No. 5 Alabama, the only team in the country that has been in the College Football Playoff every year since its inception, is now the third-best team in the SEC, according to the selection committee. The Pac-12 and the Big 12 also still have something to prove, while the Big Ten is arguably in the best shape with two undefeated teams in No. 2 Ohio State and No. 8 Minnesota.
With five unbeaten teams and six one-loss squads remaining in the Power 5 conferences, there is still plenty of room for movement, as the contenders continue to jockey for position heading into Week 12. Three games this week will outweigh the others as far as potential to impact the playoff race: No. 4 Georgia at No. 12 Auburn; No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 13 Baylor; and No. 8 Minnesota at No. 20 Iowa.
Here’s a look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for each conference, as well as the most realistic scenario likely to unfold in each:
Travis Etienne runs for two touchdowns and catches a third as Clemson remains unbeaten.
Best-case scenario: No. 3 Clemson continues to win by 44 points per game and finishes as the undefeated ACC champion. Clemson already has clinched a spot in the ACC championship game, but with Wake Forest’s loss at Virginia Tech this past week, it’s unlikely Clemson will face a ranked opponent all season. That’s unheard of, as each of the past 20 semifinalists had at least one win against teams in the final CFP top 20. Clemson is No. 69 in strength of schedule but No. 3 in the country in game control, clearly exerting its dominance over lesser opponents, with the exception of its 21-20 win at North Carolina.
“Although its schedule is not as strong as some others, Clemson is an excellent undefeated team,” selection committee chairman Rob Mullens said. “They have gained more than 500 yards of offense in each of their last five games. The committee is impressed with what it sees.”
It has to keep seeing it.
Worst-case scenario: Clemson loses — to anyone. If Wake Forest or South Carolina were to manage an upset, Clemson probably would be eliminated from the top four this year, even with an ACC title. There are no other ACC teams currently ranked beyond Clemson.
Most realistic scenario: Clemson finishes as the undefeated ACC champ and in the top four — again. According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, Clemson has an 82.1% chance of making the playoff, third best behind Ohio State and LSU.
Most important remaining game: Nov. 30 at South Carolina. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Tigers a 91.1% chance to win.
The SEC Now crew believes that No. 1 LSU would make the College Football Playoff even losing the SEC championship game.
Best-case scenario: No. 1 LSU and No. 4 Georgia stay right where they are on Selection Day. We learned from the second CFP rankings that the committee valued Georgia’s good wins against Notre Dame and Florida more than its bad loss to South Carolina. With LSU and Georgia heading toward meeting in the SEC title game, the ideal scenario would be for Georgia to finish as the one-loss SEC champ and LSU as one-loss runner-up. That’s the most plausible way for the SEC to get two teams in this year.
Worst-case scenario: The SEC is left out because Georgia finishes as a two-loss conference champion with a win over LSU in the title game. Georgia can lose to Auburn this week but still win the SEC. Then what? It would be interesting to see how far Georgia would fall in the committee’s third CFP rankings if it loses this week and picks up a second loss. Would a win over LSU in the SEC title game be enough to catapult the Dawgs back into the top four? Would the committee still take LSU? Would it take them both? Debates would spark on every side of it, as the committee has never taken a two-loss conference champion before — and the SEC has never been left out.
Add this scenario in to further complicate it: Not only does Georgia lose to Auburn, but so does Alabama. Two-loss Auburn would then have two top-five wins, including against the SEC champ. What?! How high would Auburn climb, and would there be three Tigers in the top four (LSU, Auburn and Clemson)?
Most realistic scenario: LSU wins the SEC and finishes in the top four, and Alabama creates a great debate for the fourth spot. According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, LSU has an 86.4% chance of reaching the playoff, second only to Ohio State (88.5%). Alabama clearly needs help to get back into the conversation, but it’s not impossible — especially if a one-loss Baylor wins the Big 12 and the Pac-12 produces a two-loss conference champion. Alabama has to win convincingly against Auburn, though, to make a case.
Most important remaining game: Georgia at Auburn on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on CBS). If Auburn wins, it sets up the possibility of the SEC having a two-loss conference champion, opening the door for more debate. ESPN’s FPI gives Georgia a 47.4% chance to win.
Best-case scenario: The selection committee considers Minnesota, Penn State and Ohio State. This could happen if Penn State runs the table and beats an undefeated Minnesota team for the Big Ten title. That would mean Ohio State is sitting there with one loss and no title, Minnesota is a one-loss Big Ten runner-up and Penn State would likely be in the top four as a one-loss Big Ten champ. Minnesota, in spite of losing to PSU in the Big Ten title game, would have beaten the Big Ten champs during the regular season — and Ohio State would not. The Golden Gophers also would have wins against Iowa and Wisconsin. Would that be enough to overcome an otherwise dreadful schedule? What would the committee do with the one-loss Buckeyes?
The Big Ten also could possibly get two teams in if Ohio State and Minnesota are both undefeated and play for the conference championship game, with the committee taking the winner and considering the loser. The difference here, though, is that if Minnesota loses to Ohio State, it couldn’t argue that it had a win over the Big Ten champs.
Worst-case scenario: Minnesota finishes as the one-loss Big Ten champ. The selection committee has made it clear that Minnesota’s strength of schedule is holding it back. The Golden Gophers beat South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern — each by a touchdown or less.
“The conversation is when you’re looking at Minnesota, their schedule was a concern, particularly their nonconference schedule; and just as it laid out up through Week 10, they had only played one team in their league that had a winning record,” Mullens said. “But the added win against Penn State obviously impressed the committee.”
Most realistic scenario: Ohio State runs the table and finishes No. 2 as the league’s only legitimate playoff contender. According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, the Buckeyes have an 88.5% chance to make the playoff. ESPN’s FPI gives Minnesota less than a 40% chance to beat Iowa and Wisconsin.
Most important remaining game: Penn State at Ohio State, Nov. 23. The Nittany Lions are down but hardly out. If they can win in Columbus and run the table to take the Big Ten title, they would have a top-four résumé. ESPN’s FPI says Ohio State has an 84.1% chance to beat Penn State.
Jalen Hurts throws for three touchdowns and runs for two more as Oklahoma survives Iowa State.
Best-case scenario: Oklahoma finishes as the one-loss conference champion. Given that Oklahoma and Baylor both won this past weekend — and still dropped a spot — the Big 12 is in the worst position of the Power 5 conferences. If OU can win at Baylor on Saturday, though, and then defeat the Bears again to win the Big 12 title, plus get some chaos elsewhere, the Sooners would at least be considered by the committee. If the Pac-12 and SEC both have two-loss champions and Auburn plays the role of spoiler against Alabama, the Sooners might get the boost they need.
“As we look across the board,” Mullens said of the Sooners, “obviously they still have a powerful offense, and the improvement that the defense had shown early in the season is dropping off a little bit.”
Worst-case scenario: Baylor loses to Oklahoma on Saturday and then beats the Sooners in the Big 12 title game to finish as the one-loss conference champion. Given that Baylor is still undefeated and sitting at No. 13 right now, it seems unlikely that the committee would put a one-loss Baylor in its top four, even as a conference champion. Baylor’s nonconference schedule included Stephen F. Austin, UTSA and Rice. The Bears also needed double overtime to beat Texas Tech and triple overtime to win at TCU. Baylor does have road wins, though, against No. 24 Kansas State and No. 22 Oklahoma State, which are both ranked by the committee.
“Again, Baylor is a good team with good road wins,” Mullens said. “I think the difference is that when you look at Auburn, Florida, Florida has the win against No. 12 Auburn, and Auburn’s two losses are on the road to No. 1 LSU and No. 11 Florida. It probably comes down to schedule strength at this point.”
Most realistic scenario: The Big 12 produces a one-loss conference champion and is left out of the playoff. According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, OU has just an 11.9% chance of making the playoff.
Most important remaining game: Oklahoma at Baylor on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET on ABC). If Baylor loses, the Bears will sink even further down the top 25, which also impacts the significance of the Big 12 title game. If Oklahoma loses, it will be eliminated from top-four discussion.
Best-case scenario: No. 6 Oregon beats No. 7 Utah to finish as the one-loss Pac-12 champ; and LSU runs the table and beats Georgia to win the SEC; and Alabama loses to Auburn. If you’re an Oregon fan, cheer for LSU the whole way out, because if the Tigers beat Georgia to win the SEC, it would eliminate the possibility of Georgia and LSU both finishing in the top four. In order to really feel good about its chances, the Pac-12 should also hope that Auburn beats Alabama in the Iron Bowl, also eliminating the Crimson Tide from the conversation.
Worst-case scenario: The Pac-12 again produces a two-loss conference champion. It’s unlikely, as Utah should win out against UCLA, Colorado and Arizona. ESPN’s FPI gives the Utes more than an 80% chance to win in each of those three games. The same can be said for Oregon against Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon State. The more realistic scenario to worry about would be if Utah wins the Pac-12 and the SEC has more than one team for the committee to consider. Utah started the season with wins against BYU, Northern Illinois and Idaho State — followed by a loss to Southern California. Would Utah’s win over Oregon in the Pac-12 title game be enough to elbow out a second SEC team, a second Big Ten team or even one-loss Oklahoma?
Most realistic scenario: Oregon wins the Pac-12, LSU wins the SEC and Alabama beats Auburn, creating a great debate for the No. 4 spot on Selection Day. Auburn is a common opponent for Alabama and Oregon, and it represents the Ducks’ only loss of the season so far. If the Tide can beat Auburn convincingly, it would be one factor the committee considers on Selection Day if comparing the two teams.
Most important remaining game: The Pac-12 championship game. Assuming both Oregon and Utah enter that game with just one loss, it will be one of the most important games of the final weekend of the season. A win by either team would be more impressive than any opponent Alabama would have defeated all season.