The charade that is the College Football Playoff draws closer, with just two more weeks of action ahead in terms of one last regular-season weekend and then the conference championship games that follow as the calendar turns to December.
No matter what rankings the CFP committee releases later today, the reality is there are only ten teams with a legitimate chance to make the Final Four. If your team has two losses? Out. While the Bowl Championship Series compromised its integrity in 2008 to put a two-loss SEC team into the “title” game, we assume the CFP will not.
So, here are the ten teams, we’re ranking them in order of probability in making the Final Four when that is announced on December 2.
1. Clemson (11-0): The Tigers have the easiest pathway left to the Final Four. Clemson needs to beat big underdog South Carolina this weekend and then win the ACC Championship Game. However, we think that even if the Tigers lose the ACC title game somehow, they’d still make it in (sadly).
2. Notre Dame (11-0): All the Irish have to do is beat a flailing USC squad this Saturday in Los Angeles to clinch a spot in the Final Four. Even if Notre Dame lost, it would have a good shot to get in based on its Week 1 over Michigan (see below)—especially if the Wolverines win the Big Ten. However, we expect the Irish to paste the Trojans and become to first team to “qualify” for the CFP.
3. Alabama (11-0): Sadly, the Tide probably already have claimed a spot, too, in the Final Four, even if they lose to either Auburn this weekend or to Georgia in the SEC Championship. As last year proved, the CFP committee will bend any rule to get Alabama into the Final Four. What if the Crimson Tide lose both games? Hmmmm. We put nothing past the CFP when it comes to Alabama.
4. Ohio State (10-1): The Buckeyes’ pathway is simple. They have to win out to make it. They host Michigan on Saturday, and the Wolverines have not won on the road in Columbus since 2000. Until they do, Ohio State has to be favored, regardless of how each team looks right now.
5. Michigan (10-1): Same thing goes for Michigan. It must win out to make the CFP, although a one-loss Big Ten champ is not guaranteed a spot in the Final Four. The whole league is down this year, with Penn State being the only “quality” win for either the Buckeyes or the Wolverines.
6. Washington State (10-1): The Cougars are actually favored to beat the Huskies on Friday in the Apple Cup, and then WSU would have to beat Utah (again) in the Pac-12 conference title matchup. The Cougs have played a weak(er) schedule, and the Pac-12 is down this year, big time. So this is a long shot, even if WSU wins out.
7. Oklahoma (10-1): The Sooners are lower than WSU simply because their pathway to the Big XII title is tougher. First, Oklahoma has to beat West Virginia this week, and then the Sooners may need to beat either the Mountaineers again the following weekend in the conference title game—or face Texas again, the one team they lost to already. Got that?
8. Georgia (10-1): The Bulldogs need to beat outmanned Georgia Tech this weekend and then beat Alabama in the SEC title game to guarantee themselves a spot. Lose either game, and Georgia will have two losses, and we don’t think that’s going to get them in over other one-loss teams (if any remain in two weeks). Stay tuned.
9. Central Florida (11-0): The Knights should win this week against South Florida, and then there is the American Athletic Conference title game. But betting against UCF at this point is silly. The Knights have won 23 straight games at this point. It is sad to think UCF would be denied a second straight year for the CFP despite going undefeated for that long.
10. Utah State (10-1): Remember when everyone dogged Michigan State for barely beating the Aggies in Week 1? We knew better, of course. This USU team has not lost since, and it may not lose again. However, it has absolutely a near-zero chance of making the CFP, because … well, that should be obvious by now. The Aggies have a big game against Boise State this weekend, which can either move USU up this list or drop it entirely.
Every other division of NCAA football does have a 16-team tournament, of course, so in reality, why not the Football Bowl Subdivision, too? This would add 12 more teams to the fray, including currently undefeated Central Florida, one-loss Utah State, etc.
What is college football afraid of in going to a wide-open tournament? Ask yourself that question, every day, and then remember where the money comes from—and where it goes.