College News & Analysis

College Football Playoff 2023: The path to the playoff for the eight remaining contenders

2T9HC9K Michigan running back Blake Corum runs to the end zone to score a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Ohio State, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan won 30-24. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

• The top teams in the country have a cushion: Even if they lose on conference championship weekend, Georgia, Michigan and Washington can still make it into the final four.

• Ohio State needs help: The Buckeyes are the only contenders that don't play this weekend, so they’ll need help making the College Football Playoff.

• Dig into the numbers for yourself: PFF's Premium Stats is the most in-depth collection of NFL and NCAA player performance data. Subscribe today to get full access!

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

We’ve officially made it to conference championship weekend, the last chance for the playoff contenders to state their cases to the selection committee.

Amazingly, there are still eight schools vying for those final four spots. Here’s how each of those eight teams can keep their national championship dreams alive this weekend. 

How every College Football Playoff contender stands heading into conference championship weekend
Scenario Teams
Win, and they are in,
but they are not dead with a loss
Georgia, Michigan and possibly Washington
Win, and they are in Florida State, Oregon and (maybe) Alabama
Win and need help Texas
Need help Ohio State

Georgia Bulldogs (12-0)

Beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, or two of Michigan, Florida State or Texas loses

The defending back-to-back national champions will likely clinch the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff with a win over Alabama in the SEC championship game.

If the Bulldogs lose, they still have a path to the final four. In that scenario, one spot would belong to Alabama, and another spot would belong to the winner of the Pac-12 title game. That means Georgia would need two of Michigan, Florida State and Texas to lose their conference championship games.

Michigan Wolverines (12-0)

Beat Iowa in the Big Ten championship game, or two of Florida State, Texas or Alabama loses

The Wolverines are essentially in the same boat as the Bulldogs. They are guaranteed a spot in the playoff if they beat Iowa in the Big Ten championship game this Saturday. Still, their path to a victory is much easier than Georgia's —  The Bulldogs are favored by only five points over the Crimson Tide, while the Wolverines are favored by 23 over the Hawkeyes.

If Michigan somehow loses, the team would need two of Florida State, Texas and Alabama to lose. Michigan would need Georgia to win because the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs would likely get in over the Wolverines if Alabama wins and Michigan loses.

Washington Huskies (12-0)

Beat Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game (or possibly), or Florida State, Texas and Alabama lose

The simplest path for Washington to make its first College Football Playoff since 2016 is to beat Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday night. That’s easier said than done, though. Even though the Huskies took down the Ducks earlier this season, Oregon is still favored by 9.5 points over Washington.

If the oddsmakers are correct, Washington would need a lot of help to sneak in with a loss. That would likely require Florida State, Texas and Alabama to all lose this weekend for the Huskies to even be in the conversation.

Even if that happens, there’s still a chance that the College Football Playoff selection committee selects an 11-1 Ohio State over Washington.

Florida State Seminoles (12-0)

Beat Louisville in the ACC championship game

There’s been a lot of debate over whether Florida State should make the College Football Playoff, even if it beats Louisville in the ACC championship game. That’s because the Seminoles’ star quarterback, Jordan Travis, is out for the season after suffering a gruesome leg injury against North Alabama a couple of weeks ago.

Let’s end that conversation right now. An undefeated Power Five champion has to get into the College Football Playoff, no matter who’s under center for them. Since the four-team playoff’s inception in 2014, an unbeaten Power Five champion has never been left out of the final four. In fact, there’s only been one instance where a one-loss champion was left out, and that was when Baylor and TCU shared the Big 12 title in 2014. A one-loss Ohio State won the national championship that season despite entering the playoff on its third-string quarterback (Cardale Jones), providing even more evidence for Florida State to make it in with a backup signal-caller.

The four most deserving teams belong in the College Football Playoff, and Florida State would certainly be one of them if it finishes the season undefeated. If the Seminoles lose, there’s virtually no scenario where they can sneak in without Travis.

Oregon Ducks (11-1)

Beat Washington in the Pac-12 championship game

There’s only one path for Oregon to make its first College Football Playoff since 2014: Avenge its loss to Washington. As mentioned earlier, the Ducks are favored by nearly double-digits to do just that due to their recent dominance and Washington’s recent struggles. The Ducks have won their last six games by an average of 26 points, while the Huskies have won theirs by an average of just 6.5 points.

The Pac-12 championship game on Friday is essentially a playoff game in itself. Unlike Washington, though, there isn’t a scenario where Oregon can sneak into the final four with a loss.

Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1)

Beat Georgia in the SEC championship game and Texas, Florida State, or Michigan to lose

Like the previous two teams on this list, Alabama’s only path to the playoff is if it wins on Saturday. Unlike Florida State and Oregon, though, it’s not necessarily a lock that the Crimson Tide make it in on that alone.

There’s still a chance the committee places Texas into the playoff over Alabama, as the Longhorns beat the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa earlier this season. With that in mind, it certainly wouldn’t hurt for Texas, Florida State or Michigan to assure Alabama’s spot in the final four.

Texas Longhorns (11-1)

Beat Oklahoma State in the Big 12 championship game, and Michigan, Florida State or (possibly) Georgia lose

A win this weekend likely won’t be enough for the Longhorns to make the College Football Playoff.

Texas would also need a loss from either Michigan or Florida State to secure a spot in the final four. As previously mentioned, it’s also possible that a Georgia loss is enough, as the Longhorns have the head-to-head advantage over the Crimson Tide, although it’s not guaranteed that the committee will side with Texas in that scenario.

Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1)

Florida State, Texas, Alabama and (possibly) Oregon lose

The Buckeyes are the lone team who can make the playoff despite not playing on conference championship weekend. Ohio State would need Florida State, Texas, Alabama and Oregon to lose to secure a spot.

There’s also a chance the Buckeyes can make it to the College Football Playoff with just the first three losing, since the debate would be between them and a 12-1 Washington.

The Huskies have the advantage of playing on conference championship weekend and the early win over Oregon earlier in the season. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, took down two top-15 teams in Penn State and Notre Dame while falling to a playoff team in Michigan by only six points. It could ultimately come down to how badly Washington loses to Oregon for who gets the final spot.

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