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Playoff Picture: Week 12

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

Oklahoma v Baylor
Oklahoma’s comeback from 25 points down kept the Sooners’ slim Playoff hopes alive and prevented Baylor from notching a signature win.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

One big story from this week was both dark-horse Playoff contenders — Minnesota and Baylor — suffering their first losses of the season. The losses weren’t necessarily surprising, as both teams were Vegas underdogs, but the manner of defeat for each was probably hard to swallow — especially in the case of Baylor, which blew a 28-3 lead against Oklahoma.

The other notable development, of course, was the season-ending hip injury to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The committee had already displaced the Crimson Tide from the top four, but this may have further damaged any remote chance they had of sneaking their way back in.

The top seven remained unchanged from last week, but upheaval could always be just around the corner.

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. LSU (10-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 16)

The Tigers still boast the nation’s best resume, so they remain the clear No. 1 team at this point. That’s the good news. The bad news? Lost in the shadows of the elite, high-flying LSU offense is a defense that is anything but elite. The 37 points allowed to Ole Miss this week marks the fourth time this season the Tigers have allowed at least that many point. Will a mediocre defense cost LSU a game against Texas A&M or Georgia? Maybe, maybe not. Could it cost them in the Playoff? Absolutely. Not to mention, could that obvious weakness potentially cost them the No. 1 seed by the end of the season? We suspect that it could.

2. Ohio State (10-0; SOR: 2; SOS: 54)

The Buckeyes’ stretch run is not enviable, and it’s why we think they still have a shot to steal the No. 1 spot back from LSU before it’s all said and done. If Ohio State beats Penn State and Michigan in back to back weeks to close the regular season, then finishes with a win over a top-15 Minnesota or Wisconsin in the B1G Championship Game, the committee will be hard-pressed to keep them at No. 2. We’ll see how metrics, etc. look at that point, but if Ohio State continues its dominance on both sides of the ball, it wouldn’t be difficult to view them as a more viable top seed than LSU if both were 13-0.

3. Clemson (11-0; SOR: 4; SOS: 68)

The Tigers made quick work of Wake Forest and seem to be full steam ahead toward a fifth straight Playoff berth. South Carolina looks like less of a challenge with each passing day, and the Tigers will face either Virginia, Pitt, or Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship the following week — none of which seem like candidates to derail a focused Clemson team. The Tigers seem locked into the No. 3 spot, barring unexpected results elsewhere.

4. Georgia (9-1; SOR: 3; SOS: 15)

We lamented Georgia’s positioning last week, and while we still wouldn’t tab the Bulldogs as one of the nation’s four best teams, tacking a road win at Auburn onto the resume at least makes it feel less dubious to have them fourth at this juncture. They control their own destiny, and assuming they can handle Texas A&M and Georgia Tech, the SEC Championship date with LSU is their potential ticket to the Playoff.

5. Alabama (9-1; SOR: 7; SOS: 34)

We said last week the Crimson Tide really should have no legitimate claim at a Playoff spot barring significant chaos, and now the injury to Tua only compounds that. The committee was clearly hesitant to drop them without seeing them play a full game without Tua, because apparently watching them score just three points in the second half with Mac Jones under center wasn’t indicative enough of the future. We would call this team dead in the water if its name was anything besides “Alabama,” but we are forced to entertain the uncomfortable possibility of their inclusion until the committee admits that a team with no resume and no starting quarterback probably shouldn’t make their Playoff field.

6. Oregon (9-1; SOR: 8; SOS: 44)

Even if Oregon and Utah didn’t benefit immediately from Alabama’s misfortune in the form of moving up the rankings, the impending jump of a one-loss PAC 12 champion over the Crimson Tide in the final poll now feels more like a formality. We suspect the reason the rankings remained status quo (other than the committee delaying their admittance that Alabama is not the same team without Tua) is the fact that Oregon’s and Utah’s resumes still don’t scream “Playoff team” despite their recent high level of play. However, they should both be in the same type of “Keep your head down and win” mode that Clemson is in, because odds are that will be enough.

7. Utah (9-1; SOR: 10; SOS: 50)

Quick note: People talk a lot about Oregon, but not a lot of people realize how good a team Utah is. The Utes are arguably the third most complete team in the race behind Ohio State and Clemson. Honestly, it may not even be arguable. We’ve mentioned it earlier in the season, but this team has a hyper-efficient veteran quarterback, a talented workhorse running back, and a top-5 defense. They may not be the flashiest, but if they finish 12-1, there should be no question they deserve a spot in the field.

8. Penn State (9-1; SOR: 5; SOS: 25)

The Nittany Lions are not out of this thing. They have a resume worthy of Playoff consideration and are quite frankly a bit undervalued by the committee right now. Of course, it’ll all come out in the wash regardless when they travel to Columbus this weekend. They will either be eliminated by way of a loss to Ohio State, or they will notch the nation’s best win to date and skyrocket up the poll. The odds are against it, but Penn State controls its own destiny, which is about all you can ask this late in the season

9. Oklahoma (9-1; SOR: 12; SOS: 45)

The Sooners staved off Playoff elimination with an incredible 25-point comeback on the road at Baylor, but that’s about where the positives end. You would be hard-pressed to say this team has passed the eye test, and the metrics don’t help them out either. They moved up one whole spot for knocking off a previously unbeaten team, and our belief that the committees harbors very little respect for the Big XII has been all but proven out. That seems odd to say considering the way the conference’s teams have littered the back half of the CFP poll in recent weeks, but it’s clear that the league is on the outside looking in. The Sooners appear to need a whole mess of chaos to threaten the four-team field.

10. Minnesota (9-1; SOR: 14; SOS: 61)

The Gophers suffered their first loss of the season, but they are still not out of contention. They must win out though, and that could obviously prove difficult with games against Wisconsin and either Ohio State or Penn State. Some pundits are questioning why Minnesota isn’t ranked ahead of Penn State by virtue of their head-to-head win over the Nittany Lions, but the committee purportedly only takes head-to-head results into account when they deem the teams comparable enough to warrant it. Penn State’s overall body of work at this point is simply better than Minnesota’s to a degree that the Gophers’ head-to-head win isn’t used as a deciding factor. Anyway, Minnesota’s margin for error is gone, but we can’t truly eliminate this team just yet.

The rest of the poll:

11.Florida (8-2; SOR: 6; SOS: 11)

12. Wisconsin (8-2; SOR: 16; SOS: 29)

13. Michigan (8-2; SOR: 13; SOS: 24)

14. Baylor (9-1; SOR: 9; SOS: 55)

15. Auburn (7-3; SOR: 11; SOS: 2)

16. Notre Dame (8-2; SOR: 17; SOS: 31)

17. Iowa (7-3; SOR: 18; SOS: 27)

18. Memphis (9-1; SOR: 23; SOS: 86)

19. Cincinnati (9-1; SOR: 15; SOS: 71)

20. Boise State (9-1; SOR: 22; SOS: 101)

21. Oklahoma State (7-3; SOR: 27; SOS: 33)

22. Iowa State (6-4; SOR: 32; SOS: 14)

23. USC (7-4; SOR: 24; SOS: 4)

24. Appalachian State (9-1; SOR: 21; SOS: 108)

25. SMU (9-1; SOR: 19; SOS: 88)


No. 8 Penn State @ No. 2 Ohio State - Noon
Texas A&M @ No. 4 Georgia - 3:30 p.m.
Texas @ No. 14 Baylor - 3:30 p.m.
No. 6 Oregon @ Arizona State - 7:30 p.m.
TCU @ No. 9 Oklahoma - 8 p.m.