For those who argued that a college football playoff would render the regular season meaningless, they couldn’t have been more wrong.
After 13 weeks, things are still very much in the air and instead of two or three important game remaining and three or four teams still in contention there are 11-12 important games still on the schedule and nine teams still in contention for the all-important four spots in the college football playoff.
In the latest college football playoff ranking, these are the top four teams. Let’s assume that if these teams win all of their remaining games they will be in the inaugural playoff:
- Alabama (9-1)
- Oregon (9-1)
- Florida State (10-0)
- Mississippi State (9-1)
For the next five teams, we are going to assume Alabama and Florida State win their remaining games. If one of those two is upset along the way, all bets are off and chaos will reign. Things are a little different for Oregon and Mississippi State as they still have a potential matchups against top-10 teams.
Five other teams are still alive. Here is how they can make it into the playoff (with remaining schedule in parentheses).
5. TCU (@Texas, Iowa State)
Interestingly, TCU may have the toughest road of the teams ranked 5-7 and it doesn’t help that the Big 12 does not have a conference championship game.
TCU’s best-case scenario has them winning out and either Oregon losing in the Pac-12 championship game or Mississippi State losing to Ole Miss. At that point the committee will have to weigh TCU’s resume against a 1-loss Ohio State that won a conference title game and a 1-loss Baylor team that beat TCU head-to-head.
Things get easier if Ohio State also loses game. However, a Baylor loss might actually do more harm than help as it would weaken TCU’s resume due to their loss to Baylor.
6. Ohio State (Indiana, Michigan, Big Ten title game vs Wisconsin)
There are several scenarios that can lead to Ohio State in the playoff but most of them involve Mississippi State losing to Ole Miss.
If that happens, the committee would have to choose between a 1-loss Big 12 champion (TCU or Baylor) that doesn’t play in a conference championship game and a 1-loss Ohio State team that did win a conference championship game.
Things become even better for Ohio State if a Mississippi State loss is coupled with either an Oregon loss in the Pac-12 title game or a TCU loss to Texas (the latter would also weaken Baylor’s resume).
7. Baylor (Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, #12 Kansas State)
Baylor doesn’t have a conference championship game but they still have three games remaining including one at home against 12th-ranked Kansas State.
The best-case scenario for Baylor is a Mississippi State loss to Ole Miss and an Ohio State loss to Michigan or Wisconsin (in the Big Ten championship game).
At that point, the committee would have to decide between TCU and Baylor for the final spot and they would have a hard time ignoring Baylor’s head-to-win over TCU.
8. Ole Miss (@Arkansas, #4 Mississippi State)
If Ole Miss wins out, including a win over Mississippi State, things are pretty simple.
In order to get into the playoff, Ole Miss would then need help from Oregon, Ohio State, TCU, and Baylor. Of those teams, three would need to lose one of their remaining games.
The committee might take a 2-loss SEC team over a 2-loss champion from another conference. But Ole Miss is not beating out a 1-loss champion from the Pac-12, Big Ten, or Big 12.
9. UCLA (#19 USC, Stanford, Pac-12 title game vs #2 Oregon)
UCLA has the longest shot and needs the most to happen but they are also the dark horse that could sneak in. This is also the scenario you are rooting for if you love chaos.
Follow along: If UCLA wins out, including wins over top-25 ranked USC and Oregon, they would be Pac-12 champions and would almost certainly finish ranked ahead of Oregon.
If TCU and Baylor each lose one of their remaining games (not impossible) and if Ole Miss beats Mississippi State (very possible), the top three would most likely be Alabama, Florida State, and Ohio State.
The committee would then have to choose between a 2-loss non-SEC champ (Ole Miss or Mississippi State), a 2-loss Big 12 champ (TCU or Baylor), or a 2-loss Pac-12 champ that has a win over Oregon (UCLA).
If either TCU or Baylor does not lose, UCLA could also slip in the backdoor with an Ohio State loss.
Under either scenario, you can make a strong argument for UCLA to be in the playoff.
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