Four teams will square off for college football’s national championship in January. Over the next few weeks, those teams will be determined by how they perform on the field. A blue-ribbon panel has been formed to weigh all the evidence and make its determination.
But who wants to wait for that?
So today, I’ve spent some time looking at the teams likely to be in the running for those coveted four spots. And I’m going to predict, weeks before the selections, which teams will be squaring off in less than three months.
Let’s look at the candidates, in order of current ranking:
1. Mississippi State (6-0)
Who the Bulldogs have beaten: LSU (34-29), Texas A&M (48-31), Auburn (38-23).
Who’s left: at Kent, Arkansas, UT Martin, at Alabama, Vanderbilt, at Ole Miss.
Chances of getting in: Remember, SEC teams also have a conference championship game in the mix. So even the West winner has another roadblock. That said, Mississippi State’s two toughest remaining tests are on the road. The Bulldogs’ regular-season finale against Ole Miss might be for a playoff spot.
2. Florida State (7-0)
Who the Seminoles have beaten: Notre Dame (31-27), Clemson (23-17, OT).
Who’s left: at Louisville, Virginia, at Miami (Fla.), Boston College, Florida.
Chances of getting in: Excellent. A lock. Book it. A just-OK ACC makes Florida State a heavy favorite.
3. Ole Miss (7-0)
Who the Rebels have beaten: Alabama (23-17), Texas A&M (35-20).
Who’s left: at LSU, Auburn, Presbyterian, at Arkansas, Mississippi State.
Chances of getting in: Wow, is the SEC stacked? Lots of potential problems lie ahead, but the Rebels’ win over Alabama is the most impressive of the season so far.
4. Alabama (6-1)
Who the Tide has beaten: Texas A&M (59-0).
Who’s beaten the Tide: Ole Miss (23-17).
Who’s left: at Tennessee, at LSU, Mississippi State, Western Carolina, Auburn.
Chances of getting in: Don’t put anything past Nick Saban, even with a difficult remaining schedule. The Tide’s beatdown of A&M last week opened some eyes.
5. Auburn (5-1)
Who the Tigers have beaten: LSU (41-7), Kansas State (20-14).
Who’s beaten the Tigers: Mississippi State (38-23).
Who’s left: South Carolina, at Ole Miss, Texas A&M, at Georgia, Samford, at Alabama.
Chances of getting in: Look for Auburn to be one of the really good SEC teams discarded from a potential playoff spot. Too many tough road games.
6. Oregon (6-1)
Who the Ducks have beaten: Michigan State (46-27), UCLA (42-30).
Who’s beaten the Ducks: Arizona (31-24).
Who’s left: at California, Stanford, at Utah, Colorado, at Oregon State.
Chances of getting in: The remaining two toughest games are on the road against Cal and Utah. But nobody will be surprised if Oregon fills one of the four spots in the playoff.
7. Notre Dame (6-1)
Who the Irish have beaten: Stanford (17-14).
Who’s beaten the Irish: Florida State (31-27).
Who’s left: at Navy, at Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville, at USC.
Chances of getting in: If Notre Dame runs the table, book it. And only a couple of good Pac-12 teams stand in the way of that happening.
8. Michigan State (6-1)
Who the Spartans have beaten: Nebraska (27-22).
Who’s beaten the Spartans: Oregon (46-27).
Who’s left: Michigan, Ohio State, at Maryland, Rutgers, at Penn State.
Chances of getting in: Sorry, just not buying the Big Ten. Although I suppose if either Michigan State or Ohio State ends the season with one loss, they’ll have a case to make.
9. Georgia (6-1)
Who the Bulldogs have beaten: Missouri (34-0), Clemson (45-21).
Who’s beaten the Bulldogs: South Carolina (38-35).
Who’s left: Florida, at Kentucky, Auburn, Charleston Southern, Georgia Tech.
Chances of getting in: Slim, although if a one-loss Georgia knocks off the SEC West team in the conference championship game, anything can happen. Georgia doesn’t play Alabama, Mississippi or Mississippi State during the regular season.
10. TCU (5-1)
Who the Horned Frogs have beaten: Oklahoma (37-33), Oklahoma State (42-9).
Who’s beaten the Horned Frogs: Baylor (61-58).
Who’s left: Texas Tech, at West Virginia, Kansas State, at Kansas, at Texas, Iowa State.
Chances of getting in: What an improved offense in Fort Worth. And Kansas State is a home game. Somebody in the Big 12 will have a case and it could be these guys.
11. Kansas State (5-1)
Who the Wildcats have beaten: Oklahoma (31-30).
Who’s beaten the Wildcats: Auburn (20-14).
Who’s left: Texas, Oklahoma State, at TCU, at West Virginia, Kansas, at Baylor.
Chances of getting in: K-State got past one of its road hurdles last Saturday by winning at OU. But there are three more left and that’s a daunting task. But Bill Snyder coaches this team so don’t dismiss the Cats.
There are other current one-loss teams that could get into the mix like Baylor, Ohio State, Arizona State and Arizona. And with each passing week, teams will see their chances diminish with losses. If we’ve learned anything about college football over the years, it’s that every Saturday (Thursday, Friday, Sunday) is crazy.
But if I had to pick the four teams to get into the playoff right now, it would be:
Drum roll, please.
Florida State, Ole Miss, Alabama, Notre Dame.