The top four spots in the latest College Football Playoff rankings saw no change, but heading into the final weekend of the season a number of scenarios could play out and completely alter who will play for this year’s national title.
The No. 1 Clemson Tigers, No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide, No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners, and No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes all held steady when the CFP committee announced its latest rankings Tuesday night, with the No. 5 Michigan State Spartans and No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes just on the outside.
Yet that order isn’t set in stone at all as many conferences decide their champions this weekend. The Tigers must turn back No. 10 North Carolina for the ACC title, Alabama faces a talented and difficult No. 18 Florida for the SEC crown, and the Hawkeyes must fend off the Spartans for the Big Ten.
And depending on how each of those games pans out, the final CFP rankings could look drastically different by season’s end.
Here’s a look at what all six teams must do in order to solidify their place or move up.
No. 1 Clemson Tigers
Beating back the Tar Heels likely guarantees Clemson a place in the final four. But if the game is close or is decided in overtime, there is a chance the CFP committee penalizes Dabo Swinney’s crew and moves them down a spot or two. A loss, but specifically a close loss, likely doesn’t bump the Tigers completely out of the top four but they would drop at least one or two spots.
There’s been some talk of North Carolina rocketing into the CFP rankings with a victory, but even if they upset Clemson it would stand as just their second victory over a ranked opponent and doesn’t wipe away the season-opening loss to lowly South Carolina.
No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide
The Tide and head coach Nick Saban are 17.5-point favorites over Florida, and winning by more than two touchdowns not only clinches the No. 2 CFP slot but also puts them in contention for No. 1. Again, if the Tigers beat but struggle against the Tar Heels, the Tide will look much stronger to the committee. A victory for the Tide would stand as their sixth over a ranked opponent, with the 30-16 victory over then-No. 2 LSU standing as their biggest of the year. However, committee members and Clemson fans will quickly point out Alabama’s poor home loss to Ole Miss.
No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners
Remember last season when Baylor and TCU were clamoring for a Big-12 title game to name one conference champ and make their cases stronger for the CFP? This year, Bob Stoops and Sooners are in the best possible position. Oklahoma already wrapped up the conference in convincing fashion, a 58-23 romp of Oklahoma State, and now get to sit back and watch everyone else battle.
Losses by both Clemson and Alabama might put the Sooners in line for the No. 1 or No. 2 spot. They knocked down five ranked opponents, including both TCU and Baylor in consecutive weeks, but the No. 2 spot seems more likely with that loss to Texas still a major blemish on the Sooners’ resume. However, the Sooners could slip to No. 4 if Iowa wrecks Michigan State.
No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes
Assuming the Hawkeyes win the Big Ten, and Clemson and Alabama lose, they have a strong case to own the No. 1 or No. 2 position. Iowa has only two wins over ranked opponents, but both were on the road, and they secured a spot in the conference title game by beating the same Nebraska squad on the road that Michigan State failed to beat.
Wins for Clemson and Alabama, with Oklahoma likely safe, and a Hawkeyes loss likely knocks them out and puts the Spartans in the top four.
No. 5 Michigan State Spartans
The Nebraska loss seemed to dispel any chances for Mark Dantonio’s team, but this squad turned it around to contain Ohio State’s offensive arsenal on the road. Coupled with their victory at the Big House over then-No. 12 Michigan, and the Spartans will be in the top four if they beat Iowa.
Moving past Oklahoma will be difficult, but should Clemson and or Alabama lose, the Spartans could reach as high as No. 3.
No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes
There’s really nothing for the Buckeyes to do but watch television this weekend. They likely need Clemson and Alabama to lose big and for Iowa to trounce Michigan State to even smell No. 5, let alone No. 4. A poor early season slate of lesser squads hurts the Buckeyes, who didn’t face a ranked opponent until they hosted the Spartans. The 42-13 shellacking of Michigan certainly helps their case, but it seems too little too late.