CFP breakdown: What the top 6 teams need to secure playoff spot
Conference championship weekend doubles as the last chance for teams to cement their resume for a possible berth in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Top-seeded Georgia likely booked its ticket already regardless of how Saturday's SEC title game plays out, but the remaining contenders need favorable results from the weekend to guarantee qualification.
Here's the scenario for each program in the top six spots.
No. 1 Georgia
Next: SEC title game vs. No. 3 Alabama
Georgia can enter conference championship weekend with a comfort level unknown to the rest of the teams in the country. The Bulldogs' dominance all season has been too impressive to keep them from the playoff even if they lose to Alabama.
The Bulldogs have run through their entire schedule with ease, buoyed by one of the best defensive units in recent memory. Kirby Smart's outfit has allowed an absurd 6.9 points per contest this year, a shocking 9.8 points better than the next best team in the country. Losing to the Crimson Tide might knock Georgia off its perch at No. 1, but it certainly won't be enough to see the program fall beyond the top four.
No. 2 Michigan
Next: Big Ten title game vs. Iowa
It's a good week to be Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor. After finally beating rival Ohio State for the first time in his tenure with Michigan, the excitable head coach has his Wolverines on the cusp of the playoff heading into the Big Ten title game. Iowa's defense will put up a tough test, but Michigan is a double-digit favorite for a reason. The formula is simple for the Wolverines - win and claim the Big Ten title along with the program's first-ever playoff berth.
No. 3 Alabama
Next: SEC title game vs. No. 1 Georgia
After somehow escaping the Iron Bowl with a dramatic victory in the fourth overtime, Alabama enters the SEC title game versus Georgia with a clear objective - win and get into the playoff.
While there were rumblings that the Crimson Tide could still make the CFP with a close loss to Georgia, the SEC West champions struggled to separate themselves from inferior opposition down the stretch, so that ship has likely sailed. The Bulldogs enter the contest as 6.5-point favorites over Nick Saban's outfit, just the sixth time since 2008 that Alabama has been an underdog. That might not be an issue for the Tide, as they won outright on four of those previous five occasions.
No. 4 Cincinnati
Next: AAC title game vs. Houston
A Group of 5 team has never reached the CFP. However, there's never been a better opportunity for a program to do it than Cincinnati this year. The Bearcats roll into the AAC title game with a perfect record and have a massive road win over No. 6 Notre Dame on their resume from earlier in the season.
A victory over Houston should see 13-0 Cincinnati secure a playoff spot, but the Bearcats might want to root for both Georgia and Baylor this weekend, just to be sure. Should the Crimson Tide upset Georgia and Oklahoma State handle its business against the Bears, the committee could be tempted to put the Cowboys in the playoff alongside the two SEC powers and Michigan.
No. 5 Oklahoma State
Next: Big 12 title game vs. Baylor
Even though it sits outside the top four right now, Oklahoma State might still control its destiny in the race for the semifinals. If they beat Baylor for the second time this season, the Cowboys will register another ranked victory and claim a Power 5 conference title.
That scenario, combined with a 12-1 record, could be enough to see them jump Cincinnati regardless of how the Bearcats do Saturday. An Alabama loss to Georgia would also likely be enough to get Oklahoma State to the semifinals, should it win this weekend.
No. 6 Notre Dame
Notre Dame needs chaos to occur this weekend to make the playoff, but that is right in line with how the past week unfolded in South Bend. Brian Kelly is out after 12 years with the program, opting to jump to LSU regardless of whether the Fighting Irish end up in the top four or not.
Due to its lack of conference affiliation, Notre Dame doesn't play this weekend and likely needs at least two of Alabama, Michigan, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma State to fall to have a chance at its third CFP appearance.
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