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- Through eight weeks, the College Football Playoff picture is starting to clear up. Alabama looks like the only lock to be in the playoff while two spots are spoken for. The final two spots will come down to five teams and four could have strong cases.
There is still a month left in the college football regular season and the College Football Playoff picture is starting to clear up. But at the same time, it looks like it is heading towards chaos and debate over the final one or two spots could come down to four of five teams.
Through eight weeks, Alabama, barring a complete collapse, appears to be the only real “lock” to make it into the playoff. After that, we can point to a handful of games that will determine the teams that will still have a strong case when the selection committee meets and it sure looks like there will be more than three teams with viable arguments.
Of course, unexpected upsets will certainly throw a wrench in any projections, but let’s take a look at the teams and the games that still matter as of now.
The first two spots in the playoff appear to be spoken for.
The winner of the SEC Championship game – Barring a huge upset, Alabama and Georgia are heading to huge showdown of undefeated, top-3 teams in the SEC title game. The winner is in the playoff. If both teams are still undefeated prior to the game, there is a very good chance that the loser of this game will also be in the playoff. We will have more on that shortly.
The winner of the Big Ten Championship game – At this point, we know that Wisconsin is going to be in the B1G title game. They are undefeated, have a two-game lead in their division, and their five remaining opponents have a combined conference record of 4-16. What we don’t know is who the Badgers will play. Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State are still undefeated in the other division which means the Big Ten title game will almost certainly be a matchup of two playoff-quality teams and one will be in.
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The other two spots in the playoff will come from a group of five teams.
The winner of the TCU-Oklahoma game – If the Sooners can get past Oklahoma State and both OU and TCU win their other remaining games (which includes no games against teams currently ranked higher than 22nd), their head-to-head matchup will determine the Big 12 champion. If that winner is TCU and they go undefeated, they are in the playoff. If 1-loss Oklahoma wins, they will have a strong case for one of the final two spots. [Update: We forgot the Big 12 was adding a championship game this season. So the winner of the TCU-OU game will also have to win the title game to be in consideration. Sorry!]
The loser of the SEC Championship game – Assuming Alabama and Georgia are not upset along the way, they will both be undefeated and ranked in the top three when they meet in the SEC title game. Barring an ugly loss by one or the other, it is going to be hard to keep the loser of this game out of the playoff, especially when other conferences are lacking playoff locks.
The winner of the ACC title game– If Miami can get past Virginia and Virginia Tech (a big ‘if’), they will be undefeated and will almost certainly face the 1-loss winner of the Clemson-North Carolina State game. If Miami is undefeated and wins, they are in the playoff. If they lose, they are probably out thanks to a lack of dominance in their wins. If Clemson is the ACC champ, it will be hard to keep the defending champs out of the playoff. If NC State wins, their inclusion in the playoff feels less certain.
The winner of the Apple Cup – The Pac-12 is in danger of missing out on the playoff for the second time in four years. There are no undefeated teams left and Washington and Washington State are the only 1-loss teams. Both have embarrassing losses on their resumes (Huskies were held scoreless for 55 minutes in loss to Arizona State and the Cougars were blown out 37-3 by 4-4 Cal) and they still play each other in the Apple Cup. At this point, the Pac-12’s only hope is that the winner of this game runs the table, including the Pac-12 title game.
Notre Dame– The Fighting Irish are the wild card right now. If they run the table, Notre Dame will finish 11-1, with wins over five teams that are currently ranked and a single one-point loss to Georgia, the currently ranked No. 3 team in the country. But with games still left against North Carolina State, Miami, Stanford, and the always-pesky Navy Midshipmen, it might be asking a lot of Notre Dame to not slip up along the way. But if they do win them all, it will be hard to keep Notre Dame out.
So that is two spots taken and five teams for the other two spots. Of those five teams, four could potentially have “hard to keep out” cases, including a potentially undefeated TCU, a potential 1-loss Georgia team whose only loss was to top-ranked Alabama, a 1-loss defending national champion Clemson, and a 1-loss Notre Dame with a lot of big wins.
This isn’t even considering several other teams that still have an outside shot to jump into the picture, including Oklahoma State, if they beat Oklahoma, Auburn, if they upset Alabama, and the loser of the Big Ten title game, especially if it features an undefeated Wisconsin going against an undefeated Penn State.
In other words, chaos is coming.