Last week we looked extensively at Wisconsin’s chances to make the College Football Playoff. We will be re-evaluating that in future weeks. For this week, we are going to briefly look at the big picture and see what it will take for each top-25 team to make the playoff. For some it will not take much (Alabama) for some it will take the near impossible and their best chance is to play spoiler. By understanding other team’s chances to make the playoffs, we can see why each game is important and how each game affects the Badgers. Keep in mind that in the last two years, teams that ranked in the double digits made the playoff. Who could it be this year…? The rankings we will be going off are the playoff rankings that were revealed Tuesday night by the selection committee
1. Alabama (8-0)
It’s simple for the number one team in the country. Win out and you’re in. A loss to LSU or Auburn in the next few weeks could confuse things, but if Alabama at least makes it to the SEC championship game, they will be in.
2. Clemson (8-0)
Despite Clemson’s best efforts, they are still 8-0 and in the driver’s seat for the ACC. If they win out they are in. If they lose in the ACC Championship game, however, to say North Carolina or Virginia Tech, they may miss out. Clemson has won its close games this year and despite looking very beatable at times, they still find a way to win. If they do slip up, the door opens for Louisville, an SEC runner-up, a Big Ten runner-up, and even a two-loss conference champion. Clemson losing would classify as chaos.
3. Michigan (8-0)
For Michigan, if they win out they are in. If they lose to Ohio State in the game, or if they lose in the Big-10 championship they could still be in, but they need the Pac-12 or the ACC champion to have two losses. Michigan has only beaten one team that was ranked at the time they played and has only left the state of Michigan once this season and that was to play Rutgers. Is Michigan as good as their ranking? Will they give the Big-10 the best chance in the playoff? The results on November 26 will answer those questions.
4. Texas A&M (7-1)
Texas A&M should be very happy about this high ranking because it is likely the highest they will find themselves. Unless Alabama loses two games, A&M will not have any chance of winning the conference. This means at best they will be the second team taken from the SEC. In order for this to happen another conference (Big-10, PAC-12, ACC) will get no teams. It is possible given what can happen, but it will be hard for A&M to make a case that two teams from the same division should make the playoff, let alone from the same conference.
5. Washington (8-0)
Despite feeling disrespected by the section committee that put Texas A&M ahead of them, Washington is in a much better position to make the playoff. If they win out and win the championship game, then they will get in. If they pick up one loss, however, at any step, then they likely will be left out of the playoff along with the rest of their conference. FPI gives Washington a 30 percent chance of winning out.
6. Ohio State (7-1)
Even with their loss to Penn State, Ohio State is in a good position to make the playoff. If they beat Michigan on November 26 and then win the conference the next week, they will make it into the playoff. If they lose in the conference championship they could still make it, but they would need a lot of help from other two-loss teams. For Ohio State, another loss could spell disaster, so they should best avoid it for as long as possible.
7. Louisville (7-1)
Of all teams, Louisville is likely the least thrilled by the results of the first ranking. They are the third-ranked one-loss team, and they need a lot of help ahead of them in order to make the playoff. Clemson is unlikely to lose twice before the end of the season, so Louisville’s conference hopes are all but gone. They might stand a chance if compared to a two-loss champion from the ACC or another conference, but if mostly chalk prevails, the Louisville Cardinals will likely be relegated to the Orange Bowl and not the Playoff.
8. Wisconsin (6-2)
We looked at Wisconsin’s chances at the playoff last week. After their thrilling win over Nebraska, and after a few Big-12 teams laid an egg, the Badgers are in a better position now. They still need a lot to break their way. It starts this week with a tough game against Northwestern. If the Badgers escape from Evanston unscathed, they will need to root hard for Ohio State to beat Nebraska. If this happens then Wisconsin is in position to win the Big Ten West. We will evaluate Wisconsin’s chances again after this week, and hopefully we will find them as leaders in their division.
9. Auburn (6-2)
Auburn needs a great deal to happen, most of it which is out of their hands. They need Texas A&M to lose another game and then they need to beat Alabama in the last week of the season. If this happens then Auburn would make it to the SEC championship game and put themselves in position for the playoff. FPI only gives Auburn a 23 percent chance in the Iron Bowl, and a two-loss Auburn in the SEC championship game would certainly classify as chaos.
10. Nebraska (7-1)
Despite losing last week in overtime to Wisconsin, Nebraska still controls their own future. If they beat Ohio State this week and win out to the Big Ten Championship game, they will be in prime position to make the playoff. But with the FPI only giving the Huskers a .5 percent chance of winning out, the Huskers are going to have to defy some serious odds to make the playoff. At least they have control over their path.
11. Florida (6-1)
Florida should send a very nice gift basket to whomever put them in the SEC East. Their toughest competitor is Kentucky right now, and Florida would have to lose two more conference games in order for them to jump to first in the division. Florida should remain with one loss until their November 19 matchup with LSU. If they get past this game, then they will be in the SEC championship, and it is possible that the SEC champion, even if they have as many as three losses, will make the playoff. Florida is in an enviable position as they are all but guaranteed a spot in the conference championship game. Unless they lose to Arkansas or South Carolina.
12. Penn State (6-2)
Well, Penn State, technically you’re still alive. If you win out and Michigan loses twice and you win the Big-10 championship game, then maybe you have a shot at the playoff. You should really just be happy to be ranked this high after losing by 39 to Michigan a little over a month ago.
13. LSU (5-2)
With only one loss in conference, LSU almost controls their own destiny. They still need Auburn to lose again, but they play Alabama so that is possible. LSU will struggle to look too far ahead as they play Alabama this week. A win in this game would turn the whole SEC and the whole country on its head. A loss here would all but end LSU’s chances at the playoff. Talk about a big game.
14. Oklahoma (6-2)
Oklahoma is in prime position to win the Big-12, but in a conference where they are the highest ranked team, that win may not mean enough to make it to the playoff.
15. Colorado (6-2)
Colorado was able to hang with Michigan when they played in week three, and lost to a resurgent USC a few weeks after that. Still, with two losses, Colorado controls its destiny. They still have Washington State and Utah on their schedule, but both of those games are at home, and if they win out they will have a chance to reach the championship game. Win there and anything can happen.
16. Utah (7-2)
Utah, you had a good chance at it. The loss to Washington hurts, but the Utes put up a good fight and are not out of the race. If they beat Colorado in their last game of the season they could still make it to the PAC-12 championship game and get another shot at Washington. Revenge and a conference title would be so sweet for Utah.
17. Baylor (6-1)
See West Virginia. And get a conference championship game.
18. Oklahoma State (6-2)
With two losses and without a conference championship, Oklahoma State is playing for pride and hoping for chaos. The win over West Virginia was big, but it also all but shuts the conference out of a playoff spot.
19. Virginia Tech (6-2)
Virginia Tech owns the tiebreaker with North Carolina and is in prime position to represent the Coastal division in the ACC championship game. Beat Clemson in this game and Virginia Tech has a chance, but they would need people to lose in front of them like the Pac-12 and Big 10 champions.
20. West Virginia (6-1)
If West Virginia went undefeated, they may have had a chance. They lost and now they sit without controlling much of their future. If they win out they would have to hope for chaos ahead of them with two and three loss conference champions in the ACC, SEC, Big 10 and PAC-12. Not likely going to happen.
21. North Carolina (6-2)
Since they lost to Virginia Tech earlier in the season, UNC needs the Hokies to lose again if they want to make the ACC championship game. Close wins against FSU and Pitt reflect well on the Tar Heels, but an early season loss to Georgia looks more painful as the weeks go on. If UNC does make the ACC championship game, they will have a chance to spoil Clemson’s season.
22. Florida State (5-3)
Florida State got a lot of respect as the only three-loss team in the rankings, but their playoff hopes are non-existent. After losing to UNC, Clemson and Louisville, their ACC hopes went away. Now Florida State should turn their attention to ruining Florida’s season in their November 26 game.
23. Western Michigan (8-0)
Despite being ranked number 17 in the AP poll, the Broncos find themselves at #23 in the CFB playoff rankings. They likely will not make much noise in the four-team playoff scenario, but they could find their way into the group of five spot on New Year’s if they win out.
24. Boise State (7-1)
Boise State’s best hope now is to find its way into a New Year’s six bowl. For this to happen, they need Western Michigan to lose in front of them. Western Michigan’s remaining opponents have a combined record of 11-14. Boise State is in trouble.
25. Washington State (6-2)
Washington State has a great chance to play spoiler to their in-state rivals in their November 25 matchup. If Washington State wins this game they will likely represent the PAC-12 North in the PAC-12 championship game and all but end Washington’s chances at the playoff.