- West Virginia, Utah and Colorado have the best shot to make the College Football Playoff among teams outside of the top 10.
The top of the College Football Playoff rankings went as expected Tuesday, with Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Washington placing in the top four. The discussion regarding who will finish the season with a playoff berth has largely focused on those four teams and No. 5 Ohio State, plus possible considerations for No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 9 Texas A&M.
But is the playoff race really so condensed that only seven teams have a shot? The two-year history of the playoff system suggests no. After Week 10 last season, future playoff participants Oklahoma and Michigan State ranked No. 12 and No. 13, respectively. Ohio State was even more of a long shot in 2014, coming in at No. 16 after Week 10.
So who could be the dark horse that makes a run to get into the top four this year? The college football experts at SI.com and FOXSports.com each picked one team ranked outside of the top 10 that could make the playoff.
Andy Staples, SI: West Virginia
I don't like anyone's chances outside of the top 10, but if I have to pick one, I'd pick West Virginia. An 11–1 Big 12 champ with a loss in Stillwater might have a shot if chaos reigns in the other leagues. Since Vegas thinks the Mountaineers lose at Texas this week, I'm not terribly confident in this pick. But if West Virginia beats Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Baylor and the rest of the leagues descend into madness, the Country Roads could lead to Atlanta or Glendale.
Pete Thamel, SI: Utah
The Utes would need Washington to lose a game and then blow the Huskies out in the Pac-12 title game. If the playoff selection committee values conference champions as much as it claims, Utah could win the Pac-12 and sneak in. This would require further tanking by the Big 12 and second-tier ACC teams.
Stewart Mandel, FOX Sports: Colorado
The Buffaloes have a surprisingly clear path: Beat Washington State, Utah and then Washington in the Pac-12 title games and that's three top-25 wins, including one over a possible top-four team. They'd still need some help elsewhere to justify a two-loss champ getting in but would be at least be ahead of any Big 12 team.
Lindsay Schnell, SI: Utah
First off, if we've learned anything this week it's to expect the unexpected. So rule nothing out! A two-loss team seems crazy, but crazier things have happened. So with that in mind, I'll say Utah, which still has an outside shot at the Pac-12 championship. Getting the conference title would involve a split in games with the team currently ranked No. 4, so that would give the Utes some street cred.
Brian Hamilton, SI: Colorado
Colorado has two games remaining against teams the selection committee has in its top 25: Washington State and Utah. The showdown with the Utes takes place in Boulder, and then there's the chance to take down Washington in the league title game. That's a strong résumé-building closing stretch for the second-highest ranked Pac-12 team at the moment.
Joan Niesen, SI: West Virginia
I really can't fathom a world in which a team not among the top 10 right now makes the playoff, but parity has been the name of the game in college football this season. Looking at Nos. 11–20, the team that sticks out to me is West Virginia. If the Mountaineers win out—which they very well could—their résumé would include wins over Oklahoma and Baylor, and they'd without question be the best team in the Big 12. Still, I think they'd have to do so in spectacular fashion to warrant a playoff spot.