With convincing victories on Saturday by No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson and a tough road win by No. 4 Georgia, there shouldn’t be any change this week in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s top four. That doesn’t mean, though, that the fourth spot will be a lock on Selection Day.
Far from it.
Assuming LSU, Ohio State and Clemson follow the script and keep winning over the next three weeks, there should be a good debate for the fourth spot, as an LSU win in the SEC championship game likely would eliminate Georgia. With only two weeks left in the regular season, plus the conference championship games, time is running out for a jumble of one-loss teams to make a lasting impression on the 13-member selection committee.
Here’s a deeper dive into every contender beyond the top three, ranked in order of their current CFP standing:
No. 4 Georgia
The Bulldogs clinched the SEC East with their win at Auburn, and as long as they avoid an upset over the next two weeks against Texas A&M and a dreadful 2-8 Georgia Tech team, they will be in the SEC championship game playing for a semifinal spot. Georgia’s position is the most straightforward, because if it wins the SEC, it should finish in the top four — most likely along with LSU, provided that is the Tigers’ only loss.
According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, Georgia now has a 42% chance to make the CFP and currently ranks fifth. If Georgia wins out, including a win in the SEC championship game, the Bulldogs would have an 88% chance to make the CFP.
If Georgia loses in the SEC title game, it would fall out and make room for a great debate.
“Our kids were very resilient to come into this place, lose momentum, obviously lose momentum, and be able to go back out and get it; shows some fortitude and the ability to handle adversity,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I’m really proud of our guys. With all of that said, it’s on to the next one. Texas A&M has a great team, a great program, and we’ve got to get better. We’re not where we need to be, but I give Auburn a lot of credit for that, as well.”
No. 5 Alabama
The selection committee will evaluate the impact of the season-ending injury to starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, just as it did for Ohio State in 2014, when the Buckeyes had to replace injured starting quarterback J.T. Barrett with third-string QB Cardale Jones in the regular-season finale against Michigan. The committee will watch backup quarterback Mac Jones against FCS foe Western Carolina on Saturday, but it is the regular-season finale against rival Auburn that will determine whether Alabama will garner top-four consideration on Selection Day.
“If these reports prove to be true, our thoughts and prayers go out to Tua and his family,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock told ESPN on Saturday night. “As for football, three weeks remain in the season, and the selection committee doesn’t project ahead.”
It is unlikely that Tagovailoa’s injury will impact the Crimson Tide’s No. 5 ranking this week, but Alabama has to win convincingly against Auburn and also needs some help to finish in the top four. Without winning the SEC, Alabama has to be “unequivocally” (to use the words of the committee) one of the four best teams in the eyes of the committee — and now it has to look the part without its starting quarterback.
No. 6 Oregon
The Ducks got another step closer to meeting Utah in the Pac-12 title game with their win against Arizona, but their position shouldn’t change much, if at all, this week. They still have to avoid an upset against Arizona State or Oregon State. ESPN’s FPI gives the Ducks more than an 84% chance to win each of their remaining games. The committee knows Oregon’s loss to Auburn was close, and that will be a common opponent for Alabama, which ends the regular season against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Oregon is the committee’s highest-ranked one-loss team from outside the SEC, so it needs to avoid a scenario in which two of those teams are still in the mix on Selection Day.
“Obviously, they lost the first game of the season in the last nine seconds, and they’ve played really well since then,” Hancock said of Oregon on Thursday. “The committee has a lot of respect for their defensive performance, and they’re a really good football team. They’re a physical team. Auburn was a neutral field, last play of the game, and they’ve won [nine] in a row.”
No. 7 Utah
The Utes left no doubt they were the better team in their win against UCLA, and they have to do the same over the next two weeks against Arizona and Colorado — the cellar dwellers of the South division. If Utah can beat Oregon in the conference title game and finish as a one-loss Pac-12 champion, it certainly will be considered for a top-four spot, but it might not edge out a second SEC team if Georgia beats LSU. One reason Utah is ranked behind Oregon is because of the Utes’ loss at USC — a team Oregon beat. That doesn’t mean, though, that Utah can’t overcome it. The bigger problem could be a nonconference schedule that included BYU, Northern Illinois and Idaho State.
No. 8 Minnesota
If Minnesota finishes as a one-loss Big Ten champion, punctuating its season with an upset of a top-four Ohio State team, the Golden Gophers certainly will be considered by the selection committee for a top-four spot. The same can be said if Penn State wins the East and the Gophers beat the Nittany Lions a second time this season. Minnesota would have three wins against ranked opponents — Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State — which would be more than Alabama, Clemson and the Pac-12 winner have on their respective rsums. Minnesota wouldn’t be a guarantee, though, as a one-loss Big Ten champ. It would depend in part on whether there are two SEC teams to consider along with Clemson and the Pac-12 champion.
No. 9 Penn State
If the Nittany Lions finish as one-loss Big Ten champions, they likely would be in the playoff because they would have defeated Ohio State in Columbus and avenged their regular-season loss to Minnesota in the conference championship game. According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, Penn State’s current CFP chances are 12.2%, but a win at Ohio State on Saturday would improve those chances to 62.7%.
No. 10 Oklahoma
The Sooners, who were trailing Baylor by 25 points, changed the playoff picture in the Big 12 with their comeback win on Saturday. It will be intriguing to see what — if any — boost the Sooners get in this week’s rankings. It is possible they stay exactly where they are and unlikely they jump much higher than No. 8, ahead of Minnesota and Penn State. As long as OU is still behind Oregon and Utah, so is the entire Big 12 in the playoff picture. Saturday’s triumph was a boost to the Sooners’ rsum, but it also guaranteed the Big 12 will have a conference champion with at least one loss, as the Bears are no longer undefeated. Oklahoma’s position didn’t change much after Saturday: It still needs to finish as a one-loss Big 12 champion and hope for chaos in the other Power 5 conference races.
No. 13 Baylor
The Bears’ playoff hopes took a significant hit with their loss to Oklahoma, as it now seems unlikely they would finish in the top four even with a Big 12 title. While it’s not impossible, the selection committee has made it clear over the past two weeks that even though Baylor had been undefeated, it didn’t have the rsum or the look of a top-10 team, and that certainly hasn’t changed after Saturday. It’s hard to imagine Baylor making a quantum leap from outside the top 10 into the top four. The more likely scenario, based on what we saw from both teams on Saturday, is that Baylor could spoil the Sooners’ hopes by avenging this loss in the Big 12 title game.