What does each team still realistically in the hunt have to do to get into the College Football Playoff? What needs to happen? Here are the 18 teams still alive, and what the path to the College Football Playoff is for each one.
Path To The Playoff: Handicapping the 2016-2017 College Football Playoff chase
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There might be some totally wacky and crazy scenarios that could end up getting Tennessee, Penn State, Oklahoma State, USC or Washington State into the College Football Playoff, but let’s cross one of those bridges if it looks like it’s going to get built.
Realistically, there are 18 teams that can go into November really and truly thinking they have a shot at getting into the fun. Some might need a minor miracle, some might need a major one, and others just need to keep on doing what they’re doing.
What’s the scenario for each of the 18 teams still alive? What’s the path to getting into the College Football Playoff for each of them? Here’s a ranking of the teams in order from the one with the worst chance of getting in, to the best.
18. Western Michigan (8-0)
– With Boise State losing and no other Group of Five teams still unbeaten, at the very least, the Broncos have the New Year’s Six bowl slot there for the taking by winning out. Start by going 13-0 and winning the MAC championship.
– Chaos has to kick in. The Power Five conference championship games have to blow up with several upsets and several other key teams losing along the way. If WMU is the only unbeaten team left in college football, it might have a shot.
– Blow away EVERYONE. Keep on hanging 40+ on the board and keep on winning impressively. There’s no hope of the Broncos struggle against Ball State, Kent State, Buffalo or Toledo.
– America has to want this. The College Football Playoff committee won’t care what the public thinks, but it wouldn’t hurt.
17. North Carolina (6-2)
– Virginia Tech has to lose again. The Tar Heels can’t take the Coastal without another Hokie loss.
– Win out. The Tar Heels have losses to Georgia and Virginia Tech on the resume – and they need to lobby that that loss to the Hokies was played in a downpour – but they have a win over Florida State. Keep the offense rolling, blow away Georgia Tech, Duke, Citadel and NC State. Meanwhile, hope that …
– Clemson keeps on winning. The ACC championship game will mean everything, and beating an 11-1 Clemson wouldn’t mean as much or look as good as beating a 12-0 squad that’s first or second in the College Football Playoff rankings.
– Hope for at least one of the other Power Five conference champs to have two losses. It’s roughly the same deal for …
16. Virginia Tech (6-2)
– Because of the win over North Carolina, all Virginia Tech has to do to take the Coastal division is win two of the last three against Duke, Georgia Tech, and Virginia – but it has to win all three games, and win at Notre Dame.
– The loss to Syracuse might be a non-starter, but from here on, blowouts are a must. Make a case that this really is one of the hottest teams in the country peaking at the right time.
– Hope Clemson is 12-0 in the ACC championship. Beat the unbeaten defending ACC champ, and there’s the resume moment.
15. Oklahoma (6-2)
– Keep the machine rolling. If the College Football Playoff committee is really all about the four best teams being in the mix, Oklahoma has to look the part. The offense has hung up 45 or more on the board in four of the last five games, and 52 or more in three of the last five.
– Keep on putting up massive points, and win out by ripping through a schedule of at Iowa State, Baylor, at West Virginia and Oklahoma State for a nine-game winning streak.
– It’s still going to be a tough sell with losses to a dying Houston team and at home to Ohio State, but the case could be made that it’s a different Sooner team now than it was in mid-September.
– There has to be total chaos, especially in the Pac-12, for example. The Sooners need the Pac-12 South champ to have two losses – or better yet, three – and then take the conference title. Again, though, OU will have to do this on appearances – the offense has to be otherworldly over the last month.
14. Baylor (6-1)
– All is not totally lost with the loss to Texas. It was a close call, so win out, do it impressively, and 11-1 gets the Bears in the discussion.
– It wouldn’t be a bad thing if Ohio State and Louisville lose again. The Bears can’t get into the discussion on who’s more worthy, a one-loss Cardinal team, a one-loss Buckeye team, or a one-loss Baylor team. The BU non-conference schedule is just that awful. However …
– By winning out, Baylor, as a Power Five conference champ, would likely get the nod over any one-loss non-conference champ. And why? TCU, at Oklahoma, Kansas State, at Texas Tech, at West Virginia – that’s not bad. However …
– There can’t be four other obvious Power Five champion options. If the other champs have one loss or are unbeaten, forget it. The same goes for …
13. West Virginia (6-1)
– Here’s the difference for the Mountaineers, as opposed to Baylor. They actually have a decent non-conference win. Missouri might stink, but it’s still an SEC team, and beating BYU isn’t horrible.
– Just like Baylor, WVU needs some of the other Power Five champion options to be out of the equation. There has to be at least one champ with two losses or more.
– Obviously, win out. Get through unscathed – and impressive at Kansas, at Texas, Oklahoma, at Iowa State, and Baylor
12. LSU (5-2)
– The big problem is that the Tigers don’t control their own destiny. They need to win out – Alabama, at Arkansas, Florida, and Texas A&M – and then hope Auburn loses one more along the way. However, with what lies ahead in November, if LSU runs the table and wins the SEC championship, it’s in, no matter what.
– The new coaching factor has to kick in. The team was 2-2 with Les Miles, and if it wins out, 8-0 under Ed Orgeron.
– It probably wouldn’t matter considering how brutal the remaining slate is, but it would help if at least one Power Five conference champion had two losses or more.
11. Nebraska (7-1)
– Just win out. Considering Wisconsin has two Big Ten losses, the Huskers still control their own destiny,. Appearances probably won’t matter – a 12-1 Big Ten champion will get in, no matter what.
– That’s easier said than done with a trip to Ohio State this week and then, most likely, Michigan to face in the Big Ten title game if the Huskers run the table. They have to deal with Minnesota, Maryland, and at Iowa the rest of the way.
10. Auburn (6-2)
– The team is heating up enough to look the part of one of the four best teams, and the schedule is just right to get it done.
– Win out. Vanderbilt, at Georgia, Alabama A&M, and that one other road game out there that might have some bearing on the SEC title chase – at Alabama. However …
– Texas A&M might need to lose. The tiebreaker scenarios get really weird if Auburn beats Alabama, who beat Texas A&M, who beat Auburn, so just get the Aggies out of the way with another loss. To make this simple, Texas A&M’s games against the East will be seen as tougher than Auburn’s, and Alabama’s might turn out to be even better. Auburn beating Vanderbilt and Georgia won’t be a plus.
– Keep the offense rocking and rolling. The two losses won’t matter much as long as the Tiger offense is fantastic. Win the SEC title at 11-2, and Auburn will almost certainly be in, even over an 11-1 Big 12 champion.
9. Wisconsin (6-2)
– Nebraska has to lose to Ohio State, and if that doesn’t happen, it has to lose to Iowa. If the Huskers beat the Buckeyes this weekend, put the Badgers and their two Big Ten losses way down this list.
– Just keep winning. Margin of victory probably doesn’t mean much considering the Badgers’ style – they’re about the defense, and everyone knows it. However, at Northwestern, Illinois, at Purdue, and Minnesota – don’t let any of those get close.
– Win the Big Ten title over Michigan or Ohio State. There can’t be some strange scenario that gets Penn State into the championship game – that probably doesn’t help Bucky’s revenge cause. It would probably be a positive if the Badgers beat a 12-0 Michigan to win the conference title.
8. Louisville (7-1)
– First of all, stop looking awful against the Dukes and the Virginias of the world. The regular pollsters haven’t caught on to this, but the College Football Playoff committee won’t over look this – at least it shouldn’t.
– Absolutely obliterate everyone on the rest of the schedule – at Boston College, Wake Forest, at Houston, Kentucky. Look the part, Louisville.
– Lamar Jackson has to stay healthy. The College Football Playoff committee, in the end, will be about what Louisville has done for them lately. An injured LJack keeps the one-loss team out.
– Clemson needs to go 13-0. A 12-1 ACC champion Clemson team doesn’t get it done for an 11-1 Louisville as an at-large option. In lieu of the Tigers losing two ACC games – that’s not going to happen – that would put the Cardinals in the conference title game, they need to make the argument that their one loss came on the road to an unbeaten team that’s in the top three of the CFP. If Clemson is the College Football Playoff No. 2, then, at least in theory, Louisville might be the third-best team.
– It would really, really help if the Michigan-Ohio State loser has two losses, and Texas A&M needs to lose again, too. Louisville has to be seen as the no-brainer best of the one-loss, non-champions.
– There can’t be four other Power Five options. At the end of the day, a 12-1 – or better – ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC team will be higher in the pecking order over the Cardinals. An 11-1 Big 12 conference champ might, too.
7. Texas A&M (7-1)
– Alabama might have to lose twice for the Aggies to represent the SEC West in the championship. There’s a chance A&M would get in on the three-way tiebreaking scenario, along with Alabama and Auburn, but that becomes a dice roll based on several different factors.
– Win at Mississippi State, and then roll through Ole Miss and UTSA before beating LSU at home. If Alabama wins out, and Texas A&M’s only loss is at Alabama, with a resume with wins at Auburn, against UCLA, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Arkansas and LSU, that beats anything Louisville can come up with. However …
– It would help if Alabama wins out. 13-0 Alabama will be the College Football Playoff No. 1, making A&M’s one loss look that much better.
– There can’t be three other options besides Alabama. A&M probably beats out an 11-1 Big 12 champ, but not a 12-1 ACC, Big Ten and/or Pac-12 champ.
6. Florida (6-1)
– Win and you’re in, Florida. Tennessee is now way out, so all Florida has to do is win two of the last three SEC games – at Arkansas, South Carolina, and at LSU – and it’s in the SEC title game. However, to get into the College Football Playoff, the Gators have to win three of their last four, throwing the road game against Florida State into the equation.
– The Gators are in the College Football Playoff no matter what as 11-1 SEC champs – remember, there’s a cancelled game because of Matthew – but if they lose along the way and beat a 12-0 Alabama for the SEC title, they might be in, too, no matter what. The 10-2 SEC champ with a win over the Crimson Tide would get in over an 11-1 Big 12 champion.
5. Ohio State (7-1)
– Ohio State doesn’t control its own destiny. If Michigan loses twice, and Penn State wins out, Penn State is in the Big Ten championship. The Buckeyes need another Penn State loss, or for the Wolverines to come into Columbus at 11-0.
– Assuming the Michigan-Penn State thing works out, win out against Nebraska, at Maryland, at Michigan State, and Michigan, and then the Big Ten championship. Looks don’t matter – 12-1 gets it done.
– However, looks will absolutely matter if Penn State somehow gets into the Big Ten title game. 11-1 might still be okay as a non-champion, but only if the Buckeyes look amazing over the last month, including a blowout win over the Wolverines.
4. Michigan (8-0)
– Win out, and at worst, Michigan is the No. 2 seed.
– Just win the Big Ten championship. If Ohio State loses again along the way, Michigan would still play for the Big Ten title even if it loses in Columbus. A 12-1 Big Ten champion will be in no matter what.
– Or, if Ohio State wins out and is the 12-1 Big Ten champion, Michigan would vault to the head of the one-loss, non-champion line with a good performance in a dogfight of a loss to the Buckeyes. In that case, at least two Power Five champions need to have two losses.
3. Washington (8-0)
– Win out – at Cal, USC, Arizona State, at Washington State, Pac-12 championship – and get in no matter what.
– Even 12-1 with a Pac-12 title would get the Huskies in. The overall schedule might not be that special, but it’ll look like a stronger champion, than the Big 12 champ. No way, no how, does a one-loss, non-champion Louisville, Texas A&M or Michigan get in over a 12-1 Pac-12 champion.
– No, an 11-1 Washington won’t get in if it doesn’t win the Pac-12 title, and a 12-1 Washington won’t get in if it loses the Pac-12 title without a ton of help. Be the Pac-12 champ.
2. Clemson (8-0)
– Win out – Syracuse, Pitt, at Wake Forest, South Carolina – and get in at no worse than the No. 3 seed.
– 12-1 with an ACC championship still might get the job done, but considering how soft the November slate is, it might be dicey. The Tigers could need a little help if they’re the ACC champs but with a loss – they might need one of the other Power Five champs to have two losses.
1. Alabama (8-0)
– Win out – at LSU, Mississippi State, UT-Chattanooga, Auburn – and get in as the College Football Playoff No. 1 seed.
– 12-1 with an SEC championship would get the Crimson Tide in. However, they might have to beat Auburn – they could lose to LSU or Mississippi State and be fine. The three-way Bama, Texas A&M, Auburn, tiebreaker scenarios are dicey, and might be out of Bama’s hands.
– Go 12-1, with the one loss in the SEC championship to a Florida team that finishes 11-1. It would require a whole lot of help, but a loss might not be a deathblow.