College Football Playoff 2020: Predicting Final 4 Teams Post-Week 14 Rankings
The College Football Playoff contenders are building up to December 19, when three conference championship games should determine the four-team field.
The second playoff rankings, which were released Tuesday night, had no change at the top after the Alabama Crimson Tide, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Clemson Tigers won in Week 13.
Each of those three teams are scheduled to play their final regular-season games on Saturday after the ACC made an adjustment to its league play.
To have some type of competitive balance, Clemson, Notre Dame and the Miami Hurricanes, who are third in the conference, will play nine ACC games each to be on a level playing field when it comes to ACC Championship Game eligibility.
The Ohio State Buckeyes remained at No. 4, but they sit in a more precarious situation than their title rivals from the SEC and ACC.
Ryan Day's team needs to play both of its remaining Big Ten regular-season contests to be eligible for the Big Ten Championship Game.
With the new scheduling news out of the ACC, Ohio State would be the only Top Four team to enter its conference title game without a bye week. The Buckeyes are line in to play the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday and the Michigan Wolverines on December 12.
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame
Alabama appears to have an easy path to the playoff.
The Crimson Tide need to beat the LSU Tigers on Saturday and then defeat the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship Game to secure the No. 1 seed.
Nick Saban's team rolled through a majority of its SEC opponents and has held its last three foes to a combined 16 points.
Where things get interesting with Alabama is if it loses by a close margin on December 19. The first two losers of Top Five clashes in 2020 only dropped two positions in the rankings, and Alabama may be hard to keep out in that scenario.
However, we may not reach that conversation since Alabama won its last six SEC Championship Game appearances and only one SEC East team has won the conference title game since 2008.
The small drops of Clemson after its loss to Notre Dame and the Georgia Bulldogs following their defeat to Alabama set a precedent for Notre Dame if it falls in the ACC Championship Game.
As the lone undefeated team in the ACC, Notre Dame clinched a spot in the December 19 game through the league's rescheduling on Tuesday.
Notre Dame carries a win over third-ranked Clemson on its resume, but it will face a bit of different Tigers squad in Charlotte, North Carolina, in two weeks.
Trevor Lawrence is back under center following his absence caused by a positive COVID-19 test, and defensive stars Tyler Davis and James Skalski returned to the lineup.
If the two defenders are at full strength for the second meeting with Notre Dame, the Irish may have trouble moving the ball down the field. It looked easy for Ian Book to carve up the Clemson defense on November 7.
If Notre Dame loses to Clemson, it should still get into the playoff through its season split and the cushion of falling from the No. 2 position.
If that situation arises and Alabama and Ohio State own conference titles, or undefeated records, the Top Four from Tuesday's ranking could be headed to the playoff.
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State
Ohio State's evaluation will be the hardest for the playoff selection committee.
For now, the Buckeyes are ranked fourth in front of a pair of one-loss SEC teams: Texas A&M and Florida.
Committee chair Gary Barta said his group discussed the number of games played ahead of Tuesday's rankings, per Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger: "A lot of discussion about how many games a team plays. It's definitely a problem (to judge a four-game vs. eight-game team). The more games a team brings to the committee, the more we have to evaluate."
The Big Ten East side is 4-0 and could play as many as three games before the playoff field is finalized. The Buckeyes resumed football activities on Tuesday, per Cleveland.com's Nathan Baird.
As long as the Buckeyes win all three games, they will be in the playoff in some capacity. If Notre Dame loses, it would likely move up a position to No. 3.
If Ohio State loses one of those three games, it would open the door for Texas A&M, Florida or even the Cincinnati Bearcats to climb into the Top Four.
Clemson's path is very simple. All it has to do is qualify for the ACC Championship Game by beating the Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday and then win the rematch with Notre Dame in three weeks.
In Lawrence's Week 13 return, Clemson posted 31 first-quarter points in its rout of the Pittsburgh Panthers.
If the Tigers produce a similar performance Saturday, they will generate plenty of momentum and confidence in the two-week buildup to the clash with Notre Dame.
A loss in either contest would take Clemson out of playoff contention and allow the Nos. 5, 6 and 7 programs to make a stronger case to reach the final four.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.