Last week’s College Football Playoff rankings saw no changes in the top five, but there’s a vacancy this week after No. 3 Ohio State lost. The number of undefeated FBS teams is down to just two as well (No. 1 Clemson and No. 5 Iowa).
Before the Week 12 rankings are released on Tuesday, here’s a look at the cases for and against eight teams in playoff contention, ordered by their likelihood of appearing in the top four.
Case for: Clemson has been highly regarded by the committee since the initial rankings were released a few weeks ago, and there’s no reason why that should change this week after yet another win. Deshaun Watson continues to post Heisman-worthy numbers and he has the offense firing on all cylinders. Clemson should close out a perfect regular season this weekend with a win over in-state rival South Carolina.
Case against: It’s hard to argue against the Tigers, who are playing like a team befitting of a No. 1 ranking.
Consensus: In. An undefeated Clemson keeps its top billing.
Case for: The Crimson Tide continue to roll and have scored at least 30 points in their last three games. Alabama got a break from its grueling schedule this week, and it did what it needed to do to enter the Iron Bowl at No. 2 in the playoff rankings.
Case against: If Alabama wins out, it makes the playoff, but it still has two difficult games remaining. Archrival Auburn awaits this weekend, and if the Tide survive on the road at Jordan-Hare, they’ll still need to take down a top-10 Florida team in the SEC Championship Game. Alabama is talented enough to win both, but its path to the final four isn’t easy.
Consensus: In. Alabama controls its own destiny. Keep winning, and Nick Saban & Co. will get another shot at a national title.
Case for: Iowa continues to win and is having a season for its record books. Kirk Ferentz has instilled a winning mentality in a team that many did not expect to compete in the Big Ten West, let alone for a national championship, yet here it is. With an Ohio State loss, the Hawkeyes, who were ranked No. 5 last week, enter the top four and in all likelihood jump Notre Dame for the No. 3 spot. They advanced four spots two weeks ago, so expect the committee to validate their status this week as one of just two unbeaten teams left, especially considering Notre Dame’s struggle against three-win Boston College.
Case against: After No. 20 Northwestern’s win over No. 25 Wisconsin this past weekend, the Hawkeyes will now only have one top-25 win on their résumé, as the Badgers will drop from the rankings. Iowa has played one of the softest schedules of any of the contenders and won’t face a real challenge until the Big Ten title game, where it will meet a top-12 team in either Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan. It will have to prove itself then because the chances to legitimately do so up until this point have been slim.
Consensus: In. The Hawkeyes are a sure bet to move into the top four after Ohio State’s loss.
NOTRE DAME (10–1)
Case for: Notre Dame took care of Boston College to set up a colossal matchup this weekend at No. 11 Stanford. The Irish still only have one loss and two top-25 wins.
Case against: Its win over Boston College was far from impressive, as Notre Dame needed to stave off the Eagles in the fourth quarter to avoid a huge upset. Plus, with no conference championship game awaiting, Notre Dame has one final chance to impress the committee. Slowing down Christian McCaffrey is no small task, and it’s only going to be harder now that starting cornerback KeiVarae Russell is out six to eight weeks with a fractured tibia. Making matters worse, running back C.J. Prosise suffered a high left ankle sprain last week and is doubtful to play against Stanford.
Consensus: In. Perhaps not in the seed it would like, but a 10–1 Notre Dame makes the cut.
Case for: Oklahoma has looked impressive in the past two weeks, and quarterback Baker Mayfield looks like a bona fide Heisman finalist. The offense is clicking and the defense has stepped up where it has had to in important situations. Bob Stoops’s team is playing top four-level football right now.
Case against: Ironically, Oklahoma’s win over TCU this past weekend also potentially hurt it because it will likely knock the Horned Frogs from the rankings entirely, which would cut its top-25 win total in half. The Sooners’ loss to Texas is still detrimental, especially because Notre Dame blew out the Longhorns. Oklahoma will need to defeat Oklahoma State in Stillwater for a chance at the playoff, but that might be even more difficult with Mayfield’s status uncertain after exiting last week’s game with a head injury.
Consensus: Out. Oklahoma is the first team out for now, but a win this week in Bedlam might be enough to get the Sooners into the playoff.
MICHIGAN STATE (10–1)
Case for: After falling out of contention with a loss at Nebraska two weeks ago, Michigan State is right back in the conversation with a statement win over No. 3 Ohio State. Despite leading the Buckeyes and No. 12 Michigan last month for a combined zero seconds of game time, the Spartans emerged with two enormous wins for their résumé and have set themselves up perfectly for a chance to play for the Big Ten title. A one-loss Big Ten champion would deserve a spot in the final four.
Case against: While Sparty has put itself back into the playoff hunt, it’s still not quite there yet. Even if Michigan State finishes the season as the Big Ten champion, it’s possible that other teams ranked ahead of it make stronger cases by winning out.
Consensus: Out. Michigan State is knocking on the door, but is on the outside looking in at the moment.
Last week: Won 20–14 vs. Florida Atlantic (OT)
Next week: vs. No. 14 Florida State
Best wins: vs. No. 22 Ole Miss
Losses: at No. 15 LSU
Case for: Florida is the SEC East champion and has the talent to take down whichever team from the West it will face in the title game. The defense has been stellar over the past month, not allowing more than 14 points in a game since the Gators’ lone loss of the season at LSU. If Florida wins out, it will be awfully difficult to keep a one-loss SEC team out of the playoff field.
Case against: Florida is doing everything in its power to persuade the committee it doesn’t belong. The wins keep coming, but needing overtime to defeat Florida Atlantic at home two weeks after nearly losing to Vanderbilt is a bad look. Throw in the fact that the offense without Will Grier is a nightmare, and the Gators may make the committee’s decision much easier with difficult games against rival Florida State and the winner of the SEC West remaining.
Consensus: Out. Florida has been hovering on the perimeter for a while, and it stays there this week. But two huge opportunities await.
Last week: Won 45–35 at No. 6 Oklahoma State
Next week: at No. 18 TCU
Best wins: at No. 6 Oklahoma State
Losses: vs. No. 7 Oklahoma
Case for: After losing to No. 7 Oklahoma two weeks ago, Baylor was written off completely. Now, with an impressive win over previously undefeated Oklahoma State under its belt, Art Briles’s squad suddenly has new life. Unlike the two Oklahoma schools, the Bears have two regular-season games left on their schedule against TCU and Texas, so they could leave a strong final impression on the committee.
Case against: An unbeaten Baylor might not have made the playoff, so a one-loss Baylor is going to need a lot of help. TCU already has two losses, so even a win next week over the Horned Frogs wouldn’t be as impressive as it would have been two weeks ago. Baylor still could make the playoff, but it’s a long shot at this point.
Consensus: Out. By winning last week, Baylor kept its name in the conversation, but it needs some help.
The road ahead
No. 3 Ohio State at No. 12 Michigan, 12 p.m. ET (ABC)
Ohio State and Michigan enter The Game with their highest rankings since their No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in 2006. If the Buckeyes had won last week, the winner of this game would be playing for a trip to the Big Ten title game, but even with Michigan State controlling its own destiny, this is the first installment of Meyer vs. Harbaugh.
No. 4 Notre Dame at No. 11 Stanford, 7:30 p.m. (Fox)
If Notre Dame wins, it all but secures its berth in the playoff. If Stanford wins, not only does it knock the Irish out, but it gives the Cardinal a huge résumé-boosting win and, with some help, an outside shot at making the final four should it win the Pac-12 Championship Game.
No. 7 Oklahoma at No. 6 Oklahoma State, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
Bedlam has extra implications this year. Oklahoma would make a convincing statement for its inclusion in the top four, while a win for the Cowboys, even if they don’t earn a playoff bid, would set them up for a chance to win the Big 12 title.