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College Football Cheat Sheet – Who Has a Chance to Reach College Football Playoff?

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LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) passes under pressure from Utah State defensive end Tipa Galeai (10) in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Photo: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

By Dr. Ben Billman |

It can be difficult sifting through all the college football teams as we enter the home stretch of the season.  The number of teams that remain with a chance to make the college football playoff may be a smaller group than you think.  I have done my best to group these teams based on their chances of making the playoff.  The first group consists of teams that are in complete control of their path to the playoff.  Winning out will most definitely garner a spot in the top four.  The second group consists of teams that need to win the rest of their games while also praying for other contenders to lose along the way.  Then we have the dreamers.  These are group of five teams that remain unbeaten but probably won’t be given consideration for a playoff spot.  They still deserve recognition for their performance so far.  I hope this clears up the landscape for you.  Use this as a cheat sheet in conversations with other college football fans.  They may be impressed with your knowledge.

Group 1 – Complete Control

#1 – LSU (8-0 overall, 4-0 in the SEC)

Best wins – At Texas, against Florida, against Auburn

Losses – none

Remaining schedule – At Alabama, at Ole Miss, against Arkansas, against Texas A&M

The Tigers have a trio of quality wins at Texas, against Florida, and against Auburn.  No other team in the country can match that.  They have built enough of a resume that even a loss at Alabama may not be enough to keep them out of the playoff.  It would be very hard for the committee to leave out an 11-1 LSU squad even if they don’t play in the SEC championship game.  A win against the Crimson Tide would basically guarantee the Tigers a trip to the conference championship game. At that point I don’t believe a win or loss would affect them much either.  They would get a playoff bid either way.  LSU needs to make sure they don’t slip up at Ole Miss, against Arkansas, or against Texas A&M.  A loss against any of those teams completely changes the story.

#2 – Alabama (8-0 overall, 5-0 in the SEC)

Best wins – At Texas A&M

Losses – None

Remaining schedule – Against LSU, at Mississippi State, against Western Carolina, at Auburn

The Crimson Tide have played a fairly easy schedule so far, but things are about to get a lot harder.  The two games that will decide Alabama’s season are against LSU and at Auburn.  Wins in both of those games propels them into the SEC title game and probably into the college football playoff even with a loss in that game.  The playoff committee is not going to leave out a 12-1 Alabama squad with wins over LSU and Auburn.  A split of the LSU and Auburn games leaves Alabama squarely on the bubble.  A loss in both games would crush all hopes of a playoff spot.

#3 – Ohio State (8-0 overall, 5-0 in the Big Ten)

Best wins – At Nebraska, against Michigan State, against Wisconsin

Losses – None

Remaining schedule – Against Maryland, at Rutgers, against Penn State, at Michigan

The Buckeyes are dominating in Ryan Day’s first year as the head coach.  Urban who?  The next two games should be no challenge, but they will be tested in the final two weeks of the season.  Penn State comes to Columbus the week before Ohio State travels to Michigan.  A loss to Penn State could be devastating, as that would mean no trip to the Big Ten title game.  No trip to the Big Ten title game equals no trip to the playoff for Ohio State.  An 11-1 finish with no trip to chance at a conference championship would not be enough to sneak into the top four.

#4 – Clemson (8-0 overall, 6-0 in the ACC)

Best wins – Against Texas A&M

Losses – None

Remaining schedule – Against Wofford, at NC State, against Wake Forest, at South Carolina

Clemson can’t afford a loss the remainder of the season.  The ACC as a whole has been awful this season, and the only path for the Tigers to get to the college football playoff is to go 13-0.  Anything less, and Clemson will be left out. 

#5 – Penn State (8-0 overall, 5-0 in the Big Ten)

Best wins – At Iowa, against Michigan, at Michigan State

Losses – None

Remaining schedule – At Minnesota, against Indiana, at Ohio State, against Rutgers

Penn State has been a pleasant surprise so far this season.  They are coming up to the toughest part of their schedule, and anything less than a perfect run will probably not be enough to get them into the playoff.  The biggest game is at Ohio State.  That very well could decide the Big Ten east champion.  The winner of that game has a clear path to the playoff.  The loser will have to hope that an 11-1 record with no conference championship game appearance holds up against other conference champions.

#6 – Florida (7-1 overall, 4-1 in the SEC)

Best wins – Against Auburn

Losses – At LSU

Remaining schedule – Against Georgia, against Vanderbilt, at Missouri, against Florida State

Florida’s season rests on their result against Georgia this upcoming Saturday.  A win should be enough to secure the SEC east title and a trip to the conference championship game.  A loss destroys any hope of a college football playoff bid.  Florida needs to win out, and if they do, they are a lock for the college football playoff.

#8 – Georgia (6-1 overall, 3-1 in the SEC)

Best wins – Against Notre Dame

Losses – Against South Carolina

Remaining schedule – Against Florida, against Missouri, at Auburn, against Texas A&M, at Georgia Tech

Georgia stumbled against an average South Carolina team.  That puts the Bulldogs in a position where anything less than winning out leaves them out of the playoff.  The Florida game is the first key test.  A win against the Gators may be the start of a run to the SEC east crown.  A loss against the Gators ruins any chance of a division championship or a shot in the SEC conference championship game.

#13 – Minnesota (8-0 overall, 5-0 in the Big Ten)

Best wins – None

Losses – None

Remaining schedule – Against Penn State, at Iowa, at Northwestern, against Wisconsin

Minnesota has been flying under the radar all season, but they still remain undefeated.  They have a clear path to the Big Ten championship game, but one loss anywhere on their schedule derails their chances of a playoff spot.  They have played a poor schedule so far, but three of their next four games are against ranked opponents.  The game against Penn State will determine if Minnesota is for real or if they are just a product of a weak schedule.

Group 2 – Win Out and Hope For Help

#7 – Oregon (7-1 overall, 5-0 in the Pac-12)

Best wins – At Washington

Losses – Against Auburn

Remaining schedule – At USC, against Arizona, at Arizona State, against Oregon State

Oregon may look back at the season-opening loss to Auburn with disdain.  They had a great opportunity to win, but they let it slip away.  That loss means that the Ducks must remain perfect the rest of the way.  Even if they win the Pac 12 championship at 12-1, they would still need some teams from the SEC or Big Ten to falter in order to get a playoff bid.  Oregon’s remaining schedule is very tough, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they dropped a game or two down the stretch.  Any loss from here on out eliminates them from contention for a playoff bid.

#9 – Utah (7-1 overall, 4-1 in the Pac-12)

Best wins – Against Arizona State

Losses – At USC

Remaining schedule – At Washington, against UCLA, at Arizona, against Colorado

Utah must run the table the rest of the season, but that won’t be easy with a trip to Washington this Saturday.  A win in this game could impress the selection committee, but a loss ends their hopes of a playoff spot.  Utah must win out and defeat Oregon in the Pac 12 title game.  They would also need some stumbles from teams in other conferences to feel comfortable about a spot in the playoff.

#10 – Oklahoma (7-1 overall, 4-1 in the Big 12)

Best wins – Against Texas

Losses – At Kansas State

Remaining schedule – Against Iowa State, at Baylor, against TCU, at Oklahoma State

Oklahoma took a devastating blow with their loss at Kansas State.  That turned an almost guaranteed playoff bid into a scramble to recover and find a way to the playoff.  Oklahoma still has some tough games that could impress the committee, and there is a chance that they could avenge their loss to Kansas State in the conference title game.  Anything less than a 12-1 record with a Big 12 championship will eliminate them from playoff contention.  Even with a 12-1 record, they may still need losses from other teams to get in.

#12 – Baylor (7-0 overall, 4-0 in the Big 12)

Best wins – At Kansas State

Losses – None

Remaining schedule – Against West Virginia, at TCU, against Oklahoma, against Texas, at Kansas

It is possible that Baylor could run the table, win the Big 12 championship, and not get into the playoff.  That may seem crazy, but their non-conference schedule is laughable.  They also have struggled in some of their wins.  One loss will end their playoff hopes, but with games against Oklahoma and Texas still on the schedule, there are opportunities to improve their resume.  They probably still need some losses from other teams in other conferences to feel comfortable getting in with a 13-0 record.

#23 – Wake Forest (6-1 overall, 2-1 in the ACC)

Best wins – None

Losses – Against Louisville

Remaining schedule – Against NC State, at Virginia Tech, at Clemson, against Duke, at Syracuse

The Demon Deacons have one game that matters the rest of the season.  They play at Clemson in a couple weeks, and their only hope of receiving a playoff bid would be if they destroyed the Tigers.  More than likely, this team will fade before they even get to the Clemson game, but there is still a chance they could finish 12-1 with a win at Clemson and an ACC championship.  This may still not be enough due to their poor non-conference schedule.  They would need to hope for a lot of chaos in other conferences to feel comfortable getting into the playoff.

Group 3 – Consolation Prizes

#15 – SMU (8-0 overall, 4-0 in the AAC)

Best wins – At TCU

Losses – None

Remaining schedule – At Memphis, against East Carolina, at Navy, against Tulane

SMU has a huge chance to impress the playoff committee when it plays Memphis in primetime on national television this Saturday.  The odds are in SMU’s favor to go 13-0 and win the AAC conference championship.  Could this be the year that a group of 5 team sneaks into the playoff?  It doesn’t look great, but SMU can dream.  They would need some crazy things to happen, especially in the Big Ten and the SEC.  It would still be tough to pick an undefeated SMU over a 2-loss power five team.

#20 – Appalachian State (7-0 overall, 4-0 in the Sun Belt)

Best wins – At North Carolina

Losses – None

Remaining schedule – Against Georgia Southern, at South Carolina, at Georgia State, against Texas State, at Troy

The chances are slim to none, but Appalachian State should be proud of what they have accomplished so far.  They won at North Carolina and have a chance at South Carolina in a couple weeks.  Those two wins won’t translate to a playoff spot.  They would need complete mayhem across the country, and even then it may not be enough.  Keep an eye on this team for a major upset in a bowl game.  They are no joke.

Dr. Ben Billman is the Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee.  He graduated from the United States Sports Academy with a doctoral degree in sport management.  He is originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, and has a passion for sports and how Christians can impact this segment of the business world.

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