Laying Out the Playoff Chances for CFP Committee’s Top Eight Teams

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The top 10 of the College Football Playoff committee’s new rankings turned out mostly as we expected. (We severely underestimated how far Alabama would fall.) The four projected playoff teams remain the same as last week and the main potential scenarios we’ve laid out previously still hold.

Keeping that in mind, we thought it’d be helpful to lay out the case for each of the eight teams left in the playoff chase. What does a win, or loss, on Championship Weekend do to each remaining contender’s chances of finishing in the top four?

No. 1 Ohio State

Win vs. No. 10 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship: IN

Loss vs. No. 10 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. It’s complicated, but it’s easier to see the Buckeyes staying in the top four with a loss than it is to see the same result for any of the other teams currently in the top four. Earlier today, we explained a scenario that forces the committee to choose between Ohio State and Wisconsin for the final playoff spot and concluded that the Badgers would probably get in as Big Ten champions. A Clemson loss, however, likely keeps OSU in the picture because even at 12–1, Ohio State has a good chance at being ranked higher than enough teams from a group that includes the Pac-12 champ, Big 12 champ and 12–1 Clemson.

No. 2 LSU

Win vs. No. 4 Georgia in the SEC championship: IN

Loss vs. No. 4 Georgia in the SEC championship: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Similarly to the Buckeyes above them, the Tigers will probably get the benefit of the doubt if there’s enough chaos, and stay in the committee’s final top four. However, if Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma win their respective conference title games, a loss to Georgia could leave LSU as the first team on the outside looking in. Strong emphasis on could.

No. 3 Clemson 

Win vs. No. 23 Virginia in the ACC championship: IN

Loss vs. No. 23 Virginia in the ACC championship: Maybe OUT. A loss to Virginia during an extremely weak year for the ACC would be a complete embarrassment for Dabo Swinney & Co. A one-loss conference champ like Utah, Oklahoma or Baylor would have a good shot to finish ahead of the ACC runner-up Tigers; so would either team currently ranked ahead of them were they to lose their conference title games.

No. 4 Georgia

Win vs. No. 2 LSU in SEC championship: IN

Loss vs. No. 2 LSU in SEC championship: OUT. We can’t picture any permutation where the 11–2 SEC runner-up Bulldogs finish in the top four no matter how wild things may get this weekend.

No. 5 Utah

Win vs. No. 13 Oregon in Pac-12 championship: Probably IN if LSU beats UGA and there’s further craziness. If every Power 5 favorite wins Saturday, there’s a more-than-small possibility 12–1 Big 12 champion Oklahoma jumps Utah for the No. 4 spot. Fair or not, Baylor in all likelihood needs the entire Big 12 title game to go like the first half did in its first game against OU in order to jump a 12–1 Utah. And that may not be enough. So the Utes’ best opportunity is looking very good Friday night, and crossing their fingers something nutty happens Saturday.

Loss vs. No. 13 Oregon in Pac-12 championship: OUT

No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 7 Baylor

Win in Big 12 championship: We’re lumping these two teams together because the Big 12 champ is the furthest from being in the “win and you’re in” category. As mentioned above, there’s a chance the committee puts the Sooners in over the Utes based on résumé and a smaller chance it does the same for the Bears. In a different scenario, the Sooners and Bears need Oregon to upset Utah in the Pac-12 title game and/or Virginia to shock Clemson in the ACC, while Ohio State and LSU maintain their top-two standing to come closer to an invite.

Loss in Big 12 Championship: OUT

No. 8 Wisconsin

Win vs. No. 1 Ohio State in Big Ten Championship: Maybe IN but it would be pretty wild. Yes, the Badgers need help (check above), but it’s not a completely ridiculous idea. The College Football Playoff has never had a two-loss participant, but if enough things fall the right way, the first two-loss team to make it may very well be 2019 Wisconsin.

Loss vs. No 1 Ohio State in Big Ten Championship: OUT

The full College Football Playoff rankings:

1. Ohio State
2. LSU
3. Clemson
4. Georgia
5. Utah
6. Oklahoma
7. Baylor
8. Wisconsin
9. Florida
10. Penn State
11. Auburn
12. Alabama
13. Oregon
14. Michigan
15. Notre Dame
16. Iowa
17. Memphis
18. Minnesota
19. Boise State
20. Cincinnati
21. Appalachian State
22. USC
23. Virginia
24. Navy
25. Oklahoma State