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Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | November 10, 2021

Here's how Michigan State could reach the College Football Playoff

College football rankings: Ohio State enters CFP top 4

Through the first seven years of the College Football Playoff, 11 schools have earned the 28 total playoff berths and Michigan State, currently ranked No. 7 in the latest CFP rankings, is among that group. There's a chance that this season, the Spartans could join Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame as the only schools to qualify for the playoff multiple times.

Here's how Michigan State could potentially make the College Football Playoff.

Here's where the Spartans are through Week 10

After losing on the road to Purdue in Week 10, Michigan State dropped from No. 3 to No. 7 in the CFP rankings. The good news for the Spartans (8-1) is that they only have one loss. No two-loss team has made the playoff in its first seven iterations.

The other good news is that they've beaten No. 6 Michigan, whom the committee ranked ahead of Michigan State in Week 11 despite the Spartans beating the Wolverines in Week 9, and they have an upcoming game against No. 4 Ohio State. This means that if Michigan State wins out to finish the regular season 11-1, the Spartans would win the Big Ten East and qualify for the Big Ten Championship, with pair of wins over teams that are currently ranked in the top 10.

The other potentially beneficial development for Michigan State is that Purdue, which handed the Spartans their only loss so far, made its season debut in the CFP rankings at No. 19. The Boilermakers (6-3) are now bowl eligible and they've beaten a pair of teams that are currently ranked by the committee. If Purdue can stay in the CFP rankings, which could be decided by the Boilermakers' trip to Columbus in Week 11, then the potential negative effects of the Spartans' loss could be mitigated.

To stay within the Big Ten, in the seasons in which Ohio State was blown out against Iowa (55-24 in 2017) and Purdue (49-20 in 2018), the Buckeyes didn't make the playoff despite winning the Big Ten Championship. It is worth noting the Buckeyes had two losses in 2017. Purdue finished the 2018 regular season with a 6-6 record, so Ohio State had a loss on its resume to a .500 team, and it would help Michigan State this season if Purdue continues to win.

CRYSTAL BALL: We predicted when the remaining undefeated teams are most likely to lose

Analyzing the teams ranked ahead of Michigan State

As previously mentioned, there are six teams ranked ahead of Michigan State entering Week 11: No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oregon, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Cincinnati and No. 6 Michigan. By the season's end, Michigan State would need to be ranked ahead of at least three of those teams — plus all of the teams currently ranked behind Michigan State — in order to qualify for the playoff.

The good news for the Spartans is that the top two teams, which are currently in first place in the SEC East and SEC West, respectively, are currently projected to play each other in the SEC Championship. If Georgia, which is considered the best team in the country according to the AP and coaches poll, plus the CFP rankings, proves it's the better team on the field, then Alabama will have two losses and a two-loss team has yet to make the playoff.

A second loss for the Crimson Tide could potentially take care of one of the three teams that the Spartans need to leap in the rankings.

The other opportunities for Michigan State come from its Big Ten East foes Ohio State and Michigan. The two schools play each other, which means the Buckeyes or the Wolverines are guaranteed a second regular-season loss. Once again, no two-loss team has made the playoff, so that would remove one of those schools from Michigan State's path.

Then there's the opportunity Michigan State has in Week 12, when it travels to Columbus. If the Spartans can beat the Maryland Terrapins in Week 11, then knock off No. 4 Ohio State on the road the following week, Michigan State will be in the driver's seat in the division.

The most straightforward path to the playoff for Michigan State is for Alabama to lose a second time and for the Spartans to beat the Buckeyes. If Ohio State could then beat Michigan, that would ensure that Michigan State would surpass Michigan in the CFP rankings.

Of course, there are other scenarios that would benefit Michigan State, such as Oregon suffering a second loss or currently undefeated Cincinnati losing.

But as far as matchups that are either guaranteed, or currently projected, to happen — we're referring to Michigan State at Ohio State, Ohio State at Michigan and the projected SEC Championship Game between Georgia and Alabama — a Michigan State win in the first aforementioned matchup, an Ohio State win in the second and a Georgia win in third would be the college football equivalent of the starts aligning.

Of course, if Michigan State wins the Big Ten East, it will need to then win the Big Ten Championship. Entering Week 11, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue and Wisconsin are all 4-2 in conference play. It's still too early to say with any confidence who will win the division, but three of the four schools are ranked in the latest CFP rankings and the fourth, Minnesota, was ranked in Week 10, so whichever team wins the Big Ten West will likely be ranked when it travels to Indianapolis, which could potentially provide Michigan State with another win over a ranked opponent if it were to make the Big Ten Championship Game.

Michigan State's College Football Playoff rankings history

Through Week 11 of the 2021 College Football Playoff rankings, Michigan State has been ranked in 22 of the 44 editions of the CFP rankings, which is tied for 18th nationally.

As previously mentioned, the Spartans are one of 11 college football programs that has made the playoff and the only Big Ten school besides Ohio State to do so. They were chosen as the No. 3 seed in the playoff in the 2015 season.

Here's where Michigan State has finished in the CFP rankings during the playoff era:

  • 2014: No. 8
  • 2015: No. 3
  • 2016: NR
  • 2017: No. 16
  • 2018: NR
  • 2019: NR
  • 2020: NR

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