Ranking the 12 teams most likely to make the College Football Playoff
We remain over a month away from the end of college football’s regular season, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to take a look at who might find their way into the College Football Playoff field. Some candidates are obvious — Alabama, anyone? — while others may need to mount a late charge to make themselves strong contenders for the field.
The good news for everyone? With the amount of carnage that has happened toward the top of the rankings this season, one loss does not disqualify you from contention. There’s a whole host of talented one-loss teams that have a real chance of playing their way into the field.
Here is a look at the twelve teams most likely to make the College Football Playoff, from least to most likely.
12) Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Irish are at a perpetual disadvantage, lacking a conference or a title game to prove their championship mettle. They are, however, a prominent national brand, and their schedule is certainly tough enough to give them chances to make a few statements along the way. Notre Dame has four ranked teams left on their schedule — plus a fifth in Navy that could be ranked by the time they play each other. Their list of tough remaining opponents includes playoff contenders USC and Miami. Win out and the Irish might just leapfrog enough teams to make the top four, though they’ll have a lot of work to do to get there.
11) USC Trojans
The most difficult part of USC’s schedule will be behind them after they travel to Notre Dame this weekend. If they win that game, they’ll be favorites in every remaining game. Winning all four of their games after Notre Dame would be enough to get them a trip to the Pac-12 title game. Facing Stanford, Washington or Washington State in the conference championship would all be possibilities, but the bottom line is the same — win out and Sam Darnold’s Trojans stand a good chance of getting into the field, especially if they do it impressively.
10) Penn State Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions have a minefield of a schedule left to navigate, but they currently sit unbeaten and second in the nation, so they obviously have a chance to make it happen. They’re also bolstered by a Heisman candidate at running back in Saquon Barkley, who is an incredibly difficult matchup for any defense in the country. They’ll have to win three straight games against ranked opponents, including trips to Ohio State and Michigan State, to make the CFP. Plus they’d have a likely Big Ten Championship battle with Wisconsin if they can get that far.
9) Clemson Tigers
Clemson looked like a heavy favorite to reach the Playoff until they shockingly lost to Syracuse last week, but that need not be the end of their CFP ambitions. If Clemson can win out — which would include victories at NC State and in the ACC Championship — they’ll likely make it as a one-loss team. Remember, these guys were beating up on everyone and getting first-place votes before the shocking loss. They’ll need quarterback Kelly Bryant to get healthy quickly, though, if they want to have the chance to defend their championship.
8) Washington Huskies
Washington looked to be in prime position to snap up a second consecutive playoff berth until they too were toppled by lowly Arizona State at the weekend. One loss does not rule anyone out at this point, however, and their situation is pretty much the same as USC’s — win your remaining games, including the Pac-12 title game, and you’re in. Their schedule is a little tougher than USC’s — they still have to face both of their ranked Pac-12 North foes in Stanford and Washington State — but the Huskies had been the better team before the Arizona State defeat.
7) Georgia Bulldogs
The SEC’s other unbeaten team has two routes into the Playoff — the most straightforward would be to run the table, beat Alabama in the SEC Championship, and enter the field potentially as the top-ranked team in the country. Their other hope? Run the table during the regular season, put up a good fight in a losing effort against the Crimson Tide, and hope the selection committee is impressed enough to pick two SEC teams. Depending on how everyone else does, the latter scenario may be a bit far-fetched. That’s why, despite how good they look right now, the Bulldogs are so low on this list. Taking down Alabama will be very difficult.