When the season began, College Football Playoff committee member Condoleezza Rice said her pool of potential playoff candidates was about 40 deep. Now, with only conference championship games remaining (along with a Big 12-defining Baylor-Kansas State matchup), the committee's pool has become a puddle.
One-loss teams Ohio State, TCU and Baylor all remain on the bubble, jockeying for the No. 4 spot, behind mainstays Alabama, Oregon and Florida State.
As expected, there was plenty of drama during rivalry week, with the bulk of it coming in the Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl, two games that had the biggest impact on the playoff picture. Mississippi State’s loss to Ole Miss should knock the Bulldogs out of the top four, and Alabama reasserted itself as the team to beat in the SEC.
Or so it appears. Today.
What if Alabama, Ohio State and TCU all lose next weekend? Is Mississippi State really buried?
The selection committee will release another ranking on Tuesday, and the entire group will meet in Dallas on Friday to watch the final weekend of games together before announcing the final top 25 Dec. 7.
Here’s a quick rundown of what the playoff picture looks like in each Power 5 conference heading into championship Saturday:
Who’s left: Florida State
What’s left: The Seminoles are the only undefeated team left in the country, and they’re one win away from a spot in the playoff. FSU will face Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game, and it’s not going to be easy. The Yellow Jackets have won five straight games, including Saturday’s overtime upset of rival and No. 9-ranked Georgia on the road. If Florida State doesn’t win the ACC title, it would likely lose its already precarious position in the top four.
Who’s left: Arizona and Oregon
What’s left: These teams will face each other in the Pac-12 title game, and while Oregon remains the conference favorite, Arizona has been there, won that. The Wildcats handed Oregon its only loss of the season, and they’ve defeated Oregon in the past two meetings. Should Arizona pull off another upset, the committee would have to determine whether its two-loss résumé is better than any of the remaining one-loss teams. Arizona’s weak nonconference schedule (UNLV, UTSA and Nevada) would also be considered, but the Pac-12 champ has a shot -- regardless of which division it hails from.
Who’s left: TCU and Baylor
What’s left: K-State at Baylor on Saturday. Yes, TCU still has Iowa State, but the Big 12’s season-defining game will be at Baylor. If the Bears can beat K-State, they’ll have a similar résumé to TCU's -- not to mention the head-to-head win over the Horned Frogs. If both teams finish with one loss, it should be difficult for the committee to ignore that head-to-head win in the final ranking. With Minnesota losing again and dropping to four losses, TCU’s best nonconference win is devalued. Still, it’s unlikely Baylor jumps TCU this week, considering the Frogs’ dominant win at Texas, while Baylor was fortunate to escape with a win over Texas Tech.
Who’s left: Alabama and Missouri ... and maybe Mississippi State?
What’s left: The SEC title game, and if Alabama loses, the selection committee will have to seriously consider leaving the SEC out of the playoff entirely. It’s not the fact that Missouri has two losses, it’s to whom Missouri lost (an Indiana team that’s won just one Big Ten game) and how it lost to Georgia (at home convincingly in a shutout). The SEC West has gone from having three teams ranked by the selection committee to probably one this week.
With TCU, Baylor and Ohio State waiting on the doorstep, there’s no shortage of qualified teams to choose from should Missouri be the last SEC team standing -- unless, of course, all three of those teams lose.
Consider a little carnage. What if TCU, Baylor and Ohio State all lose? Mississippi State's only losses are to Alabama and Ole Miss. It's a stretch, but so is Ohio State playing with its third-string quarterback, and look at 'em now ...
Who’s left: Ohio State and Cardale Jones.
What’s left: For Ohio State to prove it’s one of the best teams in the country with its third-string quarterback. In one of the most improbable stories of the season, Ohio State is still a playoff candidate in spite of losing two Heisman hopeful quarterbacks in Braxton Miller and his backup, J.T. Barrett. Now the spotlight turns to Jones, a redshirt sophomore who has been in for only one play when the Buckeyes weren’t leading by at least 21 points (Oct. 25 at Penn State). The selection committee likely won’t penalize Ohio State in Tuesday’s rankings, leaving the Buckeyes on the bubble around the No. 5 spot. The committee will evaluate what Ohio State looks like in the Big Ten title game without Barrett and then make its decision.