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Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
There’s a whole lot of college football left to be played this fall, but the College Football Playoff picture is beginning to take shape.
Right now, there are well over a dozen viable candidates to reach the playoff. It’s probably closer to three dozen if you’re of the belief that 1-0 Rutgers, 1-0 Northwestern, 1-0 Purdue and all 12 yet-to-play-a-game Pac-12 teams have a chance.
However, six particular games (plus a set of three games for one team) over the course of the next month will play a major role in whittling that list down to just seven or eight teams for the home stretch.
We aren’t including conference championships on this list, because A) we don’t know the matchups for those games and B) you don’t need us to tell you those games are of the utmost importance. Rather, these are the games between now and mid-December that figure to play the biggest part in setting the stage for championship week.
You’ll probably notice that Alabama does not appear anywhere on this list. That isn’t an oversight, but rather an acknowledgment that it is basically a lock to reach the SEC championship.
The only other team in the SEC West that hasn’t suffered multiple losses is Texas A&M, which already lost to the Crimson Tide. That means they effectively have a 1.5-game lead in the loss column, which might as well be a three-game cushion since they don’t play another game against a currently ranked team. The road game against LSU (Nov. 14) and the home game against Auburn (Nov. 28) are must-watch affairs, but they probably won’t matter in the grand scheme of the playoff picture.
Games are listed in chronological order, aside from the one to-be-determined situation that was saved for the end.
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Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
This one lost some luster after Penn State’s season-opening loss to Indiana, but there’s no question this is still a massive game.
This should be Ohio State’s only moderate challenge until at least the Big Ten championship game. The Buckeyes drew Illinois and Nebraska in the crossover games—which is about as easy as it gets in the B1G West Division—and they’ll get both Michigan and Indiana at home. Per ESPN FPI win probabilities, if Ohio State wins this game, there’s a better than 75 percent chance it will go 8-0.
Meanwhile, Penn State’s playoff dream isn’t dead just yet. If the Nittany Lions win out, they would still win the B1G East Division so long as Indiana is unable to go 7-1 or 8-0. Should they do that and win the conference championship, they would be 8-1 with quality wins over Ohio State, Michigan (road) and whomever wins the West Division (likely Wisconsin). That’s probably good enough for a spot in a national semifinal.
Given how poorly the Nittany Lions played and managed the endgame against the