College Football Playoff scenarios for the top 11 teams
Tuesday night brought one of the biggest shakeups in the history of the College Football Playoff rankings as half of the top four teams fell outside of the Playoff cut and none of the top 10 teams kept their ranking from the week prior. With just four weeks of action before the committee makes its final selections, we're taking a fan's-eye approach to provide each team's in-no-way biased assessment on why it is still perfectly positioned to be one of the final four teams. Editor's note: The assessments are in fact quite biased.
While some unlikely, we believe all to be realistic arguments for how each of the top 11 teams could make the Playoff. We call this the "So You're Saying There's a Chance" argument.
1. Alabama (10-0)
So You're Saying There is a Chance: Obviously in great position and not in need of any wild argument. If the Crimson Tide win out, which would include a road win against No. 6 Auburn and a win in the SEC Championship over No. 7 Georgia, they are in, likely as the No. 1 seed. Here's a fan's argument that might be up for debate. Where and how can Alabama lose and still make the Playoff. Like Ohio State in 2016, Alabama could lose to Auburn this week and finish 10-1 and secure the best record of any SEC candidate. Would a 2-loss SEC Champ Auburn or 2-loss SEC Champ Georgia hop Alabama? We don't think you leave an SEC team out this year, especially if Alabama is 10-1.
If Georgia loses to Georgia Tech – it could happen, folks – and then beats Auburn, you have to believe Alabama could make it at 10-1. Next scenario: Alabama beats Auburn, then loses close to UGA. That's a tough call for the committee. They probably have to have an SEC team, right? We see Alabama having a shot here, especially if it somehow loses to a three-loss Georgia team. All in all – Alabama has quite a few paths.
2. Clemson (9-1)
So You're Saying There is a Chance: Clemson is one of just two teams that appeared in the committee's top four last week and this week, as the Tigers jumped two spots to No. 2. They're definitely in the Playoff if they win out, which would be capped off with a win over No. 3 Miami in the ACC Championship. Their resume is littered with wins against opponents that have winning records, something CFP Chairman Kirby Hocutt has made a point of mentioning.
And don't worry, Clemson fans. We all saw quarterback Kelly Bryant go down with an injury in the Tigers' loss at Syracuse. It's almost like that game doesn't count, right? OK, maybe that's taking it too far, but if Clemson's only blemish is a three-point loss on a Friday night on the road when its backup quarterback played the entire second half, that's a very explanable result. Clemson could even suffer a loss at South Carolina, bounce back to win the ACC Championship, and make the Playoff with two losses, if the other power conferences have two-loss champions.
3. Miami (9-0)
So You're Saying There is a Chance: You could make the case Miami should feel more confident about making the Playoff than any school not named Alabama. The 'Canes are one of just three remaining undefeated teams in the Power Five. Miami has an inside track to the Playoff. We've seen the Hurricanes' remaining regular season schedule, so you can safely pencil in two more wins. An ACC Championship would cement the 'Canes Playoff spot, while knocking Clemson down a rung, or six, and potentially moving Miami to the top spot if Alabama falters.
But hey, even the worst-case scenario is pretty promising. Who says a one-loss Miami team is out of the Playoff? If Clemson can lose to Syracuse, which has a 4-6 record and sits in last place in its division, Miami should be able to survive a loss to Virginia or Pitt, as long as it wins the ACC.
4. Oklahoma (9-1)
So You're Saying There is a Chance: Let's list things that are going in Oklahoma's favor: 1) Its dominant road win at Ohio State will weigh as heavily as almost any single result this season 2) Baker Mayfield 3) The Sooners have already beaten the two teams behind them in the Big 12 standings (Oklahoma State and TCU) 4) The Big 12 added a championship game this year, which adds another potential marquee win to its resume, and the one team that's beaten OU – Iowa State – is unlikely to appear in that game.
Even if the Sooners slip up before the championship game, there could be two-loss champions in any or all of the Power Five conferences. Oklahoma's offense, led by Mayfield, is as dominant as any offensive or defensive group in the country, which along with the Sooners' win in Columbus, could give OU the ultimate tiebreaker.
5. Wisconsin (10-0)
So You're Saying There is a Chance: Good news, Badger fans. There are still two ranked opponents on Wisconsin's schedule – No. 24 Michigan and the winner of the Big Ten East – and winning those two games would leave no doubt in the committee's mind about the validity of the Badgers' Playoff candidacy. Plus, Clemson and Miami playing in the ACC Championship will result in one of the two teams dropping in the rankings. We hear you Wisconsin fans: Why aren't more people talking about Alabama's upcoming schedule? It includes a road game at Auburn, which just dismantled Georgia, and then a neutral-site game against the Bulldogs. Maybe Wisconsin is the last undefeated Power Five team standing.
Even if the Badgers lose before the Big Ten Championship, then win the conference, there is still guaranteed to be two more losses suffered by some combination of Alabama, Auburn and Georgia, and Clemson and Miami play each other. Even though an undefeated Wisconsin is currently on the outside looking in, a one-loss Badgers team would have a puncher's chance if they win the Big Ten title.
6. Auburn (8-2)
So You're Saying There is a Chance: The ink wasn't even dry from Auburn's pen after the Tigers crossed Georgia off their To-Do List, when the latest rankings revealed the Tigers had moved up four spots to No. 6. A 40-17 win over No. 1 Georgia, are you kidding me? There aren't many teams in the country that could have beaten Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium last Saturday. Have you ever seen those nature documentaries about predatory creatures in the wild? That's Auburn. The Tigers have their sights set on their prey – No. 1 Alabama at home on Nov. 25 and Georgia in the SEC Championship on Dec. 2 – and they're ready to pounce when the time comes. If they win both of those games, they're in the Playoff.
Having already suffered two losses, Auburn has to win both games to finish in the top four.
7. Georgia (9-1)
So You're Saying There is a Chance: If we could read the collective mind of Georgia's fan base, it would sound something like this: "Congrats on the win, Auburn, but you still need two more of those to have a chance at the Playoff." The Bulldogs have already clinched the SEC East and if they can make it the rest of the way to the SEC Championship game unscathed, Alabama is all that stands between Georgia and the Playoff. Or, if it's Auburn in the title game, you can bet Georgia won't let its linemen get pushed around the way they did in Week 11. Do the Tigers know that game won't be played at home? The SEC Championship is in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is essentially in Georgia's backyard.
It's unlikely the committee would leave the SEC out of the Playoff altogether, so there's a chance Georgia could lose to Kentucky or Georgia Tech, win the SEC Championship, and still make the Playoff.
8. Notre Dame (8-2)
So You're Saying There is a Chance: Sure, that loss to Miami hurts. But let's say the following scenario plays out: Miami defeats Clemson and claims the No. 1 seed as an undefeated ACC champion, Georgia wins the SEC Championship and enters the Playoff at 12-1, and Wisconsin and Oklahoma both lose in their respective conference championship games. Meanwhile, Notre Dame wins out, finishing the season 10-2 with both losses coming against arguably the top two teams in the country. Why shouldn't the Irish get one of those last two spots when there are two-loss champions in the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12?
Notre Dame would have trouble pleading its case if it loses for a third time this season, but a two-loss Irish team should remain in the hunt.
9. Ohio State (8-2)
So You're Saying There is a Chance: Remember, this is THE Ohio State University. The school that won the 2015 national championship and made the Playoff last season despite not even playing for the conference championship. The Buckeyes can climb their way into the top four despite their two losses, right? Here's how: The SEC cannibalizes itself as Alabama knocks off Auburn, then Georgia in the SEC Championship, just one week after the Bulldogs lose at Georgia Tech, leaving the Crimson Tide as the only SEC team deserving of a Playoff bid. Clemson gets tripped up at South Carolina and loses its second game in a row in the ACC Championship to Miami. Notre Dame loses on the road at Stanford in Week 13 and TCU knocks off Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes beat No. 24 Michigan on the road, then No. 5 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, pushing Ohio State into the Playoff. The Buckeyes control their own destiny in the Big Ten East, so they could enter the Playoff on a four-game winning streak with three of the victories coming against ranked opponents.
10. Penn State (8-2)
So You're Saying There is a Chance: Penn State knocked on the door of the Playoff last season but was told there was no room inside, so the Nittany Lions stood on the front porch, finishing fifth in the committee's final rankings. Why can't things break their way this year? Recreate the scenario above that creates a path for Ohio State making the Playoff, but replace the Buckeyes' win against Michigan at the Big House with a loss, while Michigan State slips up on the road against Rutgers, giving Penn State the Big Ten East crown. The Nittany Lions beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, again, and make the Playoff. Two road losses against ranked opponents by a combined four points won't be held against Big Ten champion Penn State.
11. USC (9-2)
So You're Saying There is a Chance: USC is one of two two-loss teams in the Pac-12 and the Trojans' only losses were on the road against top-20 teams. Let's say they beat UCLA in Week 12, then Washington State in the Pac-12 Championship. That boosts them to a top-four spot with a lot of outside help. Clemson loses at South Carolina, then to Miami in the ACC Championship. Georgia and Auburn both finish with three losses. The Big 12 goes haywire and a three-loss team beats Oklahoma in the conference championship game. A three-loss Big Ten East team beats Wisconsin in the conference championship, while Notre Dame loses at Stanford.
Sure, that scenario is unlikely. But we're just saying there's a chance.