These nine games will decide who reaches the College Football Playoff

The College Football Playoff picture is taking shape, and as we enter the final three weeks of action leading up to the CFP Selection Committee's final rankings on Dec. 3, we can pick out the games that will ultimately decide who plays for the national championship in January 2018.

According to our analysis, nine teams are still in the hunt for the four spots. At this point, we're ruling out USC, Washington and Washington State from the Pac-12, all being two-loss teams with an outside chance at making a late run up the rankings given their head-to-head results and strength of schedule. That leaves three teams from the SEC (Alabama, Auburn, Georgia), two each from the ACC (Clemson, Miami) and Big Ten (Wisconsin, Ohio State), Oklahoma and Notre Dame as the teams with the clearest path to the College Football Playoff.

Below, in order of significance, we've listed the nine most important games left on the slate for determining the College Football Playoff.  

1. Alabama at Auburn (Nov. 25): Auburn's dominant win against Georgia quickly changed the dynamics of this year's Iron Bowl. Jordan-Hare Stadium was rocking during the beatdown of the Bulldogs, and it will be absolutely insane with the Tide hit the field with the winner claiming the SEC West title and earning a spot in the SEC Championship Game. An Alabama win makes things easier on the committee, while an Auburn victory inserts both the Tigers and one-loss, non-champion Crimson Tide into discussion for a playoff spot.  

2. ACC Championship Game -- Miami vs. Clemson (Dec. 2): The ACC has two national championship-caliber teams in 2017 with Clemson and Miami. As it stands, both teams have a pretty good argument to be in the final four but the nature of the College Football Playoff race suggests that only one, the winner of this top-five battle in Charlotte, will get a spot in the top four. Both teams, regardless of result, deserve serious consideration, but when the committee sits together in that room on Saturday, Dec. 2 it will likely make this a "win and you're in" game with the loser taking a New Years Six at-large bid. 

3. SEC Championship Game -- Alabama/Auburn vs. Georgia (Dec. 2): This game is listed below the Iron Bowl only because we won't know the dynamics of the playoff race until after that Nov. 25 clash. Alabama, Auburn and Georgia are all alive in the playoff race, and the only way to guarantee a spot in the top four is to win in Atlanta. A previously undefeated Alabama is the only team from that group that could lose in Atlanta and still have a good shot to make the playoff, while it's a must-win scenario for Auburn and Georgia.    

4. Oklahoma vs. West Virginia (Nov. 26): After the SEC and ACC champions, the next player in the playoff race is Oklahoma. The Sooners have an open door to a bid but still have three games left with no margin for error. West Virginia quarterback Will Grier has that ability to go drive for drive with Baker Mayfield, and if the Sooners don't get stops, this game could weird and endanger their playoff chances. 

5. Big 12 Championship Game (Dec. 2): There's a chance of history repeating itself and the Big 12's best national championship contender losing in the Big 12 title game, and if that happens with Oklahoma in the first year the game is back on the schedule, it's going to be a devastating twist or irony. Oklahoma State's win against Iowa State makes TCU the most likely opponent for the Sooners, rematching the 38-20 result from last week.

6. Michigan at Wisconsin (Nov. 18): This is a huge date point for Wisconsin in the eyes of the committee. Though the game is at home, it's still a big step up in competition from the average Big Ten opponent on Wisconsin's 2017 schedule. Wisconsin needs to have multiple quality wins, including the Big Ten title game, in order to make the College Football Playoff. Style points help, but a win is the most important result for Wisconsin. 

7. Ohio State at Michigan (Nov. 25): There's a backdoor opportunity, again, for Ohio State. The Buckeyes should be rooting for Alabama to hand Auburn and Georgia its third and second loss, respectively, in the next three weeks to give Ohio State a strong argument for the playoff as a two-loss conference champion from the Big Ten. Any loss drops Ohio State from this field of contenders, giving Michigan a chance to play spoiler to its rival in Ann Arbor. 

8. Big Ten Championship Game (Dec. 2): Wisconsin's shot at proving its doubters wrong meets Ohio State's last gasp at a playoff spot on Saturday night with the committee and the rest of the nation watching. By the time the game kicks off, we'll have the results from the Big 12 and SEC Championship Games, setting the stage for the implications of this title game. 

9. Notre Dame at Stanford (Nov. 25): The Fighting Irish have the longest odds of this group, likely needing one Georgia loss and two Miami losses to open the backdoor to a top-four final ranking. One of the ways playoff teams are judged is by "championships won," and since Notre Dame doesn't have a championship for which to play, it will lose debates against teams with conference titles -- and in the case of Miami and Georgia, it could lose debates based on head-to-head results. So this regular-season finale, at Stanford, is the closest thing Notre Dame has to a championship stage. Stanford's win against Washington makes this a potential quality win for the Irish, who with a victory would likely secure at a New Year's Six bowl bid. 

CBS Sports Writer

Chip Patterson has spent his young career covering college sports from the Old North State. He's been writing and talking about football and basketball for CBS Sports since 2010. You may have heard him... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories