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Playoff Picture: Week 12

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We take a look at the College Football Playoff poll each week and break down the path to the Playoff.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Notre Dame
Notre Dame is just one win away from becoming the first team to secure a Playoff spot.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Rivalry week is upon us, and with it should some come a great degree of clarity about the Playoff picture. If the top four win out, you’re looking at your four-team field, but if not, that’s where things could get really interesting.

NOTE: We will only provide individual breakdowns for teams that have a reasonable shot to make the Playoff.

***“SOR” denotes strength of record

***“SOS” denotes strength of schedule

1. Alabama (11-0; SOR: 3; SOS: 59)

The Citadel thing was fun while it lasted, but it did show that even a team as good as Alabama is supposed to be is not immune to a bad half of football. The Tide will presumably lay waste to Auburn this weekend in preparation for its showdown with Georgia for the SEC title. That game at least looks a bit more intriguing than it once did with the Bulldogs playing better football and the Tide showing a chink or two in the armor here recently.

2. Clemson (11-0; SOR: 2; SOS: 49)

I’ll just come out and say it: I was a tiny bit concerned that Notre Dame had a chance to jump Clemson in this week’s poll. Not saying I thought it would happen, but there is a non-crazy case to be made there. The truth of the matter is Clemson’s resume has continuously taken hits as the season has progressed, culminating this past week when its quasi-best win (a Syracuse team that had crept up to No. 12) was dump-trucked by the Irish and its other top-20 victim (Boston College) managed to cough up a game to lowly Florida State and plummet out of the poll entirely. This follows teams like NC State and Texas A&M falling by the wayside, and thus the Tigers’ resume is now essentially “We’ve beat a lot of decent teams and won by impressive margins.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and it’s certainly not Clemson’s fault that the ACC is a train wreck this season, but it’s only acceptable provided you remain undefeated.

Notre Dame has the highest ranked win in the nation (over Michigan) and can add three more top-25 wins on top of that. But at the end of the day, the committee hasn’t (and won’t) put the Irish above Clemson because they know that Clemson is the better team.

3. Notre Dame (11-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 48)

The Irish sent a message against Syracuse that they have no intention of giving up their hold on a Playoff spot, and now they simply need to beat a struggling Southern Cal team to lock up a bid.

4. Michigan: (10-1; SOR: 5; SOS: 31)

The Wolverines had looked dominant in recent weeks but were not impressive in an uncomfortable win against middling Indiana this week. Most troubling was their inefficiency in the red zone that resulted in having to kick six field goals of 33 yards or shorter. You can overcome that kind of ineptitude against a team like the Hoosiers, but not against anybody of Playoff caliber. We still think Michigan will handle Ohio State this weekend, but they’ll want to execute better than that.

5. Georgia (10-1; SOR: 4; SOS: 29)

I’m starting to wonder if I wrote the Bulldogs’ game this weekend against Georgia Tech off too quickly. I don’t know if anybody has noticed, but the Yellow Jackets have won four straight games to clinch second place in the ACC Coastal. Not that that’s a bragging point, per se, but given that Tech has turned things around and — fun fact alert — has actually won its last two trips to Athens, it wouldn’t shock me to see Tech hang around.

6. Oklahoma (10-1; SOR: 8; SOS: 47)

The Sooners’ game against West Virginia will send the winner to the Big XII Championship and the loser home (barring a Texas loss to Kansas, in which case we would see an OU-West V rematch). This game has lost a little luster in the wake of the Mountaineers’ loss to Oklahoma State last weekend, but it still means the world to the Sooners’ Playoff hopes. Oklahoma needs some help to get in, but it doesn’t need a particularly crazy scenario. Win your next two, get an Alabama win over Georgia and a Michigan loss somewhere, and you’re probably stealing the No. 4 spot.

7. LSU (9-2; SOR: 6; SOS: 18)

LSU is stuck, for all intents and purposes. The teams behind them have upward mobility, and the Tigers don’t really have any opportunity to improve their lot without utter collapse ahead of them.

8. Washington State (10-1; SOR: 9; SOS: 61)

The Cougars are taking it upon themselves to earn as many style points as possible, even dropping a 55-piece IN THE FIRST HALF on poor Arizona. The problem is that it may not matter. They need exactly what Oklahoma needs, but with the additional element of a loss by the Sooners. Additionally, they are far from safe with regard to being jumped by Ohio State if the Buckeyes are the team that knocks off Michigan. One positive for Wazzu is that its next two opponents - Washington and Utah - have moved up to Nos. 16 and 17 in the poll, offering a couple more opportunities for quality wins. But if we’re being realistic here, there’s no way the committee is including the Cougars at the expense of another one-loss team with a better pedigree. All this is to say, the Cougars need a small miracle to make the field.

9. UCF (10-0; SOR: 10; SOS: 110)

In a week that saw little shake-up in the poll, the committee actually made a pretty historic statement in choosing to slide UCF above a one-loss Power 5 team (especially a name-brand one like Ohio State). Let me paint a scenario here, because the “How could UCF actually make the Playoff” game is one of my favorites. The top 3 win out, UCF wins out, Northwestern wins the Big Ten with four losses, Texas wins the Big XII with three losses, Utah wins the PAC 12 with three losses, and LSU loses to Texas A&M. Your options for the fourth spot? UCF or a bunch of two-loss non-champions. Let’s get the Knights their shot, team chaos.

10. Ohio State (10-1; SOR: 7; SOS: 57)

The Buckeyes held on for dear life against Maryland, needing an errant throw on a Terrapins two-point conversion attempt to avoid the upset. It had to stick in the craw of Ohio State fans to watch the committee chair sit there and say the group just felt that UCF is objectively better than their beloved Buckeyes. They may not be wrong. Ohio State is still alive, but we can only figure out just how alive if it beats Michigan this Saturday.

The rest of the poll:

11. Florida (8-3; SOR: 14; SOS: 40)

12. Penn State (8-3; SOR: 15; SOS: 23)

13. West Virginia (8-2, SOR: 12; SOS: 43)

14. Texas (8-3; SOR: 13; SOS: 6)

15. Kentucky (8-3; SOR: 11; SOS: 19)

16. Washington (8-3; SOR: 19; SOS: 39)

17. Utah (8-3; SOR: 16; SOS: 14)

18. Mississippi State (7-4; SOR: 25; SOS: 34)

19. Northwestern (7-4; SOR: 20; SOS: 5)

20. Syracuse (8-3; SOR: 23; SOS: 68)

21. Utah State (10-1; SOR: 21; SOS: 122)

22. Texas A&M (7-4; SOR: 17; SOS: 21)

23. Boise State (9-2; SOR: 24; SOS: 77)

24. Pittsburgh (7-4; SOR: 28; SOS: 12)

25. Iowa State (6-4; SOR: 22; SOS: 3)

BIGGEST WINNERS: Notre Dame, UCF

BIGGEST LOSERS: West Virginia

GAMES TO WATCH:

-Friday-

No. 6 Oklahoma @ No. 13 West Virginia, 8 p.m.
No. 16 Washington @ No. 8 Washington State, 8:30 p.m.

-Saturday-

No. 4 Michigan @ No. 10 Ohio State, Noon
Georgia Tech @ No. 5 Georgia, Noon
Auburn @ No. 1 Alabama, 3:30 p.m.
South Carolina @ No. 2 Clemson, 7 pm.
No. 7 LSU @ No. 22 Texas A&M, 7:30 p.m.
No. 3 Notre Dame @ USC, 8 p.m.