Assessing every team’s shot at the playoff

by | Oct 26, 2021 | College Football Coast to Coast | 5 comments

Ahead of the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings (Nov. 2), we’ve analyzed each team in the AP top 25 to determine who has a legitimate path. Teams fall into one of three categories: playoff-bound, in the hunt, and eliminated. Please note that 2020 has been stricken from the record for the purpose of this article.

Not-so-bold prediction

Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Ohio State will make the playoff. Only four programs have ever been selected more than once: Alabama (5), Clemson (5), Oklahoma (4), and Ohio State (3). You would think Pitt’s dealing Clemson its third loss this past weekend would solidify the chance of a shakeup, but with a dominant Georgia at no. 1, Clemson lifts right out. Nobody is rooting harder against Alabama than Cincinnati right now. You could easily see a scenario in which Oklahoma and Ohio State are locks and a one-loss Bama beats an undefeated Georgia for the SEC title. The committee could just as easily select those four and snub an unbeaten Cincinnati. The odds are heavily stacked against the Bearcats and I do not believe for a moment they control their own destiny.

In the hunt

Cincinnati 7-0
The Bearcats are receiving a ton of love from the writers, coming in at no. 2 for the second week in a row, despite receiving a scare from Navy (1-6) over the weekend. It’ll be interesting for several reasons to see how high they place next Tuesday. The highest a non-power 5 school has ever been ranked in the initial CFP rankings was in 2018 when Central Florida (7-0) came in at no. 12. Despite finishing unbeaten, the Knights would finish at no. 8, also the highest finish for a non-power 5. Southern Methodist (7-0) is the only remaining ranked team on the schedule and it’s unclear whether that’ll be enough to break through the glass ceiling.

Oklahoma State 6-1
Despite the weekend loss to Iowa State, the Cowboys are absolutely in control of their own fate. No committee is going to keep a one-loss Big 12 champ out of the playoff if it were to beat beloved Oklahoma in successive weeks.

Baylor 6-1
Oklahoma is still on the schedule, so the Bears have everything to play for. I don’t see the committee denying a one-loss Baylor a playoff spot because it, too likely will have beaten the Sooners twice in order to get there.

Michigan 7-0
The Wolverines control their own destiny with Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State still left on the schedule. Even a one-loss Michigan team that were to win the B1G Championship Game would have a real good shot at muscling its way in.

Michigan State 7-0
Sparty finds itself in the exact same position as Michigan with the same marquee opponents left on its schedule. State could probably suffer a loss, win the B1G Championship Game, and find itself on the right side of the bubble.

Ole Miss 6-1
Thanks to A&M’s upset of Alabama, the Rebels have an outside shot of reaching Atlanta. Saturday’s showdown at Auburn looms large, as well as does a date in November with the Aggies. If the Tide should stumble against either LSU, Arkansas, or at Auburn, a one-loss Ole Miss would win the West. The committee is not keeping a one-loss SEC champion out, especially if it knocks off an unbeaten Georgia in the process.

Oregon 6-1
The Ducks have an outside shot. That being said, the conference championship game is the only thing left to boost the résumé. But the committee has yet to keep a one-loss Pac-12 conference champion out. Washington (12-1) made it in 2016 as did the Ducks (12-1) in 2014.

Iowa 6-1
The Hawkeyes must run the table to even have a shot. If the one loss had come at the hand of a blueblood, the committee might be more forgiving. The lopsided loss to Purdue was a potentially devastating blow to Iowa’s title hopes. The Hawks don’t even control their own path to Indianapolis right now.


Notre Dame 6-1
The Irish will have plenty of teams in front of them come Tuesday night and there simply isn’t enough on the schedule to improve their standing. If Cincinnati is up against it, how are the Irish who fell to them in October supposed to climb back into contention? No marquee wins, no conference championship to play for, and no hope for Notre Dame.

Wake Forest 7-0
Not all power 5 teams are created equal. It seems strange to write off an undefeated from a major conference at this point in the season, but there aren’t many one-loss teams that wouldn’t receive preferential treatment from the committee in December. There’s no margin for error for the Demon Deacons, and even then it seems they’d only be in position to gripe.

Pitt 6-1
The ACC is especially down this year. With a loss to a MAC school already under their belt, there’s just no way the Panthers will be taken seriously.

Kentucky 6-1
The no. 1 Bulldogs would have to lose two of its remaining three conference games (Florida, Mizzou, Tennessee) for the Wildcats to have a fighting chance. I suppose anything’s possible, but Georgia currently looks like a six-headed monster ravaging everything in its path to Atlanta.

Texas A&M 6-2
Auburn 5-2
Penn State 5-2
Iowa State 5-2
No team with two losses has ever cracked the top four of the final CFP rankings. It’s doubtful 2021 is the year that changes.

Southern Methodist 7-0
San Diego State 7-0
Texas at San Antonio 8-0
Eight spots is the highest climb a non-power 5 that appeared in the initial CFP rankings and finished the regular season undefeated has ever made. That was Western Michigan back in 2016, which started its journey at no. 23, and these three aren’t likely to start much higher next Tuesday. There have only been three undefeated non-power 5 teams by the time the final CFP rankings rolled around: no. 15 Western Michigan (13-0) in 2016, No. 12 Central Florida (12-0) in 2017, and no. 8 Central Florida (12-0) in 2018. The Mustangs still have a date with undefeated Cincinnati in November, but a win wouldn’t propel them into the playoff. Meanwhile, the Aztecs and Roadrunners are fighting solely for the opportunity to decry an unjust system.

Coastal Carolina 6-1
The loss to Appalachian State Wednesday ruined the Chanticleers’ perfect season and robs them of the opportunity to complain come season’s end.

BYU 6-2
Kirk Herbstreit and nearly every other talking head in college football were complaining about the lack of love shown the Cougars in the first half of the season, but back-to-back losses in October buried any and all hopes of crashing this playoff party.

by Keith Eichholz, Oct. 26, 2021

CORRECTION: This article originally had an error of fact regarding Ole Miss and, thereby, the number of teams with a legitimate path.

CORRECTION: This article originally had an error of fact concerning TCU and its conference affiliation. TCU’s last year as a member of the Mountain West was 2011 and has been a Big 12 member during all of the College Football Playoff era.



  1. This is an excellent analysis of the CFP as it could possibly end up at the end of the year. I love how you reviewed each team and divided them into the in the CFP, in the hunt, a chance and eliminated.

    I don’t see how a team like Cincinnati gets in the playoff with a MAC plus schedule.

    I agree with your assessment. I also am thrilled for an article like this before the first CFP rankings. Of course, you have to make educated assumptions as you did.

    • The Cincinnati aspect is so interesting and I agree with you on the schedule. I’m very curious to see where Cincinnati starts in the first set of rankings. You would like to think all the teams are weighed against the same measuring stick; I’m just wondering if the committee isn’t feeling pressure to start giving these types of schools more of a shot to get in. Will the committee start the Bearcats so low it allows them to move them up over the course of six weeks to give the impression they’re getting respect? Or do they slot them in at no. 5 and not move them? It’s quite possible, if the political pressure is high enough, that should Cincinnati go undefeated and not get in, it might end the 4-team playoff era.

    • If Bama loses to auburn in Iron bowl and Ole miss wins out they go to sec championship game… if auburn wins out they are in sec championship game, if auburn beats Bama A&M beats Ole miss and auburn they are in sec championship… Bama doesn’t have to lose twice they just have to lose once for any of these teams to make it into sec championship.

      I know it’s small but it was an innacurracy in the Ole miss section and with this being the first written work it should be accurate. I like to see written work in college football.

      • Jackson, you make a great point and a correction is in order. My apologies and thank you for bringing this to my attention.

      • I actually don’t think it’s that small either. There’s a big difference between losing one of your last four and half of your remaining games. It was just two years ago Bama lost twice in conference. Granted, one of those was to no 1. LSU, but plenty of stranger things have happened. Once again, I apologize for originally selling Ole Miss short and thank you for commenting.


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Keith Eichholz

Lead writer for the Voice of College Football. Thorough, evidence-based, critical thinker. Husband to a beautiful wife, father to a terrific kid, always looking forward to football Saturday.

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