Since its inception, the College Football Playoff has provided much more intrigue than the BCS system of giving us a two-team National Championship Game in college football. With so much mayhem in recent weeks and so many top teams falling, it is anybody’s guess who will be in the four-team playoff field by the time the conference championship games have been completed.
However, based on where teams are now, how teams are stacking up in their own conferences, and who everyone plays the rest of the way, some teams have clear advantages on getting into the playoff. Here is a look at the four teams most likely to reach the playoff based on a number of factors.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide (1)
Alabama looks like the clear team to beat in college football this year. We’ve heard that before, but this team has an entire defensive line that will go to the NFL and their offense is good enough to beat anyone as well. The road to the playoff is as simple as it gets for them: win out.
vs. (18) Auburn
SEC Championship Game
In a rivalry game, anything is possible and Auburn could potentially knock off Alabama. However, knowing what is at stake and with Head Coach Nick Saban at the helm, it’s unlikely the Crimson Tide fall into a trap against their biggest rival.
In the SEC title game, they could be playing Tennessee or Florida in all likelihood. Neither of those games would be a walk in the park, although Alabama dismantled the Volunteers earlier in the season, 49-10 on the road. Stranger things have happened, but the chances of Alabama missing out on the playoff are very low. Essentially, the team would have to lose to Auburn and lose in the SEC Championship Game to be left out.
The path: Win the SEC Championship.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (2)
The path to the College Football Playoff will be much more difficult for the Ohio State Buckeyes, who already have a loss this season. They have to go through rival No. 3 Michigan just to reach the Big 1o title game, but they get that game at home.
@ Michigan State
vs. (3) Michigan
Big 10 Championship Game
If they can stave off the Wolverines, which is a tall order, then they have to take out what will likely be No. 7 Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game. The Badgers have one of the best defenses in the country and in a potential win-and-you’re-in scenario for both teams, Wisconsin isn’t going to go down without a fight.
Essentially, even with two losses, a Big 10 champion is going to be in the playoff. Now, it comes down to whether that team is going to be Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Penn State. Simply, because they have their rivalry game at home and have experience in big games, Ohio State has an advantage over the other three teams in the conference.
The path: Beat Michigan and win the Big 10 Championship Game.
3. Clemson Tigers (4)
In one of the toughest divisions in college football, Clemson has the inside track. Beating No. 5 Louisville was huge, even though the Cardinals lost 36-10 to Houston on Thursday, ensuring them will plummet in next weeks’ College Football Playoff rankings.
@ Wake Forrest
vs. South Carolina
ACC Championship Game
As long as Clemson wins out, they will go to the title game and will play a very average team there. In all likelihood, it will be Virginia Tech opposing them. The Hokies aren’t a pushover and could knock off the Tigers. Based on the competitiveness of college football this year, Clemson would absolutely have to win the ACC to reach the playoff.
Otherwise, the selection committee could give a two-loss Michigan, a two-loss Louisville, or even a two-loss Oklahoma a berth into the playoff over a Clemson team that was upset in the ACC Championship Game.
With their experience in big games the last couple years, Clemson should reach the playoff. However, they haven’t looked sharp lately and that could cost them if they don’t tighten things up in the next couple weeks.
The path: Win the ACC Championship Game.
4. Washington Huskies (6)
The Pac 12 is ready to blow up the College Football Playoff. There is still so much to be decided, especially when it comes to the Washington Huskies, who have been one of the most surprising teams in college football this season.
vs. Arizona State
@ Washington State
PAC-12 Championship Game
Things are much murkier now that the Huskies fell to (13) USC, one of the hottest teams in college football. They must beat Washington State in the final week of the season to even reach the Pac-12 title game. A loss in that game and their playoff chances are gone.
If they manage to defeat Washington State, winners of eight straight games entering Saturday, they could play Colorado, USC, or Utah depending on what happens over the season’s final two weeks. None of those games would be a walk in the park. Should the Huskies fall to Washington State or in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the playoff committee could decide to award the Pac-12 champion with a berth in the playoff.
However, they could also go with one of the two-loss teams mentioned in the scenario Clemson is upset in the ACC Championship Game.
The path: Beat Washington State, win the Pac-12 Championship Game.
[Featured Image by Elaine Thompson/AP Images]