College News & Analysis

College Football Playoff Blueprint: Each contender's path to making the final four

Fort Worth, Texas, USA; TCU Horned Frogs quarterback Max Duggan (15) stands in the pocket against the Iowa State Cyclones during first half at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

• How every contender can make the College Football Playoff: Georgia, Michigan, TCU, USC, Ohio State and Alabama.

• Win and you’re in: If No. 3 TCU and No. 4 USC win their conference championship games, they’ll lock up spots in the playoff.

• Need some help: Ohio State and Alabama can only sit at home and hope chaos boosts them into the final four.

Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins

We made it to conference championship weekend of the 2022 college football season, the final time for contenders to boost their playoff resumes.

As it stands, there are six teams with even a remote chance to make the College Football Playoff. Here’s the blueprint for each one to cement its place in the final four. 

1. Georgia Bulldogs (12-0)

  • Week 14: vs. No. 14 LSU Tigers in SEC championship game
  • The blueprint: N/A (already clinched)

The SEC championship game can really only affect playoff seeding, as Georgia is assured a spot in the final four. There, the Bulldogs will try to win their second straight national championship, which hasn’t been accomplished since Alabama did so a decade ago.

Despite clinching a playoff spot already, this year’s squad has a chance to do something last year’s couldn’t: win the SEC title. Georgia’s 2021 team came up short against Alabama before exacting revenge in the national championship game. 

2. Michigan Wolverines (12-0)

  • Week 14: vs. Purdue Boilermakers in Big Ten championship game
  • The blueprint: N/A (already clinched)

As is the case for Georgia, Michigan’s conference title game can only affect seeding at this point. 

The Wolverines clinched a playoff spot after taking down then-No. 2 Ohio State, 45-23, in a pseudo-playoff game. Now, Michigan is heading to its second straight College Football Playoff and can win its second consecutive Big Ten title on Saturday. 

3. TCU Horned Frogs (12-0)

  • Week 14: vs. No. 10 Kansas State Wildcats in Big 12 championship game
  • The blueprint: Win and you’re in, but not necessarily out with a close loss

Truthfully, TCU might’ve already clinched a playoff spot as an undefeated Power Five team.

It’s better to be safe than sorry, though — especially with blue bloods Ohio State and Alabama breathing down the Horned Frogs’ neck. A win guarantees TCU a spot in the final four, while a close loss also probably keeps the team in. However, if TCU gets blown out by Kansas State, that could open the door for Ohio State to sneak in.

4. USC Trojans (11-1)

  • Week 14: vs. No. 11 Utah Utes in Pac-12 championship game
  • The blueprint: Win and you’re in

For the Trojans, the blueprint is simple: win.

If USC can beat Utah in the Pac-12 championship game, it’ll clinch a spot in the playoff. That’s easier said than done, though. The Utes are the only team to take down the Trojans this season, and Utah currently has a 44% chance to do it again, per PFF’s power rankings. If USC loses, Ohio State will likely jump them in the rankings.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1)

  • Week 14: N/A
  • The blueprint: USC loss and/or TCU loss (preferably blowout)

After losing to arch-rival Michigan in the biggest game of the year, Ohio State went from a No. 2 ranking to needing help to make the top four. 

The Buckeyes can only watch from home and hope things go their way this weekend, preferably in Las Vegas, where the Pac-12 championship game is being held. If USC loses, that’d be the simplest way for Ohio State to slot into the playoff. If TCU loses a close game, the committee would probably stick with the Horned Frogs since they went undefeated and beat Kansas State earlier in the year. Ohio State’s only chance to make it in with a TCU loss is if the Horned Frogs get blown out. 

6. Alabama Crimson Tide (10-2)

  • Week 14: N/A
  • The blueprint: TCU loss and USC loss (both blowouts)

Even if TCU and USC lose, it probably won’t be enough for Alabama to get into the playoff as a two-loss non-SEC champion. However, it’d at least start a conversation. 

The Crimson Tide are a top-four team in PFF’s power rankings, and their only two losses came on the final play against No. 7 Tennessee and No. 14 LSU. If the Horned Frogs and Trojans both get blown out, the playoff committee could go with what they deem to be the four best teams in Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State and Alabama.

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