The focus in College Football Playoff discussions is who’s currently in the Top 4—or “who’s your four?”, to take the most overused question asked of TV analysts over the last two years. The question we should be asking is—who controls their destiny? I count six teams that realistically don’t need to worry about anything beyond their own results—short of temporary insanity on the part of the Selection Committee—to make it into the Playoff…
*Clemson—Coming off their win over Florida State, the Tigers have three easy games left—at Syracuse on Saturday, Wake Forest and at South Carolina. This would be followed by an ACC Championship Game, likely against North Carolina.
The games to circle are at South Carolina—the Gamecocks are bad this year, but they’ll still be at home in a rivalry game against an opponent they’ve usually owned. I’d be surprised if South Carolina didn’t at least keep it interesting.
And don’t overlook that potential date with North Carolina. The Tar Heels have a multi-talented quarterback in Marquise Williams, they’re well-coached under Larry Fedora and as a current one-loss team, could be a darkhorse for the Playoff themselves.
*Alabama—The combination of blowing out LSU and Ole Miss losing, has moved the Crimson Tide into control of their destiny in the SEC West and therefore a Playoff spot, even with one loss.
The Tide has a sneaky tough game in Starkville on Saturday, against Mississippi State. Then they play Charleston Southern, followed by a road date at Auburn. Even though you should never overlook a rivalry road game, I’m going to do that here. Auburn doesn’t have the same kind of positive history against ‘Bama that South Carolina has against Clemson.
An SEC Championship Game with Florida is where the real battle comes in. If Florida can beat Florida State and get to that game with one-loss, it could be a de facto national quarterfinal. I’m not yet sold though that the Gators don’t need some help in a way the more respected Tide do not.
*Ohio State/Iowa—Clearly Ohio State, undefeated and ranked #3, doesn’t need any help. Even though Iowa is currently #5, if they win out and beat the Buckeyes in a national championship game they’re going to vault Notre Dame into the 4-spot, even if the Irish win at Stanford.
I simply don’t believe an undefeated Big Ten champion is going to be left out of the Playoff. I don’t really believe it would happen with any Power 5 conference, but to paraphrase something an Iowa fan told me this week, to do this to someone with the power of Jim Delaney would be akin to crossing Don Corleone.
*Baylor/Oklahoma State—The two undefeateds left in the Big 12 are currently #6 and #8, but with multiple marquee game. Baylor hosts Oklahoma on Saturday and goes to TCU on Black Friday. Okie State still has the Bedlam rivalry game with OU on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. And the Bears and Cowboys play each other on November 21. There’s plenty of juice to get either of these teams into the top four if they run the table.
These six basically underscore what I wrote earlier this week in saying that Notre Dame doesn’t control its fate, even at #4, and even with going to Stanford. The political hit that coming games against Wake Forest and Boston College will give them works in combination with the big opponents other contenders have coming up, including potential conference championship games.
Notre Dame’s still in a good position, as is Stanford. You don’t want to rule out Oklahoma, and I even think there’s a chaos scenario where Michigan sneaks its way in. LSU might not be finished, especially if Alabama gets upset at Mississippi State.
By no means am I saying there won’t be some craziness before it’s over—in fact, I fully expect it. I am saying that Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Iowa, Baylor and Oklahoma State should just tune it all out and win their games. They’re the only ones who don’t need at least one event beyond their control to make it into the College Football Playoff.