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Playoff Picture: Week 11

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

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Oregon’s heartbreaking loss to Washington all but ended the Ducks’ hope for a Playoff berth.

The cannibalistic Pac 12 we know and love resurfaced this past week, as Playoff hopefuls Oregon and UCLA were both ousted from contention by lower-ranked conference foes. We are essentially down to eight teams for four spots, with Alabama having no legitimate path and North Carolina not yet in close enough proximity to the top four to feel like a legitimate thought in the committee’s minds. Let’s see where things stand.

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. Georgia (10-0; SOR: 2; SOS: 44)

The Bulldogs’ workmanlike win over Mississippi State kept them in good position at the top of the poll, and another road trip awaits this week at Kentucky. It would be shocking to see Georgia not finish the season undefeated, and then it would simply take a win over LSU to lock them in as the No. 1 seed. Anything can happen though...

2. Ohio State (10-0; SOR: 4; SOS: 60)

Ohio State got back to doing what it usually does against terrible Big Ten teams in its blowout of Indiana, and the only remaining obstacle between a winner-take-all showdown with Michigan is a road matchup with Maryland this weekend. That game is truly the be-all, end-all for both the Buckeyes and Wolverines, as the loser of that game will simply not have a good enough resume to compete for a bid with Tennessee or any one-loss conference champions.

3. Michigan (10-0; SOR: 5; SOS: 82)

As mentioned above, Michigan is in an identical boat to Ohio State when it comes to a spot in the top four — albeit with a (maybe slightly?) more difficult task against Illinois this week. We are working under the assumption that the winner of “The Game” will run roughshod over whichever team is unfortunate enough to emerge from the Big Ten’s mess of a West division in the Big Ten title, assuring them a spot in the final four.

4. TCU (10-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 38)

For the first time this season, it was the Horned Frogs’ defense that shined brightest in last week’s win at Texas. The committee still seems to be selling this team short based on strength of record and schedule, and they are the highest rated in both metrics amongst the remaining undefeated teams. Would they beat any of the teams ranked ahead of them? That may be debatable, but we wonder quietly to ourselves whether this team would find itself ranked higher if its name were “Texas” or “Oklahoma”. The question now for TCU is obviously not if they would make the field at 13-0 (they would), but whether the committee respects them enough to include them as a 12-1 finisher.

5. Tennessee (9-1; SOR: 3; SOS: 3)

The Vols find themselves in an interesting predicament. On one hand, their resume to this point is impressive — namely their top 10 wins over LSU and Alabama. But on the other hand, they are stuck. What do we mean by that? Essentially, Tennessee can not improve its resume from here on out. The Vols have been eliminated from SEC Championship contention, and their final two games against South Carolina and Vanderbilt do nothing for them in terms of adding consequential wins to their profile. So while teams ranked ahead of Tennessee could potentially drop behind it with losses, other teams — like USC or Clemson — could put themselves in position to jump the Vols with conference championship wins. Another thing to keep in mind is Georgia’s standing as the No. 1 team. We have no historical evidence that the committee would match up two teams from the same conference, so in order to avoid a Georgia-Tennessee Playoff semifinal, the committee has to find a reason to slot the Vols at No. 3. So with that in mind, we would posit that Tennessee needs TCU to lose a game to give the Vols any kind of secure feeling about earning a bid. Would we put it past the committee to reverse engineer someone like Ohio State into the No. 1 spot in order to sneak Tennessee in at No. 4? Of course not, but it would be very difficult to justify if Georgia finishes 13-0. Also worth noting: In the eight-year history of the Playoff, only two teams have made the field without winning their own division in their conference. And neither of those teams had their division champ also make the field, as Tennessee would be hoping for with Georgia. The point is, many outlets seem to think Tennessee’s Playoff odds are pretty high, and we’re not totally convinced.

6. LSU (8-2; SOR: 7; SOS: 11)

The Tigers have to win out and then knock off Georgia in the SEC Championship Game to have any shot at finding their way into the field. Even then, would they be able to jump both Georgia and a Tennessee team that beat them by four touchdowns in Baton Rouge to make the top four? The committee is basically ignoring LSU’s season-opening loss to Florida State with how they are treating the Tigers, but would it come back into play in that scenario? We don’t expect LSU to beat Georgia, but it would present an incredibly difficult situation for the committee if that occurred.

7. USC (9-1; SOR: 10; SOS: 65)

Southern Cal has been flying a bit under the radar, but the Trojans suddenly have new life thanks to UCLA’s untimely loss to Arizona this past week. That is to say, USC now controls its own destiny for a Pac 12 Championship and a potential 12-1 finish. The Trojans metrics are nothing to write home about at the moment, but back-to-back wins over UCLA and Notre Dame to finish the regular season could improve those numbers pretty substantially. If they followed that up with a win over either Oregon or Utah in the conference title game, this would be a team with a great case for Playoff inclusion. A loss anywhere in the next three weeks, however, would likely ruin any hopes the Trojans have.

8. Alabama (8-2; SOR: 6; SOS: 6)

There is simply no realistic path to the Playoff for the Tide, which we know breaks the committee’s collective heart. With two losses (albeit close road losses to top-10 teams) and no chance at a conference title, Bama just doesn’t have enough upward mobility to make the field.

9. Clemson (9-1; SOR: 8; SOS: 54)

A team that does have some upward mobility is the Tigers, left for dead by many after their horrendous performance at Notre Dame, but still one that has a realistic path to the Playoff. Clemson doesn’t control its own destiny in our estimation, but any combination of losses by TCU and USC could potentially put the the Tigers in position to ascend into a top-four spot. They would obviously have to win out and capture an ACC title — ideally over a highly ranked North Carolina — and get a favorable assessment from the committee. But the path exists, and that’s all the Tigers can ask for at this point.

10. Utah (8-2; SOR: 14; SOS: 63)

11. Penn State (8-2; SOR: 9; SOS: 14)

12. Oregon (8-2; SOR: 13; SOS: 29)

13. North Carolina (9-1; SOR: 11; SOS: 76)

14. Ole Miss (8-2; SOR: 12; SOS: 39)

15. Kansas State (7-3; SOR: 15; SOS: 23)

16. UCLA (8-2; SOR: 18; SOS: 70)

17. Washington (8-2; SOR: 17; SOS: 67)

18. Notre Dame (7-3; SOR: 21; SOS: 18)

19. Florida State (7-3; SOR: 19; SOS: 43)

20. UCF (8-2; SOR: 20; SOS: 89)

21. Tulane (8-2; SOR: 23; SOS: 85)

22. Oklahoma State (7-3; SOR: 16; SOS: 25)

23. Oregon State (7-3; SOR: 20; SOS: 53)

24. NC State (7-3; SOR: 31; SOS: 57)

25. Cincinnati (8-2; SOR: 25; SOS: 92)


Illinois @ No. 3 Michigan - Noon
No. 4 TCU @ Baylor - Noon
No. 1 Georgia @ Kentucky - 3:30 p.m.
No. 2 Ohio State @ Maryland - 3:30 p.m.
No. 7 USC @ No. 16 USC - 8 p.m.