One of the biggest problems with the College Football Playoff releasing rankings during the regular season is that it leads to a lot of people believing certain teams have no chance of making the playoff based on where they're ranked in any given week. It's a natural reaction for college football fans, as we've all grown accustomed to a certain poll mentality seeing as how polls have been used to settle the sport's champion for so long.
For instance, in the Associated Press Top 25, there's a simple philosophy. If a team is ranked No. 3 one week, it's not going to drop down the rankings if it wins, only if it loses. Well, that's not the case with the CFP Rankings, which are fluid.
They start over every single week, updating the rankings to include all the latest information. So if you're No. 3 right now, you can be No. 5 next week even if you won your latest game by 52 points. Don't believe me? Just ask 2014 TCU.
It's also important to remember that the committee places an emphasis on conference champions, so no matter where you're ranked right now, if you're still alive for your conference title, you're alive for a playoff berth too. You just might need a lot more help than others.
Let's take a look at the path to the playoff for teams that are still alive in the race, whether you realize it or not. Here's what each needs to do in order to get into the top four.
No. 9 Oklahoma (8-2, 7-0 Big 12)
Best win(s): vs. Baylor | Losses: vs. No. 2 Ohio State, vs. Houston
Remaining games (must-wins): at West Virginia, vs. Oklahoma State
What needs to happen: It isn't a complicated path for the Sooners. If Oklahoma can beat both West Virginia and Oklahoma State to finish 9-0 in Big 12 play, it's suddenly a real contender for a playoff bid because it has three quality wins. That being said, I don't see a two-loss Oklahoma being chosen ahead of any one-loss conference champ from the other Power Five conferences, so Oklahoma would need help elsewhere.
The easiest path would be if Washington doesn't win the Pac-12. A 10-2 Oklahoma team would likely be taken ahead of a two-loss Pac-12 champion. Clemson losing to Wake Forest and Louisville, North Carolina or Virginia Tech winning the ACC would be great as far as Oklahoma is concerned as well.
The other concern is a school that doesn't win its conference title getting chosen over the Sooners, but even if I don't think the committee would do that, having Alabama and Michigan win their respective conferences would help too.
Will they get in? Seriously, it's not that crazy. It's definitely not as much of a pipe dream as it seemed like in September after the Sooners lost to Houston and Ohio State. Chance: 40 percent
No. 11 Oklahoma State (8-2, 6-1 Big 12)
What needs to happen: Winning the Big 12 alone launches the Pokes into consideration, but it likely won't be enough. It would be imperative that Michigan wins the Big Ten and Alabama wins the SEC. If Michigan wins the Big Ten, Ohio State would have two losses, diminishing the Big Ten's chances of getting two teams in. Same goes for the SEC, because if Alabama loses the SEC title game, there's a very good chance it would still be chosen for the CFP along with the SEC champion.
Next, Oklahoma State needs somebody that isn't Washington to win the Pac-12. The most desirable candidate for the Cowboys would be Washington State. Then the Cowboys would be compared to another two-loss team, and one that actually has a worse loss than Oklahoma State's to Central Michigan. Washington State lost to an FCS team, Eastern Washington.
Speaking of that Central Michigan loss, it's possible for Oklahoma State to be chosen over another Pac-12 team like Colorado, Utah or even Southern California. If the committee has a long enough memory to recall that the CMU loss was the result of an insane Hail Mary play that shouldn't have happened, it's possible they won't punish the Cowboys nearly as much for the loss as they would under ordinary circumstance. That's purely speculation, though. We have no idea how the committee would actually view that loss when comparing teams.
Will they get in? Not a great chance but not impossible. I believe one of the biggest barriers is that both of Oklahoma State's final two games are on the road. Oh, and that Central Michigan loss. Chance: 10 percent
No. 14 West Virginia (8-1, 5-1 Big 12)
Best win(s): vs. TCU, at Texas | Losses: at Oklahoma State
Remaining games (must-wins): vs. Oklahoma, at Iowa State, vs. Baylor
What needs to happen: It's really not all that complicated for West Virginia. It's ranked lower than Oklahoma and Oklahoma State now simply because it's West Virginia, and it has no major wins. If it wins out to pick up victories over Oklahoma and Baylor, suddenly it does. Then it would just need Oklahoma to beat Oklahoma State and West Virginia is your Big 12 champion.
Then, if Washington doesn't win the Pac-12, a one-loss West Virginia is suddenly more attractive than a two-loss Pac-12 champion.
Will they get in? It's a lot more likely than you think because West Virginia's toughest remaining games are in Morgantown. The problem is having to rely on Oklahoma State and Washington to lose other games. Chance: 25 percent
No. 7 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten)
Best win(s): vs. No. 16 LSU, vs. No. 18 Nebraska | Losses: at No. 3 Michigan, vs. No. 2 Ohio State
What needs to happen: The prevailing theory among many is that a two-loss Wisconsin can't get in, even if it wins the Big Ten. That's just not true. If Wisconsin wins its final two games and then wins the Big Ten title game, it will add a win over either No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan or No. 8 Penn State to its rÃ©sumÃ©. That's three impressive wins, and Wisconsin's two losses will have been by seven points to Michigan and in overtime to Ohio State.
A two-loss Big Ten champion is not getting left out of the playoff this year, though Wisconsin's case would be bolstered with another Washington loss just to be safe.
Will they get in? Chances are pretty dang high! The biggest roadblock would be beating either Michigan or Ohio State in the title game, but I believe beating Penn State is certainly doable. Chance: 35 percent
No. 8 Penn State (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten)
Best win(s): vs. No. 2 Ohio State | Losses: at No. 3 Michigan, vs. Pitt
What needs to happen: It isn't complicated. Penn State needs to beat Rutgers and Michigan State and it needs Ohio State to beat Michigan. If that happens Penn State is playing for a Big Ten title, where it will have a chance to add a win over Wisconsin or Nebraska to its rÃ©sumÃ©.
If that happens a two-loss Penn State team that is Big Ten champion is being selected for the playoff over a one-loss Ohio State team it beat, no matter what anybody else tells you. It's possible Ohio State could still get in as well, but there's no way Ohio State is taken ahead of Penn State if it wins the Big Ten.
Will they get in? I'm more confident in Ohio State's ability to beat Michigan than I am in Penn State's ability to win its next three games, even if two of them are Rutgers or Michigan State. Chance: 40 percent
No. 18 Nebraska (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten)
What needs to happen: It's an extreme longshot, but Nebraska does have a path. The biggest problem is it has no impressive wins, and its only chance to get one would be to win the Big Ten title game. For that to happen, it needs to win its final two games and have Wisconsin to lose to either Purdue or Minnesota. Then Nebraska would need to beat either Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State in the Big Ten title game.
The ideal scenario would be for Michigan to lose to Indiana, then beat Ohio State while Penn State wins its final two games. Then, if Nebraska beats Penn State in Indianapolis, there wouldn't be a Big Ten team with fewer than two losses, and Nebraska would be the conference's champion.
Mix in some chaos in the Pac-12 and Big 12 (Washington and Oklahoma losses would be helpful), Alabama winning the SEC and anybody but Clemson or Louisville winning the ACC, and the Huskers have a chance!
Will they get in? Well, if you just read what needs to happen, you know the chances aren't good. Chance: 2 percent
No. 10 Colorado (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12)
Remaining games (must-wins): vs. No. 22 Washington State, vs. No. 12 Utah
What needs to happen: As of now, Colorado has a weak rÃ©sumÃ©, as it only has one win over a ranked team. That would change were it to win out, beating Washington State, Utah and then likely Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Were that to happen, it's hard to imagine a 10-2 Colorado team being left out considering its two losses came against Michigan and USC.
That being said, given that brands are still things that matter, Colorado's chances would improve if Oklahoma loses a third game, or if West Virginia doesn't win the Big 12. Same if either Michigan or Ohio State win the Big Ten.
Will they get in? Their odds are not horrible, it's just I don't want to put the number too high simply because we haven't seen Colorado win any major games. That Stanford win looks a lot better now than it did at the time, because Stanford has improved since then. Chance: 20 percent
No. 12 Utah (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12)
Best win(s): vs. No. 13 USC | Losses: at Cal, vs. No. 6 Washington
Remaining games (must-wins): vs. Oregon, at No. 10 Colorado
What needs to happen: Utah's situation is similar to Colorado's. First things first, it needs to win its final two games. If it does that, it wins the Pac-12 South. Then if it wins the Pac-12 title game (against either No. 5 Washington or No. 22 Washington State), it will finish as an 11-2 Pac-12 champion with three wins over ranked teams.
Also like Colorado, Utah would be better off if Oklahoma State were to win the Big 12, as I think its rÃ©sumÃ© compares better with the Cowboys than either a Big 12 champion Sooners or Mountaineers team. If Alabama wins the SEC, Michigan or Ohio State wins the Big Ten and either Clemson or Louisville don't win the ACC, that helps as well.
Will they get in? Well, considering Utah has the same path as Colorado, I can't give it better or worse odds than I did the Buffaloes, now can I? Chance: 20 percent
No. 13 Southern California (7-3, 6-2 Pac-12)
Best win(s): at No. 6 Washington, vs. No. 10 Colorado | Losses: vs. No. 1 Alabama, at No. 24 Stanford, at No. 12 Utah
What needs to happen: USC would need a lot of help, but it has one big thing working in its favor: It's USC. It also doesn't hurt that it has two top-10 wins and all three of its losses have come to teams that are currently ranked.
USC needs to win the Pac-12, however, and that's not a simple proposition. It has the tiebreaker over Colorado, but not Utah, so ideally the Buffaloes lose to Washington State and then beat Utah while USC wins out. That leaves both USC and Colorado at 7-2, and USC moves on. Then if USC beats Washington (Washington State could work, too, but the Huskies would be a lot better) again in a Pac-12 title game rematch, it has a very strong case, even for a three-loss team.
Like its Pac-12 counterparts we've already gone over, Alabama winning the SEC, Michigan or Ohio State winning the Big Ten, Oklahoma State winning the Big 12, and neither Clemson nor Louisville winning the ACC would help a lot, too. In fact, all of those things may be mandatory.
Will they get in? I don't think it's insane to imagine USC winning the Pac-12, but all that other stuff? Yeah, that's probably not going to happen. Chance: 0.5 percent
No. 23 Florida (7-2, 5-2 SEC)
Remaining games (must-wins): at No. 16 LSU, at No. 17 Florida State
What needs to happen: Florida seems like an extreme long shot considering it's currently at No. 23, but strictly on paper, it's not a long shot at all. The reason Florida is ranked so low right now is it doesn't have a strong win. What it does have is three straight games against teams that would really boost its stock.
If Florida were to manage to beat both LSU and Florida State on the road, and then head to Atlanta to beat Alabama, it's done. I don't care what you think, there is simply no way an 11-2 SEC champion that just reeled off three straight against LSU, Florida State and Alabama gets left out of the playoff. Zero. None. Zilch.
Will they get in? The whole problem here is Florida actually running the table! There might not be a team in the country more torn apart by injuries than the Gators right now, and asking them to win those three games with so many reserves at key spots -- including quarterback -- is probably a bridge too far. Chance: 5 percent
No. 19 Tennessee (7-3, 3-3 SEC)
Best win(s): vs. No. 23 Florida | Losses: vs. No. 1 Alabama, at No. 25 Texas A&M, at South Carolina
What needs to happen: A whole helluva lot. Tennessee needs Florida to lose to LSU, and the Vols need to win out against Mizzou and Vandy. If they do that it, which is compltely possible and perhaps even likely, then Tennessee has to go to Atlanta and beat Alabama. If all that happens, Tennessee is your SEC champion, and even with three losses, that carries some cache.
But probably not enough.
Considering Alabama would probably still get into the playoff even with the loss, that means Tennessee is fighting four other Power Five champions for those other three spots. So if a three-loss USC wins the Pac-12, and either a three-loss North Carolina or Virginia Tech win the ACC, now the Vols are in business. If that happens, it would probably be best for Michigan or Ohio State to win the Big Ten to help ensure a second Big Ten team doesn't get a berth.
So let's imagine a scenario in which Oklahoma, Alabama and Michigan/Ohio State get three spots. Then it's a 10-3 Tennessee team against a 10-3 USC team and a 10-3 ACC champion for that final spot, and I would wager the SEC factor, as well as just beating Alabama, tilts the scale in Tennessee's favor.
Will they get in? Listen, this list was just about including teams that have a chance, not simply teams that have a good chance. Make no mistake about it, Tennessee's chances are not good. Chance: 0.5 percent