The College Football Playoff field became clearer over the weekend, but with championship games left to be played for some, it’s still far from decided.
If it all plays out the way many think, the field should come into shape rather simply.
However, if this college football season has taught us anything, it’s that nothing should be assumed.
What does seem clear is that Oklahoma appears to have locked up a spot while Clemson and Alabama would do the same with one more victory in their respective conference championship games. And the Big Ten title game looks like it’s a play-in between Iowa and Michigan State.
But if things don’t go as planned, if chaos reigns on the final weekend, how would things shake out?
For arguments sake, we’re saying there are eight teams left with a shot at getting into the four-team field. Here’s a look at each and the predicted order of the rankings to be released Tuesday.
■Clemson (12-0, CFP rank – 1): The Tigers did just enough to get past a bad South Carolina team on Saturday and remain unbeaten. They’ll likely still sit atop the rankings, though their resume might not be quite as strong as some others in the running. They’ll be favored against North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship game, but that guarantees nothing. The Tar Heels haven’t lost since the opening week of the season and will push Clemson. It would be in Clemson’s best interest to win, because it’s likely not making the field with a loss.
■Alabama (11-1, CFP rank – 2): The Crimson Tide didn’t overwhelm Auburn in the Iron Bowl, but getting a conference win against a rival on the road is nothing to look down upon. Alabama has a dominant defense, one good enough to carry it to another national title. It will need it against Florida in the Southeastern Conference title game considering a loss would give the Tide two for the season and knock them out of the field. However, it would be a monumental upset considering the Gators scored just two points in a loss to Florida State.
■Oklahoma (11-1, CFP rank – 3): The Sooners knew they were up for their final audition on the road against Oklahoma State and they went out in style by destroying their rival, 58-23. It was the end of an impressive three-week stretch where Oklahoma defeated Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State to grasp control of the Big 12. The Big 12 has no championship game, something that hurt the conference last season when TCU got passed by Ohio State, but a repeat isn’t coming this time. The Sooners are a virtual lock for the playoff field.
■Iowa (12-0, CFP rank – 4): Naysayers have been waiting all season for the Hawkeyes to bow out of the playoff chase, but that never happened. Iowa now finds itself in position to go 13-0 and make it impossible to be left out. The resume hasn’t been overly impressive to this point, but a win over what will likely be a top-five team in Michigan State would be the signature win the Hawkeyes would need to be part of the playoff field.
■Michigan State (11-1, CFP rank – 5): The Spartans have been in must-win position ever since losing at Nebraska on Nov. 7, and that doesn’t change now. Win and Michigan State gets in by capping off an impressive resume that includes a win over Oregon and road victories over Ohio State and Michigan. A loss would gave Michigan State two and mean any outside chance at making the field would be lost.
■Ohio State (11-1, CFP rank – 8): The Buckeyes answered the loss at home to Michigan State impressively by going on the road and dismantling a Michigan team that was ranked No. 10 by the playoff committee. Just a week after it appeared the playoff hopes were dashed, the Buckeyes have put themselves in position if Clemson or Alabama is upset. The defending national champion would be an attractive choice for the playoff committee.
■Stanford (10-2, CFP rank – 9): The Cardinal have appeared eliminated a couple times, losing the season-opener at Northwestern then dropping a heartbreaker at home to Oregon a few weeks ago. But they’ve remained ranked fairly high and if they manage to get past Southern Cal in the Pac-12 title game a week after beating Notre Dame on the final play of the game, it might be just enough juice to vault into the top four if Clemson or Alabama fall, though it might take a loss from both.
■North Carolina (11-1, CFP rank – 14): Any path to the playoff field is remote for the Tar Heels, and a loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship game knocks them out for sure. The problem is, a win doesn’t assure them of anything either. Even at 12-1 with a win over Clemson, the loss to South Carolina continues to be a drag and it would be nothing short of a surprise to see UNC moved past the likes of Ohio State or Stanford.