The College Football Playoff picture looks pretty clear heading into Championship Saturday.
With three undefeated teams at the end of the 2022 regular season, three spots in the four-team playoff look almost guaranteed no matter what happens on the first Saturday of December.
The fourth spot, however, could get intriguing. USC would appear to be a lock for that spot if it wins the Pac-12 title game. But if the Trojans lose? Things could get messy.
Here’s how we assess the CFP picture after the final week of the season and each contender’s chances of playing for the national title.
Georgia (12-0): 100%
It’s hard to see any way the Bulldogs fall out of the top four during the SEC title game. Yeah, Georgia took a while to get going on Saturday, but its dominance was on full display in the second half of its win over Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs will be a significant favorite over LSU in Atlanta on Saturday and even if the upset happens, it seems virtually impossible that Georgia will drop out of the top four.
Michigan (12-0): 95%
The Wolverines are also going to be a heavy favorite on Saturday against Purdue in the Big Ten title game. But much like Georgia, it’s hard to see how Michigan is outside the College Football Playoff even if the Boilermakers pull off one of the upsets of the season. The reason Michigan isn’t at 100% like Georgia is because of the Wolverines’ non-conference schedule. It was ridiculously soft. That ultimately shouldn’t matter one bit.
TCU (12-0): 75%
The Horned Frogs took advantage of every Iowa State mistake on the way to 62 points on Saturday to cap an undefeated regular season. TCU has the toughest conference title game of the three undefeated teams with Kansas State on tap next week but we’re not sure a win by the Wildcats would be all that damaging unless it’s a blowout. The committee has shown that it holds Kansas State in high regard over the course of the season.
USC (11-1): 60%
The Trojans are in line to be the top one-loss team in the playoff with a win in the Pac-12 title game over Utah. That victory is easier said than done given Utah’s win over the Trojans earlier in the year and USC’s defensive woes. The Trojans are a team far too reliant on forcing turnovers at times. But it’s pretty clear that USC is in a win-and-in scenario.
Ohio State (11-1): 35%
The Buckeyes may not be totally out of the CFP race despite the blowout loss to Michigan on Saturday. If USC loses in the Pac-12 title game, the fourth spot is up for grabs. And wouldn’t Ohio State be first in line? Everyone else has at least two losses. And no two-loss team has ever made the playoff. We’d be surprised if Ohio State got passed up by any two-loss team that wasn’t playing on championship Saturday.
Alabama (10-2): 10%
The Crimson Tide won 10 or more games in the regular season for the 15th consecutive season after beating Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Alabama will be ahead of both the teams it lost to in the rankings on Tuesday and likely right behind Ohio State. If the Crimson Tide are ahead of the Buckeyes on Tuesday — and we’re not totally ruling it out — then these odds need a boost.
Clemson (10-2): 10%
The Tigers would have been in decent playoff position with a win over South Carolina on Saturday. But two special teams fumbles doomed Clemson in a 31-30 loss. Couple two losses with an ACC title game against a North Carolina team that’s lost to backup quarterbacks in each of the past two weeks and it’s hard to see how Clemson sneaks into the playoff at 11-2.
Tennessee (10-2): 5%
We’d like the Vols’ odds of capitalizing on playoff chaos a bit more if star quarterback Hendon Hooker was healthy. But he’s not and Tennessee is behind Alabama. Unless the committee resets its rankings after championship Saturday and decides that UT deserves to be ahead of Alabama, UT isn’t making the playoff in any chaotic scenario.
LSU (9-3): 5%
The Tigers would need to beat Georgia by a lot and hope that the committee would decide to take a three-loss team that had its best game of the season against the No. 1 team in the country. The odds of a 55-10 LSU win are very slim. But since it’s possible, we’ll give the Tigers a slim chance.
Here are this week’s winners and losers.
Michigan: For a second straight season, the Big Ten East came down to a showdown between Michigan and Ohio State. And for a second straight season, Michigan destroyed Ohio State. Last year, it was a commanding 42-27 beatdown in Ann Arbor. This year, it was a 45-23 beatdown in Columbus. The offensive explosion from Michigan was led by 263 passing yards, 27 rushing yards and four total touchdowns from J.J. McCarthy, along with 216 yards and two rushing scores from Donovan Edwards. Now, Michigan is headed to the Big Ten title game where it will be a massive favorite. A trip to the College Football Playoff is a near certainty.
TCU: It’s been a season full of close games for TCU, but the Horned Frogs did not mess around with Iowa State on Saturday. The Horned Frogs completed an undefeated regular season by trouncing Iowa State 62-14 at home. TCU took a 24-0 lead after the first quarter and never looked back to take another step closer to the College Football Playoff. Next on the agenda is the Big 12 title game vs. Kansas State. A win there would lock up a spot in the playoff. And even with a loss to the Wildcats, it’s hard to make a convincing argument that TCU shouldn’t be among the final four.
USC: USC passed yet another test. The Trojans took care of business at home vs. Notre Dame, winning 38-27 behind another incredible effort from QB Caleb Williams. Williams threw for 232 yards, rushed for 35 yards and had four total touchdowns in the win. USC is now 11-1 on the year with the Pac-12 title game on deck. With a win there, USC would almost certainly wrap up a spot in the College Football Playoff. And Williams may wrap up the Heisman Trophy.
Tulane: No. 19 Tulane will host the American Athletic Conference championship game thanks to a come-from-behind 27-24 road win over No. 24 Cincinnati on Friday. Cincinnati rallied from a 20-10 deficit to take a 24-20 lead with 6:27 to play. But Tulane responded quickly when Michael Pratt found Duece Watts behind the Bearcats’ defense for a 30-yard touchdown. It was the game-winning score. Tyjae Spears was the star of the game for the Green Wave with 181 rushing yards and two TDs. Tulane’s win snapped Cincinnati’s 32-game home winning streak and Tulane’s 61-game losing streak vs. ranked opponents — a streak that dated back to 1984.
Florida State: Florida State has taken a massive leap forward in Year 3 under Mike Norvell. The Seminoles combined for eight wins in Norvell’s first two seasons as head coach but are now 9-3 this season following a 45-38 home win over rival Florida. In the win, FSU got 270 passing yards, 83 rushing yards and three total TDs from Jordan Travis, who had multiple long runs after improbably escaping the Florida pass rush. Additionally, Trey Benson chipped in 111 yards and three rushing scores in the win.
Alabama QB Bryce Young: Alabama is likely headed for a New Year’s Six bowl game, but it’s fair to wonder if Alabama’s 49-27 Iron Bowl victory over Auburn was Bryce Young’s final college game. Young won the Heisman last year and has been instrumental in Alabama’s 10-win season in 2022. He was the best player on the field in Saturday’s win. He threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns while adding 48 yards and a score on the ground. He’s a surefire top 10 pick, so it won’t be a surprise at all if he decides not to play in the Tide’s bowl game. If that’s the case, we got to enjoy one final top-notch performance in an Alabama uniform for Young.
Texas RB Bijan Robinson: In what was almost certainly his last home game in a Texas uniform, Bijan Robinson made it count. The Longhorns’ star running back rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns in No. 23 Texas’ 38-27 win over Baylor. Texas trailed at the half and then was down 27-24 early in the fourth, but the Longhorns rallied with two touchdowns in the final 8:25 to get the win. For the season, Robinson has 1,580 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Purdue: Purdue is heading to the Big Ten title game for the first time. Thanks to Iowa’s loss to Nebraska on Friday, the Boilermakers needed to post a road win over Indiana to lock up the Big Ten West. After a slow start, that’s just what they did. Purdue actually trailed 7-3 at halftime, but put a few good drives together in the second half to get out of Bloomington with a win and a division title. Purdue, now 8-4 on the year, is going to be a massive underdog vs. Michigan in Indianapolis but that shouldn’t take away from this accomplishment.
Arizona: For the first time since 2016, Arizona is in possession of the Territorial Cup. Thanks to two late defensive stops — a strip-sack and an interception — Arizona was able to pull out a 38-35 win over rival Arizona State. Offensively, Michael Wiley was Arizona’s star. He ran for 214 yards and three touchdowns on just 12 carries. Arizona finished the year 5-7 with the win, a major step forward in its second season under Jedd Fisch.
Duke: Duke’s turnaround under Mike Elko has been remarkable. After winning five games combined in 2020 and 2021, Duke is now 8-4 this year following a 34-31 win over Wake Forest. Riley Leonard had a huge game for the Blue Devils, throwing for 391 yards and four touchdowns. His 20-yard scoring connection with Sahmir Hagans with 2:04 to go was the game-winning play for the Blue Devils. Hagans and Jalon Calhoun combined for 19 catches, 313 yards and three touchdowns in the win. Next is Duke’s first bowl game since the 2018 season.
Troy: Like Duke, Troy has had a tremendous turnaround from 2021 to 2022. The school moved on from Chip Lindsey after winning five games in each of his three seasons in charge and brought in Jon Sumrall to run the show in 2022. The switch paid off. Troy crushed Arkansas State 48-19 to improve to 10-2 overall, 7-1 in Sun Belt play and wrap up the Sun Belt’s West division title. It was the ninth consecutive win for the Trojans, who will host Coastal Carolina in the conference championship game next weekend.
James Madison: In its first season as an FBS program, James Madison finished atop its division. With a 47-7 win over Coastal Carolina, JMU finished the year 8-3 with a 6-2 record in Sun Belt play. JMU has the best record in the Sun Belt East, but won’t play for the conference championship (or in a bowl game) because of silly NCAA rules about transitioning up a level. JMU put up 502 yards of offense in the win while limiting the Chanticleers (who were without QB Grayson McCall) to just 183 yards, a season low.
Ohio State: After getting completely dominated at the line of scrimmage by Michigan last year, Ohio State devoted time and resources to becoming a more physical program. There wasn’t much evidence of change on Saturday. The Buckeyes were blasted by the Wolverines yet again. Early on, OSU keyed in on Michigan’s running game but got beat over the top multiple times by a UM passing attack that had very few long touchdowns entering Saturday’s game. And when Michigan had the lead, it put the game away with the ground attack as Donovan Edwards reeled off touchdown runs of 75 and 85 yards in the fourth quarter. That’s a tough look for Ryan Day’s program.
Oregon: With a trip to the Pac-12 title game at stake, No. 9 Oregon had an all-time collapse at the hands of rival No. 21 Oregon State. Oregon had a 21-point lead with 4:46 remaining in the third quarter, but allowed Oregon State to storm back and win 38-34 in stunning fashion. Oregon handed Oregon State two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. First, Oregon’s punter fumbled a snap inside the Ducks’ own 5-yard line. Later, Oregon failed on a fourth-and-1 run from its own 29. Later on, Oregon had first-and-goal from the 5 with a chance to go in front but failed to score. And Oregon allowed that comeback despite Oregon State completing only six passes in the game.
LSU: LSU’s College Football Playoff hopes vanished on Saturday night thanks to Texas A&M. Texas A&M had lost six consecutive SEC games but managed to upset the Tigers 38-23 at Kyle Field. The Tigers wrapped up the SEC West a few weeks ago and were ranked No. 5 in the latest CFP rankings despite having two losses. It seemed like LSU had a viable path to the playoff with an upset over No. 1 Georgia in next week’s SEC title game. A loss to Texas A&M was not part of that path. Were the Tigers caught looking ahead to the SEC title game? It’s fair to wonder. But if that’s what happened, it cost LSU a chance at a national championship.
Clemson: We can officially remove Clemson from the CFP conversation. At No. 8 in the rankings with just one loss on their resume, the Tigers were still relatively within striking distance with two games left to play. But that changed at the hands of their in-state rival. Clemson was shocked 31-30 at home by South Carolina, snapping both its seven-game winning streak over the Gamecocks and a 40-game home winning streak. The Tigers took an early 14-0 lead and led 23-14 at the half, but poor special teams and offensive play ultimately doomed Clemson. DJ Uiagalelei completed just 8-of-29 passes for 99 yards and had a costly late-game interception in the loss. Clemson still has the ACC title game to play, but this has been a disappointing season for the Tigers.
Iowa: To play for the Big Ten title, all Iowa had to do was beat Nebraska at home. It proved to be easier said than done as Iowa lost 24-17. The Hawkeyes were down 17-0 at halftime and were unable to complete the comeback against a Huskers team that entered Friday’s game on a five-game losing streak and hadn’t scored more than 14 points in a game in more than a month. Iowa gifted Nebraska 17 points with turnovers, particularly three fumbles, and the team’s lackluster offense was unable to make up the difference.
North Carolina: Like Clemson, UNC is limping into the ACC title game. A few weeks ago, UNC was 9-1 overall with a 6-0 mark in conference play. Since then, the Tar Heels have dropped back-to-back home games to Georgia Tech and NC State. To make matters worse, both the Yellow Jackets and Wolfpack were well down the depth chart at quarterback. GT played both its third and fourth-stringers while NC State’s fourth-stringer played the majority of the game on Friday. UNC scored with no time remaining in regulation to force overtime, but NC State prevailed 30-27 in double-overtime.
Liberty: As reports circulated about Hugh Freeze’s candidacy at Auburn, his team completely no-showed at home vs. New Mexico State. The Flames got destroyed 49-14 at home for their third consecutive loss. A few weeks ago, Liberty was 8-1 and coming off wins over BYU and Arkansas. Since then, Liberty has lost to UConn, Virginia Tech and now New Mexico State. It doesn’t seem coincidental that Liberty’s downslide began around the time the Auburn job came open. We’ll see if Freeze actually ends up being the man for the Tigers.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin closed out the season with a 23-16 home loss to Minnesota to drop to 6-6. It was an ugly loss. Wisconsin led 16-13 entering the fourth quarter but couldn’t hold on. After allowing a 45-yard touchdown to fall behind 23-16 with 3:40 to go, the Badgers had two tries to tie the game. On the first try, Graham Mertz threw an interception. On the second try, UW had a first-and-goal at the 5 before moving backwards with a holding and two false start penalties. Before long, it was fourth-and-goal from the 25. The Badgers couldn’t convert. The Badgers went 4-3 under interim head coach Jim Leonhard, but all signs seem to point toward Leonhard having the interim tag lifted despite no noticeable improvements since the firing of Paul Chryst.
Ball State, Buffalo and UTEP: What do these three teams have in common? They all blew double-digit leads with bowl eligibility on the line. Ball State led Miami (Ohio) 17-6 with under seven minutes to play and ended up losing 18-17. Buffalo led Kent State 24-10 with less than six minutes to play and lost 30-27 in overtime. UTEP led UTSA 31-14 early in the third quarter and lost 34-31. For Ball State and UTEP, the season is over. Buffalo at least has a chance for redemption next week at home vs. Akron in a game that was postponed due to snow.