As the college football season enters its final month of play, there are still plenty of teams alive for the four playoff spots. After losses by top-10 teams last week, the playoff outlook is beginning to take shape. With the second College Football Playoff rankings due to come out later today, let’s take a look at where each Power-5 conference stands in the playoff race. Some conferences have hopes of getting two teams into the playoff, while others praying for chaos just to get a single team in.
Best Chance to Make the Playoff: Clemson, Miami
Both of these teams are set to play for the ACC championship, but they have some business to take care of before then. Clemson should win the rest of their regular season games, and will be in playoff position should they win the ACC Championship. The Hurricanes can cement themselves as a top team if they follow up last week’s solid performance with another victory against a top-ranked opponent. Even if Miami is unable to beat the Fighting Irish, they will still have a path to make the playoff as a one-loss conference champion if they are able to beat Clemson.
Still in the Hunt: None
Virginia Tech and NC State lost any chance to win their divisions, and their slight playoff hopes evaporated with their respective losses.
Needs Some Chaos: None
The conference is pretty top heavy this season, and a down year by Florida State leaves this conference with only two top teams.
Best Chance to Make the Playoff: Wisconsin
The Big Ten’s last real hope of making the playoff. With Penn State and Ohio State each picking up their second loss, it falls on the Badgers to do the conference proud. The Badgers will run up against a few ranked tests toward the end of the season, and this will hopefully silence some doubters about their strength of schedule. An undefeated Big Ten champion with possibly three top-25 victories will be tough to leave out.
Still in the Hunt: Michigan State, Ohio State
These two teams control their path to Indianapolis, but they will not be able to shed their two losses once they get there. If either of these teams beats the Badgers in the Big Ten championship, it may not be enough to push them into the playoff. Start rooting for Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Clemson to start falling.
Needs Some Chaos: Penn State
Penn State only has two losses, but they were both in conference and to the team’s ahead of them in the standings. Just a few weeks ago, fans in Happy Valley were booking tickets to the college football playoff. Now they find themselves rooting for Ohio State to lose to Illinois and Michigan State to lose to Rutgers just to make the conference championship game. Not looking too good.
Best Chance to Make the Playoff: Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s marquee win is not as powerful as it once was, but the Sooners’ victory over Ohio State still gives them one of the strongest resumes in the country. After beating Oklahoma State last week, the Sooners will have another test against TCU this week. If they win that game and the Big-12 Championship game, the Sooners will have an impressive array of ranked victories. If Notre Dame or one of the SEC’s top teams falters, the door will be wide open for the Sooners.
Still in the Hunt: TCU
Their resume is not as impressive as Oklahoma’s, but it could get much better after this weekend. If the Horned Frogs can beat the Sooners and maybe even beat them again in the Big-12 Championship game, it might be enough for the committee to put them in. TCU may still need a little help in front of them still.
Needs Some Chaos: Oklahoma State
With losses to the top teams in the Big-12, Oklahoma State’s path to a conference championship game is murky at best. If they get there and win by a ton, they will still need teams ahead of them to slip up.
Best Chance to Make the Playoff: Washington
Washington has repeated the formula from last year as they are winning nearly every game on their easy schedule. The only problem was a serious slip up against Arizona State. The Huskies could still win out and threaten for a playoff spot, but the committee is likely going to turn to the other conference champions and Notre Dame before giving the PAC-12 any real consideration
Still in the Hunt: USC
The Trojans are in a similar spot as Washington, but they have one more loss holding them down. If teams ahead of them do not slip up, even a blowout PAC-12 Conference Title will not be enough to save them.
Needs Some Chaos: Stanford
They may have three losses, but Stanford still has a ton to play for. They take on Washington this week and they get Notre Dame in the final game of the season. If the Cardinal win out, they will have two (maybe three) top-10 wins and a conference title in the final month of the season. It may not be enough to overcome three losses, but it might be close in the right circumstance.
Best Chance to Make the Playoff: Georgia and Alabama
These two teams are headed on a collision course for Atlanta. If these two teams win out, the SEC championship game could serve as a de facto play-in game for the playoff. Even the loser of the SEC championship game could be in the playoff if enough things break their way.
Still in the Hunt: Auburn
Even with two losses, Auburn has a chance to win the SEC and make the playoff. They face Georgia and Alabama as the season winds down, and a win in those two games would send the Tigers to Atlanta. If they were to win there, they would merit some serious consideration as a two-loss conference champion
Needs Some Chaos: Mississippi State
This is certainly a long shot, but if Mississippi State can miraculously beat Alabama this weekend, and the Crimson Tide lose again and Auburn loses to Georgia, they might have a shot. If they play an undefeated Georgia in the SEC championship game, they could have a shot. Like a .1% shot, but you never know…
Notre Dame does not have a conference, but they are certainly in a position to make a run at a playoff spot. The best thing on their resume right now is a loss to Georgia, but the Fighting Brian Kelly’s get a chance this week to make a big statement. If they are able to beat Miami and win out, Notre Dame will probably be in the playoff. A loss to Miami or in their final two games will all but eliminate the Fighting Irish.