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  • Writer's pictureRyan Weiner

The Final Four: Who's making the CFP and how to figure it out halfway through the season

"From the 40... on the way a knuckleball... He got it!" Those were the last words spoken by announcer Brad Nessler on CBS as #6 Tennessee took down #3 Alabama in Neyland Stadium this past Saturday. When looking at the implications of the win on the AP poll, one can tell it had an impact as the two teams essentially traded ranking spots. However, if there's one thing an observant college football fan can gather about the CFP implications, it's that Alabama's season is far from done.

Since its first use in 2014, there have been a few staple requirements for a team to possibly get one of the elite four slots in the CFP. Those are listed below.

  1. A team is in a Power 5 conference and is undefeated

  2. A team is in a mid-major conference, is undefeated and has multiple ranked wins

  3. A team is in a Power 5 conference, has one loss but an extensive resumé filled with high-quality wins

So, when applying this to Alabama, who has a ranked win as well as multiple other quality wins such as Texas & Texas A&M under their belt, it is easy to see how Alabama can still make the CFP with multiple ranked gamed and possibly the SEC Championship game to go.

Whether Alabama makes it or not, there are still plenty of teams in college football that are eligible to make the CFP. But, who is actually going to make it? Let's dive a little deeper.

Looking Good (Undefeated Power 5 Squads):

  1. Georgia

  2. Ohio State

  3. Tennessee

  4. Michigan

  5. Clemson

  6. Ole Miss

  7. TCU

  8. UCLA

  9. Syracuse

These squads for the large part control their own destiny. However, the three SEC squads and two Big Ten teams are likely better off as they play tougher schedules that will make taking one loss a big detriment, but not the end all be all, to their CFP chances. But, one thing to watch out for is the fact that Georgia and Tennessee still play later, which will heavily sway their positions in the field. Out of the other four teams, Clemson is the only team who is a frontrunner to win their conference. But, if a team like TCU or UCLA defied the odds and won it they could definitely be in contention for the CFP. In sum, here's how I would rank their chances of actually going to the CFP.

  1. Ohio State (likely can win the conference and run the table)

  2. Georgia (50/50 can win the conference and run the table)

  3. Tennessee (50/50 can win the conference and run the table)

  4. Clemson (very likely can win the conference and run the table, but plays in a weaker conference)

  5. Ole Miss (50/50 to run the table, but if they do they could win conference championship and make CFP)

  6. Michigan (50/50 to run the table, but if they do they could win conference championship and make CFP)

  7. UCLA (50/50 can win the conference but weaker conference and unlikely to run the table)

  8. TCU (50/50 to run the table, but if they do they could win conference championship and make CFP, unfortunately plays in a weaker conference)

  9. Syracuse (not likely to run the table, but won't win the conference or make CFP)

Living on a Prayer (One-Loss Power 5 Squads):

  1. Alabama

  2. Oregon

  3. Oklahoma State

  4. USC

  5. Wake Forest

  6. Penn State

  7. Kansas State

  8. Illinois

  9. UNC

These teams need to be perfect, absolutely perfect, for the rest of the season. That means winning out, including their conference championship games. Even then, they still might not get in to the CFP. If more than four of the teams on that first list go perfect, tough luck. The only exception here is Alabama, who between their name bias and matchups with Ole Miss, Mississippi State & maybe a conference championship game vs Tennessee/Georgia looming could pull off the bid over an undefeated Clemson, TCU, or UCLA. Unlike the previous list, this list also has more possible fraud teams that have only beat weak competition. Examples include Illinois, Penn State, UNC and Kansas State who have a combined 0 ranked wins and only a few wins against likely bowl-worthy teams. Based on all of that, here's how I would rank the chances of these nine teams reaching the CFP.

  1. Alabama (very likely can win the conference and run the table)

  2. USC (50/50 can win the conference and run the table)

  3. Oklahoma State (50/50 can win the conference and run the table)

  4. Oregon (50/50 to run the table, but if they do they could make a run)

  5. Wake Forest (50/50 to run the table, but won't make conference championship game and unlikely to make CFP)

  6. UNC (likely to make conference championship game, but won't run the table or win conference championship game)

  7. Kansas State (50/50 to make conference championship game, but won't run the table or win conference championship game)

  8. Illinois (likely to make conference championship game, but won't run the table or win conference championship game)

  9. Penn State (not likely to run the table, and won't make conference championship game or make CFP)

While one part of figuring out who will make the CFP comes from analyzing the lists, another comes in predicting the big games of the future. Will Tennessee stay red hot and upset Georgia? Will someone like Wake Forest or Syracuse oust Clemson from the ACC throne? Will Michigan repeat last year and topple Ohio State? These are all questions we have to ask before predicting the final field. So, here are how I think each of the 18 remaining teams will do in their regular season games the rest of the way, as well as who will win each conference.

Georgia: 5 wins (Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Georgia Tech), 0 losses

Ohio State: 6 wins (Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan), 0 losses

Tennessee: 5 wins (UT-Martin, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Vanderbilt), 1 loss (Georgia)

Clemson: 5 wins (Syracuse, Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami, South Carolina), 0 losses

Ole Miss: 4 wins (LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Mississippi State), 1 loss (Alabama)

Michigan: 4 wins (Michigan State, Rutgers, Nebraska, Illinois), 1 loss (Ohio State)

UCLA: 5 wins (Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State, Arizona, California), 1 loss (USC)

TCU: 5 wins (Kansas State, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Baylor, Iowa State), 1 loss (Texas)

Syracuse: 3 wins (Notre Dame, Pitt, Boston College), 3 losses (Clemson, Wake Forest, Florida State)

Alabama: 5 wins (Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss, Austin Peay, Auburn), 0 losses

USC: 5 wins (Arizona, California, Colorado, UCLA, Notre Dame), 0 losses

Oklahoma State: 6 wins (Texas, Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, West Virginia), 0 losses

Oregon: 5 wins (California, Colorado, Washington, Utah, Oregon State), 1 loss (UCLA)

Wake Forest: 5 wins (Boston College, Louisville, NC State, Syracuse, Duke), 1 loss (UNC)

UNC: 4 wins (Pitt, Virginia, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech), 1 loss (NC State)

Kansas State: 4 wins (Texas, Baylor, West Virginia, Kansas), 2 losses (TCU, Oklahoma State)

Illinois: 3 wins (Nebraska, Michigan State, Northwestern), 2 losses (Purdue, Michigan)

Penn State: 4 wins (Minnesota, Indiana, Rutgers, Michigan State), 2 losses (Ohio State, Maryland)

ACC Conference Championship: Clemson over UNC

Big 12 Conference Championship: Oklahoma State over TCU

Big Ten Conference Championship: Ohio State over Purdue

Pac-12 Conference Championship: USC over UCLA

SEC Conference Championship: Georgia over Alabama

With this all being said, the picture has become a lot more clearer for who I believe will make the CFP. Out of the 18 teams that started this journey, only 11 remained eligible after the regular season. However, once factoring in the results of the conference championship games, another three teams have been eliminated. Although this may seem unfair, the three eliminated (Alabama, UCLA, and TCU) lacked the quality wins to make the CFP anyway. The eight remaining squads competing for the four spots are Georgia, Ohio State, Tennessee, Clemson, Ole Miss, Michigan, USC and Oklahoma State.

Eight teams, four spots. Due to their undefeated seasons and extensive resumés, I'll give Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson three of the spots. So, who's getting the final spot? Let's examine the ranked wins, and all losses of the other five.


Wins over #3 Alabama, #17 Pitt, #19 Kentucky, #20 Florida, #25 LSU

Loss to #1 Georgia

Ole Miss:

Wins over #7 Kentucky, #24 Mississippi State

Loss to #6 Alabama


Wins over #10 Penn State, #18 Illinois

Loss to #2 Ohio State


Wins over #9 UCLA (twice)

Loss to #20 Utah

Oklahoma State:

Wins over #16 Baylor, #17 Kansas State, #20 Texas

Loss to #13 TCU

Well... it is safe to say the results are staggering in favor of Tennessee getting the other spot in the CFP. They have far more ranked wins than the other four and their only loss is to the top team in the nation.

In sum, after all is said and done Let's Talk Sports has Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson and Tennessee facing off in this year's CFP!

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