Analysis: Which teams are most likely to make the College Football Playoff?
Though we’re only two weeks from the various conference championship games across the college football landscape, there remains a considerable amount of uncertainty in how the College Football Playoff field will come together. There are only a couple teams who can really feel confident about making it, though a number would seem to control their own destiny, so to speak. That said, the field is still wide open, and the number of teams that still have at least a glimmer of hope sits in double digits.
Here is analysis are the teams most likely to make the Playoff, how likely their chances are, and what they have to do to get there.
Clemson Tigers (11-0, at South Carolina, ACC Championship Game)
Clemson might not be able to afford a loss, but the reality is they’re unlikely to suffer one. They’re the class of the ACC and will be clear favorites in their season finale against South Carolina, as well as in the ACC title game. Clemson should go unbeaten, and that will be an easy ticket to the playoff. Concerns linger that they’re not quite as good as they were last season, but that won’t really matter until they get to the playoff.
LSU Tigers (10-0, vs. Arkansas, vs. Texas A&M, SEC Championship)
The Tigers are exceedingly likely to reach the SEC Championship unbeaten, with winnable home games against Arkansas and Texas A&M on the schedule. That will likely lead to an SEC title game between LSU and Georgia, with the winner almost certainly assured of a spot in the playoff. There’s definitely a route for LSU if they lose. Their resume wins are impressive and include wins over Texas, Florida, Auburn, and Alabama. There’s plenty of precedent for one-loss SEC runners-up to make it in, so the Tigers should be feeling good right now.
Ohio State Buckeyes (10-0, vs. Penn State, at Michigan, Big Ten Championship)
Ohio State might have a good case for highly likely instead of very likely, as they’ve spent large portions of the season looking like the best team in the sport. That may be even more true now that the Chase Young situation is resolved. The reality is, however, they have the toughest remaining schedule. They may have three games before the Playoff field is announced, and all three of those games are likely to come against ranked opponents. That includes a home game against Penn State, a big rivalry game at an ascendant Michigan team, and a possible Big Ten championship against either Minnesota or Wisconsin. Ohio State handled Wisconsin earlier in the season, and they should still be considered a team with a good shot at the Playoff, but it won’t be a cakewalk.
Georgia Bulldogs (9-1, vs. Texas A&M, at Georgia Tech, SEC Championship Game)
Georgia sits in the same boat as Alabama — they’re probably in if they win-out. As it stands, they’re likely to head to the SEC Championship with one loss. A win there, likely over LSU, would probably put them in. There remains no precedent for a two-loss playoff team, so it would almost certainly have to be a scenario where the Bulldogs win out if they want to play in the Playoff.
Alabama Crimson Tide (9-1, vs. Western Carolina, at Auburn, SEC Championship Game)
It is a very real possibility that, for the first time, we might watch a College Football Playoff without Alabama in it. Mac Jones is a big downgrade from Tua Tagovailoa, and the Raekwon Davis injury is also a significant one. They’ll beat Western Carolina, but the Iron Bowl at Auburn is no easy contest. A second loss would almost certainly doom Alabama, but if they win-out, they’re probably in. As far as the SEC Championship Game goes, they would need to win the Iron Bowl and see LSU lose their next two games to win the SEC West.
Oklahoma Sooners (9-1, vs. TCU, at Oklahoma State, Big 12 Championship)
The Sooners’ comeback win over Baylor essentially saved their playoff chances, at least for now, but it’s going to be an uphill climb. They’ll have to win at Oklahoma State in the Bedlam game to remain a one-loss team, and then face Baylor a second time in the Big 12 Championship. Winning out will at least put them on the committee’s radar, but they’ve hovered in the bottom of the top ten in the playoff rankings and have a lot of teams to jump. Still, a one-loss Oklahoma would definitely get a look.
Oregon and Utah (both 9-1)
Oregon and Utah go together because they’re in the exact same boat, for all intents and purposes. They each have two winnable games left in the regular season (Ore: at ASU, vs. OSU; Utah: at Ariz, vs. Colo), and then they’re almost certain to face each other in the Pac-12 title game. If both still have one loss going into that game, it could be intriguing, though their presence toward the back half of the top ten suggests the committee isn’t particularly impressed by the quality of the conference. The winner of that title game, provided they have one loss, will at least get a look, but the lack of respect for the Pac-12 — not entirely undeserved — will work against these teams.
Penn State Nittany Lions (9-1, at Ohio State, vs. Rutgers, Big Ten Championship)
Penn State’s entire playoff argument hinges on beating Ohio State at the Horseshoe this weekend. If they do that, they’d shoot up the rankings and be essentially assured of a Big Ten Championship appearance, with potential revenge against Minnesota on the cards. This is another team that will be hard to ignore if they win-out, especially since one of those wins would come at the expense of the favored Buckeyes. Everything hinges on that game, however, and if they lose at Ohio State, they’re done.
Baylor Bears (9-1, vs. Texas, at Kansas, Big 12 Championship Game)
Even unbeaten, the committee didn’t seem to have a lot of respect for Baylor, ranking them 13th despite an 8-0 record last week. Thus, their loss to Oklahoma will probably be a fatal blow. They can’t be ruled out completely, because wins over Texas and Kansas would move them to 11-1, setting up a likely rematch with Oklahoma. Win that and they’re 12-1 and at least have a case. Even then, though, based on the committee’s reaction to them so far, even that does not appear likely to save them.
Florida Gators (9-2, vs. FSU)
Florida is probably the only two-loss team with a remote chance of getting in — according to the committee’s rankings, they are the best two-loss team left. That said, Florida would need a series of miracles to really put themselves in contention. Two Georgia losses would put them in the SEC Championship provided they beat Florida State, but the first part of that equation is incredibly unlikely. Even if it happened, they’d have to win the SEC title, and even that might not be enough. A New Year’s Six bowl appears to be their likely destination.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-1, at Northwestern, vs. Wisconsin, Big Ten Championship)
Like Baylor, the committee didn’t seem moved by Minnesota even when they were unbeaten, ranking them eighth — behind both one-loss Pac-12 teams — even before their loss to Iowa. The Gophers still control their own destiny as far as the Big Ten title is concerned, and they’ll have a chance to play for it if they win their final two regular season games, including at home against Wisconsin. A tough ask, but if they pull it off and then beat their Big Ten East counterpart — especially if it’s Ohio State — they’d be 12-1 with that and a win over Penn State on their resume. It just doesn’t seem likely that that will happen, and even if it does, it might not be enough, considering the committee was unconvinced even at 8-0.