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College Football Playoff Rankings – Thanksgiving Edition

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University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Photo: Matthew Emmons | USA TODAY Sports Images

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. With just two weeks remaining before the College Football Playoff field is set, let’s take a look at all the teams with a fighting chance of securing a bid. The teams have been broken into three categories based on their chances of making the final four. The first group consists of those teams that are absolute locks if they win out. The second group consists of teams that need to win out but also need a little shakeup in the first group. The third group needs to win out and have absolute chaos occur in the top two groups. Enjoy what should be a great weekend of college football.

Win out, get in

#1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0) Remaining Games – vs. Auburn, SEC Championship Game vs. Florida: Alabama is in such good shape that they could lose one of their final two games and still secure a playoff bid. Auburn is out of the playoff hunt after a loss to Georgia two weeks ago, but rivalry games are always hard to predict. Florida could keep the SEC title game close, especially if their defense plays as well as they have in recent weeks. Don’t expect Alabama to lose either of these games. They should be a lock for the #1 seed in the playoff.

#2 Ohio State (10-1, 7-1) Remaining Games – vs. Michigan, possible Big Ten Championship Game: The Buckeyes have two paths to the playoff. The first path is to beat Michigan but not advance to the Big Ten title game if Penn State beats Michigan State. They would finish 11-1 with wins over Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Michigan. The second path is to beat Michigan and advance to the Big Ten title game if Michigan State beats Penn State. They would then need to win the title game over either Wisconsin or Nebraska to get into the playoff. It may actually be better if Penn State wins so that the Buckeyes get an extra week off instead of having to win the Big Ten title game. Their playoff hopes are busted if they lose to Michigan this week.

#3 Michigan (10-1, 7-1) Remaining Games – at Ohio State, possible Big Ten Championship Game: A win at Ohio State won’t be easy, but Michigan knows it has a paved path to the playoffs with two more wins. Michigan has wins over Colorado, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Add in wins at Ohio State and either Wisconsin or Nebraska in the Big Ten title game, and this is a playoff team. The dream of a playoff spot is gone if they lose to Ohio State.

#4 Clemson (10-1, 7-1) Remaining Games – vs. South Carolina, ACC Championship Game: Clemson has secured a berth in the ACC title game and is a clear favorite over South Carolina this week. The Tigers recovered from their only loss of the season to Pittsburgh by dominating Wake Forest. As with the other teams in this group, they can’t drop one of their two remaining games. The ACC title game will feature either Virginia Tech or North Carolina. Last season, Clemson only beat North Carolina by eight points in the ACC title game.

#6 Wisconsin (9-2, 6-2) Remaining Games – vs. Minnesota, possible Big Ten Championship Game: Wisconsin has two losses, but they still look to be in good shape if they win their final two games. Minnesota has been flying under the radar with an 8-3 record, but Wisconsin gets to play them at home. A win here secures a spot in the Big Ten title game against either Michigan, Ohio State, or Penn State. The Badgers have wins over LSU, Iowa, and Nebraska. Add in a Big Ten title, and this team is a lock for the playoff.

Penn State upset Ohio State 24-21 to earn College Football Game of the Week honors from the United States Sports Academy. Photo: Centre Times Daily
The Penn State Nittany Lions need a little help from rival Ohio State to make the College Football Playoff. Photo: Centre Times Daily

Win out, need help

#5 Washington (10-1, 7-1) Remaining Games – at Washington State, possible Pac 12 Championship Game: Washington recovered nicely after their loss to USC by dominating Arizona State. Their rivalry game against Washington State took a hit after the Cougars were beaten by Colorado this past week. The strength of schedule is the piece of the puzzle that is hurting the Huskies. They need to beat Washington State handily and then beat either USC or Colorado in the Pac 12 title game. Even if they finish 12-1, they still need some help. The best scenarios for them are if only one team gets in from the Big Ten or if Clemson loses a game down the stretch.

#7 Penn State (9-2, 7-1) Remaining Games – vs. Michigan State, possible Big Ten Championship Game: Penn State will know exactly where it stands in the Big Ten and playoff pictures when they take the field against Michigan State this week. All eyes will be on the Ohio State/Michigan game, which will be played a couple hours earlier. If Michigan wins, they advance to the Big Ten title game ahead of Penn State. If Ohio State wins, Penn State can advance to the Big Ten title game with a win over Michigan State. It is critical that Ohio State wins to open the door for Penn State. Penn State must win the Big Ten title game to secure a playoff spot.

#8 Oklahoma (9-2, 8-0) Remaining Games – vs. Oklahoma State: Oklahoma owes Houston big time. Not only did Houston knock off Louisville last week to help Oklahoma move up in the rankings, but the win also helps Oklahoma’s loss to Houston not look quite as bad. The Sooners have steadily improved all season, and a win last week in West Virginia should give the committee plenty to think about. Their rivalry game against Oklahoma State will be crucial in their hunt for a playoff spot. A win would secure the Big 12 title and also give them an undefeated record in conference play. As with Washington, they still need help. One Big Ten team getting in, a Clemson loss, or a Washington loss create some avenues for Oklahoma to get into the playoff.

#9 Colorado (9-2, 7-1) Remaining Games – vs. Utah, possible Pac 12 Championship Game: Colorado has quietly risen in the polls every week, and they have put themselves in a position to win a Pac 12 title and have a strong case for a playoff spot. With a win against Utah, Colorado will advance to the Pac 12 title game against either Washington or Washington State. They really need Washington to be that team and then beat them easily in the title game. Colorado’s two losses were at Michigan and at USC. A Pac 12 title along with a win over Washington would put them in the discussion for a playoff spot. They would need a couple chips to fall their way in other conferences, but they have put together a nice resume.

Florida head coach Jim McElwain and the Gators need to beat both Florida State and Alabama to have a chance at a berth in the College Football Playoff. Photo: David Goldman / Associated Press
Florida head coach Jim McElwain and the Gators need to beat both Florida State and Alabama to have a chance at a berth in the College Football Playoff. Photo: David Goldman / Associated Press

Win out, need chaos

#10 Oklahoma State (9-2, 7-1) Remaining Games – at Oklahoma: Oklahoma State’s chances of advancing to the playoff would look a lot different right now if the outcome of the Central Michigan game had been changed. A wrong call by an official in that game incorrectly gave Central Michigan one extra play at the end of the game. Central Michigan completed a desperation Hail Mary pass to win the game on that final play. Oklahoma State should have won that game, and it will be interesting to see how the committee views that outcome if the Cowboys beat Oklahoma next week. The Cowboys have wins over Pittsburgh and West Virginia, and a win over Oklahoma would secure a Big 12 championship. They will still probably be on the outside looking in unless the committee gives them some grace for that loss to Central Michigan or if total chaos occurs in other conferences.

#15 Florida (8-2, 6-2) Remaining Games – at Florida State, SEC Championship Game vs. Alabama: Florida won a nail-biter at LSU this past week. They enter their rivalry game with Florida State with slim playoff hopes. The Gators have already secured a spot in the SEC title game against Alabama. With wins over Florida State and Alabama, it would be hard to leave Florida out. They will be underdogs in both games, and their offense has looked shaky all season. Their best hope is that their strong defense takes over and plays lights out.

#16 Nebraska (9-2, 6-2) Remaining Games – at Iowa, possible Big Ten Championship Game: Nebraska has no real chance at a playoff spot, but they certainly could play spoiler in the Big Ten. If Nebraska wins at Iowa this week, and if Wisconsin loses to Minnesota, then Nebraska wins the Big Ten West and advances to the Big Ten title game. A win against either Michigan, Ohio State, or Penn State could knock out the Big Ten completely from the playoff. It would be bizarre, but the Cornhuskers could claim the Big Ten title and cause mass chaos across the college football landscape.

#21 Western Michigan (11-0, 7-0) Remaining Games – vs. Toledo, possible MAC Championship Game: Western Michigan has almost no chance at a playoff spot, but they have had such a spectacular season, they could not be left off this list. The Broncos have two solid wins against average Big Ten competition in Illinois and Northwestern. They still have not secured a spot in the MAC title game, however. The winner of their game against Toledo will be crowned the MAC West champion. The best bet for Western Michigan is to win out and hope they become the highest ranked team in the Group of 5. This would secure them a spot in the Cotton Bowl against a high-ranked opponent.

By Ben Billman

Ben Billman is currently a doctoral teaching assistant at the United States Sports Academy. He lives in Mobile, Ala. with his wife Jennifer and son Derrick. He is originally from Indiana, and therefore has a deep love for the game of basketball. Reach him at bbillman@ussa.edu

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