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LSU climbed to No. 1 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, ahead of Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia. For the Top Four teams, their path to the championship tournament is clear: win out.
But the rankings are certain to change.
While it’s plausible the above four may reach the CFP, that would involve a Georgia win over LSU in the SEC Championship Game. Several other matchups will affect the poll.
Heading into Week 12, seven programs have a chance to jump into the CFP. Beyond the obvious necessity―win every remaining game―what kind of assistance would they need? Some require more help than others.
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Best-case scenario: Alabama ends the season with victories over Mississippi State, Western Carolina and Auburn. Along the way, the Crimson Tide benefit from an Oregon or Utah loss before the Pac-12 title game, and then the two-loss team defeats the other in that championship. Plus, both Oklahoma and Baylor lose somewhere, while LSU and Ohio State win their league crowns.
Risky but plausible: The Tide smash―and I mean obliterate―an Auburn team (that, for Alabama’s sake, will have beaten Georgia). The eventual Pac-12 champion stumbles through the rest of the regular season and then manages an ugly win in the title game. Baylor loses, and Oklahoma has a few more close calls. And, like the above scenario, LSU and Ohio State win their respective conferences.
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Best-case scenario: Win out, and it shouldn’t matter. Can you imagine a league champion from a Power Five conference not in the field? Oh, my word. Expansion might happen on the spot.
Risky but plausible: There’s nothing here. Baylor’s best-case scenario is the only realistic path to the CFP. The Bears are already ranked 13th. The thought that Baylor could lose to Oklahoma but somehow surge into the Top Four is a far-fetched idea.
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Best-case scenario: Win out, and everything takes care of itself. The Gophers already have a victory over Penn State, and their upcoming schedule includes No. 20 Iowa, No. 14 Wisconsin and theoretically second-ranked Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. A 13-0 Minnesota is in.
Risky but plausible: Though the path is dicey, it’s feasible. Let’s say Minnesota loses to Wisconsin but defeats Ohio State. If Oklahoma doesn’t win the Big 12 at 12-1, or both Oregon and Utah have two losses, there’s a chance—maybe not a great one, but a chance—Minnesota sneaks in. This is contingent on league titles for LSU and Clemson, and an Alabama loss to Auburn would help.
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Best-case scenario: LSU, Clemson and Ohio State hold their positions, while Alabama falls to Auburn and isn’t a contender. Ideally, both Oregon and Utah lose another game. The true, definite best-case scenario is a Clemson loss creates another CFP spot.
Risky but plausible: If one Pac-12 program finishes 12-1, the Sooners should hope it’s Utah. The Utes’ loss is to USC, whereas Oregon’s is to Auburn. The committee isn’t guaranteed to favor Oklahoma over Utah, but the strength-of-schedule argument doesn’t go as heavily against OU if Utah is the competition.
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Best-case scenario: Oregon would breathe a heavy sigh of relief if Alabama, Baylor and Oklahoma all lost. Provided LSU and Ohio State win their leagues, no conference would have a one-loss non-champion with a reasonable argument to leap the Pac-12 winner.
Risky but plausible: This is the most straightforward, risky proposition. Oregon wins out and leaves its future at the mercy of the CFP selection committee. If Alabama toppled rival Auburn, it would complicate the path because Oregon’s loss is to Auburn. But maybe the committee would more heavily reward a conference title. Maybe.
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Best-case scenario: Win out, and Penn State ought to leap Ohio State in the rankings. It would help if Minnesota were 12-0 entering the Big Ten title game, but as long as LSU wins the SEC, there shouldn’t be a question about Penn State’s inclusion.
Risky but plausible: The same scenario above with an Oregon twist: Just win, and see what happens. Behind LSU and Clemson, Penn State would be alongside the Big 12 and the Pac-12 champion Ducks. Two marquee late-season wins figure to be enough, but that’s not something we can guarantee.
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Best-case scenario: Basically copy and paste the Oregon section. Alabama, Baylor and Oklahoma all lose; LSU, Clemson and Ohio State win their leagues; and Utah snags the fourth spot.
Risky but plausible: Also similar. Leaving their fate in the hands of the committee is nerve-wracking, but the Utes could be 12-1 with a conference title next to an SEC non-champion Alabama and the Big 12 winner. If Baylor wins the league at 12-1, Utah should be above the Bears. But the side-by-side comparison to OU is no sure thing, though a championship win over Oregon could be the boost Utah needs.