In one of the craziest years in college football history, we have maybe the most crowded and complicated CFP picture ever. Realistically, there are nine teams that could give themselves a legit shot at the playoff on Championship Saturday. Here are all of those contenders’ cases and what needs to happen for them to either stay or get in the top 4.
#1: Alabama 10-0
The path to the playoff is very clear in Tuscaloosa. Win and you’re number 1. The Crimson Tide have been the best team in the country in 2020 and unless they take a 50 point drubbing from #7 Florida in the SEC championship game, there’s no reason why Alabama shouldn’t make their 6th playoff appearance. A resumé that includes a 10-0 record, wins over #5 Texas A&M, #8 Georgia and Auburn and two Heisman candidates on offense with QB Mac Jones and WR Devonta Smith makes quite the case. With this season’s accomplishments, as long as the Tide prevail over the Gators, they will return to the College Football Playoff as the top seed with a perfect record and SEC championship in hand. If Florida could pull off the upset, as long as Alabama keeps it close, they should still get in as the 3rd or 4th seed depending on how the committee treats a #7 Florida win. All in all, no matter what happens Saturday, Alabama should be in the playoff.
#2: Notre Dame 10-0
The Irish have high hopes to get in the playoff as they enter the ACC championship game with an undefeated record and the #2 ranking. Eagerly waiting for them is Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers. As we know, the Irish, led by star QB Ian Book handed Clemson their first regular season loss in almost 3 seasons earlier this year as they took advantage of a Tigers team missing Trevor Lawrence in a double overtime thriller in South Bend. The rematch will be a tougher game for Notre Dame to prevail in as Clemson is playing to stay in contention and they have Lawrence coming back. However, Notre Dame has already beat the odds against the Tigers this year. If they can overcome a 10.5 line and come out victorious, Notre Dame will be locked in as the #2 seed as undefeated ACC champions. If Clemson evens the season series, the magnitude of the loss will decide the Irish’s fate. A close loss (within 14 points) should keep Brian Kelly’s squad in the top 4, whether that’s at number 3 or 4. If Clemson wins in a blowout (25 points or more), a Notre Dame/Texas A&M/Iowa State/Oklahoma/Florida (the last three assuming they win Saturday) debate will be sparked for the fourth spot and could have the Irish on the outside looking in at 10-1 without a conference championship. However, even if Clemson comes out on top, Notre Dame still can say that they beat everybody on the schedule this season, which has gone a long way in the past. If Notre Dame can win or lose by 2 or less scores to Clemson, they should make the top 4.
#3: Clemson 9-1
No matter what Clemson has done in its previous 5 CFP appearances, their playoff hopes are 100% on the line right now. They enter Saturday’s rematch against Notre Dame with a 9-1 record, hungry for revenge. Earlier this year, Clemson’s three year streak of 36 straight regular season wins came to an end in South Bend as losing Trevor Lawrence to COVID was a big part in Notre Dame’s 47-40 2OT victory. This time around though, Clemson will have Lawrence back on a neutral field and ready to avenge the loss. As long as the Tigers beat Notre Dame, they will get in the playoff. Now the big concern surrounding the final weekend this year is if Notre Dame were to topple Clemson again, Dabo Swinney’s squad would be left with a 9-2 record and without a conference championship. For reference, no two loss team has ever been selected into the college football playoff in its previous 6 years. But like all things in 2020, this year is much different. Assuming both Florida and Iowa State lose their conference championship games, (Clemson would be in major trouble if one of them were to win) it would then become a debate between Texas A&M and Clemson for the last spot, assuming Oklahoma doesn’t blow out Iowa State. When comparing Clemson and Texas A&M, both teams have lost to the two top teams in the country and did not win a conference championship. While the Aggies have a higher strength of schedule rating than the Tigers, Clemson passes the eye test on the field much more than Texas A&M. All in all, Clemson is in with a win Saturday. If Notre Dame comes out on top again, the magnitude of the loss will be the deciding factor on if the Tigers get in the playoff for the 6th straight year.
#4: Ohio State 5-0
Like the other teams ahead of them, Ohio State is just a win away from the playoff. In the 5 games they have played, they pass the eye test easily with tremendous talent throughout the roster including stud QB Justin Fields. In the short amount of time the Buckeyes have been on the field this year, they have been very impressive as four of their five wins came by a double digit margin and their lone close game was a 42-35 win over #11 Indiana. More importantly though, the committee has considered Ohio State as a better team than Texas A&M and other contenders in every ranking the Buckeyes have been in, proving that Ryan Day’s team is considered unequivocally better than the Aggies and others. Better yet, Ohio State will have a chance to secure another quality win in Saturday’s Big Ten championship game against #14 Northwestern which would make their resumé even more appealing. If Ohio State wins another Big Ten championship, there’s no reason why an undefeated Big Ten conference champion wouldn’t get in the top 4. Even though the Buckeyes would have taken the field just 6 times at the time of selection day, how they have played, the talent on the roster and two quality wins to go along with a conference championship should get Ohio State in the playoff for the 4th time. Now if Northwestern wins the Big Ten championship Saturday, Ohio State simply wouldn’t have enough evidence for a better case than Texas A&M let alone Iowa State or Florida if they were to win their conference championships. Basically, if the Buckeyes want in the playoff this year, they have to win the Big Ten championship.
#5: Texas A&M 7-1
The Aggies are the only team featured here that do not have any control over their own destiny on Championship Saturday. Due to their only loss of the season coming in a blowout at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama’s perfect conference record keeps Texas A&M out of the SEC championship game as they finished second in the SEC West. Even though they can’t play their way into the playoff, it is possible someone could play their way out and allow Kellen Mond and the Aggies to get into the field. Texas A&M has a few paths to get in but the ACC championship will have the biggest hand. They would have a better shot to move into the top 4 with a Clemson loss as being a two loss non conference champion isn’t good enough usually. So if you were Jimbo Fisher right now, you would prefer a Notre Dame win Saturday. The easiest way for the CFP committee to reasonably put Texas A&M would be an Ohio State loss to Northwestern in the Big Ten championship along with an Alabama win over Florida in the SEC championship. Since they are already above Iowa State, Cincinnati and Oklahoma, if any of the top 4 is going to fall out, Texas A&M as of now is first in line to take their place.
#6: Iowa State 8-2
Maybe one of the best surprises of this season has come in the Iowa State Cyclones. Led by a great QB in Brock Purdy and a stud at RB in Breece Hall, the Cyclones have come out of nowhere and burst onto the CFP scene in 2020 They have played very well against good opponents as they have wins over both #10 Oklahoma and #20 Texas and took quality losses against #19 Louisiana in the first game of the season and in Stillwater against #21 Oklahoma State. While the committee sees them below Texas A&M for now, if Iowa State could beat Oklahoma again in the Big 12 championship, a top 10 win would certainly be a good reason to move them up above the Aggies. But taking down the Sooners again will be a tall order. If Iowa State wins Saturday, a top 10 win like that would likely put them over Texas A&M in the rankings and give the Cyclones first dibs on an open spot in the top 4 which would happen easiest with wins from Notre Dame or Northwestern. But if Ohio State and Clemson win their conferences, Iowa State would not matchup in a debate with both Notre Dame and Texas A&M no matter what they do against Oklahoma. Obviously, Iowa State’s playoff chances would end with a loss to the Sooners but even if they win, blowout or not, they are going to need some help from the committee to put them ahead of Texas A&M and Clemson/Notre Dame.
#7: Florida 8-2
Florida’s playoff chances took a massive hit in their final regular season game of the year when LSU came into the Swamp and stunned the Gators with a late win. After already losing a close game to #5 Texas A&M early in the year, Dan Mullen’s crew is praying to get in. Luckily for them, Florida will have a chance to possibly play their way into the top 4 with a win in the SEC championship game. But they have to beat Alabama to do that. If Florida couldn’t beat the Aggies, who lost by 4 scores to the Tide, the Gators odds aren’t very high. No matter the score, if Alabama takes home the SEC championship, Florida’s not getting in the playoff. But what if Kyle Trask works his magic and Gainesville gets its first conference title since 2008? With their season, there’s no real way Alabama can be left out of the top 4. This would leave Florida needing either a blowout in the ACC championship with an easier path coming from a Notre Dame win or Northwestern to upset Ohio State in the Big Ten championship. While this is unlikely, if Florida were to win comfortably over Alabama, it would be an even tougher case to leave them out as a conference champion and a win over Alabama. But with the Texas A&M and LSU losses, if Florida doesn’t get some help from Notre Dame and Northwestern, the Gators first CFP appearance won’t come in 2020 no matter what.
#8: Cincinnati 8-0
This Cincinnati team feels that it isn’t getting the respect they feel they deserve from the committee. Considering they haven’t played since November 21st and haven’t had good competition, their ranking is justifiable. In the eight games the Bearcats have played this year, only two have been against ranked teams in Army and SMU. Neither of those teams are still in the CFP top 25. The last time Cincinnati played nearly a month ago, they escaped UCF on the road. Basically, Cincinnati hasn’t been able to prove they are among the 4 best teams and even if they win the AAC championship, nothing from Cincinnati’s body of work this season is convincing enough for them to win and get in. The only way the Bearcats become the first Group of 5 team to earn a playoff berth would require losses from Florida and Iowa State as well as the winner of the ACC championship to win in a blowout, again preferably the Irish. But even if all of that happens, Oklahoma would likely leap above Cincinnati with a win over Iowa State anyway.
#10: Oklahoma 7-2
Somehow, someway, the Sooners find themselves with a tiny shot to get to their 4th straight college football playoff. Despite early season struggles with Kansas State and #6 Iowa State, Lincoln Riley has led his team to 6 straight wins including in rivalry games against #22 Texas and #14 Oklahoma State. Oklahoma’s path to the playoff is the smallest of the true contenders as sitting at #10, they’re going to need major chaos to jump up six spots. This obviously begins with Oklahoma needing to beat Iowa State convincingly in the Big 12 championship game which is very possible due to the Sooners improvement since their earlier matchup. Assuming Oklahoma takes home its 6th straight Big 12 title Saturday, they would need an Alabama win to knock Florida out of the picture which is likely. Preferably, the Sooners would want Notre Dame to beat Clemson again which depending on the score could potentially get Clemson out of the way as well. Cincinnati likely wouldn’t stay above Oklahoma if they avenge their loss to Iowa State, which gives them three wins over current CFP top 25 teams compared to Cincy’s zero. If all of these scenarios occur and Ohio State wins the Big Ten, that would create a Texas A&M/Oklahoma/Clemson debate for the final spot which could go any way. Oklahoma can’t guarantee themselves a spot in the playoff no matter what they themselves do in the Big 12 championship. If any of the teams above them win this week excluding Alabama, Notre Dame and Ohio State or the Sooners fall victim to the Cyclones again, Oklahoma will miss the CFP for the first time since 2016.