The Path To The Playoff For 13 Teams

It’s the home stretch and this college football season is almost over. But thanks to the playoff the drama is heightened and I hope everyone loves it as much as I do. Speaking of the playoff, a lot has been made over who is in and who isn’t. Let me clear it all up for you.

There are 13 teams left with a chance at the playoff. Some are long shots but can’t be counted out just yet. Here are those 14 teams in order from least likely to most likely to make the playoffs along with each team’s path to get there.

1. Duke

Duke needs a lot of help. First off, of course, they have to win out. Secondly, they need Miami to beat Florida State this weekend. This is because the only loss for the Blue Devils came to Miami on the road, and they need Miami to look as good as possible. A win over FSU would do that. Then they need FSU to win out until the conference championship game, where Duke needs to beat them convincingly. They also need Nebraska to lose to either Wisconsin, Minnesota, or, if they make it, in the Big Ten championship game. This is because Nebraska beat Miami earlier this year, so when comparing common opponents, they need Nebraska to get one more loss to hopefully throw that out and in their favor. Duke also needs TCU to lose on the road to Texas, Baylor to lose to Kansas State, Ohio State to lose to Minnesota and Alabama to lose to Mississippi State. With them out of the way, Duke could move up and join the playoff with Oregon/ASU, Mississippi State and possibly TCU. The fourth team would be a big question mark. But that’s their road there. Lots of help needed.

2. Georgia

The losses to South Carolina and Florida are not THAT bad compared to losing at home to Indiana or Virginia Tech. Georgia can beat Auburn and get a big win, then needs Missouri to lose twice so they can get in to the SEC championship. They need Alabama to lose to Mississippi State and Auburn, which helps Auburn look better and their foe in the SEC championship, Mississippi State, look better. They also need Ole Miss to beat Mississippi State so they can hand them their second loss in the championship game. If that happens and Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are the only two loss teams in the SEC at the end of the season, Georgia is in. Alabama and Auburn would each be three loss teams. Winning the SEC with two losses is their ticket in, along with making sure everyone else has at least two losses.

3. Nebraska

Win out. Can we just assume that for everyone at this point? They want Minnesota to beat Ohio State, then they want to beat Wisconsin and Minnesota, then beat a two loss Ohio State in the Big Ten championship. With one road loss to Michigan State, they have one of the better losses. With wins over Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State plus a non-conference win over Miami, they could get in. But they need help as well. TCU and Baylor both need to lose again. They need Arizona State to lose to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship. Fresno State making a bowl game would be slightly helpful to their case as well. They need Alabama to lose to Mississippi State, Auburn to lose to Georgia and Alabama and Missouri to make the SEC championship game, not Georgia. Then they could be in with Mississippi State, Oregon and Florida State.

4. Ole Miss

Sadly, they may be the longest shot because of the loss of one of their best players to injury. You hate to see that kind of thing. But Ole Miss is still positioned to make a playoff run. They need some help though. Alabama has to beat Mississippi State, then lose to Auburn. Auburn has to lose to Georgia. Ole Miss has to run the table. If that happens, they would win the tie breaker with Alabama and Mississippi State and be the two loss team in the SEC championship game, which they would have to win. For most all the SEC teams, just win the SEC championship and you are in quite simply.

5. Auburn

That home loss to Texas A&M hurts. Bad. Now they need Texas A&M to win out so it doesn’t look as bad. They need Alabama and Ole Miss to beat Mississippi State. They need to win the Iron Bowl. If that happens, you could have a three way tie in the SEC west between Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Each has a head to head win and loss. Tie breaker would be who played the better teams from the east division. Auburn has Georgia so that about shuts that case. They would go to the SEC championship against what would hopefully be just a two or three loss Missouri. If they win that game they are in.

6. Ohio State

Win. Convincingly. They have Minnesota and the Big Ten championship to impress. They need Nebraska to get to that game with one loss. They also need TCU and Baylor to each lose another game. They also need Alabama to lose to either Mississippi State or Auburn. If all that happens, you would see the SEC champ, Pac-12 champ, ACC champ and Big Ten champ in the playoffs.

7. Arizona State

Beating Arizona will help, and beating Oregon will help even more. Win out and they are in, plain and simple. If they lose any games they are done.

8. Baylor

Pray that TCU drops a game and beat Kansas State convincingly. Alabama or Mississippi State will lose. Oregon or Arizona State will lose. As long as TCU also loses, you’ve got a clear path if you win out.

9. Alabama

Just win, but one loss might not kill your chances. If they lose to Mississippi State they are done as they wouldn’t be able to make the SEC championship. But if they win that game and then Mississippi State loses again to Ole Miss, then Alabama could drop their game to Auburn if Auburn loses to Georgia. Should that happen they just need Ole Miss to lose to Arkansas to avoid a tie and they would win the SEC west and play in the SEC championship, which, if they win, they would be in. Winning out is the simplest way in obviously, but a loss wouldn’t be the end, unless it is to Mississippi State.

10. TCU

Just win out and hope Alabama loses a game.

11. Florida State

Win convincingly instead of coming from behind. Their last four games could all be against bowl eligible teams in Miami, Boston College, Florida and Duke for the ACC championship. Win them all without letting it stay close. You can probably drop one game, but it cannot be the ACC championship. If you’re going to lose one it needs to be Miami. Then you just need to make sure Alabama, TCU, Baylor and Ohio State all lose another game and you’re in.

12. Oregon

Rest of the regular season is a cake walk. Pac-12 championship looms large though. Could be Arizona State, USC, UCLA or Arizona. Who knows. Either way that’s the only hurdle left to getting in. Lose any remaining game and you’re out.

13. Mississippi State

They are the only team that can lose a remaining game and still easily get in. Win out and it’s a no brainer. Lose just the SEC championship and they probably still get in over whoever beats them in that game. Lose to Alabama and it’s ok if Alabama loses to Auburn. Lose to Ole Miss and it’s ok you still get to play for the SEC championship. Lose to both Alabama and Ole Miss? Now you’re out. You can’t make a tie breaking scenario that works for you with Alabama. They would beat you out for the SEC championship game even if they lose to Auburn. So lose any of either Alabama, Ole Miss or SEC championship and you should be fine. Lose more than once and goodbye. But knowing you can lose and get away with it gives them the easiest path to the playoff.

There you have it. What’s the most likely scenario? Most likely you get either Mississippi State or Alabama from the SEC, Oregon or Arizona State from the Pac-12, Florida State or Ohio State, and TCU or Baylor. Realistically only 8 teams have a good shot at this point.

What’s the nightmare scenario? Mississippi State loses to Alabama and both teams win out from there. If it’s between a bunch of one loss teams in Oregon, Florida State, TCU, Baylor, Ohio State and Mississippi State, then you likely don’t see two teams from a conference in the playoff. But if two or three of those five teams drop one more game, you might see Alabama, Oregon, TCU and Mississippi State in the playoff.

I personally think we’re going to see #1 Alabama vs #4 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl and #2 Oregon vs #3 TCU in the Rose Bowl, with Alabama and Oregon meeting for the championship.