The College Football Playoff race has come down to its final week, Championship Week.

The SEC Championship Game between No. 1 Georgia and No. 3 Alabama will be the focus of the most attention. It’s the one game with a guaranteed CFP semifinalist, and the one game where a certain result is guaranteed to produce half the CFP field, just as it did in 2017 — and with the same teams.

A couple of other teams control their fate for the Playoff, but there are a lot of complications. And several Power 5 teams — Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Michigan State — finished their seasons 10-2 but won’t go to their conference championship games, so they’re done as far as CFP consideration.

So let’s get right to it: What’s the path for remaining Playoff contenders? We list them here in order of needing the least help to reach either the Cotton or Orange Bowl as a semifinalist, to teams needing the most help.


The 12-0 Dawgs are in. Their path has been laid out and they have walked it. Or bulldozed it, befitting their style. As the lone Power 5 unbeaten, and the team atop the best college football conference in America, there is zero chance of Georgia missing out even in the event of a blowout loss to Alabama in the SEC title game. The only question is whether UGA will stay unbeaten and be the No. 1 seed, or lose and slip to No. 2 or No. 3.


The first scenario is simple: Beat Georgia and they’re in. If the Crimson Tide defeat the Dawgs in Atlanta, the defending national champions can not only book their place in the CFP, they would surely do so as the No. 1 seed, able to pick whether they want to go to the Orange Bowl or Cotton Bowl for their semifinal. With a defeat? Well, as a 2-loss non-champion, Bama would almost surely need serious help, such as a couple of the next few teams on this list losing.


This is even easier than Alabama. If the Wolverines knock off Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game, UM is in, probably as a No. 2 seed, or No. 3 at worst (at that point, of course, the difference between No. 2 and No. 3 is only whether you wear your home or road uniforms in your semifinal). But if Michigan loses to the Hawkeyes, Jim Harbaugh’s bunch is toast, as a 2-loss team with a résumé that the CFP committee has not yet ranked above Alabama’s (though UM might jump Bama on Tuesday).


Here is where the path starts to get tricky. Think a team already in the top 4 can’t get aced out if it wins in the final week? Tell it to the 2014 TCU Horned Frogs (albeit, they didn’t have a conference title game). And we also have the unprecedented aspect of inviting a Group of 5 participant to the biggest of big games. If the Bearcats defeat No. 24 Houston soundly in the American Athletic Conference title game, they’re probably safe. It would help Cincy if Alabama gets crushed and Baylor wins the battle of the next two teams on this list.

Oklahoma State

The Cowboys might be the biggest open question. After beating Oklahoma on Saturday, Oklahoma State is a potential 1-loss conference champion. Mike Gundy’s team has to beat Baylor for the Big 12 title, but how much help will the Cowboys need after that? Or will they need any? Let’s say Oklahoma State tops the Bears. Might the committee think the final 2 weeks (wins over 2 top-10 teams) would be enough to vault Oklahoma State over Cincinnati? Or Bama, if the Crimson Tide loses a close one?


If Baylor beats Oklahoma State for the Big 12 title, 2 facts would collide. The CFP has never taken a 2-loss team (the Bears are 10-2). The CFP also has never taken a Group of 5 team such as Cincinnati. Let’s say Georgia, Baylor, Cincinnati and Michigan all win on Saturday. Georgia and Michigan would be locks. The Bearcats would be very likely. Would the Bears, a 2-loss team from a lesser Power 5 conference than the SEC, get in over 2-loss non-champion Bama? Based on current rankings, it’s a big question.

Notre Dame

Fighting Irish football is as big of a name as there is in college sports. So why is it hard to envision this 11-1 team getting a CFP bid in 2021? Only 2 of its opponents are currently ranked, Wisconsin and Cincinnati. And Notre Dame’s loss came at home against Cincinnati. This is not ND’s fault, but several of its big-name foes — Florida State, Virginia Tech, USC, Stanford — wound up struggling. Finally, without a title game, the Irish are idle this week. They need to root for Michigan, Cincinnati and Bama to lose.

Other Power 5 championship games

Pac-12: Oregon vs. Utah. Winners, enjoy your trip to the Rose Bowl. That’s your ceiling.

ACC: Wake Forest vs. Pittsburgh. Winners, enjoy your trip to the Peach Bowl. That’s your ceiling.