Boston College (4-1)
The Path to the College Football Playoff: With the one loss to Purdue as an anchor, BC has to roll through the rest of the slate, win the ACC Championship, and be red-hot along the way. This is one of the one-loss ACC teams with a chance, mainly because they have amazing road dates left. But …
What Will Happen: The Eagles will have to fight just to go bowling. They won’t win at NC State, at Virginia Tech, and at Florida State, and they’re not going to get by home games against Miami, Clemson and Syracuse.
The Path to the College Football Playoff: Just win out, and it’s a lock for a top three spot. However, the Tigers might not have the luxury of getting in with one loss. And why? The ACC is awful, and if there’s a whiff along the way, they’re out if, say, Ohio State, Oklahoma are unbeaten, and Alabama and Georgia are both too good to leave out.
The other problem? If the Tigers limp to the ACC Championship and Trevor Lawrence is hurt or not quite right. The committee cares about that in a four-best team way.
What Will Happen: Clemson will lose once along the way when it shouldn’t – hello, at Boston College, or at home against NC State and South Carolina – and there will be four better options.
NC State (4-0)
The Path to the College Football Playoff: Win out. In most cases, winning a Power Five conference championship with one loss would be all but automatic, but not this year with the Alabama/Georgia issue. The bigger problem for the Pack? They didn’t play West Virginia because of the Hurricane – they can only get to 11-1, if they lose once.
What Will Happen: Boston College, at Clemson, at Syracuse. The Pack won’t get through the next three games unbeaten, but they’ll be a factor in the ACC title chase as the season goes on.
Notre Dame (5-0)
The Path to the College Football Playoff: Of course Notre Dame isn’t in the ACC, but its Friends With Benefits arrangement in the conference’s bowl system makes it a factor.
No way, no how does a 12-0 Notre Dame team get left out of the CFP unless there are four unbeaten Power Five conference champions. However, one loss ends it – the schedule just isn’t good enough, even if brand name teams on the slate are splashy.
What Will Happen: There will be a whiff along the way. The Irish will lose either at USC at the end of the regular season, or to Syracuse in Yankee Stadium, or at Northwestern, or at Virginia Tech this week. They’ll get a New Year’s Six game, but they won’t get into the CFP.
The Path to the College Football Playoff: Win out, get in. The difference between Miami at 12-1 with an ACC Championship and Clemson – if it loses once – if it’s a 12-1 ACC winner is the loss. No matter what it will be – unless the Tigers lose to Miami – the loss will be worse than the now-forgivable opening weekend Miami defeat to LSU. However, it would be a big, big help if there aren’t three other obvious options and an SEC Championship loser.
What Will Happen: The Canes will lose once more along the way. They have a run of four road games in five dates, and even if they get through all of that, they still most likely get Clemson at in the title game.
The Path to the College Football Playoff: There are few more forgivable losses than a close call fight that came down to the final moments at Clemson. Win out – with a win over Notre Dame along the way – and get some help with a total Clemson meltdown, and win the ACC Championship. 11-1 with no ACC title doesn’t cut it.
What Will Happen: This is a strong Orange team that might just hang around longer than you think. It’ll lose at least once more, likely three times.
Virginia Tech (3-1)
The Path to the College Football Playoff: This isn’t going to be easy, even if the Hokies win out. 1) It’ll only be 11-1 thanks to the cancellation the East Carolina game, and 2) you do NOT lose to Old Dominion, no matter what. However, if they get by Notre Dame, Miami, and beat Clemson in the ACC Championship, they’ll have an argument.
What Will Happen: They’re not going to beat Notre Dame, Miami, and Clemson. They’ll give the Canes a fight, but they’ll drop at least one more along the way.