College Football Playoff rankings: Who controls their own destiny?

The first College Football Playoff committee rankings are out, and they certainly raised some eyebrows.

Undefeated Oklahoma at No. 8. One-loss Alabama a “clear” No. 2. Cincinnati sitting at No. 6 with no real chance to improve its resume (SMU and Houston, both teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll, were not part of the selection committee’s top 25). More than half of the committee’s selections come from the SEC and Big Ten.

BENDER: Committee missed on Oklahoma | Week 10 picks | Heisman race

So who controls their own destiny in terms of earning a playoff berth at this point? In other words, what school can absolutely guarantee itself a spot in the top four on Selection Sunday by winning out? Given the smoke signals sent by the committee on Tuesday night, we have just three schools that can truly feel safe:


This one’s fairly obvious, no? Georgia is ranked No. 1. Winning out from here will give it an undefeated record, an SEC championship and almost certainly the No. 1 overall seed. If you are reading this story, you already knew an undefeated Bulldogs team would be in the College Football Playoff, so I’ll stop talking now.


Another slam dunk. A 12-1 Alabama team will have beaten Georgia to win the SEC championship. There is no scenario where four other teams would get invites in front of a one-beaten, SEC champion Crimson Tide team whose only loss came on the road as a result of a last-second field goal. Don’t slip up again, and you better keep your calendar clear for New Year’s Eve, Alabama — you’re going to the playoff for the seventh time in eight years.

Michigan State

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Michigan State cleared its first hurdle toward reaching the playoff when it came from behind to beat Michigan 37-33 on Saturday. The win put the Spartans to No. 3 in the initial playoff ranking and paved the way to the postseason — should they keep winning. If Michigan State reaches the 13-0 mark, it would mean it beat Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State and the Big Ten West champion. Should Kenneth Walker III and his band of overachievers stay perfect, they are in.

Five on the brink

Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan and Cincinnati should all feel very, very good about their chances if they win out — but there are scenarios where they would still finish on the outside looking in, even with an unbeaten November and December.


The committee has given the head-to-head win at Ohio State tremendous value. But the Ducks may not have another chance to significantly improve their resume, while teams such as Michigan and Oklahoma do. If the SEC nabs two spots, the Ducks could get passed by Michigan (who could also claim a win over Ohio State) and undefeated Oklahoma.


Starting at No. 8, the Sooners have work to do over the next four weeks. But they have games against No. 11 Oklahoma State, No. 12 Baylor and perhaps a rematch against one of those teams in the Big 12 title game. A 13-0 record with those three checkmarks on the resume will look good, but if the SEC grabs two spots, Oregon stays put and the Big Ten champ is 13-1, Oklahoma may not get a seat at the table.

Ohio State

In theory, the Buckeyes could get left out if UGA and Alabama take two, undefeated Oklahoma or Cincinnati takes a third and Oregon gets the nod at 12-1 over Ohio State at 12-1 because of the head-to-head.


See above. If Georgia, Alabama and Oregon take three spots, that fourth one could be a crapshoot between an unbeaten Cincinnati and Oklahoma and a one-loss Michigan. Someone would get it, but no one is guaranteed.


Again, the worst case for these teams is if the SEC grabs two spots and Oregon wins out. Then it will be a dogfight for spot No. 4 if these four schools all win out.

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