Who Will Make the College Football Playoffs?

Peter Burtnett
Sports Staff Writer

Louisiana State University (cover photo) is the top team in the country and a favorite to make the college football playoffs. Courtesy of Flickr

The College Football Playoff picture is coming into focus as teams prepare for the final two weeks of the college football season. 

Most teams will simply play out the final stretch, attempting to make a bowl game and finish strong. A select few teams are still alive for a spot in the CFP and will work to prove to the playoff committee that they belong in the top four on Dec. 8. 

If No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson continue their domination, those teams will take up the top three spots. Here is a breakdown of each team that is still competing for that No. 4 spot. 

Georgia Bulldogs (9-1, 6-1 SEC)

Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs have officially clinched the SEC East with their win at Auburn and will likely face LSU in the conference championship game in Atlanta Dec. 7. Georgia’s defense has carried them to playoff contention, allowing no more than 20 points in any game. D’Andre Swift is one of the best running backs in college football, and Jake Fromm is a dependable quarterback that has led Georgia to the National Championship game once before (2017 against Alabama). 

If Georgia wins out, which would include a win over LSU or Alabama, they would provide the SEC with the opportunity to have two teams in the playoff. A 12-1 LSU team without a conference championship compared with a 12-1 Georgia team with a conference championship would be an interesting debate, especially if a one-loss team wins the Big Ten, Big 12 and/or Pac-12. 

Alabama Crimson Tide (9-1, 6-1 SEC)

Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide will have their work cut out for them, as they will go the rest of the way without Heisman-caliber QB Tua Tagovailoa, who will require season-ending surgery after injuring his hip against Mississippi State Saturday. Alabama has a weak resume, which could hurt them if they finish the season at 11-1 without a conference championship. They have a good loss (46-41 vs. LSU), but their best win is against 7-3 Texas A&M. 

For Alabama to make the playoffs, they will need some help. Assuming Oregon and Utah both finish 11-1, the winner would likely jump Alabama after the Pac-12 Championship Game. If the Pac-12 winner has two losses, the Crimson Tide would have two competitors out of the way. Does Oklahoma have enough of a resume to pass them if they win out? Probably not, but if Georgia beats LSU, does the committee keep 12-1 LSU ahead of 11-1 Alabama because of the head-to-head? Likely. Alabama needs to win out, have a two-loss team win both the Big 12 and Pac-12 and have LSU beat Georgia for them to make the playoffs. 

Oregon Ducks (9-1, 7-0 Pac-12) 

The Ducks wrapped up the Pac-12 North with their win over Arizona and are in a prime position to make the CFP if they win out. QB Justin Herbert has taken apart opposing defense while the Ducks’ defense has controlled the offenses of their opponents. 

The College Football Playoff committee has shown that they favor Oregon to Oklahoma, so even if the Sooners win out, the Ducks simply must do the same and hope that they beat an 11-1 Utes squad for the Pac-12 championship. If they lose, they are done, but it’s tough to see a scenario where they don’t sneak into the fourth spot if they win out. LSU beating Georgia is the only other result that will likely be necessary for the Ducks to return to the playoffs for the first time since losing the National Championship Game to Ohio State in January. 2015. 

Oklahoma Sooners (9-1, 6-1 Big 12)

The Sooners, led by Jalen Hurts, erased a 28-3 deficit against Baylor to show that they are a true contender in the playoff race. Their defense has been up-and-down all season, but the offense (much like LSU) has carried the Sooners to the doorstep of the CFP. 

To enter through that door, though, Oklahoma will need to win out and get some help. The best-case scenario for the Sooners would be for LSU and Clemson to win out, Penn State to beat Ohio State and then lose to Minnesota in the Big Ten Championship Game, and a two-loss Pac-12 champion. It sounds like a lot, but this scenario would create a crimson carpet to the No. 4 spot. 

Utah Utes (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12)

Much like Oregon, Utah has a brick wall defense and a high-scoring offense, and by beating the rest of their schedule, they would put themselves in a prime position to make the CFP, especially if they beat an 11-1 Ducks team. 

QB Tyler Huntley and RB Zack Moss have created a one-two offensive attack, which could punch Utah’s ticket to the CFP. The Utes simply must win out and hope that the committee favors a 12-1 Pac-12 champion over 11-1 Alabama. 

Penn State Nittany Lions (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten)

Sean Clifford and a stingy defense have led the Nittany Lions to an impressive record. Although their loss to Minnesota doesn’t look as good after the Golden Gophers fell to Iowa on Saturday, Penn State is still in a great position to make the playoffs if they win out. 

A win over Ohio State would skyrocket them back into the top six, and a win two weeks later – likely against Minnesota – would place Penn State into the CFP. Unlike the other teams on this list, Penn State simply must win out, as they would knock out a team that is currently ahead of them (and in the current top-four). By beating Ohio State, Penn State would suddenly be the Big Ten’s favorite to make the playoff. 

Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) and Baylor Bears (9-1, 6-1 Big 12)

Both Minnesota and Baylor likely ruined their chances to make the CFP with losses to Iowa (Minnesota) and Oklahoma (Baylor). Both were quality losses, but with otherwise mostly weak schedules, both teams will need some crazy scenarios to find themselves in the playoffs. 

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Here are some unique scenarios that could create chaos for the College Football Playoff committee and allow teams like Minnesota or Baylor back into the conversation. 

Penn State beats Ohio State, falls to 11-1 Minnesota in Indy; Utah wins Pac-12

The boat may be sinking, but P.J. Fleck is still rowing. In this scenario, Minnesota beats an 11-1 Penn State who would likely be at least top six, perhaps even in a playoff spot. LSU and Clemson keep winning, as does Alabama and Utah, but does Minnesota have enough of a resume – after beating Penn State (twice!), Wisconsin and winning the Big Ten – to pass Alabama and Utah to earn a spot in the CFP? 

Oregon wins Pac-12; Georgia beats 12-0 LSU; Alabama loses to Auburn

This scenario gets into some more detail and potential outcomes but creates a very interesting debate. Let’s say that Ohio State and Clemson win out to take the top two spots, and Georgia’s win over LSU vaults them into the No. 3 ranking. Between two 12-1 teams – Oregon and LSU – does the committee favor a conference champion or a team with wins over several Top 25 teams?

Clemson upset in ACC Title Game; 2-loss Oregon, Baylor are Pac-12, Big 12 Champions; Wisconsin over Ohio State, Georgia over LSU in Big Ten, SEC Championship Games; Alabama drops to Auburn without Tua

Here’s where things get crazy: No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State, and No. 3 Clemson are all 12-1 but none of them have a conference championship; Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma, and Baylor all have two or more losses, and the ACC champion has at least three losses. The one team that would seem to be a lock in this crazy scenario – Alabama – now has two losses, along with Minnesota, whose loss to Wisconsin allows the Badgers a chance for revenge against the Buckeyes. If you think this is completely impossible, look up the 2007 college football season. 

Without the situation laid out, what does the committee do? Do they favor the one-loss teams (LSU, Ohio State, and Clemson) over two-loss conference champions (Oregon, Baylor)? Could Florida sneak in with quality losses to two 12-1 teams (Georgia and LSU)? Georgia would probably take over the No. 1 spot after beating the previous No. 1 team, but who would come next is a mystery.

The current top three teams will likely win out and the No. 4 spot will be hotly contested, but in college football, anything can happen any given Saturday. 

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