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10 College Football Playoff scenarios, from chalk to complete two-loss chaos


The final College Football Playoff rankings will be announced Sunday. 

The 2021 college football season has been filled with unexpected upsets and coaching moves, but the playoff picture has come into focus. With conference championship week here, there are several intriguing playoff scenarios. 

Four conference championship games will help clear up that picture. Here are the games to watch: 

  • Big 12: Oklahoma State vs. Baylor, 12 p.m. (ABC) 
  • SEC: Alabama vs. Georgia, 4 p.m. (CBS) 
  • AAC: Houston vs. Cincinnati, 4 p.m. (ABC) 
  • Big Ten: Iowa vs. Michigan, 8 p.m. (FOX) 

MORE: Picks against the spread for Championship Week

Those games will help the puzzle pieces fit. Here is a look at the various scenarios that could unfold based on the results: 

College Football Playoff scenarios

Playoff scenario No. 1: Chalk wins out 

— Oklahoma State beats Baylor

— Georgia beats Alabama

— Cincinnati beats Houston

— Michigan beats Iowa

1. Georgia (13-0) 

2. Michigan (12-1) 

3. Cincinnati (13-0) 

4. Oklahoma State (12-1), Notre Dame (11-1) or Alabama (11-2) 

In this scenario, we think two-loss Alabama drops out of the discussion. Oklahoma State could take this spot given the Cowboys would have back-to-back wins against top-10 opponents the last two weeks and a conference championship. Notre Dame would be considered here too based on strong play since the loss to Cincinnati. Would Brian Kelly’s decision to leave for LSU be part of this decision? It shouldn’t be, but the CFP committee dropped a hint by putting the Cowboys ahead of the Irish this week. 

MORE: Brian Kelly will not coach ND if it reaches playoff

Playoff scenario No. 2: Made-for-TV playoff

— Baylor beats Oklahoma State

— Alabama beats Georgia

— Houston beats Cincinnati

— Michigan beats Iowa

1. Alabama (12-1)

2. Michigan (12-1)

3. Georgia (12-1) 

4. Notre Dame (11-1) 

Can you imagine? The conference championships create chaos that knocks out the Cowboys and Bearcats. Alabama wins, and gets Notre Dame in a rematch of last year’s semifinal matchup against an interim coach. Michigan takes on Georgia in a battle between two blue-bloods looking to end prolonged national championship droughts. These are four of the top revenue-producing schools. Ratings would be huge, but who coaches the Irish? 

MORE: Updated college football playoff rankings

Playoff scenario No. 3: Bama wins by a little 

—Oklahoma State beats Baylor

—Alabama beats Georgia

—Cincinnati beats Houston

—Michigan beats Iowa

1. Alabama (12-1)

2. Michigan (12-1)

3. Georgia (12-1) 

4. Cincinnati (13-0) or Oklahoma State (12-1)

It’s the same board. Alabama, Michigan and Georgia would be locks, and Cincinnati fans would have to sweat out getting bumped by Oklahoma State. We still think the Bearcats hold their spot, and you get the David vs. Goliath angle with the Crimson Tide vs. Bearcats.

Playoff scenario No. 4: Bama wins by a lot 

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— Oklahoma State beats Baylor

— Alabama beats Georgia

— Cincinnati beats Houston

— Michigan beats Iowa

1. Alabama (12-1)

2. Michigan (12-1)

3. Cincinnati (13-0) 

4. Oklahoma State (12-1), Georgia (12-1) or Notre Dame (11-1) 

Let’s say Alabama beats Georgia in one of those patented SEC championship blowouts, like a 38-7 destruction. As unlikely as that is, it could knock the Bulldogs out if Oklahoma State is impressive in the Big 12 championship. Georgia’s resume is not exactly loaded with quality wins. Kentucky (9-3) and Clemson (9-3) are the best opponents it has faced. It at minimum creates a huge debate for that fourth spot. 

Playoff scenario No. 5: Big 12 upset 

— Baylor beats Oklahoma State

— Georgia beats Alabama

— Cincinnati beats Houston

— Michigan beats Iowa

1. Georgia (13-0) 

2. Michigan (12-1)

3. Cincinnati (13-0) 

4. Notre Dame (11-1) or Alabama (11-2) 

This would leave the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC out of the CFP. That’s two-thirds of the Alliance and a Power 5 conference that is losing Oklahoma and Texas. Giving the fourth playoff spot to an independent or two-loss SEC team would only make those calls the loudest. Would the committee take the rematch with Alabama? It might if the SEC championship game is an instant classic. The Irish, even without Brian Kelly, are the better bet here. 

MORE: Bowl projections include Georgia-Michigan title game

Playoff scenario No. 6: UC loses 

— Oklahoma State beats Baylor

— Georgia beats Alabama

— Houston beats Cincinnati

— Michigan beats Iowa

1. Georgia (13-0) 

2. Michigan (12-1)

3. Oklahoma State (12-1), Notre Dame (11-1) or Alabama (11-2)

4. Oklahoma State (12-1), Notre Dame (11-1) or Alabama (11-2)

Take that, Group of 5. That would leave two open spots for Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and, yes, Alabama. The Cowboys would likely take the No. 3 spot in this scenario, and Notre Dame would slip in for a matchup with Georgia.

Playoff scenario No. 7: Michigan (and the Alliance) loses

— Oklahoma State beats Baylor

— Georgia beats Alabama

— Cincinnati beats Houston

— Iowa beats Michigan

1. Georgia (13-0)

2. Cincinnati (13-0) 

3. Oklahoma State (12-1), Notre Dame (11-1), Iowa (11-2) or Alabama (11-2)

4. Oklahoma State (12-1), Notre Dame (11-1), Iowa (11-2) or Alabama (11-2)

Who wants a two-loss Hawkeyes team in the CFP? Iowa is ranked No. 13, so that would be a monstrous leap. We still think the Cowboys and Irish would be the teams here, but this scenario is leaving out the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12. Remember, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta is the committee chairman.

Playoff scenario No. 8: SEC and Big Ten upheaval

— Oklahoma State beats Baylor

— Alabama beats Georgia

— Cincinnati beats Houston

—I owa beats Michigan 

1. Alabama (12-1) 

2. Cincinnati (13-0) 

3. Georgia (12-1) 

4. Oklahoma State (12-1) or Notre Dame (11-1)

We’re back to the Oklahoma State-Notre Dame debate here, and most of these scenarios turn that debate out. The Georgia-Cincinnati rematch would be fun with the Bearcats as the higher seed.

Playoff scenario No. 9: We want an 8-team playoff now! 

— Baylor beats Oklahoma State

— Alabama beats Georgia

— Cincinnati beats Houston

— Iowa beats Michigan 

1. Alabama (12-1)

2. Georgia (12-1)

3. Cincinnati (13-0)

4. Notre Dame (11-1) 

In this scenario, Cincinnati could theoretically lose and still get in based on the head-to-head victory against Notre Dame. But the problem is here is four Power 5 conferences are left out. The champions would be all two- or three-loss teams in Iowa (11-2), Wake Forest/Pitt (11-2), Oregon (11-2) or Utah (10-3) and Baylor (11-2).

Playoff scenario No. 10: WTH just happened

— Baylor beats Oklahoma State

— Georgia beats Alabama

— Houston beats Cincinnati  

— Iowa beats Michigan  

1. Georgia (13-0) 

2. Notre Dame (11-1) 

3. Baylor (11-2) 

4. Iowa (11-2), Cincinnati (12-1), Alabama (11-2), Wake Forest or Pitt (11-2), Oregon (11-2) 

This actually is the craziest scenario of all because it would create a three-vacancy scramble. Notre Dame could jump all the way to No. 2 because the Bearcats would not have a conference championship with a Group of 5 schedule. We’re pretty sure Baylor would snap up the No. 3 spot, but just look at the potential mess under them. This is the only way the ACC and Pac-12 can get involved in the final discussion, too. How would the committee stack up that mess? They would likely take Iowa, the Big Ten champion. So who’s ready for Georgia-Iowa and Notre Dame-Baylor?



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