College Football Playoff: Week 10 path for contenders, and who they should root for

The first set of College Football Playoff rankings were unveiled on Tuesday, and certain teams’ rankings are telling in their chances of making the the four-team cut this season.

It’s a pretty simple equation at the top of the rankings: Undefeated Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame need win out to make the Playoff. For other teams, like No. 8 Washington State, it’s a little more complicated.

MORE: Biggest Week 10 Playoff-deciding games

With that said, Sporting News takes a look at how each top-10 team in the first set of CFP rankings can make the Playoff, as well as who they’ll need to root for — and against — to make the cut.

1. Alabama (8-0)

Just win: Alabama is unique in that it can suffer a loss in its last four games and still be considered among the favorites to make the Playoff. That said, a Saturday trip to Baton Rouge to take on No. 3 LSU will have huge implications for the Tide’s postseason hopes.

What to root for: Texas A&M. The Aggies remain the only ranked opponent the Tide have beaten this year, though Alabama doesn’t exactly need to prop up its strength of schedule. That said, if Alabama loses on Saturday in Baton Rouge, it would most likely need Texas A&M to give LSU its second conference loss of the season to ensure the Tide make the SEC championship. Either that, or hope for another Arkansas miracle.

2. Clemson (8-0)

Just win: Win and you’re in, Clemson. The Tigers have the highest chance to get into the Playoff considering their relative strength compared to a weak ACC this year. A ranked matchup with Boston College and the season-ending rivalry game against South Carolina loom, but Clemson should be favored in both.

What to root for: Notre Dame’s opponents. In the unlikely event Clemson loses before season’s end, leaving Alabama and Notre Dame as the nation’s only undefeateds, Clemson would have to compete with potentially three other one-loss Power 5 champions for just two Playoff spots. Their chances would increase, however, if you knocked out Notre Dame. Remember, the Irish have a five-game agreement with the ACC — would that affect the way the committee picks its final four?

3. LSU (7-1)

Just win: LSU has a tough final stretch of the season with a home visit from Alabama and trip to Texas A&M. Win those games and the SEC championship and no one can doubt the Tigers’ veracity.

What to root for: Chaos — if the Tigers lose. No two-loss team has ever made the Playoff, and a defeat against Alabama on Saturday would pretty much exclude LSU from contention. It would take several losses across the Power 5 (and Notre Dame) to get them back in the conversation. At a minimum, you’d need a two-loss champion from every other Power 5 conference — certainly possible at this point in the season. If that happens, LSU’s two losses (to ranked Florida and Alabama) would stand up to any other teams’.

MORE: Notre Dame can pressure Playoff committee like never before

4. Notre Dame (8-0)

Just win: This is the Irish’s only path to the Playoff. They should be favored in the remainder of their games aganist Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse and USC, but a loss to any of those teams means the end of their Playoff hopes considering they don’t have a conference championship to rely on.

What to root for: Themselves. It truly is Notre Dame against the world: A loss without that conference title game to rely on should end the Irish’s Playoff hopes, and it would take an unprecedented amount of chaos would get them back in contention. 

5. Michigan (7-1)

Just win: Michigan will be in the national spotlight twice in the month of November with high-profile matchups against two-loss Penn State and one-loss Ohio State. That ensures the Wolverines will be in the national consciousness as the Playoff committee makes its final decisions, assuming they win.

What to root for: Northwestern. Michigan’s only loss so far this season is against still-unbeaten Notre Dame — but the Wolverines should root for the Wildcats to do what they couldn’t: Beat the Irish. Here’s why. Not only would it essentially knock Notre Dame out of the running, it would keep the Wildcats’ chances of making the Big Ten championship game alive (they currently are atop the Big Ten West standings). If you can’t beat Notre Dame, why not beat the team (twice) that beat Notre Dame in your conference title game?

6. Georgia (7-1)

Just win: A win over Kentucky this weekend takes precedence and ensures the Bulldogs repeat as SEC East champs, at least. That high-profile matchup should be the last for Georgia this year as it finishes the season against Auburn, UMass and Georgia Tech, who have a combined 12-13 record heading into Weeek 10 play.

What to root for: LSU/Alabama. The Bulldogs, if they make the SEC championship game, would probably prefer to play LSU so they can avenge their — at this point — only loss of the season. Still, it likely won’t matter to the Playoff whether Georgia plays one-loss LSU or undefeated Alabama in the conference title game. Both are good enough opponents that a win almost certainly warrants inclusion in the Playoff.

MORE: SEC set up for one, maybe two Playoff teams

7. Oklahoma (7-1)

Just win: Oklahoma’s in a precarious situation heading into the final stretch of the season. The Sooners could win out, but their loss against Texas puts them in an uncomfortable matchup with the potential Big Ten champion in the Playoff race. The Sooners can only win out and hope the rest takes care of itself.

What to root for: As much they’ll hate it, the Sooners need Texas to win out heading into the Big 12 title game. Getting a chance to defeat the Longhorns in a rematch could go a long way for the committee on championship weekend. Beating West Virginia once in the regular season and then again in the Big 12 title game wouldn’t have quite the same effect.

8. Washington State (7-1)

Just win: Washington State found itself in fairly decent position in the initial rankings at No. 8 — a spot that certainly leaves them with leverage for upward mobility. The Cougars have decent competition in California, Colorado, Arizona and the season-ending Apple Cup game with Washington, but winning out might not be enough for the Cougars to make it in.

What to root for: USC/Utah. The likelihood that Washington State is able to avenge its only loss of the season against USC in the Pac-12 title game is practically nil, but the Trojans can still win out and knock out rival Notre Dame in the process. That sets up a likely meeting with Utah as the Pac-12 South’s representative. The Utes opened as the No. 15 team in the CFP rankings, meaning if they can finish the regular season undefeated, it would set up a potential top-10 matchup on championship weekend.

9. Kentucky (7-1)

Just win: The game against Georgia could be the biggest in Wildcats football history — if they win. They’d be all but eliminated from Playoff contention with a loss. After that, winnable games at Tennessee, Middle Tennessee State and Louisville could set the Wildcats up for a play-in game in the SEC championship.

What to root for: Themselves. Similarly to Notre Dame, a loss from this point onward would end Kentucky’s chances. Unlike the Irish, the Wildcats don’t have the same name-brand recognition. There’s no way a two-loss Kentucky team gets in — so the team will have to rely on itself to control its own destiny.

MORE: Prepare for these heated Playoff debates

10. Ohio State (7-1)

Just win: Ohio State has some work to do as it takes on the last four games of the season, but the fact it’s still in the top 10 with a bad loss to Purdue leaves the Buckeyes some hope of making the Playoff. Michigan State and Michigan will provide some intriguing matchups to ensure the Buckeyes still demand attention in the final stretch of the season.

What to root for: Prepare yourselves, Buckeyes fans: You need to root for … Michigan. Beating a one-loss Wolverines team at the end of the regular season, coupled with a Big Ten championship, should be enough to get the Buckeyes in as a 4-seed assuming Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame win out. They’ll need that marquee win (on top of Penn State) after their demoralizing loss to the Boilermakers.

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