There are now 12 teams left in the College Football Playoff race. NC State was officially eliminated Thursday night with its third loss (a shocking one). There are still a lot of games to be played, but it’s few enough that we can start to pin down best-case scenarios for teams. If your team is still alive in the Playoff race, you should know what’s best for your team. So, starting with just this week’s games, I will go through who everyone still alive should root for this week.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Honestly, Alabama can root for whatever it wants. The Tide will be in the Playoff as long as they don’t lose two games. They could lose to Mississippi State or Auburn (and maybe even both) and it wouldn’t even matter. Losing to Georgia could cause some problems depending on how things break, but a Notre Dame or Michigan loss should eliminate any concern if Alabama ends up 12-1. Honestly, Alabama fans should just sit back and enjoy the next few weeks.
Georgia doesn’t want to lose another game. Maybe the Bulldogs can afford to, but that’s highly unlikely. Georgia would like to see either Oklahoma or West Virginia (or both) lose, though. That, along with a loss by either Washington State or Notre Dame, would make the Bulldogs feel safer about getting in with a second loss. But, really, Georgia just doesn’t want to lose again.
Can the Wolverines get in with two losses? The answer is no, because any second loss Michigan takes would be a bad one, unless it’s to Ohio State. The Wolverines can actually clinch the Big Ten East if Ohio State loses this week. It’s a tough call for Michigan if it wants to see Ohio State lose this week or not. On the one hand, that likely means Michigan State remaining ranked through the end of the season. On the other hand, the future win over the Buckeyes wouldn’t look as good. Either way, it doesn’t matter much. Michigan is a virtual lock if it wins out, and would need a ton of help to get in if it loses another game.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Honestly, the one thing the Buckeyes need is to not play terribly. They can’t afford another loss, because that would give Michigan the Big Ten East (unless the Wolverines lose to Rutgers or Indiana). Ohio State just needs to win out. An Oklahoma loss in Bedlam (even better, though less likely, a West Virginia loss to TCU) would make the Buckeyes feel safer, but 12-1 Ohio State should have a very strong Playoff case no matter what, even if the resume is currently weaker. That defense needs drastic improvement, though.
Oklahoma Sooners and West Virginia Mountaineers
These two teams have identical interests. They both want the other to only have one loss when they meet (for the first time) in Week 13. They need Alabama to beat Georgia, or for Georgia to lose another game before it gets to Alabama. Both teams would like to see Ohio State lose this week, then for the Buckeyes to beat Michigan. Or they want Clemson to lose to Boston College this week, and thereby not win the ACC. Florida State beating Notre Dame this week would also be a good thing. If any of those four happens, a one-loss Big 12 champion should feel confident about its Playoff chanced.
Washington State Cougars
The Cougars are at the bottom of the pecking order of one-loss Power 5 teams, and nothing else that happens this season will change that. Washington State needs both the Big 12 and Big Ten champions to have two (or more) losses, however that happens. Georgia beating Alabama would also be very bad for the Cougars, but they don’t have to worry about that for a few weeks. Big Ten and Big 12 chaos is the name of Washington State’s game right now.
Clemson, like Alabama, just needs to not lose more than one game. If that game is this week, there could be some sweating, as Boston College could still win the division. A little chaos sprinkled around would get 11-1 Clemson in anyway, but the Tigers don’t want it to get that complicated. Don’t lose this week, and you can survive one loss and still get in easily.
Boston College Eagles
If Boston College wins out, it would have a decent Playoff case. Purdue winning more would help make that early loss look less bad. Boston College has only one decent path to the Playoff. It needs to win out, and needs Alabama to win out. After that, the Eagles need there to only be two other viable Playoff teams. That means it needs at least two of the following four to happen: Clemson needs to lose a second game; Notre Dame needs to drop at least one game (preferably to Syracuse), probably two; the Big Ten West champion needs to win the Big Ten Championship Game; West Virginia wins the Big 12 with two losses (or anyone else wins it with three). Washington State losing again would make the Eagles feel safer, but probably isn’t necessary. That’s it. That’s the path.
In a way, Syracuse has the same path as Boston College. The Orange cannot win the ACC. They can, however, pick up wins over Notre Dame and Boston College to close the season. If Syracuse can win out and get the same set of scenarios as Boston College above (Clemson finishing at either 12-1 or 10-3 would be best for the Orange; an 11-2 Clemson team makes Syracuse’s loss look worse but still gets into the Playoff ahead of the Orange), then the Orange are probably a fourth Playoff team. Big Ten and Big 12 chaos are important to Syracuse, as would Washington State picking up a second loss.
The Irish are in if they win out, and can probably survive one loss. If they do lose one game, though, they do not want to see both the Big Ten and Big 12 have one-loss champions. 11-1 Notre Dame should feel confident about being ahead of 12-1 Washington State, but not a one-loss Oklahoma, West Virginia, Ohio State, or Michigan (yes, even with that H2H win) team. One upset over one of those four teams should be enough to let an 11-1 Notre Dame team feel safe (though probably not if that upset is Michigan State over Ohio State).
I have no idea what to say about UCF. The resume is weak — far weaker than last year’s — and yet the committee is giving the Knights more respect than any other previous Group of 5 team. It’s clearly the committee reacting to the national mood and not judging the team on its own merits this season. So I guess UCF should keep winning (and winning big), hope for chaos, and see what happens.