That could end up being the most pressing question for the College Football Playoff committee. If we assume that Alabama, Ohio State and the ACC champion all make the playoff, who will be the fourth team that joins them?
The competition for the last spot is more open than it has been in years as five-time defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma is already sitting on two losses. While OU isn’t currently in first place in the Big 12, the Sooners can win out and take a sixth consecutive conference crown.
With Oklahoma out of the mix barring some chaos over the final six weeks of the regular season, here’s a look at who we think are the top contenders to grab the final playoff spot.
Clemson (7-1) or Notre Dame (7-0): We’re fully anticipating a rematch in the ACC championship after Notre Dame’s thrilling 47-40 win Saturday night. And the winner of that game would go to the playoff. That part would be straightforward.
What wouldn’t be is how the committee would view a loss by either team. Notre Dame would appear to have a significant edge for the No. 4 spot if it entered the ACC title game undefeated and didn’t get blown out by a Clemson team that had Trevor Lawrence.
If Clemson lost, how would the committee view a team that lost twice to the same really good team? It’s possible to see how a two-loss Clemson with two close losses to Notre Dame could find its way into the playoff over other two-loss teams in college football.
Florida (4-1): The Gators are the clear favorites for the SEC East after an easy 44-28 win over Georgia. QB Kyle Trask threw for a career-high 474 yards and four touchdowns as Georgia’s defense couldn’t stop the Gators’ passing game. With an easy second-half schedule upcoming, Florida should end the regular season 9-1.
If Florida enters the SEC title game with just one loss and loses a close game to Alabama, how much love do the Gators get from the committee? Or what if Florida pulls the upset? If UF beats an undefeated Alabama, there will be a good chance that the SEC would have have the playoff field.
BYU (8-0): The Cougars destroyed Boise State on Friday night and have a legitimate claim to being playoff-worthy. But is BYU going to be a victim of its own pandemic-induced schedule? BYU had six games against Power Five opponents on its original schedule. All of those games disappeared when conferences went to conference-only schedules because of COVID-19.
As BYU scrambled to fill out a schedule it couldn’t find very good opponents. Boise was supposed to be its BYU’s biggest test. But the Broncos ended up playing most of the game with its No. 3 and No. 4 QBs.
If BYU finishes the season at 10-0, it should be in line for a New Year’s Six bowl at worst. But the committee has been a stickler for schedule strength in its relatively brief existence. And it’s hard not to see it dinging BYU’s schedule unless it makes a COVID-19 exception.
Cincinnati (6-0): The Bearcats are destroying other teams in the AAC. Houston was Cincy’s latest victim on Saturday as the Bearcats won 38-10. No team has come closer to Cincy than Army did in Week 2 when the Black Knights lost 24-10. QB Desmond Ridder has been one of the most improved players in the country and Cincinnati’s defense is holding teams to an average of less than 12 points per game.
The best opponent remaining on Cincinnati’s schedule is UCF. The two teams play on Nov. 21. If Cincinnati’s defense can significantly slow down UCF’s ridiculous offense and the Bearcats run the table, then Cincinnati could be in a better position for the playoff than BYU.
Wisconsin (1-0): We still don’t know much about the Badgers. If Wisconsin has another game canceled this year because of COVID-19 then it’s ineligible for the Big Ten title game. If Wisconsin does play six Big Ten regular season games and goes 6-0, it’ll likely meet Ohio State for the conference title. What if Wisconsin pulls the upset? An undefeated Big Ten champion — even at 7-0 — has to be in the playoff, right?