Fourteen weeks of college football, 12 regular season games for all (well, MOST of) 129 FBS programs, all in the books. We are down to the conference championship weekend, and we've essentially eliminated all but seven teams when it comes to the College Football Playoff. Five of the schools are no surprise at all, they've been to the playoff before. Then there are Utah and Baylor, two potential gate crashers.
If you're a believer in the odds board, it's going to be awfully tough for the Big XII to get a team into the four team dance:
As a cross reference for the gambling information above, here are the entire AP rankings following Week 14 of the regular season:
1. LSU (40) 12-0, 1528 points
2. Ohio State (19) 12-0, 1498 points
3. Clemson (3) 12-0, 1437 points
4. Georgia 11-1, 1356 points
5. Utah 11-1, 1275 points
6. Oklahoma, 11-1, 1257 points
7. Florida 10-2, 1135 points
8. Baylor 11-1, 1074 points
9. Alabama 10-2, 995 points
10. Wisconsin 10-2, 971 points
11. Auburn 9-3, 957 points
12. Penn State 10-2, 890 points
13. Oregon 10-2, 799 points
14. Notre Dame 10-2, 734 points
15. Minnesota 10-2, 683 points
16. Memphis 11-1, 615 points
17. Michigan 9-3, 603 points
18. Iowa 9-3, 537 points
19. Boise State 11-1, 463 points
20. Appalachian State 11-1, 288 points
21. Cincinnati 10-2, 237 points
22. Virginia 9-3, 231 points
23. Navy 9-2, 216 points
24. USC 8-4, 157 points
25. Air Force 10-2, 65 points
Others receiving votes: SMU 50, Oklahoma State 36, Kansas State 36, UCF 6, Virginia Tech 6, Iowa State 5, Arizona State 4, California 3, Washington 2, North Dakota State 1
So let's assess the possibilities for each of the seven remaining survivors. Are there any that have essentially clinched a playoff spot already, and how much help do the schools that are on the outside looking in need in order to gain admittance? Let's start with the four teams that will undoubtedly fill this week's mock playoff foursome when the new rankings come out tonight:
1. OHIO STATE (12-0, 9-0)
GOOD WINS: vs Cincinnati 42-0, @ Indiana 51-10, vs Wisconsin 38-7, vs Penn State 28-17, @ Michigan 56-27
12/7 Big Ten Title Game vs #10 Wisconsin
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: If each data point is truly evaluated equally, with no single game being more crucial than another, and that should include conference title games, then it's hard to imagine Ohio State getting bumped from the top spot all the way out of the top four with a respectable loss to Wisconsin in the conference title game. Now, for the record, I think Ohio State is going to win by three touchdowns, but let's play out the hypothetical — If Ohio State were on the wrong end of a blowout, would they fall out of the top four? I still tend to doubt it. I think Ohio State is in, regardless.
2. LSU (12-0, 8-0)
GOOD WINS: vs Florida 42-28, vs Auburn 23-20, @ Alabama 46-41
12/7 SEC Title Game vs #4 Georgia
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: Oddly enough, even though the committee feels stringer about Ohio State's body of work, I feel stronger that LSU should be able to withstand a bad loss in a conference title game, in part because they are playing a stronger opponent, 4th ranked Georgia, as opposed to fringe top ten Wisconsin for Ohio State. I think LSU has basically clinched a playoff spot. That said, all three of the teams outside of the top four with a shot at the playoff should be rooting hard for LSU to hand Georgia a second loss. A Georgia win essentially locks up two spots for the SEC in the final four.
3. CLEMSON (12-0, 9-0)
GOOD WINS: None
12/7 ACC Title Game vs #22 Virginia
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: The most interesting scenario of all the games this weekend would unfold if Virginia (a four touchdown underdog) were to knock off Clemson in the ACC title game. Clemson has not beaten a single team that is currently getting a vote in the AP poll. Not one. On the other hand, since a one point scare against North Carolina in late September, they've outscored their opponents 353-61 over seven games. I actually like Dabo Swinney and his program, but Clemson's fate after a loss to Virginia would give us a huge window into what the committee values come final selection time.
4. GEORGIA (11-1, 7-1)
GOOD WINS: vs Notre Dame 23-17, vs Florida 24-17, @ Auburn 21-14, vs Texas A&M 19-13
LOSS: vs South Carolina 20-17
12/7 SEC Title Game vs #1 LSU
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: This one is pretty simple — if Georgia wins, they're in the playoff. If they lose, their two losses will likely be enough to nudge them behind either Utah (if the Ites beat Oregon) and the Big XII champion, especially if it's Oklahoma. If Georgia's other loss were to an actual good team, then a two loss Georgia would be more complicated, but you can't lose to a 4-8 South Carolina and expect loose margin for error.
NEED A LITTLE HELP (3 teams)
UTAH (11-1, 8-1)
GOOD WINS: @ Washington 33-28
LOSS: @ USC 30-23
12/6 Pac-12 Title Game vs #13 Oregon
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: Utah is like a poor man's Clemson, the difference being one blemish on the Utes' record, and hence, they're ranking on the outside of the top four. Their one loss is to a decent 8-4 USC squad, and their best win is a road win against 7-5 Washington. Their margin of victory in the other ten wins is, on average, 29.4 points. A Utah win and a Georgia loss essentially guarantees a beauty contest between the Utes and the Big XII title game winner (more on those two teams in a minute) for a playoff spot. A Utah loss — keep in mind, they play Friday night, before all the other conferences play on Saturday — adds even more juice to the Big XII title game, since the winner would theoretically have one big obstacle to the playoff removed.
OKLAHOMA (11-1, 8-1)
GOOD WINS: @ Baylor 34-31, @ Oklahoma State 34-16
LOSS: @ Kansas State 48-41
12/7 Big XII Title Game vs #8 Baylor
BAYLOR (11-1, 8-1)
GOOD WINS: @ Kansas State 31-12, @ Oklahoma State 45-27
LOSS: vs Oklahoma 34-31
12/7 Big XII Title Game vs #6 Oklahoma
BIG XII TITLE GAME WINNER PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: It behooves the winner of Baylor-Oklahoma, Part II to blow out the opposition. The more impressive the win, the better chance of jumping Utah (assuming the Utes win on Friday, which is no layup, as they're a 6.5 point favorite over Oregon) and a potentially two-loss Georgia. Neither Oklahoma nor Baylor played a great out of conference schedule, and both had several close, one-score shaves inside the conference. Whatever it is that is keeping Utah infant of Oklahoma and Baylor right now likely only gets nullified if the Utes lose to Oregon. Still, this should be one of the more fun conference title games of the weekend.
WEEK 14 OBITS
MINNESOTA (10-2, 7-2)
KNOCKOUT BLOW: It was fun while it lasted for the Gophers. A l38-17 home loss to Wisconsin on Saturday sent this Cinderella squad tumbling to 15th in the AP poll, and probably a second tier bowl game. All in all, a good third season for P.J. Fleck ending on a sour note.
ALABAMA (10-2, 7-2)
KNOCKOUT BLOW: It says a lot about a program when people are wondering "what the hell went wrong?" in a season where you go 10-2 playing in the SEC West. Obviously, losing Tua Tagovailoa to a hip injury hurt the Crimson Tide, although offense wasn't a problem in their 48-45 Iron Bowl loss to Auburn. Alabama will undoubtedly still play in a New Year's Six bowl. The question will be "How motivated are they?" This will be the first College Football Playoff without Alabama, which is incredible, and in two prominent non-title game major bowls before the CFB Playoff Era, the Tide laid big eggs against more motivated underdogs, a 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the 2014 Sugar Bowl and a 31-17 loss to Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. It's something worth watching come bowl handicapping time.