Another week in the College Football season has now passed and with new results there are new rankings. In its second ranking of the season, the College Football Playoff Committee decided that the top four teams in the country are Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, and TCU, in that order.
From this point on, there are many different scenarios for the final four that will play for the national championship and many of the teams are newcomers, too. With this in mind, here are some paths for the following teams to take to the playoff.
TCU Horned Frogs
- Path: Win out through the Big 12 Championship
- Remaining Schedule: @ Texas, @ Baylor, vs. Iowa State
An underdog all year, TCU has been a surprise to watch and seems to be the darling team for those rooting for a new face in the playoff.
Last season, the Cincinnati Bearcats showed that a surprise breakthrough was possible, but the Bearcats faced a much softer schedule. Through nine games last season, the Bearcats had South Florida, SMU, and East Carolina left to play. None of those teams are in a Power Five conference and TCU is being asked to face Texas and Baylor on the road and then come home for Iowa State to wrap up the year. Texas almost beat Alabama at home earlier in the year and Baylor is second in the Big 12 standings. Given that the Horned Frogs have played a lighter schedule and they bear the burden of proof as a non-traditional playoff power, a loss should down the team's hopes of getting to the big stage in the final four.
Although it will be a tough road, TCU does control its own destiny.
- Path: Beat Ohio State, win the Big Ten
- Remaining Schedule: vs. Nebraska, vs. Illinois, @ Ohio State
Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines finally broke through and made the playoff last season after the team beat Ohio State. Previously, Harbaugh was 0-5 against Ohio State. With a win against the Buckeyes under his belt, Harbaugh should know how hard it will be to do it again when the Wolverines travel to The Shoe to end their regular season.
If the Wolverines can pull out the victory at Columbus, only an upset against Nebraska or Illinois could down their season. In the Big Ten West, Illinois is only 4-2 in conference play and Iowa is right behind them at 3-3. Iowa already lost to Michigan 27-14 this year and Illinois is the only team ranked in the division (No. 21) and they will play as big underdogs in the Big House.
Per usual, all the pressure will be on Harbaugh to take down the Wolverines' rival and keep championship hopes alive.
- Path: Survive the remaining schedule and win the shootout vs. USC in the Pac-12 championship game
- Remaining Schedule: vs. Washington, vs. Utah, @ Oregon State
Amongst the biggest things you couldn't have seen coming this season: Oregon recovering from a 49-3 season opening loss by going undefeated since and elevating Bo Nix into a Heisman contender. Not done yet, Nix has already set his highest single season touchdown mark (22) and only thrown five picks to compensate. He also has an immaculate 73.3% completion percentage and is helping the Oregon offense explode for 43.1 points per game despite almost being shutout in Week 1.
Like the other best team in the conference (USC), the Ducks give up a concerning number of points to be considered a top four team at the moment and that could certainly be their achilles heel. To put it simply: in a shootout to end the season and make the playoff, would you rather have Nix or the Trojans' Caleb Williams under center? Williams currently has a 28-1 touchdown to interception ratio and could certainly find success against the Oregon defense. In a close game led by offense, you'd have to think the edge may go to USC as they seem to have the better quarterback.
Even if the Ducks have success the rest of the season they may be left out. It is hard to unsee the beatdown they suffered earlier on in the season and the last thing anyone wants to see on the biggest stage is another blowout.
- Path: Strong offense overcomes three ranked opponents, wins the Pac-12 while TCU and Tennessee stay down
- Remaining Schedule: vs. Colorado, @ UCLA, vs. Notre Dame
The Trojans have been an incredible offense to watch this season under first year head coach Lincoln Riley. Scoring 41 per game, the offense is ranked at seventh best in the country.
USC will surely need the points, too, if they plan to make it out of the remaining schedule without a loss. The team just allowed 35 to the third worst scoring offense in the Pac-12 in California and must now overcome at least two ranked opponents moving forward in UCLA and Notre Dame. If Riley and the Trojans run the table and beat Oregon in the Pac-12 championship, they should be primed to make it in. They would likely finish the season with three ranked wins and only one loss by just a point on the road at Utah, one of the toughest opponents in the conference.
The Trojans winning out and not making the playoff would be shocking. Yet, there is a realistic scenario in which this could happen. This circumstance would likely only occur if TCU won out and hogged up a playoff spot for being undefeated. You could also safely assume that either Ohio State or Michigan make it in after one beats the other and wins the Big Ten. Then, in a surprising upset, LSU Tigers beating the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC championship game could give the voters a top four made of Ohio State or Michigan, TCU, LSU, and Georgia. For losing once with a strong resume, the Bulldogs could drop but stay in while the Tigers earn a spot for wins against Alabama and Georgia.
- Path: Win out and beat the undefeated Georgia Bulldogs in the conference championship
- Remaining Schedule: @ Arkansas, vs. UAB, @ Texas A&M
After beating Alabama in Week 10, the Tigers have suddenly become a dark horse in the race for a playoff spot. The Tigers aren't statistically going to blow anyone away but their resume could. Now first in the SEC West with a 5-1 conference record, the Tigers can make the SEC championship game by winning out against their remaining schedule. If LSU can make it to Atlanta for a December clash against Georgia, they would have a small chance of pulling out a victory there. With that win, LSU would then have a victory against the likely first ranked Bulldogs and a strongly ranked Alabama team on the season.
Even with two losses, the Tigers could force the committee to sneak them into the playoff as they would have the best two wins of any team in the country.
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