Prior to 2015, college football determined its annual champion by relying on the BCS system which ranked teams based on various polls and computer selections. Because of the stringent grading system used by the BCS computers, teams pretty much needed to go undefeated during the regular season in order to qualify for the championship game. And sometimes that wasn’t enough (i.e. the 2004 Auburn Tigers).
However, the college football landscape changed dramatically in 2015 with the introduction of the College Football Playoffs. No longer was the championship picture ultimately determined by a computer. Instead, a 13 member committee was now in charge of ranking their top 25 teams week to week with the top 4 being included in the playoffs. This new system, while still young, seems to give teams a lot more leeway than the previous method.
So with Championship Saturday just a day away, let’s look at each team’s chances of making it to the top 4.
All of these teams are grouped together because they’re all out of the picture for the most part. TCU beat Baylor last week, but that was their last game, meaning they no longer have anymore opportunities to move up the polls. Baylor plays this weekend, but it’s against Texas which won’t have much of an impact on the committee’s decision considering how bad Texas has been.
USC is way too far down to make the jump, but they can play spoiler to Stanford and their playoff hopes as the two face off for the PAC-12 Championship. And the Trojans are coming into this game with a huge amount of momentum after their big win against UCLA last week.
The most intriguing team from this group appears to be the Florida Gators. Here you have a 10-2 team that will face off against #2 Alabama for the SEC Championship. If Florida wins, you now have two SEC teams that have an 11-2 record. The committee will have an interesting dilemma on their hands. Will they put a 2-loss SEC team in the playoffs? If so, will it be the team that’s been ranked high all season or the one that just beat them? Or will we see the SEC shut out of the playoffs altogether? There are so many possibilities we may see if Florida does indeed beat Alabama this Saturday.
Chances of making it: 10%. Florida is the only team in this group with a chance, and even then, a lot has to happen in front of them in addition to them beating ‘Bama.
#10 North Carolina
What if I told you that North Carolina has won 11 straight games and has a better record than the three teams ranked ahead of them? Well, it’s true. The Tar Heels started the season with a bad loss to a South Carolina team that has since gone all the way downhill. But since then, the Tar Heels have been on a roll and haven’t looked back.
The big knock against UNC is their strength of schedule. Two of their wins were against FCS schools, and they ran through an ACC Coastal division that is in a down year compared to last year. But this Saturday, the Tar Heels have a chance to erase all doubt about their legitimacy when they take on #1 Clemson in the ACC Championship.
Chances of making making it: 60%. Becoming the ACC champs by beating a 12-0 #1 team will earn them strong consideration from the committee when it comes time to select the top 4. They’ll probably need one of the teams ahead of them to lose as well, but the possibility of seeing UNC in the playoffs this year isn’t as far fetched as it was at the beginning of the season.
#9 Florida State
Jimbo Fisher’s boys are no strangers to the championship scene. Florida State won the final BCS championship game in 2014 and were members of the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2015.
But this year, the Seminoles could end up being on the outside looking in. A mid season upset loss to Georgia Tech pretty much destroyed their chances.
However, they did manage to redeem themselves by winning their final game against Florida.
Chances of making it: 10%. The Florida win was big, but Florida State won’t be playing in the ACC championship because of their loss to Georgia Tech. This means the Seminoles won’t have an opportunity to try and move up the polls. They would need quite a few upsets to take place on Saturday in order for the committee to look their way and it’s very unlikely that all of those teams fall simultaneously.
#8 Notre Dame
There are few programs in the country with the prestige of Notre Dame. They essentially are college football. While they’ve had some so-so seasons since their appearance in the 2012 BCS National Championship, the Fighting Irish looked like they were ready to get back into the championship picture this year.
Notre Dame’s resume is pretty solid overall. They have quality wins over Navy, USC, and Pittsburgh, and their two losses came against teams that are currently ranked in the top 10 (Clemson and Stanford). But with their season over, is that resume enough to get in?
Chances of making it: 20%. Just like Florida State, the Irish no longer have any chances to impress the committee. Their two losses are one too many at this point in the season, even if they were to good teams. They’ll also need some upsets to happen on Championship Saturday to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The amazing job David Shaw has done at Stanford is sometimes overlooked. In five years, he’s managed to win 52 games and lose just 12. It’s only a matter of time before he gets his team to the next level and, this year could be when that happens. Stanford sits at the #7 spot which could be their lucky number after Saturday.
But it won’t be a walk in the park. The Cardinals take on #20 USC for the PAC-12 Championship. The Trojans are looking to salvage what has been an up and down season with a win in the championship game and the role of spoiler to Stanford’s playoff hopes.
Chances of making it: 70%. Stanford simply needs to handle their business and win the PAC-12 Championship. Even if the teams ahead of them win, the committee will have to decide if they’ll keep Oklahoma where they are or push them out in favor of Stanford who won their conference championship game. And let’s not forget that we saw that exact same scenario play out last year when #3 TCU was bumped out of the playoffs in favor of Ohio State who won the Big-10 Championship the weekend before the final polls.
#6 Ohio State
Ohio State has the honor of being the first ever champions of the College Football Playoff system. They were the last team in and ended up being the last man standing. The Buckeyes were ready to pull a Drake and go back-to-back.
However, a shaky start against what ended up being a mediocre schedule raised some concerns. Their first real test came against Michigan State which resulted in a 17-14 loss. Despite this, the Buckeyes redeemed themselves by beating the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
Chances of making it: 70%. Just like last year, Ohio State is right on the outside of the playoff picture. Unlike last year, the Buckeyes aren’t in the BIG-10 Championship game which means they won’t be able to make a last minute case for a playoff bid. They’re at the mercy of the few teams ahead of them. If there’s a loss, Ohio State could find themselves back in that fourth seed.
#5 Michigan State
Mark Dantonio has worked to turn Michigan State into a serious contender, and it looks like that hard work is about to payoff. The Spartans were one bad play away from an undefeated season and have quality wins over both Michigan and Ohio State. And with the BIG-10 Championship game, they have an opportunity to take themselves to the next level.
Chances of making it: 80%. This is a simple “win and you’re in” situation. There’s no doubt that a win over an undefeated Iowa team will put them into the playoffs. It’s just a matter of where they’ll be seeded.
There are only two undefeated teams left in the top 25, and Iowa is one of them. Easily the biggest surprise of the college football season, the Hawkeyes have managed to go from mediocrity to one game away from the College Football Playoffs.
Head coach Greg Davis has steadily improved this team over the last three years, during which they were 19-19. His players have bought into his defensive philosophy, which resulted in a defense that held teams to an average of 18.7 PPG (15th in the nation).
Chances of making it: 80%. Again, they just need to win, and they’ll be in the playoffs. That’s easier said than done since they’ll be facing a Michigan State team that’s coming off a 39 point win against Penn State.
The Sooners handled their business, plain and simple. Yes, they did lose to a bad Texas team. But that loss happened early in the season, and they finished the year by beating three teams in a row from the BIG-12 who were all playoff contenders.
Chances of making it: 85%. Here’s where things get interesting. Oklahoma had a very impressive win against Oklahoma State in Stillwater last week. The problem is, Oklahoma has to just sit and watch while the teams around them play championship games. This puts them in the exact same position that TCU was in last year. And we all remember how that ended. If the Sooners are indeed bumped out of their spot, best believe that the BIG-12 will do everything they can to get a season ending conference championship game to prevent future playoff spot losses.
Here we have another team that was part of last year’s inaugural College Football Playoff. Alabama finds themselves right back in the championship hunt. They made up for their early season loss to Ole Miss by winning the rest of what turned out to be one of the strongest schedules of any team in the top 25.
Chances of making it: 90%. The Crimson Tide will be a lock for the playoffs in the win the SEC Championship Saturday. The only way they don’t make it is if the Florida Gators manage to pull off the upset.
For years, Clemson had the unfortunate reputation for being the team that always started off hot but couldn’t get over the hump and into the championship picture. But this year is different. Dabo Swinney has the Tigers ready to make a playoff run. If ever there was a time for Clemson to win it all, it’s this year. With the talent they have, specifically Heisman hopeful Deshaun Watson, the Tigers could very well be on top of the college football world by season’s end.
Chances of making it: 95%. Clemson controls its own destiny at this point. The #1 seed is theirs for the taking with a win in the ACC Championship game. That said, UNC will be ready to try and spoil the Tigers’ run. If the Tar Heels do manage to beat Clemson, things will get trickier for the committee when they make their final decision.