Starting 11: The Playoff Picture Narrows Edition

Late last night, after many of you were already asleep, including yours truly, Arizona beat UCLA 30-24. Combined with the epic Washington win at Oregon, the Pac 12’s playoff hopes are now hanging by a thread — USC has to win out from here and finish 12-1 or the Pac 12 is eliminated from the playoff completely.

As generally happens with the Pac 12.

As a result we are down to nine teams with a potential route to the playoff. Many of these routes are highly unlikely, but I will break them all down for you to the best of my playoff genius capability.

Those nine teams are: Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, TCU, Tennessee, LSU, USC, Clemson and North Carolina. Now, again, I’m not saying all of these teams have a high probability of making the playoff, but they are at least alive.

With that in mind, let’s start at the top with the scenarios that are most likely.

But before we get there a couple of mentions of the weekend that was: I have no idea what Texas A&M should do with Jimbo Fisher. He’s going to finish this year 4-8 and just lost to an Auburn team with an interim coach. A&M can’t afford to do what they probably should do, fire Jimbo and start over.

And how about Vanderbilt getting their first SEC win since October of 2019?! Congrats to the Commodores. Mel Kiper moved Will Levis up to his overall number one draft pick after this home loss for Kentucky.

Okay, on to the playoff picture for the nine teams still in contention.

1. Georgia needs to beat Kentucky and Georgia Tech to lock up a playoff berth.

The only way Georgia doesn’t make the playoff at this point is if the Bulldogs lose one of their final two and lost to LSU in the SEC championship game.

So Georgia has the simplest — and easiest — route to the playoff of any team remaining.

2. The Ohio State-Michigan game winner, assuming both teams are 11-0 when its played, punches a playoff ticket.

That means Ohio State has to beat Maryland this weekend and then beat Michigan.

This means Michigan has to beat Illinois this weekend and then beat Ohio State.

Which ever Big Ten team finishes 12-0 is punching its ticket to the playoff. Yes, even with a loss to the Big Ten West team in the Big Ten title game.

Essentially, then, Michigan at Ohio State is a playoff game. Now, and I’ll discuss this below, there’s also the possibility that the loser of Michigan at Ohio State, who will finish 11-1, could also make the playoff. But for now the 12-0 Big Ten regular season champ is in the playoff just like the 12-0 Georgia team is in.

Okay, that means that effectively two spots are taken.

Who’s next?

3. TCU got a big win over Texas last night to run its record to 10-0.

TCU now plays at Baylor before finishing at home against Iowa State.

A 12-0 TCU team would then, I believe, need to win the Big 12 championship to guarantee itself a spot in the playoff. Yes, this means TCU has to get to 13-0 to guarantee itself a playoff berth.

And we still don’t know who the Big 12 title game opponent will end up being — Kansas State is the favorite right now. But the Big 12 is such a mess that come tomorrow it’s likely there will only be one top 25 team other than TCU.

Meaning TCU’s resume at 12-1 isn’t a lock. In fact, I think if TCU loses to anyone, they fall out of the playoff.

So the Horned Frogs, in order to guarantee themselves a spot in the playoff, still need to win out.

4. In terms of ease of schedule, Tennessee is in the second best position to make the playoff right now.

Why do I say that? Because most teams in the playoff hunt have really tough games remaining. The Vols don’t, they get to play at South Carolina and at Vanderbilt. Yes, both games are on the road, but Tennessee figures to be a 17+ point favorite in each of these games. Yes, it’s college football, anything can happen. But the Volunteers have a very good chance to finish 11-1.

At that point the Vols would have two top ten playoff wins, LSU and Alabama, and their only loss would be on the road against the presumptive number one overall seed.

Then unlike many of the teams in playoff contention Tennessee gets to sit at home and watch title game weekend.

This means the Volunteers don’t control their playoff spot, but it’s close.

Only Georgia, which plays at Kentucky and Georgia Tech has an easier close to their schedule than Tennessee.

5. USC is the Pac 12’s only playoff hope.

Every team in the Pac 12 already has at least two losses except for USC.

The Trojans need to win at UCLA, beat Notre Dame, and then win the Pac 12 title game to finish 12-1. Of all the teams in contention for the playoff, I believe USC has the toughest path to the playoff.

But if the Trojans can get to 12-1, they would likely find themselves in the playoff.

I just don’t think USC will get to 12-1.

In fact, it would be the most Pac 12 result possible for UCLA to lose to Arizona last night and then turn around and beat USC this coming weekend to essentially end everyone’s playoff hopes in the Pac 12 before we even get to Thanksgiving week.

6. What if LSU runs the table and finishes 11-2?

LSU finishes with UAB and then on the road at Texas A&M. So what happens if LSU wins both those games and then beats Georgia to finish 11-2?

This would be fascinating because while LSU would have a win over Georgia, they’d also have lost at home by 27 to Tennessee.

And the only reason LSU would be in the SEC title game would be because of divisions, since 11-1 Tennessee would have finished above them if, for instance, the SEC had done away with divisions like the Pac 12 has.

We know Georgia would still be in the playoff at 12-1 so would 11-2 SEC champ LSU jump Tennessee? Sharpen your debate pens now.

I think LSU would still have to be behind Tennessee given how substantial the Vol win in Baton Rouge was. But many will disagree with me.

7. The 12-1 ACC champ, Clemson or North Carolina is in the playoff mix.

The fact that 6-3 Notre Dame beat both these teams hurts them quite a bit in the playoff race.

Which is why the ACC needs quite a bit of help in order to make the playoff, I believe.

Because I think it’s pretty clear the ACC champ would be behind an 11-1 Tennessee and an 11-1 Ohio State or Michigan.

So I think the ACC needs quite a bit of chaos to make the playoff.

8. Okay, what’s the most difficult scenario the committee could face?

You guys love coming up with chaos theories. So the toughest chaos scenario, I think, is this: LSU beats Georgia in the SEC title game, TCU finishes 12-1, Tennessee finishes 11-1, Michigan or Ohio State finishes 11-1, Clemson finishes 12-1, and USC finishes 12-1.

In this scenario you’d still have the Big Ten champ and Georgia in the playoff, which means you’d have two spots remaining and have to pick among these resumes:

12-1 Pac 12 champ USC
12-1 ACC champ Clemson
12-1 TCU, either with a loss in the championship game or in the regular season
11-2 SEC champ LSU
11-1 Tennessee
11-1 Michigan or Ohio State

Good luck.

I think 12-1 USC would get in here — they’d have to finish with three straight top 25 wins to get there — and I think 12-1 TCU would get in here, but it could come down to where the TCU loss came between them and Clemson or Tennessee.

My point here is that’s the biggest mess imaginable. And there’s still a ton of football left to be played. So pause on the arguments for a bit.

Remember last week the primary talking point was all about Oregon running the table. And then Oregon lost at home to Washington. SO these things tend to resolve themselves to the point where there either isn’t much debate at all or we’re essentially arguing about four vs. five.

9. After all this analysis if you’re curious how Vegas ranks national title odds, here’s this morning’s numbers:

1. Georgia -125
2. Ohio State +250
3. Michigan +700
4. Tennessee +2000
5. TCU +2000
6. USC +3000
7. LSU +5000
8. North Carolina +6000
9. Clemson +6000

The nine teams I laid out above are the only teams with better than 200-1 national title odds.

10. My Outkick National Top Ten

I honestly don’t see how anyone could have any other teams in their top ten here. You might disagree with the order I have these teams ranked, but this is the top ten in the country right now.

1. Georgia
2. Ohio State
3. Michigan
4. TCU
5. Tennessee
6. LSU
7. Alabama
8. USC
9. Clemson
10. North Carolina

11. SEC power rankings 1-14

The top five is pretty much set. But we run into pure conference chaos at six. It’s impossible to rank every team above a team they’ve beaten and below a team they’ve lost against so I’m ranking them now on who is the best right now from six on down.

1. Georgia
2. Tennessee
3. LSU
4. Alabama
5. Ole Miss
6. Florida
7. Mississippi State
8. Arkansas
9. South Carolina
10. Kentucky
11. Auburn
12. Missouri
13. Vanderbilt
14. Texas A&M

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.

2 Comments

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    • True, but if not for ND having an agreement to fill in as an OOC game for several ACC teams each season, Clemson and UNC would likely both be undefeated. It’s a slippery slope argument. LSU *did* play a good team in week one. And that team BEAT them.

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