With just conference championships left to be played, it is time to sit down and look at scenarios for each of the teams with a reasonable shot at making it into the College Football Playoff.
If the season ended today, the playoff would pit Clemson against the University of Wisconsin and Auburn against the University of Oklahoma in the semifinals, with the winners vying for the National Championship.
Eight teams have reasonable chances to make the playoffs: the current top four, plus the University of Georgia, the University of Miami, Ohio State and the University of Alabama. Seven of these teams control their own destiny, while Alabama needs some help. Here is a look at each team’s pros, cons and what needs to happen for them to make the playoff.
Clemson has a decent resume and a lot of talent. At 11-1, it certainly has the record to justify a number one seed in the playoff.
The biggest knock against the Tigers is that they haven’t really played many good teams this season. They beat Auburn in week two 14-9, and then beat a decent Virginia Tech team in week five 31-17. Their lone loss came to Syracuse, a team with a 4-8 record.
Clemson is the perfect example of why conference championships are so important in the current system. Clemson will add a game against No. 7 Miami to its resume.
For Clemson, it is “win and you are in.”
Auburn is sitting at a 10-2 record, with losses at Clemson and Louisiana State. Those two loses are not as disappointing as Clemson’s, but there are two of them instead of one.
Auburn has beaten four ranked teams, two of which were ranked number one at the time. That includes handing Alabama its first loss of the year to lock the Crimson Tide out of the SEC Championship Game.
Auburn seems to be an obvious choice for the playoff. A win in the SEC Championship should put them in easily.
The Sooners suffered their only loss of the season at home to an Iowa State team with a 7-5 record. This is not necessarily a bad loss; Iowa State is often a thorn in the side of the Big 12 elite. The Cyclones are also in the midst of one of their best seasons in recent memory.
The thing that stands out on Oklahoma’s resume is a big win on the road over the 10-2 team at Ohio State in week two. Led by senior quarterback and Heisman favorite Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma has one of the best offenses in the country.
The Sooners could be hampered by the resurrected Big 12 Championship Game, though. A Big 12 team with their resume would have been a lock by this point last season. This year, they have an extra ranked opponent: Texas Christian University. The Sooners beat the Horned Frogs 38-20 earlier in the year.
All Oklahoma needs to do is win and they can count on a berth into the College Football Playoff.
Wisconsin is currently in the top four based on being the sole unbeaten team among the Power Five conferences. They had a very underwhelming schedule though, only the 45th most difficult in the country.
Their best win based on ESPN’s Football Power Index is a 24-10 victory at home over a Michigan squad with an 8-4 record. That same Michigan team just got beaten by an Ohio State team who was missing their star quarterback, J.T. Barrett.
Barrett is likely to show for Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game even though he did have a knee surgery on Sunday. If Barrett plays and Wisconsin still wins regardless, the Badgers should be in the playoff. Even if Barrett doesn’t play, a 13-0 record in a Power Five conference would be hard for the committee to pass up.
The Bulldogs won the SEC East simply because no one else in the East is all that good. In fact, the Bulldogs ran away with the division, with their only loss coming on the road to Auburn.
Georgia has pretty good wins over Mississippi State, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame. The teams Georgia was expected to beat were also blown out of the water.
Georgia is another case of “win and you are in.” A win in the rematch against Auburn should guarantee them a spot in the playoff.
The Hurricanes are making a return to national prominence in a big way. Simply put, they went back to their roots, even calling in alumni from their successful teams in the ’80s and ’90s to encourage players.
Miami blew out Notre Dame at home and also beat a decent Virginia Tech team. Other than that, they have the same issue as Clemson and Wisconsin: they just have not played anyone really good.
Luckily for fans of the turnover chain-clad Hurricanes, Miami uniquely gets a shot at top-ranked Clemson. Despite a bad loss at the University of Pittsburgh last week, a win over Clemson should vault Miami into the playoff.
Here’s where it starts to get tricky. The Buckeyes won the Big Ten East despite losses to an unranked University of Iowa and Oklahoma. They also boast victories over two ranked opponents, Penn State and Michigan State.
The key to their season seems to rest on the injured knee of J.T. Barrett. If he is healthy, ESPN predicts a 65 percent chance of victory over Wisconsin. A victory in the Big Ten championship should give the Buckeyes a spot, but it is not that simple.
If the game is close, or the Buckeyes don’t pass the committee’s enigmatic “eye test,” Alabama could sneak into the playoff. The lack of competition in the Big Ten (outside of a few schools) could cost Ohio State a spot in the playoff this season.
I skipped the Crimson Tide, who have an 11-1 record and are ranked fifth in the nation, for a very good reason. They have the toughest road to the playoff by virtue of being locked out of the SEC Championship Game.
Alabama has played a tough schedule according to ESPN. The Crimson Tide beat a three-loss Fresno State and a four-loss Mississippi State.
It stands to reason that Alabama (the only team not playing for a conference championship in this rundown) needs a little help getting into the playoff. The easiest path for Alabama would be for TCU to beat Oklahoma, but not by too much.
TCU knocking Oklahoma out, coupled with the lack of a contender from the PAC-12, could vault Alabama into the playoff.
Another, more complicated scenario involves Auburn absolutely crushing Georgia and Ohio State, narrowly edging out Wisconsin. All of a sudden, that single Iron Bowl loss doesn’t look as bad, and the lone unbeaten is defeated. The committee may be able to justify moving Alabama into the playoff at 11-1 over the 10-2 Buckeyes.
Ultimately, the playoff should be the champion of the SEC, ACC, Big 10 and either Oklahoma or Alabama.