College football has been particularly entertaining and chaotic this year, and with the College Football Playoff (CFP) set to be announced on Dec. 3, the committee will have its hands full.
Here is a breakdown of the top eight teams, comparing their claims to be one of the final four and what they have to do to stake their spot in the College Football Playoff.
As the defending national champion, Clemson is the number one team in the most recent AP polls (the CFP rankings were not released before the printing of this article). The Tigers are 11-1 with their one slip-up coming against Syracuse, and their résumé includes wins over Auburn and Virginia Tech. Clemson controls their own destiny as they play Miami for the ACC Championship on Saturday. If they win that, they are in. Lose, and they will be on the outside looking in.
Oklahoma enters the Big 12 Championship with an 11-1 record and follow Clemson in the polls at number two. Oklahoma’s résumé includes commanding wins over other top ten teams Ohio State and TCU as well as a tough road victory over Oklahoma State. They came up short against Iowa State in a 38-31 loss, but they too control their own destiny. They have a rematch with TCU on Saturday morning; if they win, they are in. If they lose, they still have a case to be in the final four but leave themselves at the mercy of the CFP committee, who rarely rewards teams that lose a conference championship. Heisman-hopeful Baker Mayfield will be looking to cement a spot in the College Football Playoff for the Sooners with another win over TCU.
Wisconsin is the last unbeaten team remaining from a Power 5 conference (University of Central Florida is the only other undefeated team). Their claim to the final four is simple: they have not lost and have the best record. However, they lack a signature win and have no victories over the current top 25, and they have largely flown under the radar this year despite being 12-0. They face Ohio State in the Big Ten title game on Saturday night. If they win, they will add a signature win to their already perfect record, and the committee would add them to the field of four. With a loss, Wisconsin would still be tied for the best record among contenders, but because they have played a relatively weak schedule, they would not qualify for the playoff.
Now the darling of college football after defeating Alabama 26-14 in the Iron Bowl last Saturday, Auburn will face Georgia in the SEC Championship with the winner likely making it into the CFP. Auburn enters the final week with a 10-2 record, and although no two-loss team has qualified for the playoff in years past, Auburn has signature wins over Alabama and Georgia (twice if Auburn wins on Saturday) and lost to Clemson and LSU. The strength of their schedule and peaking late, which the committee rewards, would likely send them into the final four. They will have no chance of qualifying if they lose.
The trickiest team in this group of teams with legitimate hopes of making the College Football Playoff is the perennial favorite, Alabama. Alabama is 11-1 and while the SEC was not as tough this year as in years past, the Tide rolled over their opponents before they stumbled at Auburn last Saturday. To complicate matters, Alabama will not play this weekend, so the committee will have tough decisions to make if any of the teams ranked above Alabama were to lose. In the past, the CFP committee has favored teams who win their final game, and Alabama will not even be playing on Saturday. Alabama also carries the name and national audience, and the media would love for them to be a part of the final four.
Each of these three teams have a tougher path to the CFP. They will be playing in their respective conference championships, and with a victory, there is a good chance that the committee would then reward them with a berth in the playoff. Ohio State would still have two losses—Miami and Georgia would only have one and a better case to make the playoff—but like Alabama, their run of excellence in recent years has earned them the national spotlight, so they may still have a slim chance to get in if they can defeat Wisconsin. Georgia will have a chance to avenge their loss to Auburn, and Miami can put themselves back into the playoff picture if they beat Clemson.