With the penultimate college football playoff rankings released on Tuesday, it’s time to look into the prospects for the teams still chasing four teams. There are mainly five teams competing for these places, and only four of them actually participate in the conference championship games, which are held on Friday and Saturday.
With the list so short this year, we’ve expanded this annual story to include a look at what opportunities exist for the four remaining New Year’s Six games outside of the playoffs. With such a large number of connections to conferences, there is not much flexibility, but there is still some intrigue.
Without further ado, here is a list of the remaining CFP contenders in order of their current rankings, along with an explanation of what each team can accomplish this weekend. Let’s see how these teams handle Championship Week and the final CFP rankings.
College football playoff paths
Six New Year’s tracks
There are more options for the New Year’s Six. Once the CFP pairings are set, Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls will select teams for their games. Here is how it will happen.
If the Big Ten and/or Pac-12 champions make the playoffs, the bowl chooses its replacement. Traditionally, these will be the highest ranked teams remaining after these conferences. However, the Rose Bowl has the option to select competitors from a “group” of similarly ranked teams.
If Michigan and USC won this weekend, there could be a rematch of last year’s game between Ohio and Utah in the Rose Bowl. This would be far from ideal. Rose looked poised to put in No. 8 Penn State of the Big Ten and/or No. 12 Washington of the Pac-12 to ensure the game didn’t repeat itself. The Buckeyes have played the Rose Bowl twice in the last four years, while the Nittany Lions have not been in the game since 2016. The Huskies were a possibility from the Pac-12s as the Utes, in addition to playing in the Rose Bowl last year. , would also suffer a fourth defeat.
However, it all became moot on Friday night when Utah beat USC to ensure the Pac-12 champion made it to the Rose Bowl. Ohio State is in the playoffs and Michigan has already secured a place, so Penn State is now predicted for the Rose Bowl as a Big Ten representative. The wildcard is Purdue, which will automatically be in this game if the Boilermakers become the Spoilermakers against Michigan.
- Michigan wins: Penn State vs Utah
Purdue wins: Perdue vs Utah
Likewise, the conference champions from the SEC and the Big 12 are represented in the Sugar Bowl. The situation with the Big 12 is set. With TCU going to be the winner or loser in the playoffs, Kansas State would be in the Sugar Bowl either as the Big 12 champion or as a replacement for the Horned Frogs. If Georgia wins, the No. 6 Alabama will replace the Bulldogs in this game. Otherwise, LSU becomes the conference champion.
- Georgia wins: Alabama vs Kansas State
LSU wins: LSU vs Kansas State
This bowl only receives one conference champion. The ACC title holder is the anchor, and No. 9 Clemson vs. No. 23 North Carolina decides the spot as neither team can make the playoffs. The opponent is the highest-ranked team remaining from the SEC, Big Ten, or Notre Dame that did not make the playoffs, the Rose Bowl, or the Sugar Bowl. This representative will be from the SEC and will be either Alabama or number 7 in Tennessee.
- Georgia wins: Tennessee vs. Clemson or North Carolina
LSU wins: Alabama vs. Clemson or North Carolina
This is the only game with big dots. One of those who made the Group Five automatic qualifier: No. 18 Tulane, who defeated No. 22 UCF for the AAC title. The other spot simply goes to the remaining highest ranked team that is not yet in the New Year’s Six game.
These options would be USC, Tennessee, or Washington. What is unknown is where USC will fall in the final rankings, but with a score of 11-2, the Trojans will most likely earn the final spot in the New Year’s Six.
The highest-ranked team with no chance of playing in the New Year’s Six is Florida State’s No. 13. However, this does not mean that all the top 12 teams will qualify. In fact, the AAC champion won’t be in the top 12, and Purdue won’t rank as high even as a Big Ten champion.
In addition to this list of contenders, CBS Sports released my updatedFriday night. Reminder: These predictions do not reflect how things are now, but how I expect things to look after Saturday’s conference championship games.