The conference championship games are over, and the speculation surrounding which four teams will comprise this year’s College Football Playoff will soon be over as well.
Before the committee makes its final decision on Sunday at noon ET, here’s a look at the cases for and against the six remaining teams in playoff contention, ordered by their likelihood of appearing in the top four.
This week: Won 45–37 vs. No. 10 North Carolina in the ACC championship game
Best wins: vs. No. 8 Notre Dame, vs. No. 9 Florida State, vs. No. 10 North Carolina
Case for: Clemson justified its No. 1 ranking by remaining undefeated and taking home the ACC title. The Tigers have three top-10 wins and the best quarterback in college football in Deshaun Watson. Dabo Swinney’s team has answered every challenge thrown its way and should be rewarded with the top seed in the playoff.
Case against: The only way Clemson was not going to make the CFP was if it lost to North Carolina (and even then, it still may have snuck in). If Clemson doesn’t win the national championship, it will be because a team beats the Tigers on the field, not because the committee leaves them out.
Consensus: In. Clemson is a safe bet to make the playoff.
This week: Won 29–15 vs. No. 18 Florida in the SEC Championship Game
Best wins: vs. No. 18 Florida, vs. No. 21 LSU, vs. No. 25 Tennessee
Losses: vs. No. 13 Ole Miss
Case for: Alabama entered this week at No. 2 in the rankings, knowing that a win in the SEC Championship Game against No. 18 Florida would likely secure its spot in the final four. The Crimson Tide did just that, and convincingly as well, holding the Gators to just 180 yards of total offense. Alabama is a one-loss conference champion, has three top-25 wins and seven wins over teams that won at least eight games and also passes the eye test.
Case against: It would be puzzling if the Crimson Tide did not earn a playoff spot after winning their conference title.
Consensus: In. For the second straight year, Alabama will have the chance to bring a national championship to Tuscaloosa.
This week: Idle
Best wins: at No. 12 Baylor, at No. 17 Oklahoma State
Losses: at Texas
Case for: Oklahoma likely cemented its place in the top four last week with its resounding road win at Oklahoma State. The Sooners are Big 12 champions, and they look like the most dangerous team in the country, with quarterback Baker Mayfield leading a potent offense. The committee made clear how much it valued Oklahoma’s body of work by vaulting it to No. 3 two weeks ago, and Bob Stoops’s team has done nothing to put that ranking in jeopardy.
Case against: Will the Big 12 be left out of the CFP again? Without a conference title game, Oklahoma couldn’t do anything to bolster its case this week, while other teams are much fresher in the committee’s mind. What’s more, the Sooners’ loss to Texas is a big blemish that will hurt them when they’re compared to other teams.
Consensus: In. Oklahoma’s three-game stretch to end the season—wins over Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State—earned it a playoff bid.
MICHIGAN STATE (12–1)
This week: Won 16–13 vs. No. 4 Iowa in Big Ten championship game
Best wins: vs. No. 4 Iowa, at No. 6 Ohio State, at No. 15 Michigan
Losses: at Nebraska
Case for: The Big Ten title game was a de facto playoff quarterfinal, with the winner all but guaranteed a spot in the field. Michigan State won dramatically and now has three of the best victories in college football. The Spartans have a future NFL quarterback in Connor Cook, and their defense is championship caliber.
Case against: Michigan State won’t be passed by an Ohio State team the Spartans beat and did not win the Big Ten East, but one squad that potentially could leapfrog the Spartans is Stanford. The Cardinal have two losses compared to Michigan State’s one, but there is a chance, albeit slight, that the committee could put Stanford in based on its overall body of work.
Consensus: In. Michigan State has earned a playoff berth.
This week: Won 41–22 in the Pac-12 championship game
Best wins: vs. No. 8 Notre Dame, at/vs. No. 20 USC (twice)
Losses: at No. 14 Northwestern, vs. No. 16 Oregon
Case for: Stanford has finished the season exceptionally well, with a win over a top-10 team in Notre Dame and a conference championship. Christian McCaffrey is a shoo-in to be a Heisman finalist and has helped make the Cardinal’s offense one of the nation’s best. Stanford would be a tough matchup for any playoff team
Case against: Stanford likely lost its chance at the playoff three weeks ago, when it fell to Oregon at home. Even a one-loss Pac-12 champion may even have been left out of the field, and the Cardinal have suffered two losses. It’s hard to fathom a situation in which Stanford supplants a one-loss Big Ten or Big 12 champion for a spot in the CFP.
Consensus: Out. It’s too little too late for Stanford, which has had a tremendous season, just not one that will culminate in a playoff berth.
OHIO STATE (11–1)
This week: Idle
Best wins: at No. 15 Michigan
Losses: vs. No. 5 Michigan State
Case for: Urban Meyer’s team put on a dominant display last week in its romping of rival Michigan and sports a dynamic offense. The defense has been stellar all year and has come up with big plays when it’s needed them. There may not be a more talented team in the country.
Case against: Not only did Ohio State fail to win the Big Ten, it didn’t even win its division. The Buckeyes have just one loss, yes, but their schedule was relatively weak and they fell to the one elite team they faced (Michigan State). The Big Ten is almost certainly getting one team in, the Spartans, but the odds that the committee will choose a second are slim. Ohio State would have needed a lot of chaos to secure a playoff berth.
Consensus: Out. The Buckeyes won’t get a chance to defend their national title.
Projected playoff schedule
Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas), Dec. 31, 4 or 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Oklahoma
Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens, Fla.), Dec. 31, 4 or 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Michigan State
College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T, Jan. 11 (Glendale, Ariz.), 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Cotton Bowl winner vs. Orange Bowl winner