As we enter the final three weeks of the college football regular season, it’s time to seriously think about which teams have a realistic shot at making the College Football Playoff. There are 9 teams that have a realistic shot at finishing in the Top 4, all of whom are currently ranked in the Top 10. I’ll take a look at each of the Top 10 teams (despite one of them having no shot in my eyes) but the Committee never fails to amaze me! I’ll also go through the crazy path #12 UCF will need to follow in order to have a chance at making it, although it is extremely unlikely.
1. Alabama (9-0)
Key Wins: vs. Texas A&M, @ LSU
Remaining Games: vs. #16 Mississippi State, vs. The Citadel, vs. #24 Auburn, vs. #5 Georgia (SEC Championship)
It’s simple for Alabama: win and you’re in. Hell, Alabama can lose a game and still be in. Don’t expect that to happen, though, as Alabama will roll into the Playoff as the #1 seed.
2. Clemson (9-0)
Key Wins: @ Texas A&M, vs. Syracuse, vs. NC State
Remaining Games: @ #17 Boston College, vs. Duke, vs. South Carolina, TBD (ACC Championship)
Like Alabama, Clemson only needs to win its remaining games and they’ll be in the Playoff once again. Clemson isn’t as strong as Alabama, so they may miss out if they lose 1 game, but that is unlikely. Clemson’s win over Syracuse looks better and better every week, but wins over Texas A&M and NC State aren’t looking as spectacular. Expect Clemson to clinch the ACC Atlantic this weekend and then win the ACC Championship next month with ease. A loss would make things interesting, but I don’t see a way Clemson is not in.
3. Notre Dame (9-0)
Key Wins: vs. Michigan, vs. Stanford, @ Virginia Tech, @ Northwestern
Remaining Games: vs. Florida State, vs. #13 Syracuse (in Yankee Stadium), @ USC
Notice a trend? If Notre Dame wins out, they are in without a doubt. But what happens if they lose? With Ian Book out against Florida State, that game is not a slam dunk anymore. Syracuse has been on fire lately and that could be a battle of Top 10 teams next week. USC and Notre Dame have no love lost between each other and the Trojans would love nothing more than to end the Irish season in the final week of the regular season. Notre Dame needs to win out to make the Playoff and they will be favored in each of their remaining games. My mind tells me they win out, but my gut tells me to expect at least one loss.
4. Michigan (8-1)
Key Wins: @ Northwestern, vs. Wisconsin, @ Michigan State, vs. Penn State
Loss: @ Notre Dame
Remaining Games: @ Rutgers, vs. Indiana, @ #10 Ohio State, TBA (Big Ten Championship)
Michigan is extremely likely to be in the Playoff if they win out. Michigan’s one loss came on the road against Notre Dame which won’t be held against the Wolverines. Michigan’s playoffs have begun already and their game against Ohio State will determine the Big Ten East champion. That game will be on the road and will be the toughest test remaining for the Wolverines. Win out and there is a great chance we will see Michigan in the Playoff. What happens if Alabama loses to Georgia, though? Alabama would have to be ranked slightly ahead of Michigan, so Michigan is not a guarantee if they win out.
5. Georgia (8-1)
Key Wins: vs. Florida, @ Kentucky
Loss: @ LSU
Remaining Games: vs. #24 Auburn, vs. UMass, vs. Georgia Tech, @ #1 Alabama (SEC Championship
The final team that will guarantee themselves a spot in the College Football Playoff if they win out. If Georgia were to win out, they would easily jump even a one loss Michigan team thanks to a would-be win over the unstoppable Crimson Tide. However, a loss in that game would knock Georgia out. Georgia should give Alabama a run for their money, but Alabama is just too good. Don’t expect to see Georgia competing for the National Championship this year.
6. Oklahoma (8-1)
Key Wins: @ Iowa State
Loss: vs. Texas
Remaining Games: vs. Oklahoma State, vs. Kansas, @ #9 West Virginia, TBA (Big 12 Championship)
Oklahoma has yet to find that signature win to bump their resume and that may hurt them. However, the Oklahoma regular season ends with a trip to Morgantown. A win in that game will give Oklahoma the big win they desperately need and clinch their spot in the Big 12 Championship. Oklahoma needs to win out to have a chance at making the Playoff but they need some help as well. The Sooners likely need two of Notre Dame and Georgia to lose in order to jump into the top 4. With Georgia likely to lose to Alabama and Notre Dame being Notre Dame, Oklahoma will likely get the help it needs to make it. They just need to take care of business the rest of the way.
7. LSU (7-2)
Key Wins: @ Auburn, vs. Georgia, vs. Mississippi State
Losses: @ Florida, vs. Alabama
Remaining Games: @ Arkansas, vs. Rice, @ Texas A&M
LSU should have no chance at making the Playoff. They are still inexplicably ranked ahead of three 1 loss teams who have a chance at winning their conference championships, however, which keeps me from eliminating them. There is no way LSU should have a chance, but it appears that there is a very slight chance they are alive. I just don’t see a path for them to make the top 4.
8. Washington State (8-1)
Key Wins: vs. Utah, vs. Oregon, @ Stanford
Loss: @ USC
Remaining Games: @ Colorado, vs. Arizona, vs. #25 Washington, TBA (Pac 12 Championship)
Washington State is the Pac 12’s last hope at making the Playoff. Unfortunately, Washington State has not played anyone of note, as their out of conference schedule features a very unimpressive slate of games. With a date with Washington to end the season, however, Washington State does have room to improve their resume. They could also use wins by Utah, Oregon, Stanford, and USC in order to possibly bring them back into the top 25. It still won’t matter much, however, because the Pac 12 is the worst of the Power 5 conferences. To make the Playoff, Washington State would need a multi loss team to win two of the Big Ten, ACC, or Big 12. If only one multi loss team wins, then Washington State would need Notre Dame to lose. That is asking for a lot and I don’t see Washington State getting the help it needs to sneak in.
9. West Virginia (7-1)
Key Wins: @ Texas Tech, @ Texas
Loss: @ Iowa State
Remaining Games: vs. TCU, @ Oklahoma State, vs. #6 Oklahoma, TBA (Big 12 Championship)
West Virginia has an offense led by Will Grier that can keep up with anyone. West Virginia may end up being haunted by the fact that their game against NC State had to be cancelled, as it was their big out of conference game. It also takes one game away from their final record. None of this will matter if they don’t win out, but if they do win out it’ll lead to quite the debate. We’ve got an elimination game to close the regular season between the Mountaineers and the Sooners, with the loser of that game being forced to pack their bags and watch the Playoff from home. We could also see a rematch between those two teams the following week in the Big 12 Championship. If West Virginia gets through the rest of the season unscathed, they’ll have a number of quality wins including at least one over an Oklahoma team that the Committee loves. With one less game on their schedule than anyone else, West Virginia will need a lot of help to get in.
Forecast: 20 %
10. Ohio State (8-1)
Key Wins: vs. TCU, @ Penn State
Loss: @ Purdue
Remaining Games: @ #18 Michigan State, @ Maryland, vs. #4 Michigan, TBA (Big Ten Championship)
That Purdue loss has really hurt the Buckeyes, hasn’t it? Ohio State looked like one of the top teams all season until that game and now it looks like they can’t do anything right. They do have the benefit of playing in one of the toughest conferences and still have a game against #4 Michigan. A win in that game will propel Ohio State into the Big Ten Championship game (assuming they take care of business in their other two games) where they may control their own destiny. Could we see a repeat of 2014 when Ohio State miraculously made the Playoff after looking dead entering Conference Championship week? Considering Ohio State was once considered the second best team in the country, the committee may give them the benefit of the doubt and allow the Buckeyes to jump a 1 loss Big 12 Champion. It’s a toss up that can go either way.
With Alabama and Clemson looking like the only two locks to make the Playoff this year, there is a lot of room for chaos to ensue. If Michigan or Notre Dame drop a game, then anything can happen. Oklahoma and Ohio State are the two teams that will benefit most from the chaos that would ensue, with West Virginia and Washington State needing a little more help along the way.
UCF is on the outside looking in and I refuse to give up on them just yet. To make the Playoff, UCF would need more chaos than one can imagine and it may even still not make a difference. UCF obviously would need to win their remaining games. It would also be in their best interest to just have Alabama and Clemson win out and clinch the top two spots as undefeated teams. UCF would then need the following to play out in all likelihood:
- Georgia will have had to lose to Alabama if the Crimson Tide finish undefeated
- Washington State will have to lose another game to eliminate the Pac 12
- The Big Ten winner would need to come from the West Division (Northwestern or Wisconsin) to eliminate the Ohio State-Michigan winner
- The winner of the Oklahoma-West Virginia game to lose the Big 12 Championship game the following weekend
- Notre Dame loses one of their final three games
Even if all of this happens, there is no guarantee that UCF will sneak into the Playoff. But crazier things have happened and since there has yet to be that one shocker that seems to come every season in college football, could we be saving the most shocking turn of events in college football history until the very last minute?