With Week 14 quickly approaching, many questions remain unanswered about the College Football Playoff. Will this be the year a non-Power 5 team makes it? Could there be two ACC teams this year? According to ESPN’s Allstate Playoff Predictor, there are only 13 teams that have greater than a 1% chance of making it (as of November 24). Organized by conference, this article will take a look at the teams that could still possibly make the playoff, as well as their path to the championship.
The ACC has three teams with greater than a 1% chance of making the playoff (according to ESPN’s Allstate Playoff Predictor): Notre Dame, Clemson and Miami.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (#2 in College Football Playoff Ranking):
With a win over then #1 Clemson in Week 11, the #2 ranked Irish have the third highest chance of making the playoff in the nation (59.3%). Their path to the playoff is simple on paper: win out. However, this is not as simple as it seems because even if they win out in the regular season, they will likely face Clemson in the ACC championship game. Going through Clemson, now with Lawrence back at the helm, a second time may be difficult. Even if they lose, they still may have a shot at the playoff, considering the fact that the Big 12 is likely ruled out of the Playoff. Notre Dame will likely need Ohio State and Alabama to win out so there wouldn’t be a second team from either of those schools’ respective conferences to enter the CFP.
The Clemson Tigers (#3):
The Tigers’ path to the playoff is similar to that of Notre Dame, in that to make it, they must win out. Unlike the Irish, however, Clemson not only needs to win their remaining games, but they will also need to win the ACC championship game (likely against the Irish). No two-loss team has ever made the playoff, and with the number of other playoff contenders this year, that trend will definitely continue. ESPN’s Allstate Predictor gives the Tigers a 33.5% chance of making the playoff.
The Miami Hurricanes (#10):
Out of the 13 teams highlighted in this article, Miami has the smallest chance to make the playoff: 1.3%. This is due to the fact that they already have one loss, an embarrassing 42-17 beatdown to Clemson. The Hurricanes’ playoff path is very limited and is not entirely in their control. They must win out, and then they need to qualify for the ACC championship, which depends on either Clemson losing one of its remaining three games or Notre Dame losing twice. Even if all of this occurs, they still have to win the conference championship. Without a conference championship, it will be nearly impossible to make the CFP.
The Big Ten has three teams with greater than a 1% chance of making the playoffs (according to ESPN’s Allstate Playoff Predictor): Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
The Ohio State Buckeyes (#4):
Coming off of a win over #9 Indiana in Week 13, the Buckeyes have the second highest chance to make the playoffs (71.1%). As is the story with most teams, their path to the Playoff includes winning out and winning their conference championship. However, given their strong start, they could possibly make the playoff even if they lose the conference championship, although there is no guarantee. What’s hindering them? Their schedule. Because of COVID-19, they only scheduled 8 games, and will have only played one ranked opponent in Indiana (as of now). If they lose in their conference championship, and Notre Dame loses in theirs, the selection committee may consider Notre Dame over Ohio State.
The Northwestern Wildcats (#8):
Just coming off of a win over #10 Wisconsin, the Wildcats’ playoff hopes have shot up. Although their chances have greatly increased, they are still unlikely compared to other teams (13.3%). Even if they win out in the regular season, the Wildcats would reach the conference championship where they would likely have to play Ohio State, led by star quarterback Justin Fields. Ohio State has looked dynamic on offense, and it would be tough for the Wildcats to knock off the #4 Buckeyes, although it is still very possible.
The Wisconsin Badgers (#16):
Now that Wisconsin has lost a game, it will be extremely difficult for the Badgers to make the playoff because of how unlikely it is that they make the Big Ten championship. In addition to winning out, Northwestern would have to lose two of their three last games for the Badgers to make it to the conference title game. Without making their conference championship, it would be extremely difficult for a one loss team with such a sparse schedule to make the playoff. The Allstate Playoff Predictor gives Wisconsin a 9.2% chance of making the playoffs.
Given that there is no team in the Big 12 with less than two losses, the Allstate Playoff Predictor gives no team in the Big 12 higher than a 1% chance to make the playoff. This is important for other teams because it may encourage the possibility for either a non-Power 5 team to make the CFP, or two teams from the same conference to make it.
The Pac-12 has two teams with greater than a 1% chance of making the playoff (according to ESPN’s Allstate Playoff Predictor): Oregon and USC.
The Oregon Ducks (#15):
As of now, Oregon is undefeated, so the Allstate Playoff Predictor gives them a 26.9% chance of making the playoff. Although this is rather high, I believe it is unlikely that the Ducks make the playoff. It doesn’t help that the Pac-12 has only scheduled six regular season games for each team, and the two ranked Pac-12 squads never play each other. The lack of strength of schedule will cripple the entire conference. Oregon’s path to the playoff mandates winning their conference championship. Additionally, many teams ranked in front of them would have to lose, which is still plausible considering how frequently upsets occur in college football.
The USC Trojans (#18):
When compared to the Ducks, USC possesses a much smaller chance of making it (14.2%) because they are ranked lower and would have to surpass many more teams. Their path to the playoff is identical to Oregon’s, however, in that they would have to win the Pac-12 championship, and many teams in front of them would have to lose. Stranger things have happened in the final weeks of a college football season, but the odds are still slim.
The SEC has three teams with greater than a 1% chance of making the playoffs (according to ESPN’s Allstate Playoff Predictor): Alabama, Texas A&M, and Florida.
The Alabama Crimson Tide (#1):
Going into Week 14 as the unanimous #1 in the AP Top 25, and with the highest chance to make the playoff of any team (94%), Alabama is in a comfortable position to make the College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide are heavily favored to win their remaining games and make their conference championship. Even if they lose in the conference championship, they have looked so dominant in wins over Texas A&M and Georgia that it is still extremely likely that they make it. In all likelihood, the only way they do not make the CFP is if they lose two games.
The Texas A&M Aggies (#5):
The 5-1 Aggies head into Thanksgiving with an 11.6% chance to make the College Football Playoff. After suffering a 52-24 beatdown from Alabama in Week 6, the Aggies have bounced back, and are ranked #5 in the nation, with a head-to-head win over the nation’s #6 team, the Florida Gators. Their path to the playoff sounds simple: win their conference championship. The only problem is this: the two teams that make the SEC championship are the winners of the SEC East and SEC West. Texas A&M is in the same division as Alabama, and the Aggies lost the head-to-head matchup between the two. For the Aggies to make the conference championship, Alabama would have to lose two of their remaining regular season games, and the Aggies would have to win out. Even if Texas A&M made it, they would have to win, likely against a strong Florida team. That game would be a toss-up.
The Florida Gators (#6):
While the Gators are one spot behind Texas A&M and lost a head-to-head, they have a slightly better chance at making the playoffs (12.2%). This is because the Gators won a matchup against Georgia, the second place team in the SEC East (as of now). If the Gators win out in the regular season, they would make the conference championship and have a shot at knocking off the SEC West winner, likely Alabama. If the Gators win this conference championship, they have a very good shot at making the playoff. Beating Alabama is a tall task though.
Non-Power 5 Teams
There are two non-Power 5 teams that have greater than a 1% chance of making the playoff: BYU and Cincinnati.
The Cincinnati Bearcats (#7):
With the 4th highest chance at making the playoffs (35.3%), the Cincinnati Bearcats have a real shot at becoming the first non-Power 5 conference team to make it. On their resume, they have a win over #16 SMU and will have a matchup against #25 Tulsa, likely in addition to a sequel in the conference championship. Why is this important? The Bearcats’ strength of schedule. The reason a non-Power 5 team has never made it to the CFP is because of a lack of strength of schedule. The Bearcats’ path to the playoff requires a win in their conference championship, as well as a few of the teams in front of them losing in their conference championship. If Notre Dame beats Clemson in the ACC championship and Alabama wins the SEC, the Bearcats would have a very good chance to make it.
The BYU Cougars (#14):
Lastly, and probably with the least chance to make the playoff, we have the BYU Cougars. After the first College Football Playoff rankings came in on November 24, the Cougars suffered a severe drop from their #8 spot in the AP Top 25, to #14 in the CFP Top 25. This is due to the fact that the committee is not impressed with their strength of schedule and believes that despite being undefeated, the Cougars’ wins have been against unimpressive opposition. Based off of this ranking, their path to the playoff is very limited. Even if they win out, they are an FBS Independent, which means they don’t have a conference championship to play in. The only way that the Cougars can make the playoffs is if somehow, basically every team in front of them gets upset.
There you have it: your comprehensive guide to the perplexing puzzle of the College Football Playoff. What is your prediction of what will happen? Stay tuned…