Three weeks left, and the picture is pretty clear for the top three in the College Football Playoff Committee's top three from last week: Win out and you're in. They all have a rivalry game at home and their conference championship game left. The rest of the field is vying for the 4th spot unless there's an upset somewhere in the top three.
Our projected top three are the top three in the Committee's rankings, but in a different order. Their #2, Oregon, is our #1, meaning they're the most likely to remain in the top four. Whether they get the "top seed" depends on what other teams do. But their path is pretty clear with Oregon State and the Pac-12 title game to go, though both could be difficult given that one is a rivalry game and the South has a number of good teams. We give them about a 2/3 chance of winning out and an almost 80% chance to stay in the top four. Does that mean they can take a loss and still make it? Not likely but stranger things have happened. A loss to Oregon State and a win in the Pac-12 title game makes them a live long shot.
Florida State is a close #2. The Seminoles are still undefeated which is pretty amazing considering how they've gone about it. They have two games left which will each be roughly as tough as any games they've had this year—Florida and Georgia Tech. In the former they host a still-dangerous rival, and in the latter they face a triple option offense that has given them trouble in the past. Like all their games, these are about 50/50 propositions which means they have about a 1 in 4 chance of remaining undefeated...but a 3 in 4 chance of making the playoff. A loss doesn't kill them off, but it puts them among the other 1-loss teams. If none of them lose, then yes, the Seminoles would probably be out given that the Committee wasn't very impressed with them at 10-0.
The Committee's #1, Alabama could have a very tough couple of games left: Auburn at home, and the SEC title game if they beat the Tigers. Our 30% figure assumes they play in the SEC title game; even if they don't, they're going to be first in line among 2-loss teams, and possibly ahead of some 1-loss teams.
SportsRatings College Football Playoff odds chart, post-week 13 (Nov. 23, 2014)
Dropped out: #12 Duke, #17 Nebraska, #24 USC
The top trio has a clear path but the next four teams are uncertain, and once again it's TCU and Mississippi State that lead the group, and there's only one spot available for the two. The Bulldogs were #4 with the Committee last week and if they beat Mississippi—and don't get in the SEC title game—they finish 11-1 and probably stay in the top four. That might be their best hope, too, because if they have 2 games their odds of winning out are pretty low by our estimates.
TCU's situation is still complicated by their loss to Baylor. If the Bears win out, will the Horned Frogs remain in front? TCU has Texas and Iowa State left, and neither win gains them much—hence the 80% chance to win out but less than 50% chance to make the Playoff. Baylor plays Texas Tech then Kansas State, and the latter gives them a chance to impress. But they're only #7 by the Committee's rankings last Tuesday, so they'd need to pass Ohio State as well as TCU and Mississippi State—unless other teams lose, which is very possible.
Ohio State also plays a rivalry game, hosting Michigan before taking on either Wisconsin or Minnesota in the Big Ten title game. The Committee has seemingly forgiven them for losing to Virginia Tech, and the Wisconsin game could give them a boost, but it's high-risk. Beating Minnesota again probably doesn't do much for them. Wisconsin might have an outside shot at the Playoff at 11-2 but Minnesota wouldn't at 10-3, hence their odds of 3% and 0% respectively.
Outside the top seven there's not much immediate hope, as every Power Five team has at least two losses. Some of the rankings, such as Michigan State, better represent their expected finish in the bowl pecking order. It would take a crazy miracle for the Spartans to make the top four but a 10-2 finish would keep them in the Committee top 10. Georgia, at #9, has an actual path to the top four: winning the SEC title game over a 1-loss Alabama or Mississippi State. The problem is that Missouri (our #17) didn't lose as expected and if the Tigers beat Arkansas they'll win the East, not the Bulldogs. Missouri's odds of beating Arkansas and Bama/Miss State are very low, and even that probably doesn't put them in the top four. But they'd be the SEC champs, and that might be hard to ignore. It would be interesting to say the least.
At #11 UCLA is another 2-loss Power Five conference hopeful and they control their destiny to winning the Pac-12. Their odds of doing so are about 20% but their Playoff odds are under 5% since the SEC is the most likely conference to have a 2-loss team in. Other Pac-12 South hopefuls still include Arizona (our #14 this week) and Arizona State (#15) who play this Friday; both will be hoping for a UCLA loss to Stanford to open the door to the title game. Utah was eliminated by Arizona on Saturday.
Georgia Tech is the least likely of the 2-loss usurpers at 0.5%. Not because they can't beat Florida State—it's clear the Seminoles are vulnerable to anyone and right now we favor the Yellow Jackets! But they face Georgia first, and that's what keeps their odds of winning out at just 7%. If they beat the Bulldogs, and then FSU? They pretty much leap to the top of the 2-loss teams. Still doesn't get them in under current circumstances, but circumstances change.
Marshall falls to #10, which is still unrepresentative of their situation. As our projection weighs the Committee's pronouncements more heavily near the end, their odds will continue to take a hit as it becomes clear they might not even make the top 25. Normally a team in their situation would end up near the top 10 in the polls, but the Committee's refusal to place the Herd in their rankings has kept them down with the voters, too, it seems. It's also making their odds of a New Year's Day bowl berth dicey. We don't think they'll be in the Committee's top 25 this week, and Boise State could be, giving the Broncos a better shot at a January 1st bowl despite their 2 losses. Boise is also playing spoiler to Colorado State, which can't be a conference champ unless the Broncos lose to Utah State. The Rams, too, lose some luster but drop back only a spot since Duke and Nebraska each suffered their third loss and fell out altogether.
The teams ranked #19 and below are jockeying for bowl position and have no shot at the Playoff given their 3+ losses. But Auburn might be an exception if all hell breaks loose. Wins over Kansas State, Ole Miss, LSU—and Alabama next week—would make them a top 10 team, and in a crazy universe where every top contender loses twice, they'd be standing near the top when the dust clears. Not terribly plausible, though.
Because the Committee's pronouncements are becoming ever more important, we'll revise these rankings Tuesday evening after they give us their current list. They always throw a few surprises down the pike.