Tuesday night, the College Football Playoff committee unveiled its third set of rankings, which features no changes from 1-5, but a major shakeup after. Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Iowa held serve, but a number of teams, including Oklahoma, made major moves.
At this point, while there is still a great deal of football to be played, a few things are obvious. There are seven teams that are in complete control of their own destiny. What does that really mean? If these seven teams win out, they're locks for the College Football Playoff - no question. These squads are either undefeated or are involved in virtual play-in games that will knock out other contenders.
The two teams with the best playoff odds that don't control their own destiny? That'd be Oklahoma, which, given its loss to Texas, would need a little help to get in with an 11-1 record, and Notre Dame, which won't have the luxury of claiming a conference championship, should it also finish with an 11-1 mark. Oddly enough, there are many who believe that the last playoff spot could come down to the Sooners and the Irish.
Here are the seven teams that control their own destiny.
The Tigers have perhaps the easiest route to the playoff. Clemson gets Wake Forest this Saturday, and travels to Columbia to take on South Carolina the week after. The Demon Deacons and Gamecocks have combined to win six games so far this year. Clemson then gets the ACC Coastal winner, which will most likely be North Carolina. The Tar Heels are hot, but Clemson will still be a heavy favorite.
The playoff committee has made it clear that it's impressed by Clemson. The Tigers have been ranked No. 1 in each of the first three weeks, on the strength of wins over Notre Dame and Florida State. If Clemson wins out, it will absolutely be part of the four-team playoff. The Tigers may not finish with the overall No. 1 seed, but they'll be given a chance to play for a national title.
Clemson is the only ACC team that controls its own destiny.
Alabama is currently the highest-ranked team in the College Football Playoff with a loss. The Crimson Tide fell to Ole Miss back in September, but given its ridiculously difficult schedule, it isn't a surprise that the committee still thinks it's one of the top four teams in the country.
Despite the blemish, Alabama would be an absolute lock to qualify for the playoff, should it win out. The Tide has wins over Wisconsin, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and Mississippi State. Finishing the season 3-0 would also give the program victories over Auburn and Florida (more on the Gators later.) The only question would be whether Alabama would just be part of the playoff or be the overall No. 1 seed.
Alabama is one of two SEC teams that controls its own destiny. Nobody wants to see the Tide on their side of the bracket.
Ohio State (10-0)
Ohio State, through 10 games, hasn't looked as dominant as fans would like. But in essence, the Buckeyes have still given themselves the opportunity - over the next three contests - to get back in the College Football Playoff. It won't be easy.
It's pretty simple. If Ohio State wins out, it qualifies for the College Football Playoff. There's no way that a 13-0 defending national champion is passed over. But the Buckeyes will need to knock off three other national title contenders on the way. First, this Saturday, OSU gets Michigan State at home. If they can take care of the Spartans, they'll head to Michigan to play a de facto Big Ten East championship game. Survive that, and they'll likely get No. 5 Iowa in the league's title game.
Ohio State hasn't been tested very much this year, but that's about to change. A 13-0 Ohio State team would likely be either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the playoff.
Iowa, believe it or not, still controls its own destiny in regard to a title run.
The Hawkeyes are still undefeated, and if they remain that way through the Big Ten Championship they'll earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. But it will be easier said than done.
Iowa shouldn't have much trouble this weekend against a 2-8 Purdue team, but the following weekend against Nebraska has upset special written all over it. Nebraska is coming off an upset win over Michigan State, a victory over Rutgers, and will have a bye week before facing the Hawkeyes. Iowa will want to be careful heading into that game against the Cornhuskers. But tougher competition will follow.
If all remains, Iowa will face Ohio State in the Big Ten title game - and that will undoubtedly be the stiffest competition the Hawkeyes have faced this season.
Win and you're in, Iowa.
Oklahoma State (10-0)
The Cowboys won't have a conference championship game to help give them a final push before the College Football Playoff committee makes its decision, so they have to win now - and they have to win big. Luckily for Oklahoma State, its final two games of the season are against top-10 teams.
OSU will have to make it through No. 10 Baylor and No. 7 Oklahoma unscathed if it wants a shot at the playoff.
Baylor is coming off of a devastating loss against Oklahoma, ending its title hopes, so the Bears will be looking to bounce back with a vengeance this weekend. And if the Cowboys make it past Baylor alive, they'll have to finish the regular season against the in-state rival Sooners - with a chance at the playoff on the line.
If the Cowboys make it through Baylor and Oklahoma, that will make for three wins over top-10 teams in the final four weeks of the season, leaving things fresh in the committee's mind.
The Florida Gators have some mountains to climb before they're taking part in the College Football Playoff, but they have their SEC affiliation on their side. You have to go back to 2005 to find the last time the conference champs were not given a chance to win the title, when the Big 12's Texas faced the Pac-10's USC.
Florida should not have any trouble with FAU this weekend, but they still have a big rivalry game against a tough Florida State team to close out the regular season. If the Gators drop either of those games, it will make things hard for the committee, should Florida win the SEC title. But that's where things get even more difficult.
The Gators will likely face Alabama in the SEC Championship, and have not beat the Tide since 2008. With 'Bama on a roll as of late, Florida's defense will face its biggest challenge of the season against Nick Saban's group, tasked to shut down Heisman hopeful Derrick Henry. But if UF makes it out alive, there's light at the end of the tunnel.
Win out and you're in, Gators.
Michigan State (9-1)
Michigan State's title hopes live and die with this weekend's game against Ohio State. If the Spartans knock off the Buckeyes and take control of the Big Ten East, they'll have a shot at the conference title and one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff. If they lose, they're done. They control their own destiny. It's about taking it one game at a time.
The Spartans suffered a devastating loss two weeks ago against Nebraska, seemingly putting an end to their title hopes. But they know beating Ohio State is the only way to dig themselves out of that hole, and they'll have to leave everything on the field if they want to take down the defending champs. But it won't end there.
If Michigan State defeats Ohio State, it will still have to beat Penn State to close out the regular season and win the Big Ten title game. If Iowa wins this weekend against Purdue (which it should), the Hawkeyes will represent the West - and have proven to be a worthy opponent. But it all lies in the hands of the Spartans.
If MSU wins out and captures the Big Ten title, it will have a spot in the playoff.