Welcome to Before The Snap, For The Win’s college football series where we’ll break down the sport’s trending storylines, examine each week’s biggest matchups and track the College Football Playoff and Heisman Trophy races.
The 2022 college football season is headed into conference championship weekend, and you know what that means: We’re just days away from finding out which four teams will make this year’s College Football Playoff.
We love chaos and debates, but we also have to be realistic in charting paths to the playoff. So here’s how we see the top-6 teams in the latest playoff rankings making it, and each scenario is actually quite simple.
No. 1 Georgia (12-0)
With an SEC championship win: If the Bulldogs beat LSU for the conference championship — which they absolutely should as a 17.5-point favorite and one of the most dominant teams in college football — they’re in.
With an SEC championship loss: Even with a loss to the Tigers, we think Georgia gets in no matter what. Depending on how the other conference title games play out, it might not maintain the No. 1 spot with a loss, but it’ll still be in the top four. But for LSU, we don’t see a win bumping the Tigers up enough to make it.
No. 2 Michigan (12-0)
With a Big Ten championship win: Like Georgia, if Michigan wins its conference championship game against Purdue, it’s in. The Wolverines deserve their No. 2 spot behind the Bulldogs, and as 17-point favorites against the Boilermakers, they should have little trouble winning the Big Ten.
With a Big Ten championship loss: Also like Georgia, we don’t see a loss keeping Michigan out of the playoff — though it would likely lose its No. 2 position, depending on how the other games go. The Wolverines should be in no matter what.
No. 3 TCU (12-0)
With a Big 12 championship win: Win and they’re in. This TCU squad has been exceptional through its season so far, and a conference title would secure the program’s first playoff berth.
With a Big 12 championship loss: Despite an undefeated season so far, we don’t see the playoff committee giving the Horned Frogs the benefit of the doubt if it loses to Kansas State. If they lose, their playoff dreams are likely over.
No. 4 USC (11-1)
With a Pac-12 championship win: Win and they’re in. Should Heisman Trophy frontrunner Caleb Williams lead his team to victory over Utah in a rematch after the Trojans suffered a one-point loss in the regular season, the Pac-12 should have a playoff team for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
With a Pac-12 championship loss: A two-loss not-conference champion out of the Pac-12 probably isn’t making the playoff. With a USC loss or a TCU loss this weekend, the door will be opened for another team to slide into the top four.
No. 5 Ohio State (11-1) and No. 6 Alabama (10-2)
If you’re an Ohio State or Alabama fan, you also need to be the biggest Kansas State and Utah fan this weekend. A TCU or USC loss would likely benefit the Buckeyes first, and should one of those teams lose, we see a clear path for Ohio State to jump into the top four. Should both TCU and USC lose, not only would the Buckeyes likely make it, but the Crimson Tide probably also would become the first two-loss playoff team.
Why not No. 7 Tennessee? With the latest rankings, the playoff committee clearly values Alabama’s resume more than the Volunteers’, despite their three-point win over the Crimson Tide in the regular season. Had it not been for the ugly loss to South Carolina, Tennessee would still very much be in the playoff conversation.
Why not No. 8 Penn State or No. 9 Clemson? The Nittany Lions’ two losses this season were at the hands of the Big Ten’s top-2 teams, and without a conference title to play for, there’s really nothing they can do to jump that far in the rankings.
As for Clemson, which is playing in the ACC title game against North Carolina, its losses to Notre Dame and South Carolina seem to have hurt the Tigers too much in the eyes of the playoff committee for a conference championship win to make up the difference.