One Spot (Probably) Remains in the Playoff: Who Gets It?

When I wrote a few weeks ago about the likeliest games to impact the College Football Playoff field, I almost immediately regretted not including any games for this past Saturday, Nov. 17.

After all, even though many teams play overmatched competition the week before Thanksgiving and traditional rivalry games, something big always seems to happen that Saturday. Whether it's a playoff, title or conference contender overlooking an opponent or a team simply not showing up after playing 10 of the previous 11 Saturdays, a big, game-changing upset always seems to happen on the third Saturday of November.

Except it didn't this time around.

Ohio State continued to look unimpressive on defense, but the Buckeyes still escaped with a win at Maryland to set up a showdown with Michigan. The Wolverines trailed Indiana in the Big House at the half, but won by double digits.

Clemson trailed Duke at home early and punted a bunch in the first half before shutting out the Blue Devils in the final three quarters for an easy win. Even the Leviathan that is this year's Alabama team was tied at the half in a buy game with The Citadel before sanity took hold.

The one big ranked showdown of the week, Syracuse vs. Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium was effectively a no contest after Orange QB Eric Dungey went down early, making one of FBS' best offenses bad against a strong Irish defense.

Yes, West Virginia did get beat in a late comeback at Oklahoma State to end playoff dreams in Morgantown, but that shouldn't have been too surprising given how the Mountaineers looked in their previous true road games (two one-possession wins and a blowout loss at Iowa State).

The net result of all of this is that we could be approaching a reality where the CFP spots are — with the exception of LSU in the first ranking on Oct. 30 — going to be the same starting as finishing.

Consider all of this:

* Alabama is in the playoff with one more win (either against Auburn or Georgia). If a one-loss Tide team got in last year losing to Auburn and not winning the SEC West, this team that's never sweated a game in the fourth quarter will be in, too. But it would be stunning if Tua Tagovailoa and company didn't go into the playoff at 13-0.

* Clemson will be 3- or 4-touchdown favorites against both South Carolina and Pitt. I'm not sure either opponent will even be able to get into double figures against the Tigers.

* Notre Dame just has to beat a Southern Cal team in complete free-fall next weekend to clinch a spot.

I don't know what the computers are saying after Week 12, but I'd have to guess that there's about a 90-percent chance that all three of the top three complete undefeated regular seasons. That leaves one spot open, which is possibly all the end-of-season drama we can count on.

If Michigan beats Ohio State, then Northwestern in the Big Ten championship, and Georgia can't beat Alabama in Atlanta, Michigan will go to the playoff, likely in the Cotton Bowl against the Crimson Tide.

But Michigan hasn't won in Columbus since John Cooper's last season at Ohio State. As strong as Michigan has looked since Week 1, and as bad as Ohio State continues to look, that game can't be seen as a foregone conclusion under any circumstances.

The catch for the Buckeyes is that while beating Michigan would be a huge triumph and put them in the driver's seat for at least a Rose Bowl bid, it's questionable as to whether it would be enough to get a playoff spot.

After all, Ohio State is 10th in this past week's CFP ranking and probably only moves up to ninth after the West Virginia loss. While a win against Michigan probably vaults them over Washington State and LSU (should each win this week), Oklahoma and Georgia would still stand in the way between the Buckeyes and No. 4.

Oklahoma goes to West Virginia on Friday. Survive that environment and a rematch with Texas probably awaits in the Big 12 championship, which by then could very well be a play-in game for the Sooners.

The nightmare scenario for both the Big 12 and Big Ten has to be an effective "split" of the SEC title in Atlanta. If 12-0 Alabama loses to 11-1 Georgia on Dec. 1, I strongly believe both get in — even if Michigan is still sitting there at No. 4 on that same day and beats Northwestern for the Big Ten title.

That possibility could make a lot of folks real mad north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but I don't see anyway around it.

An SEC champion Georgia would not only have the crown jewel of an Alabama win, the Bulldogs would also have ranked wins against Florida and Kentucky, each coming away from home. Michigan would have an Ohio State win, two wins against Northwestern and a win over Penn State as likely ranked wins — more wins overall against the top 25, but nothing like a hypothetical 'Bama win.

It's extremely likely that four out of the seven teams of Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Ohio State will make up the playoff field.

You might look at that list and notice that it isn't an exhaustive one of the Power 5 teams that might have one loss or fewer after the games of Dec. 1. Washington State isn't on it, which is a shame, but is also reality.

Even if the Cougars can complete an incredible 12-1 season by beating Washington for the Pac-12 North in the Apple Cup and Utah in the Pac-12 title game, it almost surely won't be enough. Thanks to the Pac-12 cannibalizing itself all season, the dream scenario Washington State has to hope for might come down to this:

* Michigan loses to Ohio State
* Ohio State loses to Northwestern
* Oklahoma loses to West Virginia (or Texas)
* Clemson or Notre Dame somehow lose a game

Even at that point, the comparison might have to be between two-loss Georgia, two-loss LSU and one-loss Washington State for No. 4. I'd like to think that the committee would reward winning a Power 5 league with one loss above the SEC teams, but I can't assume that.

As bad as I feel for Washington State should it go 12-1, I feel even worse for UCF, who could end the season having won 26 games in a row, never scoring fewer than 30 points in any single game. And the Knights will have never seriously been given a look at the top four.

Right now, it appears as if the four teams that have been the top four for weeks have the inside track to staying that way, but Georgia, Oklahoma, and Ohio State could all make their way to No. 4 by the time Dec. 1 rolls around.

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