain, along with the possibility that each Power Five conference could have an undefeated champion. That’s way off. For now, a couple of cross-divisional conference games matching ranked teams, No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech and No. 5 Southern California at No. 16 Washington State, highlight the schedule and will be part whittling the field of unbeaten teams. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)

FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2016, file photo, Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente, left, speaks to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, before the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game in Orlando, Fla. With a quarter of the college football season in the books, 24 undefeated teams remain, along with the possibility that each Power Five conference could have an undefeated champion. That’s way off. For now, a couple of cross-divisional conference games matching ranked teams, No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech and No. 5 Southern California at No. 16 Washington State, highlight the schedule and will be part whittling the field of unbeaten teams. (AP Photo/Chris O' Meara, File)

FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2017, file photo, Southern California head coach Clay Helton talks to his team during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Texas in Los Angeles. With a quarter of the college football season in the books, 24 undefeated teams remain, along with the possibility that each Power Five conference could have an undefeated champion. That’s way off. For now, a couple of cross-divisional conference games matching ranked teams, No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech and No. 5 USC at No. 16 Washington State, highlight the schedule and will be part whittling the field of unbeaten teams. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

With a quarter of the college football season in the books, 24 undefeated teams remain, along with the possibility that each Power Five conference could have an undefeated champion.

That is highly unlikely. It has not happened during the BCS and College Football Playoff era, and with 12-game schedules, three conferences playing nine league games and all five playing conference championship games, it makes heading into the postseason unbeaten more difficult than ever.

In the three-year playoff era, only one of the four semifinalists each season has come in without a loss.

The best-case and most-realistic scenario for any conference is a championship game matching two teams with a good case to make the playoff. The conference championship play-in game, if you will. The best example was the Michigan State-Iowa Big Ten championship game in 2015, when both had a combined one loss and it was apparent that the winner was getting in.

It helps a conference if its best teams don’t face each other during the regular season. That can’t happen in the Big 12, which has no divisions and a round-robin nine-game schedule. No matter what, that title game will be a rematch — which is one of the reasons bringing back the so-called 13th data point was an odd move for the Big 12.

It is a long, long way away but if you squint you can see the possibility of some killer conference title games in December, with playoff play-in potential and matchups of teams that didn’t play in the regular season:

ACC — Clemson and Miami.

Big Ten — Penn State and Wisconsin.

Pac-12 — Washington and Southern California.

SEC — Alabama and Georgia.

That’s way off. For now, a couple of cross-divisional conference games matching ranked teams — No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech and No. 5 Southern California at No. 16 Washington State — highlight the schedule and will be help whittle the field of unbeaten teams. There will be no more than 20 after Saturday.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

No. 5 Southern California (minus 3 ½) at No. 16 Washington State

So many reasons to pick the Cougars in an upset: USC is playing a second straight road game on a short week, with some key players banged up. Seems too obvious … USC 30-28.

No. 14 Miami (minus 7) at Duke

The last time the Hurricanes played at Duke, the officials had a bad night and Miami came away with a bizarre victory … MIAMI 31-21.

MAIN EVENT

No. 2 Clemson (minus 7) at No. 12 Virginia Tech

Lane Stadium will be rocking, but it will take a lot more than Metallica to take down the defending national champions, who have won seven straight against ranked teams … CLEMSON 28-17.

UNDERCARD

No. 24 Mississippi State (plus 10) at No. 13 Auburn

Bulldogs have won three of the last five meetings … AUBURN 24-20.

CONFERENCE CALLS

Mississippi (plus 27 ½) at No. 1 Alabama

Rebels have scored 109 points in last three meetings with the Tide, including two victories … ALABAMA 38-14.

Indiana (plus 17 ½) at No. 4 Penn State

Nittany Lions Heisman contender Saquon Barkley has scored a touchdown in 11 straight games, longest active streak by a running back in FBS … PENN STATE 45-16.

No. 6 Washington (plus 26 ½) at Oregon State

Huskies have won eight straight road games and five straight against the Beavers … WASHINGTON 48-14.

No. 7 Georgia (minus 7) at Tennessee

Butch Jones and the Vols have won the last two against the Bulldogs and could desperately use some positive news this season … GEORGIA 27-17.

Northwestern (plus 14 ½) at No. 10 Wisconsin

Wildcats have won six of the last 11 meetings … NORTHWESTERN 28-27, UPSET SPECIAL.

No. 11 Ohio State (minus 29 ½) at Rutgers

Since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten, they have lost three games to the Buckeyes by an average of 54-8 … OHIO STATE 45-13.

No. 15 Oklahoma State (minus 9) at Texas Tech

Red Raiders are one of eight undefeated and unranked teams, but that would change with one more victory … OKLAHOMA STATE 41-35.

No. 18 South Florida (minus 23) at East Carolina

Bulls have scored at least 30 points in 21 straight games, two short of an FBS record held by Oregon (2011-13) … USF 50-24, BEST BET.

Northern Illinois (plus 11) at No. 19 San Diego State

NIU’s third-best run defense in the nation (2.24 yards per carry) against Aztecs RB Rashaad Penny, who is second in the nation in rushing (179 ypg) … SAN DIEGO STATE 23-13.

Vanderbilt (plus 10) at No. 21 Florida

Gators should be a little more Vandy’s speed than Alabama … VANDERBILT 21-20.

UPSET-MINDED

Miami, Ohio (plus 21 ½) at No. 22 Notre Dame

Former Notre Dame assistant Chuck Martin brings a promising MAC squad to South Bend … NOTRE DAME 38-14.

Troy (plus 21) at No. 25 LSU

Tigers going for their 50th straight nonconference home victory … LSU 34-17.

TWITTER REQUESTS

Memphis (plus 4) at UCF — HaroldGraeter

AAC’s latest rising-star coaches square off: Mike Norvell of Memphis and Scott Frost of UCF … MEMPHIS 35-32.

Iowa (plus 3 ½) at Michigan State — Colin—Dilworth

First regular-season meeting since 2013 … MICHIGAN STATE 24-21.

Colorado (plus 7) at UCLA — sideoutpar

Bruins looking to avoid three-game skid that would leave their season in shambles … UCLA 34-30.

South Carolina (plus 9) at Texas A&M — college43884707

Losing WR Deebo Samuels (broken leg) has stifled the Gamecocks’ offense … TEXAS A&M 31-20.

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Record last week: 18-7 straight up; 10-15 against the spread.

Record this season: 70-20 straight up; 26-50-3 against the spread.

Upset specials: 2-2.

Best bets: 2-1.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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More college football coverage: http://collegefootball.ap.org/ and www.Twitter.com/AP—Top25

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