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

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistNovember 28, 2018

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

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    It's championship week, and from here, it's a postseason atmosphere for everybody left standing.

    This weekend's conference championship games have a lot of lopsided lines if you believe the Vegas odds, but there's almost always some high-stakes drama this time of year. The ramifications of what happens in the major conference tilts will be felt across the country.

    In the SEC, it's essentially a College Football Playoff elimination game for Georgia and Alabama, and teams such as Oklahoma and Ohio State should be focused on that outcome. The Sooners (against Texas) and the Buckeyes (against Northwestern) have business to take care of in their league title games.

    If Central Florida can continue the nation's longest winning streak (24) in the AAC Championship Game against Memphis, the Knights will see how high they can climb, too.

    We know Notre Dame is in. Unless the Dawgs blow out Alabama—an unlikely scenario since the Crimson Tide handled everybody they played by more than 20 pointsNick Saban's crew will get in, even with a loss.

    Clemson should handle Pittsburgh in the ACC Championship Game, but if it doesn't, the Tigers' schedule probably isn't good enough to get them in with one loss.

    Beyond that, it's anybody's guess. With Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Georgia in the Top Four, let's take a look at what other contenders need to happen to make it into the CFP.

Oklahoma Sooners

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    The Oklahoma Sooners are guaranteed to draw fans because of the nation's best offense. 

    Unfortunately, their defense (a unit that led coach Lincoln Riley to fire coordinator Mike Stoops on October 8) is the main reason they're not in the Top Four. 

    You also have to think that even though they've got the slight nod over Ohio State, it's a narrow margin, and the committee will look at style points this weekend. If the Buckeyes drill Northwestern, they could leapfrog the Sooners.

    First things first, though: Oklahoma needs to beat Texas in the Red River Showdown rematch, a game the Longhorns pulled out 48-45 earlier this year to hand Riley's team its only loss. It would help matters significantly if the Sooners won going away and played a complete game.

    When asked what he'd say to the committee this week, Riley didn't take the bait, per OUDaily's :

    "Right now I'd ask them if they understand how difficult it is to beat Texas because that's all I'm worried about. I get it. I get it's going to be a conversation. It was the same thing last year. We knew that we had to win this game and most years, most teams are going to have to win their conference to get into the playoff. I know that's not a surprise to anybody."

    If OU wins convincingly and Georgia loses, the Sooners should be in again for the second year in a row, which would be a great accomplishment in the post-Baker Mayfield era. If Pittsburgh sneaks up and beats Clemson, the Sooners' schedule will probably get them in over Clemson.

    But with Notre Dame (and likely Alabama) secure, OU should be a huge Tide fan this weekend, and the Sooners are rooting for Pitt for good measure. But Riley's squad must beat Texas. If it does, it's hard to imagine that OSU or anybody else would jump them.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Ohio State needs some help, and probably a good bit of it.

    But at least the Buckeyes are firmly in the conversation after last weekend's breakout domination of rival Michigan, which looked like it was on a collision course with the CFP before it ran into a faster, more athletic Buckeyes squad.

    Now, coach Urban Meyer's team needs to win the Big Ten Championship Game against Northwestern and see what plays out. But Meyer said this week he didn't quite think OSU was a championship contender.

    "I don't think we are yet," Meyer said, according to The Lantern's Wyatt Crosher. "I think certain areas of our team are; I think certain are not."

    It's possible the Buckeyes are left at the playoff doorstep for the second year in a row. But they need several things to happen to go from way down in the pack (ninth) before the Michigan win to the Top Four.

    The Buckeyes need to give a good old-fashioned whipping to the Wildcats. Coach Pat Fitzgerald's team is strong defensively, but it's not in the same athletic spectrum as OSU. The Buckeyes need to bottle up whatever they did against Big Blue and get another Heisman Trophy-worthy game from quarterback Dwayne Haskins.

    If it wins big, there's a possibility Ohio State could leapfrog Oklahoma. But as mentioned, that'll be a tall task if the Sooners win, so Meyer's crew needs Texas to pull a repeat or for Oklahoma to win ugly while Ohio State blows out Northwestern.

    Even then, other things have to happen. Georgia needs to lose to Alabama, or Clemson needs to lose to Pitt. A Tigers loss won't guarantee Ohio State (or Oklahoma, for that matter) a spot. So, the Buckeyes need to win and hope Texas and Alabama follow suit.

UCF Knights

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    It would've taken a miracle for UCF to make the CFP. The Knights were always going to struggle to get enough support, since they're a Group of Five team with a schedule that doesn't pass the eye test.

    Compounding matters, Heisman candidate McKenzie Milton suffered a gruesome knee injury in last week's win over South Florida, taking away the biggest star for a Central Florida team that needs all the aces up its sleeve it could get.

    There won't be any sympathy vote for the Knights. Much like when a team's NCAA tournament seed drops after a star player goes down, the Milton injury will impact the committee's decision regarding UCF.

    That's why it's hard to envision that the Knights will get in.

    But let's break out just how they'd have an argument to do so. Milton's injury was a debilitating blow and a disappointment to anybody who loves college football. But who wouldn't love it if UCF, which declared a mythical national championship last year after it went undefeated, had another legit beef in 2018?

    UCF needs to run Memphis off the field this week. It needs to be a brutal, one-sided win (much worse than the 31-30 victory over the Tigers earlier this year), and backup quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. needs to look like a dual-threat star capable of replacing Milton's performance.

    After a blowout UCF win, Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma need to lose, and all of them need to get crushed. If that happens, UCF could sneak into that fourth spot alongside Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson. Even then, it's a long, long shot.

Michigan Wolverines

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    If there's one truism about the CFP committee and even dating back to the days of the Bowl Championship Series, it's that it's better to lose to a bad team early in the regular season than a good team late.

    Michigan will learn that the hard way.

    The Wolverines lost to a great Notre Dame team to open the year, but that setback vanished in the minds of everybody who watched that Big Blue defense dominate afterward. Then last week's 62-39 embarrassment at Ohio Stadium happened, and the Wolverines looked like the furthest of the contenders from a playoff berth. 

    The good news for the Wolverines is their only two losses came against quality opponents. But the bad news is that's two losses, and they have zero other opportunities to boost that resume.

    Thanks to last week, they'll watch the Big Ten Championship Game from their dorm rooms.

    So they have to hope Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma all lose badly. If that happens, the committee could slide Michigan in over the Bulldogs, alongside Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame.

    You have to believe a one-loss Clemson would cruise in over Michigan, so the ACC Championship Game is of little consequence. For good measure, the Wolverines should pull for Memphis to wipe UCF from the picture.

    Then, they have to hope the committee favors them over a two-loss Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma. Yeah, that's not likely, but it's the 1 percent hope the Wolverines have.