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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State are best positioned to reach the College Football Playoff, but the 2020 season still has three weekends to play.
Six additional teams—Texas A&M, Florida, Cincinnati, Iowa State, Miami and Oklahoma—remain in the conversation. Save for Florida, however, each of the CFB possibilities outside the Top Four require some assistance.
What exactly do those paths entail? Step right up and get your hypotheticals!
These teams are ordered based on the likelihood of a CFP bid. We’ve also added No. 13 BYU since the Cougars are 9-0, though the CFP selection committee has clearly not valued the undefeated record.
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Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
With two or three exceptions, everyone above BYU needs to lose. Multiple times, preferably. You might not believe it’s fair, but that’s the truth.
In both CFP poll releases, undefeated BYU has slotted behind two-loss Big 12 teams.
Simply to have a chance, the Cougars need both 7-2 Iowa State and 6-2 Oklahoma to lose another game.
BYU needs Alabama (SEC), Notre Dame (ACC) and Ohio State (Big Ten) to win conference titles and should hope for losses from Clemson, Texas A&M, Florida, Cincinnati, Miami, Georgia, Indiana and Northwestern. And again, that’s to have a chance.
Iowa State Cyclones and Oklahoma Sooners
These teams’ CFP chances are technically not evaporated, given that Iowa State is ninth and Oklahoma is 11th. Still, they’re minuscule.
Iowa State is best positioned of the two because it already beat Oklahoma and could add a second series victory in the Big 12 Championship Game. The Cyclones would also benefit if 6-2 Oklahoma State and 8-1 Louisiana avoid additional losses, keeping the “strength of loss” high. That’s ridiculous to even write, but the committee clearly values it.
Either way, both Iowa State and Oklahoma are banking on Alabama, Notre Dame and Ohio State to keep winning, plus losses from Texas A&M and Cincinnati.
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Ethan Hyman/Associated Press
Miami draws little attention, and understandably so because of the early blowout loss to Clemson. However, the 7-1 Hurricanes actually have a straightforward path to the playoff.
Granted, it hinges on a Clemson loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday.
If that happens—and it’s unlikely—Miami needs wins over Duke and North Carolina to get a shot to play Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game. And if the ‘Canes upset the Irish, Miami would earn an improbable place in the College Football Playoff.
Don’t expect it. But the path is abundantly clear.
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Sam Craft/Associated Press
Texas A&M is basically a lame duck.
Sure, the No. 5 Aggies are ranked one spot ahead of Florida thanks to a head-to-head win. But if the Gators knock off Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, they’ll negate the impact of the previous loss.
Yeah, 6-1 A&M is right behind 4-0 Ohio State and should finish with more victories. But the committee has twice declared Ohio State a superior team because of its “offensive firepower,” as CFP chair Gary Barta has shared in post-ranking interviews on ESPN.
I’m not here for negativity, man. I hear you.
If Alabama, Notre Dame and Ohio State win league titles and Cincinnati loses, Texas A&M has an opportunity to sneak in.
There are two lingering questions. Is there any chance that Clemson—with two close losses to Notre Dame—will be ahead of Texas A&M, which Alabama smoked 52-24? And would a two-loss Big 12 champion—particularly Iowa State—leap the Aggies?
No matter what, Texas A&M needs to dominate Auburn and Tennessee in its final two games of the season. If the committee cares about offensive firepower, win by 60.
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John Raoux/Associated Press
Cincinnati has a good offense, outstanding defense and a decent shot at making the playoff.
But the 8-0 Bearcats need a little help.
The worst-case scenario is Clemson winning the ACC, Florida swiping the SEC and Ohio State taking the Big Ten. Cincinnati will undoubtedly lose a six-team comparison among Clemson, Florida, Ohio State, Alabama and Notre Dame—and likely be sixth.
Even if only two of Clemson, Florida and Ohio State earn conference crowns, that’s a problem.
Cincinnati should hope for Alabama and Notre Dame to win league titles, giving the Bearcats a two-loss edge on Florida and Clemson. From there, Cincinnati needs to clip two of Ohio State and Texas A&M—and maybe a two-loss Big 12 champ.
Doable, for sure. Nerve-racking, too.
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John Raoux/Associated Press
Finally, the easiest one: Win.
Ranked sixth, 7-1 Florida wraps up the season against rivals Tennessee and LSU. As long as the Gators take both games, they’ll enter the SEC Championship Game opposite Alabama with a win-and-in scenario for the CFP.
While that’s the simplest path for any program outside the Top Four, this is Florida’s only route. The Gators must finish as a one-loss SEC champion; anything else is not enough.
Nevertheless, to have complete control of the best-case scenario is where any playoff hopeful wants to be.