The second edition of this season’s College Football Playoff Rankings were released on Tuesday night and everything went as many had expected. Alabama and Clemson were once again Nos. 1 and 2 respectively, with Notre Dame moving up to third and Michigan moving up to fourth thanks to the Crimson Tide’s dismantling of LSU (who dropped from third to seventh) last weekend. But with three weeks left in the regular season, followed by Championship Week in December, there are still opportunities for other teams in the top 10 to move up in the rankings. Plenty of chess pieces may need to fall, but it can be done.
Not only do Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan still have some challenges left in their schedule (with Notre Dame arguably being the most vulnerable team based on their November woes under Brian Kelly), but some of the teams below them have other factors that can work in their favor, provided they keep winning. Here’s a look at these teams and how they can get into the CFP selection committee’s good graces.
Georgia Bulldogs (8-1, 6-1 SEC)
CFP Rank: 5
AP Rank: 5
Remaining Games: vs. No. 24 Auburn (Nov. 10), vs. Massachusetts (Nov. 17), vs. Georgia Tech (Nov. 24), vs. Alabama in the SEC Championship Game (Dec. 1 in Atlanta)
Toughest Game Remaining: All of them except for UMass
The Bulldogs completed half the battle by winning the SEC East with last week’s victory at Kentucky. Georgia is now 3-1 against Top 25 teams this year and is starting to build some momentum headed into the final stretch of the regular season. The Bulldogs need to keep their feet on the gas pedal heading into the SEC title game as Auburn is looking to play spoiler in these final weeks with both Georgia and Alabama left on its schedule. UMass shouldn't offer much resistance while Georgia is 2-2 in the last four meetings with in-state rival Georgia Tech.
While the Bulldogs would love for at least one of the teams ahead of them in the playoff rankings to lose at some point within these next few weeks, the easiest path is to win out in the regular season and then take down the defending national champions for the SEC title.
Oklahoma Sooners (8-1, 5-1 Big 12)
CFP Rank: 6
AP Rank: 6
Remaining Games: vs. Oklahoma State (Nov. 10), vs. Kansas (Nov. 17), at No. 9 West Virginia (Nov. 23), potential Big 12 Championship Game (Dec. 1 in Arlington, Texas)
Toughest Games Remaining: Oklahoma State and West Virginia
The Sooners' October loss to Texas was their only game against a Top 25 team so far. But the good thing for Oklahoma it is on top of the Big 12 standings (tied with West Virginia), and only needs to finish in second to play in the title game Arlington, Texas. There's not much separation at the top of the Big 12, so the Sooners first need to focus on the games ahead before they can worry about playing in AT&T Stadium on Dec. 1. Up first is Bedlam with Oklahoma State this Saturday in Norman. OU is looking for a fourth straight victory over the Cowboys, who need one more win to become bowl eligible. Kansas shouldn't be a problem, especially at home, but the regular-season finale against West Virginia in Morgantown could either be a prelude to a rematch in Arlington the following week or determine whether the Sooners will get a shot at defending their Big 12 crown.
On paper at least, the easiest playoff track for the Sooners goes likes this: Win their final three regular season games, win the Big 12 title, and hope for at least one loss from both Georgia and one of the top four squads. The Sooners may be cheering for Ohio State against Michigan, Notre Dame’s remaining opponents, and Alabama over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
Washington State Cougars (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12)
CFP Rank: 8
AP Rank: 10
Remaining Games: at Colorado (Nov. 10), vs. Arizona (Nov. 17), vs. No. 25 Washington (Nov. 23), potential Pac-12 Championship Game (Nov. 30 in Santa Clara, Calif.)
Toughest Games Remaining: All of the above, but especially the last two
The Cougars have won five straight, they’ve outscored their conference opponents 214-171, and they’re 2-0 against Top 25 team. Washington State fans may have the Apple Cup against Washington circled on their calendars, but Colorado and Arizona are more than capable of ruining the Cougars' postseason aspirations. The Wildcats are 3-0 against the Pac-12 North this year alone, while the Buffaloes have won seven of their last 12 games against the other division. Get past those first two hurdles and then Washington State must end a five-game losing streak to the Huskies, in Seattle.
From a scheduling standpoint, the Cougars have a difficult path to get into the top four. They’ll need to finish the regular season unbeaten, and win their first Pac-12 title since 2002 just to give themselves a chance. That alone should be good enough to pass up No. 7 LSU, who already has two losses. From there Washington State will need Oklahoma, Georgia, and at the very least Michigan, to falter in the weeks ahead to get much consideration from the committee for a spot in the top four.
West Virginia Mountaineers (7-1, 5-1 Big 12)
CFP Rank: 9
AP Rank: 7
Remaining Games: vs. TCU (Nov. 10), at Oklahoma State (Nov. 17), vs. No. 6 Oklahoma (Nov. 23), potential Big 12 Championship Game (Dec. 1 in Arlington, Texas)
Toughest Game Remaining: Oklahoma
The Mountaineers are 2-0 against Top 25 teams this year, they’ve scored 194 points in their last five games, and they’re tied with Oklahoma for first place in the Big 12. But that last one could change with just one game. WVU is heavily favored to beat a TCU team that has lost three of its last four and is in a fight for bowl eligibility. But the Horned Frogs can never be counted out completely either. The home date with Oklahoma State figures to be a high-scoring affair and those games can sometimes come down to just a play or two or which team has the ball last. But all eyes, especially those belonging to the selection committee, will be on the regular-season finale with Oklahoma.
With the Big 12’s history of chaos on Thanksgiving weekend through the years, it’s very possible that West Virginia ends up in the championship game the following week even if the Mountaineers lose one of their remaining games. However, the only way they can stay in the conversation for one of the top four spots is to win out and win the Big 12 Championship Game and even then WVU probably needs some help from teams above them.
Ohio State Buckeyes (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten)
CFP Rank: 10
AP Rank: 8
Remaining Games: at No. 18 Michigan State (Nov. 10), at Maryland (Nov. 17), vs. No. 4 Michigan (Nov. 24), potential Big Ten Championship Game (Dec. 1 in Indianapolis)
Toughest Game Remaining: Michigan
It’s fairly simple (yet very difficult) for the Buckeyes: get past the Spartans and Terrapins, then defeat the Wolverines (who’ve never beaten the Buckeyes in the Jim Harbaugh era) to win the Big Ten East and get into the title game in Indianapolis. The chances that the Wolverines lose before they play the Buckeyes are low considering their opponents (Rutgers, Indiana), so the regular-season finale in Columbus could end up being a "winner-take-all" situation. The loser for all intents and purposes will be eliminated from playoff consideration, barring several unexpected outcomes involving other teams. Even if Ohio State takes down Michigan again, the Buckeyes will have to not only win the Big Ten Championship Game but look good doing so considering whichever team comes out of the West division won't be as highly ranked as other teams in consideration. Iowa is the only team from the Big Ten West in the playoff rankings and the Hawkeyes are No. 21, behind Penn State (No. 20) and Michigan State (No. 18), in addition to Ohio State and Michigan.
So if the Buckeyes win out and take home their third Big Ten title under Meyer, they’ll still need help from the collection of West Virginia, Washington State, Oklahoma and Georgia, or some unexpected source. But rest assured, continuing their winning streak against the Wolverines as well as a road win over the Spartans will carry plenty of weight with the committee. It also would give Ohio State four wins over Top 25 teams this season (Big Ten title game would be a fifth).
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.