One month ago, I wrote an article that provided a brief overview to the happenings of the national college football landscape, and predicted who would make the inaugural College Football Playoff (CFP). A selection committee sets up the four-team playoff, and I anticipated that Mississippi State, Florida State, Ole Miss, and Oklahoma would earn bids. As is expected, chaos has continued to tear through the college football season, and things are more muddled than I anticipated.
There are currently three teams that control their destiny in the playoff picture: Florida State, Oregon, and Alabama. That’s it. Everyone else needs either committee assistance or a key loss in order to get into the playoff. TCU and Baylor are probably the two favorites for that fourth spot, with Ohio State and Mississippi State still in reasonable contention. Ole Miss can still win the SEC, but won’t make the playoff. Oklahoma is currently a 3-loss team with no hope for anything significant. So already, two of my four predictions were wrong.
The easiest path to the CFP belongs to Florida State. They have clinched the ACC Atlantic, and if they can manage wins over Boston College and Florida in the final two weeks of the regular season, the Seminoles will be assured that a conference title equates to a playoff birth. If Florida State doesn’t lose–and maintains their a 26-game streak–they are in.
Oregon and Alabama can win out and make the CFP too, but both teams will face tougher tests than Florida State will. Alabama still has their annual contest with archrival Auburn, and if they can win that, they will still need to face a tough Missouri or Georgia in the SEC Championship game.
Alabama, who I criticized in my last article, has actually looked phenomenal lately. The Tide’s win over #1 Mississippi State this past Saturday will put Alabama into the top three, and a tough OT win in Death Valley (LSU) is a great resume booster as well. The Tide are a battle tested team, so winning out is certainly possible, but it will still be a harder path than that of Florida State.
The Oregon Ducks have what appears to be the easiest regular season schedule remaining, having to face only lowly Pac-12 opponents Colorado and Oregon State. Oregon State absolutely shocked the college football world by upsetting #6 Arizona State this past weekend though, ruining Arizona State’s chance to make the playoff. Oregon will be heavily favored against both teams, but this year’s “Civil War” will be played at Oregon State, and strange things can happen to teams that visit the Beavers.
What is going to be a dangerous game for Oregon though, is the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Pac-12 South is a five-horse race right now, with important interstate games between USC-UCLA, and Arizona-Arizona State coming up. Oregon will face someone who survived a tornado of chaos in the southwest, and whoever comes out of the division will be a threat to knock off the Ducks days before the committee makes its final selection.
Baylor and TCU are currently tied for the Big 12 Conference lead. Both teams sit on only one loss, and don’t have to worry about a conference championship game, as the Big 12 doesn’t host one. Baylor beat TCU 61-58 earlier this year, in what some consider the most entertaining game of the season thus far. TCU was ranked 4th in last week’s poll, largely thanks to a win over formally #7 Kansas State, and the lone loss to Baylor. TCU looked awful in a close win over Kansas this week though.
Baylor, who came in at #7 behind the TCU team they beat, had a bye this week. They still have Kansas State on the docket, and will technically win the conference if they win out, because they hold the head-to-head victory over TCU. Baylor’s loss, though, came to West Virginia, a team that is good, but not ranked. The committee has caused a bit of controversy by implying that the head-to-head victory isn’t as valued as strength of schedule, and strength of losses. Ultimately, Baylor will probably jump TCU as the season winds down though.
So if Florida State, Alabama, Oregon, and Baylor win out, in my opinion, they all deserve to be in the CFP. Ohio State and Mississippi each only have one loss right now, and there is a window of opportunity for both of them to sneak their way in. Mississippi State can still earn a huge win over Ole Miss, and could even win the SEC if Alabama drops the game against Auburn. The Bulldogs are down after this weekend’s loss to Alabama, but they shouldn’t drop out of the top 5, and could easily work their way back into the playoff.
Georgia, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, and Missouri are all praying for as much chaos to ensue as imaginable, because if one of them can win out, and enough one-loss/undefeated teams fall, one of these lucky contenders can potentially earn a bid. The odds of this happening are about .1%, and the Georgia schools are the only ones that even have a prayer in my mind.
Ohio State recently beat highly-respected Michigan State, and is considered a lock for the Big 10 championship game. They will most likely face Wisconsin, who looked dominant in a win over Nebraska this past weekend. If Ohio State loses once more this season, no Big 10 team will have a likely shot at the playoff. If they win out, they could jump into the fourth spot on their own, but will most likely need someone else to lose.
This season has featured plenty of big wins by traditionally good teams, but also the rise of some typical underdogs. Chaos has been plentiful, and the committee’s practices are still not completely understandable, so the CFP picture is still incredibly cloudy. What’s funny though, is that after all of the upsets and mishaps, the teams that started the year ranked in the top three are the same three who control their own destinies at this point: Florida State, Alabama, and Oregon.
The sun is not setting on the season just yet, though. The last weekend of the regular season is “rivalry weekend”, and plenty of intense, unpredictable, important games will be played. Additionally, the weekend of conference championship games will more than likely add yet another twist to this year’s confusing season.
Come New Years Day, when the CFB semi-finals are in full swing, I predict that the teams hunting for a national championship won’t be too shocking though. Florida State will be there. And so will Oregon. Baylor should be lucky enough to find their way in too. As for the SEC, that’s where I’m least confident picking. Judging from how teams are playing right now though, my money is on the Crimson Tide of Alabama. Four teams will enter, and one will survive. The hard part now though, is getting the chance to win it all.