Starting 11: Who Will Make the Playoff Edition?

There weren’t a ton of changes in my top rankings of college football teams after yesterday’s game, but I’m starting to think we may end up with a chaotic finale of the season here.

I’d have the teams ranked thusly as we enter the final week of the regular season:

1. Alabama

2. Miami

3. Oklahoma

4. Clemson

5. Georgia

6. Wisconsin

7. Auburn

But we still have 11 teams alive for the playoff.

Yes, 11.

Now let’s dive into the maelstrom.

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1. There are 11 teams still alive for the playoff and I’m going to break down what has to happen for each team to get in now.

Yes, 11, I didn’t misspeak.


Last week I didn’t consider a couple of wild scenarios that I should have so I want to expand and consider everything this week. If for nothing else than to avoid people sending me emails with all these crazy hypothetical scenarios that all end with, what would happen then? (FYI, I am not going to respond to these emails or Tweets. Because I would honestly spend all week doing so.)

Those 11 teams still alive for the playoff are: Alabama, Miami, Oklahoma, Clemson, Georgia, Wisconsin, Auburn, TCU, the team that would not die, Ohio State, and, potentially, the 11-2 Pac 12 champ USC, or, and I can’t believe I’m typing this, Washington State.

Now let me explain what has to happen for each team to get in. I’ll do that by breaking down every conference picture.

2. The SEC has three teams alive for the playoff.

Alabama is in the playoff if it beats Auburn and Georgia to finish 13-0.

But Alabama would be in the playoff it beats Auburn but loses to Georgia to finish 12-1. Essentially, I believe Alabama punches its playoff ticket if it wins on the road at Auburn regardless of what happens in the SEC title game.

And I also think Alabama might well end up in the playoff if it loses to Auburn and Auburn or Georgia go on to win the SEC title. Really. 11-1 Alabama would still have just one loss and be among the best of the available at-large teams.

Georgia advances to the playoff if it beats Georgia Tech and wins the SEC title.

Auburn advances to the playoff if it beats Alabama and then beats Georgia to win the SEC title.

3. The Big Ten has two teams alive for the playoff.

A 13-0 Wisconsin team is 100% in the playoff, but I even think 12-1 Wisconsin with a loss to Minnesota and a win over Ohio State would probably still get in the playoff too. But a 12-1 Wisconsin with a loss to Ohio State is unlikely to make the playoff.

Ohio State might get in the playoff if the following happens: Alabama wins out to finish 13-0, eliminating the other two SEC teams from contention, Miami wins out to finish 12-0, Oklahoma wins out to finish 12-1. Then you’d have an open spot at number four.

Would the committee take 11-2 Big Ten champ Ohio State, 11-2 Clemson, 11-2 Pac 12 champ USC or Washington State, 11-2 Georgia, or 10-2 Notre Dame? Buckeye fans seem convinced they’d get picked here and they may be correct, but I’m not 100% sure that would happen. Because right now the committee absolutely loves Clemson and does 11-2 Ohio State really have that much better of a resume than 11-2 USC? So we’d have to wait and see for that fourth spot in this scenario.

Regardless, I think this is the only possible scenario where Ohio State gets in the playoff.

4. The ACC has two teams alive for the playoff. 

Clemson gets in the playoff by beating South Carolina and then beating Miami in the ACC title game.

Clemson also gets in the playoff by losing to South Carolina and beating Miami in the ACC title game. Yes, I think 12-2 ACC champion Clemson still makes the playoff.

Miami gets in the playoff by beating Clemson and finishing 12-0 or as a wild card at 11-1 if Miami is the best of the available options there. I think 11-1 Miami would get in the playoff over 11-2 Big Ten champ Ohio State or 11-2 Pac 12 champ USC. I also think 11-1 ACC champion Miami would get in the playoff even with a loss at Pittsburgh this coming weekend.

5. The Big 12 has Oklahoma alive for the playoff and, maybe, 11-2 TCU too. 

The Sooners have West Virginia this weekend and then will probably play TCU in a totally unnecessary Big 12 title game.

12-1 Oklahoma is clearly in the playoff, but here’s an interesting question for you — what happens if TCU finishes second in the Big 12 at 10-2 and then pulls off the upset in the Big 12 title game? Would 11-2 TCU make the playoff? For instance, how would you put 11-2 Ohio State, which lost to Oklahoma, in over 11-2 TCU, which just beat Oklahoma to win the Big 12 title? Wouldn’t 11-2 TCU have a better resume than 11-2 Ohio State? Could they both get in?

The more I think about these title games the more complicated these playoff permutations get.

6. The 11-2 Pac 12 champ could still be alive for the playoff too. 

What would have to happen for the Pac 12 to get into the playoff?

The Pac 12 champ needs 13-0 Alabama to win the SEC and 12-0 Miami to win the ACC. Both of these aren’t outlandish outcomes. The Pac 12 just needs one big rivalry upset — they need Ohio State to lose to Michigan in the final week of the season and then bounce back to beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. That way 10-3 Ohio State is the Big Ten champ. Then there would be two spots left open, one for the Big 12 champ and the other for the Pac 12 champs. (I don’t believe the committee would reward 12-1 Wisconsin with a playoff spot and I don’t think a three loss Ohio State would be in the playoff mix).

That’s not insane, right?

In that scenario an 11-2 Pac 12 champ would likely be in.

So who is the least likely playoff team that no one is talking about right now? Washington State. The Cougars could still finish 11-2 and win the Pac 12.

So USC and even Washington State aren’t dead yet.

Are you exhausted yet?

Remember all those idiots who said a playoff would make the regular season matter less? Yeah, they were totally wrong. We’ve got 11 teams alive for the playoff as we enter the final week of the regular season.

7. Well, what about if Notre Dame…

Sorry, Fighting Irish fans, you aren’t getting in the playoff.

Trust me, there is a 0% chance of it happening.

I’ve run all the possibilities, it’s impossible.

So don’t email me.

8. How many SEC jobs are coming open?

We’ve already got Florida and Tennessee open — and Ole Miss too — but what’s going to happen at Arkansas and at Texas A&M?

I see no way Arkansas keeps Bret Bielema — especially not after Missouri crushes the Razorbacks on Friday in front of a tiny crowd the day after Thanksgiving to drop Arkansas to 4-8 — but the Texas A&M decision is an interesting one.

Consider this: In six seasons in the SEC West Kevin Sumlin has gone 25-22. Meanwhile Dan Mullen has gone 24-23. Mullen has a worse record in the SEC West than Sumlin!

Now, granted, Mullen is coaching at Mississippi State, but isn’t it crazy that Mullen is considered a coaching genius and expectations are that everyone is going to try and hire him away and Sumlin is on the ropes at Texas A&M? If Sumlin loses to LSU and Dan Mullen beats Ole Miss then they will have the exact same SEC record after six seasons.

My point — based on people I’ve been talking to — I think there’s a good chance Sumlin is going to have some options at Big Five schools even if his tenure at A&M comes to a close.

9. Okay, okay, but who do the SEC schools — and Nebraska– hire?

I think there is real momentum for Jimbo Fisher to leave Florida State and I’m told Texas A&M may be firing Kevin Sumlin no matter what happens in the LSU game. That is, the relationship is broken between Sumlin’s bosses at A&M and him.

So I’m actually predicting right now that Jimbo is going to leave FSU and take the A&M job. I think Jimbo wants out of Tallahassee for personal reasons more than anything else.

If Jimbo leaves FSU then all coaching bets are off because that’s a great job that would open too, likely bursting open the coaching move floodgates.

I still think Chip Kelly is most likely headed to Florida, but what does that do to the Tennessee and Nebraska jobs if FSU comes open? If Jon Gruden ends up turning down Tennessee my expectation had been Dan Mullen to the Vols would happen, but would Mullen be more tempted by FSU? I also have been thinking that Scott Frost to Nebraska was likely, but could Frost really turn down FSU too?

And what about Arkansas’s pursuit of Gus Malzahn? Many people I talked with thought Malzahn to Arkansas was a legitimately real possibility if Malzahn loses to Alabama this coming weekend. Can you imagine if FSU, Auburn, Tennessee, and Nebraska were all open at the same time?

We’re talking about an absolute coaching frenzy going on.

You thought Jon Gruden rumored to be eating at Calhoun’s with Peyton Manning was wild? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

10. Baker Mayfield, crotch grabber extraordinare, is your Heisman trophy winner.

And, no, the crotch grab does not impact our Heisman rankings.

But who will be the first left wing sports media member to ask, what if Baker Mayfield was black and grabbed his crotch? Seriously, you know it’s coming.

I desperately need some #whitedickgrabprivilege hot takes like I need the air to breathe.

11. SEC power rankings presented by Krystal. 

And here we go.

All season long, the Starting 11 and SEC rankings are sponsored by Krystal.  Krystal burgers are only 79 cents each – only 79 cents! – all day, every day.

Krystal is hooking up the Outkick family again this season – text OUTKICK to ‘37793’ right now for some free Krystals and a soda.  Enjoy!

1. Alabama

2. Auburn

3. Georgia

4. Mississippi State

5. LSU

6. Texas A&M

7. Kentucky

8. South Carolina

9. Missouri

10. Ole Miss

11. Arkansas

12. Florida

13. Vanderbilt

14. Tennessee

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.