When ESPN announced the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season on Tuesday night, most of the attention was paid to the top six teams, primarily the top four. Those are the programs that the playoff selection committee decided would play for a national championship – or just miss the cut – if the season ended today.
But what about the teams whose rankings were revealed earlier in the broadcast?
They are by no means out of the playoff race.
Ohio State (No. 16 in 2014), Oklahoma (No. 15 in 2015) and Michigan State (No. 7 in 2015) have proven that a team can climb from outside the top six of the committee’s initial rankings into the playoff.
Here are three teams that are capable of reaching the playoff despite currently sitting outside the top six.
The Sooners are No. 7 in the first playoff rankings of the season so it’s not like they’re a serious long shot, but they’d still have to pass half the teams currently ranked ahead of them. Oklahoma also represents the Big 12’s best chance of being represented in the College Football Playoff after Texas’ loss at Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma would likely need to run the table, finishing the regular season 11-1, then win the Big 12 Championship to make a strong push for the top four.
Its only loss was in a 48-45 shootout to No. 17 Texas on a neutral field. The Sooners’ best win, in the committee’s eyes, was a 37-27 road win over No. 24 Iowa State.
Oklahoma can still add impressive wins to its resume. The regular season finale between OU and No. 13 West Virginia could decide the Big 12 Championship Game’s participants and potentially which Big 12 school is the last one-loss team standing. If Oklahoma reaches the conference championship game, it would likely play the Mountaineers or Longhorns, providing another chance for a win over a team ranked by the committee.
There are three SEC teams ranked ahead of Oklahoma so unless the conference puts two teams in the playoff like last season, the Sooners can expect to jump at least two of the six teams ranked ahead of them if they win out. Plus, there’s a good chance one more loss for Notre Dame or Michigan would knock either school out of the playoff chase.
While not ranked in the top four, or even the top six, Wazzu was one of the biggest surprises when the playoff selection committee unveiled its first rankings on Tuesday. Washington State is No. 8, ahead of both Kentucky and Ohio State who are also 7-1.
The Cougars’ remaining regular season schedule doesn’t feature a single team ranked in the AP Top 25 or the College Football Playoff rankings, which could be a blessing and a curse. A blessing because theoretically they should be favored in each game, a curse because that makes it harder to pick up noteworthy wins.
If Washington State can win the Pac-12 North, then beat No. 15 Utah again in the Pac-12 Championship, while getting help in the form of some combination of…
- Notre Dame losing
- Only one SEC school making the playoff
- A two-loss Big 12 champion
- A two-loss Big Ten champion
….then maybe, just maybe, Washington State could be one of the last four teams standing this season.
As we mentioned earlier, the Buckeyes have previously made the playoff after starting at No. 16 in the CFP rankings, so what’s the big deal with starting at No. 10?
It won’t be easy – especially if Purdue stays unranked in the playoff selection committee’s rankings – but Ohio State’s playoff hopes are still alive. The Buckeyes are just a half-game behind Michigan in the Big Ten East standings and a win over the Wolverines on November 24 would give Ohio State both its biggest win of the season and a spot in the conference championship, assuming it doesn’t lose the rest of the way.
Ohio State has already beaten No. 14 Penn State, and No. 16 Iowa would provide another potential win over a ranked opponent if the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes were to meet in the Big Ten Championship.
The Buckeyes should be confident in their ability to rise in the playoff rankings because four of the nine teams ranked ahead of them play in the SEC. Those four schools play each other this week, which means two will take another loss. It’s likely that the winners of those two games will then play in the SEC Championship, where one of those teams will suffer a loss.
If Ohio State goes 12-1 and wins the Big Ten, it would pass two, if not three, SEC schools, plus Michigan. Even though Washington State is currently ranked ahead of Ohio State, the Cougars don’t have the same opportunities for big wins as the Buckeyes, so Ohio State would likely be ahead of Washington State if both schools are 12-1 conference champs.
Then, it would likely take either a two-loss Big 12 champion or a loss for Notre Dame for Ohio State to reach the top four.
That may sound like a lot, but it’s definitely possible given that Ohio State’s toughest remaining game (against a fellow playoff contender) is at home.
And don’t forget that attrition will undoubtedly hit the Big 12 and SEC.
We’re not predicting another playoff appearance for the Buckeyes, but we’re saying there’s a chance.