Which teams are likely headed to the College Football Playoff?
We’ve gotten deep into the college football season—so deep, in fact, that the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings came out Tuesday.
While we can sit and argue over whether the committee got the initial set of rankings right (are the one-loss Texas A&M Aggies really better than the undefeated Washington Huskies?), one thing is certain: The rankings are likely to settle themselves over the next month.
There will be arguments to be made for teams left out of the playoff, but it feels better to be upset about the No. 5 team not getting in than the No. 3 team—as was the case before the playoff was installed.
For the most part, the best teams should distance themselves over the next several weeks.
Now, we’re going to take an early look at the road to the playoff and give our picks for the field of four. First, though, let’s take a look at the opening CFP rankings:
Projected Final Rankings
Major Bowl Projections
Peach Bowl: Alabama vs. Washington
Fiesta Bowl: Clemson vs. Michigan
Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Utah
Sugar Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Nebraska
Orange Bowl: Louisville vs. Wisconsin
Notable Playoff Contenders
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Alabama has been the crown jewel of college football ever since head coach Nick Saban joined the program in 2007. The Crimson Tide have won four national titles since then, and the school is in line to earn its fifth this season.
In fact, Alabama is so heavily favored that most bettors aren’t even getting 2-1 odds, per Odds Shark.
This, of course, doesn’t mean there won’t be a chance for Alabama to stumble somewhere along the way.
The biggest obstacle could come Saturday against the LSU Tigers. This is going to be an intense and hard-hitting affair, and it’s one the Tide cannot take lightly.
Saban commented on the looming matchup, per SEC Country’s Marq Burnett:
Nick Saban on Alabama-LSU: "This is obviously one of the biggest games of the year. It always is."
— Marq Burnett (@Marq_Burnett) November 2, 2016
Sure, Alabama has won five straight over its rival, but that isn’t going to mean much when the two teams suit up to do battle. If Alabama cannot contain Leonard Fournette and the LSU rushing attack, the Crimson Tide could lose.
You better believe the Tigers are confident they can pull off the upset, too.
“They’re going to be fired up and ready to go, but we need to execute, and we have to expect that Alabama’s going to come in here and have great execution,” LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron said, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com. “This is going to be a battle.”
If Alabama gets past LSU, the team will have a great shot at getting into the playoff. Even if the Tide lose in the SEC title game, they might not fall past the No. 4 spot.
Don Juan Moore/Getty Images
The No. 2-ranked Clemson Tigers should reach the playoff if they manage to finish the season undefeated, and the team’s toughest games appear to be behind it.
Clemson bested the Louisville Cardinals (ranked No. 3 in the AP Top 25 at the time) 42-36 on Oct. 1. Last Saturday, the Tigers earned a 37-34 win over the 12th-ranked Florida State Seminoles. The remaining schedule leading up to the ACC Championship Game is comparatively underwhelming.
|Nov. 19||at Wake Forest|
|Nov. 26||South Carolina|
|Dec. 3||ACC Championship Game*|
*If team qualifies
Clemson features an explosive offense under the guidance of star quarterback Deshaun Watson. The team also boasts an underrated defense that has allowed just 17.6 points per game. This team has a chance to win out, but it will be tested by top-tier competition in the playoff.
The question we should be asking is whether the team is built to survive the likes of Alabama or Michigan when it matters most. Clemson couldn’t outlast Alabama in last year’s CFP National Championship, losing 45-40.
This appears to be a more mature and grizzled Clemson team than the one we saw last year, but has it grown enough to earn a victory where last year’s team could not?
6. Ohio State
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press/Associated Press
The Ohio State Buckeyes’ loss to the Penn State Nittany Lions on Oct. 22 was devastating for the team’s championship hopes. While the Buckeyes still have a chance to get into the playoff, they are on the outside looking in.
The path to the playoff is difficult.
The first thing the Buckeyes have to do is make it past the No. 10-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. That will be no easy challenge, even if the Buckeyes are three-score favorites, per Odds Shark.
The biggest test, of course, will come Nov. 26, when Ohio State is set to host the No. 3-ranked Michigan Wolverines. If the Buckeyes best the Wolverines, they’ll have a good shot at moving into the top four. The problem is that Ohio State cannot afford a second loss this season.
A one-loss Buckeyes team might belong in the playoff; it would be hard to argue for a two-loss Ohio State squad.
In addition to Nebraska and Michigan, the Buckeyes also have to beat Michigan State. Though the Spartans are winless in Big Ten play, they put up a strong fight against Michigan a week ago and may take take Ohio State to the limit.
If the Buckeyes win out, they’ll get their shot at the championship. As of now, though, that feels unlikely.