There are only two weeks remaining in college football’s regular season (three, counting Army-Navy), and it’s becoming pretty clear which teams still have a shot at making the 4-team playoff field. Last week, 16 teams still appeared to be alive. Now, with Houston, TCU, and Utah having lost, that list is down to 13. Here’s what each of the 13 needs to do—and/or hope for—to make the field of 4.
The “Sure Things” (if they take care of business):
(11-0) Iowa (#1 in the Anderson & Hester Rankings): Win out (at Nebraska—#53 in the A&H Rankings—and versus Michigan State (or possibly versus Michigan or Ohio State) in the Big Ten Championship Game). In that case, the Hawkeyes’ ticket will be punched. Otherwise, lose at Nebraska, win the following week to claim the Big Ten title, and then hope for the best from the subjective 13-member selection committee that will unilaterally determine the playoff field. (In that scenario, a Clemson, Notre Dame, or Oklahoma loss might be enough.)
(11-0) Clemson (#2 in the A&H Rankings): Win out (at South Carolina (#85 in the A&H Rankings) and versus North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game). Otherwise, lose to South Carolina, bounce back to win the ACC title, and hope for a train wreck among the other top teams.
(10-1) Alabama (#3 in the A&H Rankings): Win out (at Auburn (#46 in the A&H Rankings) and versus Florida in the SEC Championship Game). Otherwise, lose to Auburn, beat Florida to become the SEC champs, and hope for a few undefeated or 1-loss teams to fall.
(10-1) Michigan State (#4 in the A&H Rankings): Win out (at home against Penn State (#37 the A&H Rankings) and versus Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game). There’s almost no chance that a 1-loss Big Ten champion that has beaten Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa (with none of those games at home), along with Oregon (#18 in the A&H Rankings), and whose only loss involved a blown call on the game’s decisive play at Nebraska, will get left out of the playoff field. The Big Ten has too much clout, and Michigan State’s resume would be too strong. Even in the unlikely event that Clemson, Alabama, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma all win out, the Spartans will presumably get one of the four spots, at either Notre Dame’s or Oklahoma’s expense.
The “Probablies” (if they take care of business):
(10-1) Notre Dame (#5 in the A&H Rankings): Win at Stanford—that would likely be enough, but a Clemson or Oklahoma loss would make things a lot more certain. (The Irish would also presumably prevail over a 2-loss SEC or Big Ten champ.)
(10-1) Oklahoma (#6 in the A&H Rankings): Win at Oklahoma State, and have either Clemson or Notre Dame lose. (Like Notre Dame, the Sooners would also presumably prevail over a 2-loss SEC or Big Ten champ.) Otherwise, win impressively in Bedlam, and hope the committee picks the Sooners over the Irish.