Washington State (6-1)
The Path to the College Football Playoff: And then there was one. The Cougars are the only ones left available to carry the Pac-12 flag. Winning out isn’t going to be good enough.
It has to go 12-1 against a weak conference – and with absolutely no non-conference victory to get excited about – and then it’ll need a Notre Dame loss, only one SEC option, and hope for a two-loss ACC, Big Ten or Big 12 champion.
What Will Happen: They’re the real deal, and they’re good enough to potentially get to the Pac-12 Championship and win it, but they’ll lose once more along the way, either at Stanford, or at Colorado, or to Washington.
The Path to the College Football Playoff: Win out, be the No. 1 seed with ease. Get to the SEC Championship 12-0, and it’ll be in even with a loss on the four-best-team theory. Win the SEC at 12-1, and be no worse than the No. 2 seed.
Or – because Bama will get every benefit of every doubt – lose a close battle at LSU, don’t go to the SEC title game, and finish 11-1. That wouldn’t be a lock, but it would be close.
What Will Happen: It’s not the slam dunk you might assume it is. If Bama loses at LSU and still gets to the SEC title game, and then it loses to Georgia or Florida, it’s out. Whatever … Alabama isn’t losing twice.
The Path to the College Football Playoff: It needs a little help, because winning out isn’t guaranteed to be good enough. The Gators need to win out and get another loss from Kentucky. Getting to the SEC Championship game and winning it would make them a sure thing, but if they go 11-1 and don’t get into the title game, they could get a whole lot of calls to make it in as a No. 4 seed.
What Will Happen: They’ll get a New Year’s Six bowl game, but they’ll lose to Georgia along the way to miss out the SEC Championship.
The Path to the College Football Playoff: The blowout loss to LSU doesn’t really matter. Beat Florida, win the last five games, take out Alabama or LSU in the SEC Championship, and be no worse than the No. 2 seed. Winning the SEC title, though, is a must. A two-loss Georgia might be one of the four best teams in college football, but it wouldn’t get in.
What Will Happen: The Dawgs will get to Atlanta at 11-1 with a shot at Alabama and the CFP, but it’ll lose to Tua Tagovailoa for a second time in a row in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Path to the College Football Playoff: The Cats might not be all that pretty, but they just keep winning. Run the table – it’s more than possible if they can take care of Georgia at home – and they’ll get to the SEC title game with a shot at the final four.
What Will Happen: They won’t beat Georgia, and even if they do, winning at Tennessee – and winning at Missouri before the date with the Dawgs – isn’t a given. Even if they do get to the SEC Championship, their lack of a passing game will be a killer against Alabama or LSU.
The Path to the College Football Playoff: The blowout win over Georgia and the dominant performance against Mississippi State set everything up for the Tigers to keep the special season rolling. They get two weeks off to prepare for Alabama.
Win that, roll through the rest of the slate – including at Texas A&M – and either beat Kentucky, Georgia again or avenge the loss to Florida in the SEC Championship, and get in as the No. 2 seed at worst.
What Will Happen: The Tigers aren’t beating both Alabama and winning on the road at Texas A&M, but go ahead and keep doubting them. They’ll get into a New Year’s Six game, but they’ll drop one more game.