The first edition of the College Football Playoff Rankings for the 2021 season will be released next Tuesday, which means Week 9 is the final opportunity for teams to make their cases to the CFP Selection Committee before it unveils the first top 25. With three top 25 showdowns on the schedule, the monster slate presents a chance for the playoff contenders to make a good impression.
While the No. 1 spot in the rankings is all but assured save for a significant upset on Saturday, the rest of the top four is up in the air. Only five Power Five teams remain undefeated with Cincinnati from the AAC out in front of almost all of them. The Big Ten has four teams in the top 10, but none have played each other yet. That changes this week with two of those top 25 matchups involving Big Ten programs.
Here are the games that will affect the College Football Playoff race that you need to follow in Week 9. With the CFP Rankings not yet released, the teams below are listed by their spot in the AP Top 25.
No. 6 Michigan at No. 8 Michigan State
At long last, the class of the Big Ten East will start playing one another. This brings together two of the conference's four remaining top-10 teams with divisional, conference and playoff ramifications. The Wolverines hold a massive all-time advantage, but the Spartans have won nine of the last 13 matchups. The game features two of the top rushing offenses in college football. Whichever team wins will likely hold a spot in the top five in the initial CFP Rankings.
The matchup with Florida is really the only notable game left on the schedule for Georgia until it inevitably reaches the SEC Championship Game. The Gators haven't played their best football in a month, but coach Dan Mullen remains one of the trickier coaches in college football. Making a strong statement is a must for the Bulldogs, especially considering it could be a death blow of sorts for the Gators. Georgia enters as a two-touchdown favorite for the first time in series history. A loss to Florida would not knock UGA out of playoff contention, but it would certainly dampen their overall resume given UF is 4-3 with a loss to LSU.
No. 20 Penn State at No. 5 Ohio State
Ohio State has been one of the nation's most dominant teams since conference play began, but wins over Big Ten bottom-feeders won't do much to move the playoff needle. While Penn State suffered an embarrassing nine-overtime loss to Illinois last week, it does have an outstanding defense and playmakers in the secondary that can challenge the Buckeyes' top-notch receiving corps. There might not be a path for Penn State to win this game if quarterback Sean Clifford isn't back to 100%, but seeing how Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud reacts when his receivers aren't perpetually open by 10 yards should be an interesting test. Even with a win, Ohio State will have to keep an eye on how the CFP Selection Committee judges one-loss Oregon given the Ducks have a head-to-head win this season.
Texas Tech at No. 4 Oklahoma
The Sooners seemed to be back on track after switching to Caleb Williams at quarterback, but they needed two massive breaks in the fourth quarter to slip by lowly Kansas after falling behind 10-0 at halftime. Luckily, Oklahoma has a matchup against perhaps the next-worst team in the Big 12 with Texas Tech coming to town. The meat of Oklahoma's playoff case is in the coming weeks with three ranked teams on the November schedule. The Sooners need to rack up some style points and put the Red Raiders away early, if for no other reason than to get the bad taste of the Kansas game out of everyone's mouths. Texas Tech enters fresh off the firing of its coach, Matt Wells, in his third season leading the program.
Outside of two quarters against UCLA, Oregon has not looked like a legitimate playoff contender since going on the road and beating Ohio State in Week 2. Still, Oregon has a playoff case. Style points are what matter now. Luckily for the Ducks, Colorado has been one of the Pac-12's worst teams. Making sure this game is never in doubt would go a long way towards rebuilding Oregon's reputation for the selection committee. From here on out, Oregon can't make it look as difficult as it has appeared lately.
More Week 9 games to watch
No. 2 Cincinnati at Tulane: It never hurts to play well against a common opponent when playoff cases are made. Tulane also faced off against Ole Miss and Oklahoma. Since no Group of Five team has ever made the playoff field, the Bearcats are the most likely team to get burned by the rankings. Every data point counts.
No. 10 Ole Miss at No. 18 Auburn: The Rebels still have a playoff path with just a single loss, but a road tilt with the Tigers is one of the trickier games remaining. Auburn still controls its destiny through the SEC West.
No. 19 SMU at Houston: While neither SMU nor Houston are expected to make the playoff, the Mustangs represent a key data point for Cincinnati ahead of their game on Nov. 20. Should the undefeated Mustangs lose in Houston, it will make the Bearcats' path that much more difficult.