With the final College Football Playoff Rankings being released in just one week, I feel it is appropriate to project what teams will be included in the playoffs, and who will be heading to a New Year's Six bowl. Below I have listed a number of possible scenarios on Championship Weekend, and what teams have a realistic shot at the playoffs.
Alabama has been unstoppable thus far in the 2020 football season. The Tide hold an undefeated record, a pair of CFP top ten wins (#5 Texas A&M and #9 Georgia), and a number of Heisman candidates. While the defense has shown a few inconsistencies, it remains elite, just like their offense. Alabama has no reason to be left out of the playoffs, even with a loss in the SEC Championship Game.
Notre Dame has exceeded expectations in 2020. Their expectations were never low, but adding Clemson and North Carolina definitely made for a tougher path to the College Football Playoff. Notre Dame currently holds the most impressive win in the nation, a double-overtime victory against the then #1 Clemson Tigers. Ian Book is playing at an elite level, and the Notre Dame offensive line is among the nation's best. Notre Dame must face Clemson again in the ACC Championship, but should remain in the College Football Playoff barring a 20+ point loss.
Clemson, despite having a loss, belongs in the conversation for the #1 seed in the College Football Playoff. Alabama will retain that seed (barring the unexpected), but Clemson would play Alabama like Alabama has not seen this year. Clemson faces a "win and you're in" with the ACC Championship Game. With a win, Clemson would secure a top-2 seed in the Playoffs and a trip to the Rose Bowl. With a loss, Clemson will likely be booking flights for the Orange Bowl, as the CFP committee has yet to allow a 2-loss team to compete for a national title. Clemson will be much healthier than they have been all season, so a win over #2 Notre Dame is possible, if not likely at this stage.
Ohio State faces a situation no other contender faces, a six-game schedule. Ohio State has demonstrated their abilities to move the ball with ease behind future first-rounder Justin Fields and star WR Chris Olave. Ohio State has played only one ranked team, beating the Indiana Hoosiers by a touchdown. Ohio State will face Northwestern for the Big 10 Title, and will be favored by a heavy margin. Ohio State will bring many cards to the table with their offense, undefeated record, and Big 10 Title. The College Football Playoff Committee will, however, be forced to compare a 6-0 Ohio State to an 8-1 Texas A&M, who faces a much tougher schedule, and an undefeated AAC Champion in Cincinnati. Ohio State remains a heavy favorite to be included in the College Football Playoff, but they will need to win over the Playoff Committee to truly establish their place among the top teams in the nation.
Texas A&M has appeared at the "First Team Out" in each of the CFP rankings in 2020. The Aggies feature a very strong running game, offensive line, and defense. The Aggies suffered a 28 point loss to current #1 Alabama, but it has been smooth sailing since. They boast the second best win in the nation, taking down #6 Florida following a game-winning field goal from K Seth Small. The Aggies need to beat Tennessee next week in impressive fashion and hope that Clemson or Ohio State stumble in front of them. The Playoffs are a strong possibility for the Aggies, but the end results are mostly out of their control.
The Cincinnati Bearcats have been impressive, to say the least. They have victories over multiple ranked teams, and are undefeated. Cincinnati boasts a strong defense, and could go toe-to-toe with many top Power 5 teams. The problem is that they lack the strength of schedule teams such as Texas A&M and Notre Dame. The Bearcats are absolutely deserving of a playoff spot, but need help from Clemson, Texas A&M, and even Ohio State to do so.
The Playoff Committee surprised everybody a bit when then ranked Iowa State ahead of Cincinnati in the most recent playoff rankings. Iowa State, despite dropping their first game to Louisiana-Lafayette, has rebounded very nicely and punched their ticket to the Big 12 Championship. They will rematch with #11 Oklahoma, and can add a borderline top-10 win to their resume. The playoffs have never featured a two-loss team before, so it is a longshot for Iowa State to be considered. Even with some help from the top five teams, Iowa State will have a very tough time making it into the playoffs. A 9-2 SEC Champion Florida would likely make the playoffs over a 9-2 Big 12 Champion Iowa State.
With a win over Alabama, Florida was a "shoe"-in for the College Football Playoffs. LSU, however, had other plans. Aside from a 41-38 hiccup in College Station, the Gators have been unstoppable. Their offense has played on historic levels behind Heisman frontrunner QB Kyle Trask and TE/WR Kyle Pitts. They have showed some weaknesses on their defense and rushing offense, but it has not had any true impact on the Gators. With two losses (one to a team below .500), the Gators have likely eliminated themselves from the CFP.
The USC Trojans have truly flown under the radar in 2020. The Pac-12 has been largely disregarded ever since Oregon State took down Oregon in the Civil War, but USC is making its case to be included in the College Football Playoff. Colorado's loss to Utah will give the Pac-12 South crown to USC, but the Trojans need a few miracles to enter their name into the playoff arena. Despite the impressive 4th quarter play of Kedon Slovis, the playoffs are likely out of the picture for USC, however, ESPN has given the Trojans a 49% chance to make the playoffs, better than Clemson. It is possible, but highly unlikely for an undefeated USC team to make the playoffs, much less crack the top 8.
What Each Team Must do to go to the Playoffs:
Notre Dame: Beat Clemson OR Clemson win by less than 20 points
Clemson: Beat Notre Dame
Ohio State: Beat Northwestern (A Clemson loss could help)
Texas A&M: Beat Tennessee by 24+ AND Ohio State lose OR Clemson lose
Cincinnati: Beat Tulsa AND Texas A&M lose AND Ohio State lose OR Clemson lose
Iowa State: Beat Oklahoma by 17+ AND Texas A&M lose AND Ohio State lose OR Clemson lose OR Cincinnati lose (Two out of the three)
Florida: Beat Alabama by 10+ AND Texas A&M lose AND Ohio State lose OR Clemson lose
USC: Beat Washington by 21+ AND Florida Lose AND Clemson lose by 15+ AND Texas A&M lose AND Ohio State lose by 10+ (Iowa State loss would also help)
Team Texas A&M
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