The top 10
Here’s the path to the playoff for the top 10, with the full rankings below:
1. Ohio State (12-0): Saturday vs. No. 8 Wisconsin in Big Ten championship game (8 p.m., Fox)
2. LSU (12-0): Saturday vs. No. 4 Georgia in SEC championship game (4 p.m., CBS)
3. Clemson (12-0): Saturday vs. No. 23 Virginia in ACC championship game (7:30 p.m., ABC)
5. Utah (11-1): Friday vs. No. 13 Oregon in Pac-12 championship game (8 p.m., ABC)
6. Oklahoma (11-1): Saturday vs. No. 7 Baylor in Big 12 championship game (noon, ABC)
7. Baylor (11-1): Saturday vs. No. 6 Oklahoma in Big 12 championship game
Here’s a look at three outcomes, based on their varying levels of chaos:
Chaos-free (or at least chaos-light)
- Ohio State and Clemson win, as expected. (They’re 16½- and 28½-point favorites as of Tuesday evening.)
- Georgia beats LSU.
It’s hard to see Utah or the Baylor-Oklahoma winner leapfrogging two one-loss SEC teams — Georgia and LSU in this scenario — to squeeze into the final four. Consider the Bulldogs’ résumé should this scenario unfold: They would have wins over 10-2 Notre Dame, 10-2 Florida, 9-3 Auburn (which beat Alabama) and 12-1 LSU. The Tigers’ lone loss would be to the team that has all of those impressive wins.
- Ohio State and Clemson win.
- LSU beats Georgia.
- Utah beats Oregon.
Under this scenario, the committee probably will be choosing between Utah and the Oklahoma-Baylor winner for the fourth spot alongside Ohio State, Clemson and LSU. Of the three, the Utes might have the edge: They allowed seven points or fewer in five of their last seven regular season games, and only one of their eight wins since their loss to Southern California on Sept. 20 was by fewer than 18 points. Utah has the nation’s best rushing defense at 56.3 yards per game, which is nearly 15 yards better than No. 2 Georgia, and the offense ranks a respectable 10th in Bill Connelly’s SP+ efficiency metric.
Will the committee be wary of a Sooners team that hasn’t been all that competitive in two of its three playoff appearances? Baylor has looked dominant in its past two games, beating Texas and Kansas by a combined 85-16, but the game before that was its second-half collapse against Oklahoma, and the Bears also have close-shave victories over lesser lights Texas Tech, West Virginia and TCU.
- Virginia beats Clemson.
- Wisconsin beats Ohio State.
- LSU beats Georgia.
- Oregon beats Utah.
- Oklahoma and Baylor play a tight game.
This isn’t as chaotic as it seems, at least for three of the selections. Clemson and Ohio State probably are getting in even with one loss, though it could be a tense wait for a Tigers team that didn’t exactly play a demanding schedule. But considering Clemson’s late-season dominance — since a one-point escape against North Carolina on Sept. 28, the Tigers’ smallest win was 31 points — the committee seems likely to give it a pass. Much of the same can be said about Ohio State: Apart from an 11-point win over Penn State, the Buckeyes barely have been challenged. LSU would remain undefeated in this scenario to join Ohio State and Clemson.
That leaves the fourth pick, which is where the committee will find trouble. If Oklahoma wins close, does it take a one-loss Sooners team with a bad defense and two narrow wins over Baylor? If Baylor wins close, does it take a one-loss Bears team that could only split its season series with Oklahoma? Or would it take a two-loss Wisconsin team that would have wins over Ohio State, Minnesota and Michigan? Or two-loss Georgia with its still-very-good résumé?
A two-loss team making the playoff would break new ground. A two-loss team getting picked over a one-loss Power Five champion would be groundbreaking, too, and would pour gasoline on the argument that the playoff should be expanded to eight teams.
The complete rankings
21. Appalachian State (11-1)
22. Southern California (8-4)