Path To The Playoffs: The 19 Teams That Can Still Make the College Football Playoffs

Bowl Projections After Week Three

With the release of the most recent College Football Playoff Selection Committee rankings, it’s worth looking at what each team can do to get to those coveted final four slots. While the committee does the selecting, the teams make their resumes and control their wins and losses.

Path To The Playoffs: The 19 Teams That Can Still Make the College Football Playoff

When looking at what teams can still make the College Football Playoff (CFP), it’s important to remember what the committee weighs. Overall record — wins and losses — are obviously very important. But conference championships have carried significant weight it the previous three seasons. Perceived conference strength has as well. With those factors in mind, here are the 19 teams that still have some sort of hope for the College Football Playoff.

Teams That Control Their Own Destiny

CFP #1: Alabama (10-0)

Remaining Work: The Crimson Tide have Mercer and Auburn remaining on their regular season schedule. If they beat Auburn, they will face Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. If Alabama wins out, they’ll be 13-0 and SEC Champions. They will have wins against likely Top 25 teams LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn, and Georgia. And they probably won’t get docked too much for their statistically weak out-of-conference (OOC) schedule due to the unexpected demise of Florida State this season.

A lock for the College Football Playoffs for the second third fourth straight season.

What If? However, Alabama is actually in a fairly precarious situation. With just one loss to Auburn, the Tide will miss out on the Conference Championship Game. If Georgia goes on to win the SEC, that means there’s a possibility you could have one undefeated conference champion (Wisconsin), one conference champion with either no- or one-loss (ACC), and two one-loss conference champions (Oklahoma and Georgia). Alabama losing to Auburn is the biggest wildcard remaining in the CFP picture. And it’s part of the CFP Chaos picture. More on that later.

CFP #2: Clemson (9-1)

Remaining Work:┬áIf Clemson wins the remainder of their games, they will be 12-1 with wins over likely Top 25 opponents Auburn, Virginia Tech, N.C. State, and Miami. Their one loss was a close loss on the road to Syracuse on a Friday night after an injury to their starting quarterback. That’s a forgivable sin for the committee. The ACC is arguably the best conference in college football. A one-loss Clemson that’s ACC Champion is into the CFP.

What If? If Clemson loses to Miami, that makes the Tigers’ chance of repeating as national champions awfully tough. That would give Clemson its second loss, so it would be competing against four other conference champions with, at most, two losses, and possibly one-loss Alabama, one-loss Wisconsin, or two-loss Oklahoma. For Clemson to have any chance to make the College Football Playoffs, one key thing must happen: Stanford would have to win the Pac-12. See below for that scenario.

CFP #3: Miami (9-0)

Remaining Work: The U is back. And they might be back in the national championship picture as well. Winning out means an undefeated season with an ACC championship. They’ll have wins over likely Top 25 teams Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Clemson. Additionally, their out-of-conference slate (Toledo and Notre Dame) is one of the stronger OOC slates on this list. If you count Notre Dame as out-of-conference.

What If? What if Miami barely loses to Clemson in the ACC Championship game? With a strong resume, Hurricanes fans could make an argument to be included above a two-loss conference champion, especially from the Pac-12. A one-loss Miami would need Auburn to win the SEC, TCU or Oklahoma State to win the Big 12, and Ohio State to win the Big Ten. Even then, it’s hard to see Miami getting the nod over any of those two-loss champions or a one-loss Alabama. We’ve only had one non-conference champion in the CFP, but Miami could conceivably be the second, if the chips fall just right.

CFP #4: Oklahoma (9-1)

Remaining Work: Oklahoma still has Kansas and West Virginia and, if they win either of those, they’ll play either TCU (more likely) or Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship Game. Winning out puts the Sooners as a one-loss conference champion and ahead of the Pac-12 champion, whoever that turns out to be. It would be impossible for a one-loss non-conference champion, say Wisconsin, Miami, or Alabama to jump a conference champion Oklahoma.

What If? If Oklahoma falls against either Kansas or West Virginia, they still have a chance to be a two-loss conference champion with a win over TCU or Oklahoma State. They’d need Ohio State to win against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. Based on head-to-head against Ohio State and conference strength against the Pac-12 champion, Oklahoma probably still gets in. A one-loss Miami or Alabama threatens that, but the strength of the conference championship probably still gets the Sooners to the CFP. This would be the perfect scenario for the CFP Committee to reward the Big 12 for re-instituting the conference championship game.

A loss in the conference championship game really hurts the Sooners, though. They’ll have to get put in over other two loss conference champions and their own two-loss Big 12 Champion. Very unlikely. It would actually be better for Oklahoma to loss to Kansas than TCU in the conference championship game.

CFP #5: Wisconsin (10-0)

Remaining Work: There’s a lot of talk about the Badgers weak schedule. But if Wisconsin wins out, they’ll have wins against likely Top 25 teams Michigan and Ohio State. Iowa and Northwestern could also sneak into the Top 25. Their OOC slate is extremely weak, with Utah State, Florida Atlantic, and BYU currently sitting at a combined 15-16. Regardless, an undefeated Power 5 Conference Champion will be in the College Football Playoffs.

What If? One loss, however, will doom the Badgers. Even if its in the conference championship game, one loss allows the committee to leverage the weak schedule against them. The ACC champion will almost assuredly have no more than one loss. A two-loss champion in the SEC would also get in before a one-loss Wisconsin. As would a one-loss Alabama, a one-loss Miami, a two-loss PAC-12 champion, and a two-loss Big 12 champion. There’s almost no scenario where a one-loss Wisconsin gets into the CFP.

CFP #7: Georgia (9-1)

Remaining Work: Georgia’s demolition at the hands of Auburn notwithstanding, the Bulldogs still control their own destiny to the Playoffs. If Georgia wins out, they’ll have likely Top 25 teams Notre Dame and Mississippi State and they will have a win against either Alabama or Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. A one-loss SEC Champion with those wins will be in the Playoffs, especially considering the Pac-12 Champion will have a minimum of two losses and Notre Dame will have a minimum of two losses.

What If? Georgia has clinched the SEC East. If the Dogs stumble against Kentucky or Georgia Tech, that will likely doom their playoff hopes, even with an SEC Championship Game win. They would need a lot of help at that point. There would have to be multipe upsets in the ACC and the Big 12. Even a loss in the SEC Championship Game likely dooms Georgia.

Teams In Striking Distance

CFP #6: Auburn (8-2)

Remaining Work: Auburn still has games against Louisiana-Monroe and Alabama. A loss to either ends their hopes. If they beat Alabama, they will find themselves in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia. A second win against Georgia puts Auburn in a great position. They’ll have wins against Alabama and Georgia (twice), teams that were the top-ranked CFP teams at the time of the game, and likely Top 25 teams Mississippi State. Their two losses were close games against Clemson and LSU, both likely Top 25 teams and both on the road.

Needed Help: Auburn, like Ohio State, doesn’t need much help if it wins out. Based on head-to-head, they probably get in over Alabama. Their best wins and losses are probably better than Ohio State. The scary part for Auburn would be a two-loss Clemson in the picture and a dominant Ohio State win in the Big Ten Championship Game. Coupled with a one-loss Oklahoma and undefeated Miami, that could spell trouble for the Tigers. Unlikely, but it could.

CFP #9: Ohio State (9-2)

Remaining Work: To get into the College Football Playoffs this season, the Buckeyes will have to beat Michigan and then beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. That will likely put them in the CFP, but it’s not a certainty.

Needed Help: Ohio State doesn’t need much help. The sticking point for the Buckeyes centers around an 11-1 Alabama that isn’t the SEC Champion or a 11-1 Miami that loses in the ACC Championship Game. Additionally, an 11-2 Oklahoma that isn’t a Big 12 Champion also complicates things. Ohio State would have the tremendous weight of a conference championship on their side, but with a bad loss to Iowa, an out-of-conference loss to Oklahoma, and a weak Big Ten this season, the Buckeyes don’t necessarily control their own destiny.

Teams On The Outside Looking In

CFP #12: TCU and CFP #13: Oklahoma State (8-2)

Remaining Work: Both TCU and Oklahoma State will have to win out, including two regular season games (Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas State, Kansas, respectively) and beat Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game. That would put either team at 11-2 and the Big 12 Champion.

Needed Help: Without the head-to-head against Ohio State (neither team had notable OOC wins), this is probably a nightmare situation for the Big 12. This situation would probably be the most interesting situation because it would test the committee’s willingness to punish the Big 12 for adding the conference championship game after it seemingly punished them in 2014 for not having a conference championship game. Fittingly, the team that benefited in 2014, Ohio State, stands to benefit from the Big 12 yet again. For either team to get into the CFP, they would probably need Wisconsin to win the Big Ten, Miami and Alabama to run the table in the SEC, and the Pac-12 Champion to look mediocre. But of the remaining teams outside the Destiny and Striking teams, these two have the best shot to get into the CFP.

CFP #18: Washington (8-2), CFP #14: Washington State (9-2), and CFP #11: USC (9-2)

Remaining Work: For any of these teams to have a shot at the College Football Playoffs, they must win out and claim the Pac-12 Championship with an 11-2 record. Even then, things are still pretty blight. The Big Ten Champion will have a maximum of two losses. The SEC Champion, Big 12 Champion, and ACC Champion will almost assuredly have a maximum of two losses. Add into that equation any one-loss none-conference champion (Alabama, Wisconsin, or Miami) or an undefeated UCF, and these three teams are on even shakier ground. Washington has the better loses, but a weak OOC schedule. Notre Dame’s demolition of USC, coupled with Miami’s demolition of Notre Dame, probably puts the Pac-12 last in the order of merit for two-loss conference champions.

Needed Help: Stay with me here. For one of these three teams to make it to the CFP, they would likely need the following: TCU and Oklahoma State to both lose one more game and then win the Big 12 Championship Game; Kentucky and/or Georgia Tech to beat Georgia, Auburn to beat Alabama, and then Georgia to beat Auburn in the SEC Championship Game; and Clemson and Miami to both lose in the regular season and have an ugly ACC championship game.

CFP #15: UCF (9-0)

Remaining Work: UCF has a shot at finishing the season 13-0, with wins over likely Top 25 opponents Memphis (twice) and USF, and a conference championship in easily the best Group of Five conference. Additionally, they’ll have a Power 5 win over Maryland. That win was convincing, 38-10, at Maryland. Still, the Golden Knights are on the outside looking in because they are a Group of Five team and had their game against Georgia Tech canceled due to Hurricane Irma earlier this season.

Needed Help: It’s hard to imagine UCF getting into the final four. Absolute chaos would have to ensure — and I mean chaos. The Big Ten Champion is in over UCF no matter what happens from here on out. Stanford would have to win the Pac-12. Alabama would have to lose to Mercer, then beat Auburn, then lose to a Georgia team that lost to Kentucky and Georgia Tech. Clemson would have to lose to the Citadel AND Miami would have to lose to Virginia and Pitt. Then, maybe, UCF would get the call to the CFP. It may not be fair, but it’s the way it is.

Teams That Need a Miracle

CFP #10: Penn State (8-2) and CFP #17: Michigan State (7-3)

Remaining Work: Penn State has to win out against Nebraska and Maryland and Michigan State has to win out against Maryland and Rutgers. Then they would have to beat Wisconsin in an unlikely appearance in the Big Ten title game.

Needed Help: These two scenarios are interesting. Because of the Big Ten tiebreaking scenarios, Michigan State — even with a lesser overall record — has the advantage. First, both the Spartans and the Nittany Lions need Michigan to beat Ohio State. Additionally, both teams also need Ohio State to lose to Illinois. Michigan State because of the head-to-head and overall record tiebreaker and Penn State because of the head-to-head and three-way tiebreaker.

For Penn State, they must have Ohio State loss the last two games and Michigan State to lose one of their two remaining games.

Michigan State only needs Ohio State to lose their last two — they own the three-way tiebreaker against Michigan and Penn State and own the head-to-head tiebreaker against both teams.

Even with all of that, a three-loss conference champion Michigan State would need a lot of help elsewhere. More help than is probably possible. Especially if Notre Dame is still there with only two losses.

A two-loss Penn State has a little more stature, but they’ve closed the season poorly. And the Big Ten’s conference strength might not carry the day. It would be hard for the committee to reward someone who backed into the Playoffs.

CFP #24: Michigan (8-2)

Remaining Work: That’s right. Don’t look now, but Michigan actually has a chance to make it to the College Football Playoffs. If the Wolverines beat Wisconsin this week and Ohio State next week, they’ll be 10-2 and have a small, small chance to play Wisconsin again for the Big Ten Championship. Their two losses would be to good teams — Penn State and Michigan State.

Needed Help: Unfortunately for the Wolverines, their possible 1-2 record against Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State means that they would lose out on any tiebreaker for a three- or four-way tie. Michigan would have to win out and have Penn State lose to either Nebraska or Maryland and Michigan State lose to either Maryland or Rutgers over the next two weeks. That’s a lot of good teams losing to a lot of not good teams.

CFP #8: Notre Dame (8-2)

Remaining Work: Beat Navy and Stanford.

Needed Help: Well, if there’s any team that could hang their hat on a miracle, it would be the Fighting Irish. Here’s the biggest deal with Notre Dame: the lack of a conference championship game (or a conference, for that matter) likely dooms the Irish here. Yes, their two losses are to teams that have a total of one loss between them. But Georgia lost bad to Auburn, and Miami just throttled Notre Dame last week. There’s only been one non-conference champion in the CFP, and for a two-loss team to make it to the College Football Playoffs, they will almost assuredly have to have a conference championship to propel them forward.

CFP #22: Stanford (7-3)

Remaining Work: Beat Cal and Notre Dame. Of course, beating Notre Dame is a tall task. And then they would have to play USC, again, in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Needed Help: Stanford only needs Washington to beat Washington State in the Apple Bowl. That would put Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game, where they would have to beat USC to finish 10-3 and Pac-12 Champions. Even then, as a three-loss conference champion, they would need a domino effect of epic proportions to get into the CFP. The odds here are so long, you’d need a Stanford grad to compute them. Still, other than wins and losses, a conference championship is the single biggest thing a team can put on their resume. Even a loss against Notre Dame wouldn’t doom the Cardinal conference championship hopes. But the loss against San Diego State is an inexcusable sin for the committee. Stanford is the longest of long shots.

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