Analyzing the top four college football playoff teams ahead of Conference championship week

Last week’s chaos brought college football a new top four in the college football playoff rankings. With conference championship games merely days away, let’s once again look at the projected playoff teams and attempt to determine their likelihood of maintaining their positioning.

1. Clemson Tigers (11-1, 7-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference)

Why they’re here: That loss to Syracuse seems like a distant memory. Since the Orange upset them, the Tigers have outscored their opponents 188-67; the then-20th ranked NC State Wolfpack gave them their only scare. Alongside their always stout defense, Dabo Swinney’s offense wore their opponents down with on the ground; they have averaged 207.8 rushing yards per game through their five-game winning streak. The defense has played up to their usual standards, allowing more than 14 points just once during that stretch ( 31 against N.C. State). Thanks to Miami and Alabama’s respective losses, Clemson now sits atop the CFP mountain.

Will they make the playoff?: If Clemson beats Miami this Saturday for the ACC title, Clemson should easily make the CFP. They have a tougher argument if they lose. If the Hurricanes beat them, Clemson would have two losses with Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State looming in the background. It’s simple for the Tigers; win and you’re in.

2. Auburn Tigers (10-2, 7-1 in Southeastern Conference)

Auburn has peaked at the right time. Photo:  Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America

Why they’re here: Auburn caught fire at the right time, smothering Georgia’s dominant ground game and stalled Alabama through the air en route to convincing victories over both. The Tigers held the Bulldogs to just 46 yards rushing in their 40-17 win. The, after disposing of Louisiana-Monroe, they limited Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts to 13-23 for 177 yards. Their two losses aren’t particularly bad; both were close defeats to Clemson and LSU. With a defense that stymies both the pass (182.8 yards allowed) and the run (3.4 opponents yards per carry), Auburn could become the first two-loss team to win a national title since LSU in 2007.

Will they make the playoff?: No matter how many quality wins Auburn has, it would be nearly impossible for them to make the playoff with three losses. They need to beat Georgia this Saturday to secure their spot. Otherwise, the likes of Ohio State, Georgia, and Alabama are waiting to take their place.

3. Oklahoma Sooners (11-1, 8-1 in Big 12)

Why they’re here: Behind probable Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma has the fourth highest scoring offense in the FBS. The Sooners aren’t one dimensional though; they average over 215 yards per game on the ground on 5.7 yards per carry. As Ohio State can attest, this team can hang points on just about any team in the country. They probably have the weakest stop-unit of the current playoff teams, but their 25.7 points allowed per game mark makes them look like the 2000 Ravens in the defense-optional Big 12. With marquee wins over the Buckeyes, Oklahoma State, and TCU, the high-powered Sooners earn the third spot. With Mayfield under center and Rodney Anderson, Trey Sermon, and Abdul Adams toting the rock, Oklahoma could win their first national title since 2000.

Will they make the playoff?: Like the other teams in the playoff, Oklahoma’s chances ride on their success in their conference title game, a rematch against TCU. There are too many one and two-loss teams with better resumes that could sneak in should they lose. Depending on what Wisconsin does, the Sooners could drop to number four with a loss, but that isn’t a guarantee. They have little margin for error.

4. Wisconsin Badgers (12-0, 9-0 in Big Ten)

Can Wisconsin stay undefeated? Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images North America

Why they’re here: The only undefeated team from a Power Five conference, Wisconsin finally earns a spot in the playoff. Pundits often maligned the Badgers weak schedule, but it isn’t even the worst of the playoff teams (per College Football Reference, that honor belongs to Oklahoma). Their wins over Michigan and Iowa (both were ranked going into those games) boosted their standing in the eyes of the committee and analysts. College Football Reference’s Simple Rating System, which measures a team’s strength using their record, strength of schedule, and margin of victory, rated the Badgers as the best team in the country. Heisman hopeful Jonathan Taylor (1,806 yards, 13 touchdowns) leads the 18th best rushing attack in the country, carrying their lackluster passing attack (98th in yards per game). If Wisconsin runs the ball and bludgeons their opponents on defense (2nd in FBS in points allowed). This team is legit.

Will they make the playoff?: Even with an unblemished record, Wisconsin has little wiggle room as the final playoff team, especially if they lose to Ohio State. The committee could still hold the Badgers’ early schedule against them. Even if Wisconsin falls to the Buckeyes in a close game, that could open the door for teams with more signature wins (Georgia, Alabama). Like the other playoff teams, their fate rests on Saturday’s games.


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