The teams that control their destiny:
vs. North Carolina (ACC Championship)
Led by sophomore standout quarterback, Deshaun Watson, Clemson sits in the pole position toward the top seed in the College Football Playoff. But Clemson coach Dabo Swinney (creator of the “dab”) will have the Tigers focused one game at a time, starting with the in-state rival Gamecocks. Assuming they get past South Carolina, Clemson will have a win-or-go-home matchup with North Carolina in the ACC Championship. A program that has long been plagued by the most in-opportune losses in seasons of promise, Clemson is just two wins away from playing for it all.
*vs. TBD (SEC Championship)
Much of the same rhetoric for Clemson applies to the Crimson Tide. They need to beat an in-state rival in the midst of a down season, before taking on an inferior opponent (Florida) in the conference championship. Assuming Saban and the Tide avoid the major loss, Alabama will be playing on New Years Day to avenge their semi-final loss last season.
vs. Penn State
*vs. Iowa (Big 10 Championship)
In their two biggest games of the season – @Michigan and @Ohio State – the Spartans trailed for every second of each game. They won both. Sparty abused the Buckeyes in the trenches to pull off an improbable victory without senior quarterback Connor Cook last Saturday, and put themselves in the enviable position of “win and you’re in.” A win on Saturday would set up a play-in game for the Playoff against Iowa.
vs. TBD (Big 10 Championship)
The Hawkeyes are this year’s biggest benefactor of the new Playoff system. With the woefully outdates BCS system, Iowa could have been in the awkward spot of missing out on the championship to a one-loss Alabama team. Though they haven’t faced the teeth of the Big 10, Iowa can shed its “overrated” label with these two wins. It would undoubtedly cement them among the four teams playing for a championship, and put a stamp on their best season under Kirk Ferentz.
Teams that need some help:
Well here the Big 12 is again, on the outside looking in, crossing its fingers that Oklahoma can pull off a victory against Oklahoma State and impress the committee enough to catapult them above Notre Dame. Since one of Iowa or Michigan State will not make the playoff despite both controlling their destiny, it seems likely that one of Notre Dame or Oklahoma will make it, assuming both win out. The case for Oklahoma? Momentum. Last season, Ohio State jumped TCU and Baylor because of how well they had dominated opponents down the stretch. Having leapt to third in the most recent poll, the Sooners look to be in control of that fight for the fourth spot.
A big win in Palo Alto this weekend would make things clearer for the hopeful Irish. They have the best loss (by two against Clemson), but really lack a signature win. Notre Dame/Oklahoma might very well be settled this weekend by default, but if both pull out wins the committee has a tough decision on their hands. Irish fans will be doubling as Cowboys’ fans this weekend.
vs. Clemson (ACC Championship)
If chaos begins to ensue, and who would be surprised if there was chaos at the end of a college football season, North Carolina has a path toward the Playoff. Of course, it starts with the tall task of beating Clemson in the ACC title. Carolina would then need one of the teams ahead of them (most likely Oklahoma or Notre Dame) to lose. Given how prolific Carolina is offensively and how well they have played lately, they might be more of a contender than most fans realize.
*Big Ten Championship vs. Iowa
It’s not likely, but the path still exists for OSU to creep back into playoff contention. First and foremost, the Buckeyes will have to go into the Big House and beat the favored Wolverines, then hope that Penn State can pull off the upset over Michigan State. Then, assuming the Bucks beat Iowa, Urban Meyer and his team would have a compelling argument for that fourth spot if, and only if, some teams ahead of them lose. It doesn’t look good for the most hyped college football team in a long time, but a playoff appearance should not be ruled out yet.
vs. Ohio State
*Big Ten Championship vs. Iowa
See: Ohio State
vs. Notre Dame
*Pac-12 Championship vs. TBD
They have the stage for potentially the biggest win of the weekend. They sit within striking distance – at number nine – and could easily climb into the top six with a win. When comparing resumes to other contenders, the opening game loss to Northwestern hurts, but is hardly unforgiveable. A quality win this weekend over the Irish would put the Cardinal in prime position to take advantage of just a bit of help down the stretch.
Living on a prayer
Third-string quarterbacks from Big 12 teams without quality wins don’t tend to get in.
Probably not enough style points and probably going to lose this weekend anyway.
Beating Bama would look good, but not good enough to remove the Florida Atlantic game from the committee’s minds. The Gators dropped four spots this past week in the polls, too.
Great season. Losing to Notre Dame by 17 probably serves as an elimination.