Charboneau: Where contenders stand in race for playoff

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

“Who’s in?”

It’s the simple yet clear slogan the College Football Playoff uses each week to promote the release of its rankings, and when the latest edition comes out tonight, we’ll at least be closer to answering that question.

Of course, with the conference championship games still on tap for this weekend, things are far from being sorted out, but the picture is a bit clearer. That is, at least for a few teams. None have a spot locked, however, for a few it seems one more win will be all they need.

For a handful more, help is needed, either in teams higher in the rankings losing or the Playoff Committee simply changing their minds.

Eight teams still have a reasonable shot of making the playoff field, and with that, we take a look at what is facing each of those teams heading into the final week of the season.

CLEMSON (11-1)

The Tigers are in the driver’s seat heading into the ACC Championship game against Miami, its loss to Syracuse earlier in the season well out of range. The Tigers are rolling, too, coming off a fairly dominant win over South Carolina in the regular-season finale. As with every team in the hunt this year, however, a loss could almost certainly knock them out of the field. It would likely take wins from Ohio State and TCU to keep Clemson’s hopes alive in the event of a loss to the Hurricanes.


It’s cut and dried for the Sooners, too. Win and you’re in. Lose, and good luck. They’re in that position, of course, because of the loss to Iowa State back in early October. The Sooners and Heisman Trophy favorite QB Baker Mayfield have been dominant ever since and have a road victory over Ohio State under their belt which would help their case if it came down to a battle of two-loss teams. That win is better than most teams have on their resume, but the Sooners would do well to beat TCU for the second time and remove any doubt.


A few weeks ago, everyone was freaking out over the Badgers’ relatively weak schedule. And let’s be clear, it’s weak compared to most of the other contenders. Some of that is the fact they play in the Big Ten West and their crossover schedule avoided the top three teams in the East. The win over Michigan helped but a victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game would secure a playoff spot for the Badgers. Lose, and there’s probably little chance Wisconsin gets in, even over some potential two-loss teams. They’d almost certainly lose out to one-loss Alabama.

AUBURN (10-2)

After the win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl, there are plenty of folks who believe the Tigers are playing as well as any team in the country. That could be the case, but Auburn is in a precarious spot considering it enters this weekend’s SEC Championship game against Georgia with two losses. If the Tigers win, that likely won’t matter and they’ll get a spot, especially considering one of those losses came to Clemson. Lose and there’s simply no way a three-loss team makes it.

GEORGIA (11-1)

The Bulldogs will get another shot at Auburn in the SEC title game, though how eager can they be after getting destroyed by the Tigers a little more than three weeks ago? Of course, that won’t really matter with a spot in the playoffs on the line. A win would make the Bulldogs the SEC champ and all but lock up a spot. Lose, and like the other teams, it gets tougher. The resume would be solid and its only two losses would be to SEC champ Auburn. Throw in wins at Notre Dame at home against Mississippi State and Georgia would at least have a shot in a battle of two-loss teams.

MIAMI (10-1)

The loss on Friday to Pittsburgh hurt the Hurricanes, but only in the sense they have much less wiggle room headed into the ACC Championship game against Clemson. If the Canes had remained unbeaten, a loss to Clemson wouldn’t have necessarily knocked them out of contention. Lose to Clemson now and take a second loss and it likely spells the end for Miami.


Plenty of folks were bothered last season when Ohio State got in the field ahead of Big Ten champion Penn State. Whether that is held against the Buckeyes — or the fact they fell flat in the semifinals against Clemson — remains to be seen. The biggest difference this season is the Buckeyes have a chance to be a conference champion. If they beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, they’re in a good spot. However, they still wouldn’t be a lock with two losses, one an ugly beatdown at the hands of seven-win Iowa. They’d likely not get selected over a two-loss Oklahoma team based on head-to-head but probably would ride the conference title into the playoffs head of two-loss teams from the ACC and SEC, as well as one-loss Alabama.

ALABAMA (11-1)

It all brings us to the Crimson Tide, which has been a part of all three of the previous playoff fields, winning it all in 2015 and reaching the championship game last season. For much of the season, it was assumed they’d be in again. But they got controlled by Auburn last weekend and don’t exactly have a resume that screams playoff team. Their only notable wins were over LSU and Mississippi State. Sure, the fact Florida State fell flat didn’t help, but unless the conference championships produce a bunch of two-loss teams, it looks like Nick Saban will be left trying to talk his team into the field.



Pac-12: Stanford (9-3) vs. Southern Cal (10-2), at Santa Clara, Calif., 8 p.m. (ESPN)


MAC: Toledo (10-2) vs. Akron (7-5), at Ford Field, noon (ESPN)

Big 12: TCU (10-2) vs. Oklahoma (11-1), at Arlington, Texas, 12:30 p.m. (Fox)

SEC: Georgia (11-1) vs. Auburn (10-2), at Atlanta, 4 p.m. (CBS)

Big Ten: Ohio State (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (12-0), at Indianapolis, 8 p.m. (Fox)

ACC: Clemson (11-1) vs. Miami (10-1), at Charlotte, N.C., 8 p.m. (ABC)