CFP Playoff Scenarios

By hcostats
Nov. 27, 2016

Week 13 of college football is in the books, and the race for the top 4 is getting very heated.  The way I see it, there are only 7 teams remaining that have a chance at making it to the CFP, but there are many different possibilities for the final combination of top-4 teams.  With the conference title games approaching next week, here is what I believe each of the 7 remaining teams will need in order to win a playoff bid.

Alabama Crimson Tide


We already know that the Tide are in.  Even if they were to get destroyed by Florida in the SEC championship game, they would still only have 1 loss, and could still boast the best resume by far.  The SEC title game will be a playoff warm-up for Alabama.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Clemson loss vs. Virginia Tech and/or Washington loss vs. Colorado

Ohio State is sitting at a solid #2 spot, but they aren't in quite yet and they cannot do anything to change their fate now.  While they only have 1 loss and now have a huge win over Michigan, they won't even be playing for the Big Ten title.  The committee has made it very clear that Power 5 conference-title game victories are a huge boost for potential playoff contenders.  If Clemson and Washington both win their conference title games, it would be difficult to argue that Ohio State should get in instead of them because they would each be 1-loss conference champions, while the Buckeyes would only be a 1-loss team with no conference championship.  And if they put all 3 of them (Ohio State, Clemson, and Washington) into the playoff, they would need to justify leaving out the winner of the Wisconsin vs. Penn State game, since that winner would be the champion of Ohio State's conference.  Basically, if Clemson and Washington both win, the Buckeyes could very well be sitting at #5 and on their way to the Rose Bowl against Colorado.

Clemson Tigers

Win vs. Virginia Tech

Clemson's task is simple: Just win.  If they can beat the Hokies in the ACC championship game next Saturday, they will not only make the playoff for the second straight year, but they should become the #2 seed behind Alabama (assuming Alabama wins).

Washington Huskies

Win vs. Colorado

Just like Clemson, Washington should be in complete control of their own destiny.  As long as they beat Colorado (which will be tougher than Clemson's game against Virginia Tech) they should get into the playoff as the #2 or #3 seed (depending on if Clemson wins or not).  However, it is important to note that the Huskies are probably the most likely team to get screwed out of a playoff spot if they do win.  This would only happen if the committee decides to put in Ohio State and the Big Ten champion.  This would only happen if the committee decided that the Big Ten was not only great this year, but that the Pac-12 was extremely weak, somewhat tainting Washington's title.  This is completely possible, but as I stated in Ohio State's section, that would be tough for the committee to explain.

Wisconsin Badgers

Win vs. Penn State

If the Badgers win and claim the Big Ten title, the committee will be forced to put them into the top 4.  To be the champion of a conference with 4 top-7 teams and not get into the playoff would be absurd.  Even though they would be a 2-loss champion, Wisconsin does not have a bad loss, as their only defeats were at the hands of Ohio State and Michigan by a total of 14 points.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Win vs. Wisconsin

I'm sure a lot of people would argue that Penn State would need more than a conference title to get in, but a win next Saturday would give them something that no one else in the country has, and that's 2 wins over top-5 opponents (assuming they move Wisconsin into the top 5 this week).  And as I mentioned before, winning the Big Ten is a huge deal this year since they were the best conference in college football by far.  The only way the Nittany Lions would get left out (if they win) is if the committee puts Ohio State in instead, which would be very difficult to justify since Penn State beat Ohio State.

Colorado Buffaloes

Win vs. Washington and Clemson loss vs. Virginia Tech

As I mentioned before, Ohio State will get in if Clemson or Washington loses.  So by knocking out Washington, the Buffaloes would only be pushing in Ohio State.  Therefore, they would need Clemson to lose as well.  This is extremely unlikely, but still possible.  At the very least, Colorado should be just about guaranteed the Rose Bowl if they lose.

Chances of Making the CFP


% Chance







Ohio State




Penn State




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