College Football Playoff 2018: How Top Teams Outside the Top 4 Can Get In

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistNovember 14, 2018

College Football Playoff 2018: How Top Teams Outside the Top 4 Can Get In

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    Three weeks remain in the 2018 college football season, and only nine schools can earn one of four coveted College Football Playoff berths.

    While you're welcome to disagree, we've thrown out LSU and Central Florida. We'll call those programs the "Mass Chaos" teams that would need a lossor twofrom each of Michigan, Georgia, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Washington State and Ohio State.

    The CFP Top Four of Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan are in ideal positions. Of the five on the outside looking in, four need help even if they win out.

    The following five teams have a path to the playoff that is a) obvious and b) not completely improbable. (Sorry, UCF.)

Washington State Cougars

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    By far, Washington State has the most unlikely path. The Cougars are teetering on that delicate line between possible and improbable.

    Unlike UCF and LSU, though, Wazzu can be a Power Five conference champion. That recognition is supposed to hold weight for the selection committee, so Mike Leach's team needn't worry about LSU.

    The problem is clear, though: With a weak strength of schedule, the Cougs will find themselves ranked behind the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC championprovided those teams are 12-1 or 13-0. Washington State is comparatively thin on marquee wins this season, which would also provide a one-loss Notre Dame an edge, too.

    So, it's best for WSU to cheer for Alabama to eliminate Georgia. Clemson is likely on a different tier compared to the Cougs, so the ACC school isn't especially important to them.

    One of Michigan/Ohio State and Oklahoma/West Virginia will be eliminated in the head-to-head matchups. Wazzu would hope for those two winners to lose in their respective conference championships. Then, and only then, would a 12-1 WSU have a shot.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Let's start here: Ohio State hasn't played like a championship contender lately. The Buckeyes were uninspiring in a victory over Minnesota, got trucked at Purdue, clipped Nebraska and mustered a boring win at Michigan State.

    But, hey, 9-1 is what matters.

    Ohio State wraps up the regular season at Maryland and home to No. 4 Michigan. Should the Buckeyes knock off both schools, they'll meet Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game. Win there, and Ohio State would hold a 12-1 record.

    Given the state of Urban Meyer's team, it's not assured of a spot above a one-loss Big 12 champion. And if Notre Dame ends up undefeated, the Irish will likely reach the CFP with Clemson and the SEC winner.

    No matter how it happenswhether by regular-season losses or the OU/WVU winner falling in the conference title gameOhio State would prefer both Big 12 schools finish with two losses. The Buckeyes may clip a one-loss WVU team but wouldn't leap a one-loss Oklahoma squad.

West Virginia Mountaineers

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    The selection committee has listed West Virginia behind Washington State in all three releases to date, but the Mountaineers have an obvious opportunity to leap the Pac-12 program.

    On Nov. 23, sixth-ranked Oklahoma heads to Morgantown.

    If WVU evades an upset at Oklahoma State, the winner of the Top 10 showdown will be guaranteed a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game. A rematch is possible there, and the Mountaineers might not mind missing OU for title purposes.

    However, since their strength of schedule is only comparable to Ohio State's among one-loss teams, a second victory over the Sooners would be a significant boost for WVU. The problem, of course, is that involves playing Oklahoma twice. Which, you know, no thanks.

    Either way, the Mountaineers need a little help. The most reasonable path is Alabama and Clemson winning out, Notre Dame losing and the Big Ten winner falling in the championship game.

    Otherwise, they'll be pitting a soft SOS against an undefeated Notre Dame and one-loss Big Ten winner. And WVU likely loses that battle.

Oklahoma Sooners

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    Oklahoma has the critical distinction of owning multiple paths to the College Football Playoff.

    As you'd expect, each road involves winning out. The Sooners should thrash Kansas before traveling to West Virginia. Win there, and OU will challenge WVU, Texas or Iowa State for the Big 12 title. Three hypothetical victories later, Lincoln Riley's club will be 12-1.

    If the current Top Four holds, a one-loss OU might be out. Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame are easily in with undefeated records. If Michigan wins the Big Ten, the Wolverines are probably safe.

    Ohio State, however, might not jump the Sooners if they both win out. Both schools would own 12-1 records, a league title and a late-season Top 10 win. The key differences would be OU's edge in strength of schedule and Oklahoma's three-point loss to Texas compared to Ohio State's blowout loss to Purdue.

    Otherwise, the Sooners are hoping for a Notre Dame loss to have a guaranteed spot. They'd also be in the conversation if Georgia upsets Alabama, but they would not be guaranteed a bid if Alabama and Georgia finish 12-1 and two of the other three Top Four teams win out. 

Georgia Bulldogs

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    Beat UMass. Beat Georgia Tech. Beat Alabama. It's that simple.

    Well, you know what I mean.

    Georgia should waltz past UMass and navigate Georgia Tech relatively painlessly, but nothing about the SEC Championship Game will be easy. Alabama enters Week 12 holding an 11-quarter shutout streak and boasts the most prolific offense of the Nick Saban era.

    Although the road to the College Football Playoff is obvious, no team has a more perilous journey than Georgia. But if the Dawgs topple Alabama, they're not getting passed over on Selection Day.

    It's that simple-ish.


    Stats from or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.