Going into the 2022 season, which teams have the most realistic shot of making the College Football Playoff? Here’s our ranking of the 20 teams with a path to the playoff and what has to happen for each.
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It’s really hard to make the College Football Playoff.
Just winning your conference championship isn’t enough, and if you’re a Group of Five program, going undefeated doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything.
What have we learned since the start of the CFP experience in the 2014 season? You win your Power Five conference and finish with one loss, you’re a mortal lock to get in. You go 11-1 with that one loss to the eventual powerhouse conference champ, and you’ve got a shot.
You lose two games, and there’s a fun bowl game somewhere with a delightful array of goods, services, and prizes waiting before your glorified exhibition, but you’re not going to the show.
What’s the path to the College Football Playoff for all of the top contenders? Below are the key games that matter for each team that can reasonably dream about being among the top four, along with whether or not they’ll make it in.
Before diving in, some ground rules …
– Again, one loss and a Power Five championship, or unbeaten and a Group of Five title. Outside of a few special circumstances – SEC Championship loser, Notre Dame – two losses ends the run.
– Schedules mean almost everything. Take just about anyone in the SEC West and put it just about anywhere else but the Big Ten East, and it would be a contender to get into the CFP. Oklahoma’s path is a whole lot different than Texas A&M’s.
– Getting into the College Football Playoff and winning it require two very, very, very different skill sets. A team might have the schedule and magical formula to be one of the top four, only to find a two-piece of Alabama reality waiting behind the door.
The consensus odds to win the College Football Playoff are listed, but the goal is to find the teams that can get there. Here’s our ranking from the least likely among the top realistic options to make the College Football Playoff to the most likely.
This isn’t based on how good the teams are. This is about who controls their destiny, what has to happen, and the pecking order of 20 teams with the most realistic chances, starting with …
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +20000
Must Win Game: at Arkansas, Sept. 3
Landmine To Sidestep: at SMU, Oct. 22
Where It Could All Go Wrong: at UCF, Oct. 29
Bottom Line: The College Football Playoff repeat appearance dream could be over right away with a trip to Arkansas. However, win that, and it’s Game On. Going to SMU and UCF in late October is a bear, but everything else – including the home date against Indiana – is doable. One loss, though, and the CFP is out. There will likely be more than one loss.
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +10000
Must Win Game: at Georgia, Nov. 5
Landmine To Sidestep: at South Carolina, Nov. 19
Where It Could All Go Wrong: at Pitt, Sept. 10
Bottom Line: It’s a HEAVY lift, but if the Vols somehow go 11-1 and get into the SEC Championship, the respect given to the schedule might be enough to keep them in the playoff hunt even with another loss. They’ll be good, but at Pitt, Florida, at LSU, Alabama, at Georgia, Kentucky, at South Carolina … that’s too nasty.
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +9020
Must Win Game: Georgia (in Jacksonville), Oct. 29
Landmine To Sidestep: South Carolina, Nov. 12
Where It Could All Go Wrong: Utah, Sept. 3
Bottom Line: Florida will be much, much better under new head coach Billy Napier, but it’s not beating Utah, and Kentucky, and LSU, and South Carolina, and getting by Georgia, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Florida State away from Gainesville. The College Football Playoff is too tough a goal, however, beat Georgia and the SEC East race gets interesting.
17. Penn State
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +9100
Must Win Game: Ohio State, Oct. 29
Landmine To Sidestep: Minnesota, Oct. 22
Where It Could All Go Wrong: at Purdue, Sept. 1
Bottom Line: Considering the Big Ten East is much tougher than the West, if the Nittany Lions can get by Auburn on the road early on and split the dates against Michigan and Ohio State, they’ll be favored in the Big Ten Championship. It’s all too daunting for an elite Penn State team, but this version doesn’t appear to be close to that. However, if Michigan could do it last year …
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +7520
Must Win Game: Alabama, Nov. 5
Landmine To Sidestep: Tennessee, Oct. 8
Where It Could All Go Wrong: Mississippi State, Sept. 17
Bottom Line: Welcome to the SEC, Brian Kelly. Yeah, LSU might be able to stun Alabama if everything goes right, but can it go at least 12-1 with road games at Auburn, Florida, Arkansas, and Texas A&M, and home dates against Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State? No, and all of that – and Alabama, too – comes with a season-opener against Florida State and whatever happens in the SEC Championship if everything goes right.
NEXT: Top 15 College Football Playoff Chase Rankings
Top 15 College Football Playoff Chase Rankings
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +5200
Must Win Game: Oklahoma, Oct. 8
Landmine To Sidestep: at Kansas State, Nov. 5
Where It Could All Go Wrong: at Oklahoma State, Oct. 22
Bottom Line: Texas certainly has the offensive pop to give anyone in college football a bad day. Can the program that lost to Kansas last season be that improved to be a College Football Playoff possibility? If it shocks Alabama on September 10th, yeah. Even if it loses, there isn’t another game on the slate the Longhorns can’t win if everything finally starts to go right.
Will Texas Make the College Football Playoff? Not yet. The only reasons Texas is this high up is because 1) the talent really might be there on offense and 2) if it shakes up the world with a win over Bama, the entire season changes. But no – Texas isn’t going 12-1 with a Big 12 Championship.
Texas Preview | Top 10 Players | Schedule Analysis
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +27000
Must Win Game: at Texas Tech, Sept. 10
Landmine To Sidestep: at East Carolina, Nov. 19
Where It Could All Go Wrong: at Memphis, Oct. 7
Bottom Line: Just like the Cincinnati trip to the College Football Playoff last year, Houston has to go 13-0 with an American Athletic Conference championship or it’s not going to happen. The other big problem is the lack of a big non-conference win – UC had Notre Dame last year, along with Indiana, and winning at Texas Tech and beating Kansas might not be enough. The team is going to be good enough, though, to make a run.
Will Houston Make the College Football Playoff? No. The Cougars won’t go 13-0, but they’ll get in if they do. The talent is there to be this year’s Cincinnati.
Houston review | Top 10 Players | Schedule
13. Texas A&M
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +2400
Must Win Game: at Alabama, Oct. 8
Landmine To Sidestep: Miami, Sept. 17
Where It Could All Go Wrong: Arkansas (in Arlington), Sept. 24
Bottom Line: The Aggies have a whole lot of talent, but they’re really, really young. They’ll rise up and win a few big games, but a brutal run from September 17th to October 29th without a home game will be impossible to overcome – especially considering the four games are against Arkansas, Mississippi State, Alabama, and South Carolina. That doesn’t include a road game against Auburn and the rough home battles against Miami, Ole Miss, Florida, and LSU.
Will Texas A&M Make the College Football Playoff? No … give it one more year. The schedule is beyond painful and the parts just aren’t quite there – more like aren’t going to be quite matured yet – to take the SEC West with just one loss. Just wait, though – it’s coming soon.
Texas A&M Preview | Top 10 Players | Schedule Analysis
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +8200
Must Win Game: at Iowa, Nov. 12
Landmine To Sidestep: Washington State, Sept. 10
Where It Could All Go Wrong: at Michigan State, Oct. 15
Bottom Line: The road date Ohio State is big, but if Wisconsin is finally going to break the ceiling and get to the College Football Playoff – it’s the top Power Five program win-wise in the playoff era to not get into the final four – it’ll have to go 12-1 and win the Big Ten Championship. That’s not happening with away games at Michigan State, Iowa, and – don’t giggle – Nebraska.
Will Wisconsin Make the College Football Playoff? No, but the New Year’s Six is possible. It’s WAY overdue to get into the College Football Playoff, but it’ll once again run into the Ohio State wall.
Wisconsin Preview | Top 10 Players | Schedule Analysis
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +4900
Must Win Game: at Ohio State, Nov. 26
Landmine To Sidestep: at Iowa, Oct. 1
Where It Could All Go Wrong: Michigan State, Oct. 29
Bottom Line: Be very, very careful assuming Michigan will go back to being its Big Ten East also-ran self. The lines are still fantastic, the running game still good, and even with some key defensive losses, the pieces are there to make another big push.
The non-conference schedule is a breeze, there’s no Wisconsin to face, and the Penn State and Michigan State games are at home. Combine all of that with a run of four home games in five dates over the second half of the season before going to Ohio State, and Michigan might be going into Columbus with the College Football Playoff still in play.
Will Michigan Make the College Football Playoff? No, but if Michigan can get to the Ohio State game 11-0, it still might get in as long as it doesn’t get destroyed. The more likely top destination is the Rose Bowl.
Michigan Preview | Top 10 Players | Schedule Analysis
NEXT: Top 10 College Football Playoff Chase Rankings
Top 10 College Football Playoff Chase Rankings
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +5200
Must Win Game: USC, Oct. 15
Landmine To Sidestep: at Washington State, Oct. 17
Where It Could All Go Wrong: at Arizona State, Sept. 24
Bottom Line: The College Football Playoff is absolutely on the table. Can Utah beat Florida in the season opener on the road? Absolutely. It gets USC at home, but it has to go on the road to deal with Oregon ant UCLA.
After being one of the stars of the Pac-12 over the last few years, going 12-1 with a conference title – it’s not like the Utes are playing an SEC schedule – would be enough to get in.
Will Utah Make the College Football Playoff? Again, it’s very, very possible. The Utes will come up just short – they’ll lose twice – but they’ll be in the mix late in the season.
Utah Preview | Top 10 Players | Schedule Analysis
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +8300
Must Win Game: Utah, Nov. 19
Landmine To Sidestep: BYU, Sept. 17
Where It Could All Go Wrong: at Washington State, Sept. 24
Bottom Line: Oregon can lose to Georgia in the season opener and be fine as long as it goes unbeaten the rest of the way. The program lately has a habit of biffing its playoff shot with a stunning loss somewhere, but the talent is there for the new coaching staff to be the best in the Pac-12, there’s no USC on the schedule, Washington and Utah come to Eugene, and going 12-1 with a Power Five championship would be enough to get in.
Will Oregon Make the College Football Playoff? The talent is there and the schedule isn’t too bad after the opener, but it’s Oregon. It’ll stumble twice.
Oregon Preview | Top 10 Players | Schedule Analysis
8. Oklahoma State
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +8700
Must Win Game: at Oklahoma, Nov. 19
Landmine To Sidestep: Arizona State, Sept. 10
Where It Could All Go Wrong: West Virginia, Nov. 26
Bottom Line: Oklahoma State was six inches away from beating Baylor for the Big 12 Championship. Had it done that, there would’ve been a massive debate among the College Football Playoff committee for that fourth spot between an unbeaten Cincinnati and a 12-1 Power Five conference champion. This year’s team loses a ton on defense, but it’ll still be dangerous, the schedule is manageable, and it’s hardly crazy to think it could be back in the Big 12 title game with a CFP spot on the line.
7. Notre Dame
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +4800
Must Win Game: at USC, Nov. 26
Landmine To Sidestep: BYU (in Las Vegas), Oct. 22
Where It Could All Go Wrong: Clemson, Nov. 5
Bottom Line: At Ohio State, Clemson, at USC. Notre Dame can get into the College Football Playoff if it wins two of those three games, and it’s absolutely in if it wins all three and goes 11-1. Beating USC might not be as daunting as it appears to be before the season, and Clemson has to come to South Bend. However, BYU could screw it all up in the date in Las Vegas.
Will Notre Dame Make the College Football Playoff? No, but it might be REALLY close. It will all come down to the Clemson game. The Irish will lose at Ohio State, and if they beat the Tigers, they could be going to USC with a playoff spot on the line.
Notre Dame Preview | Top 10 Players | Schedule
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +4500
Must Win Game: Texas (in Dallas), Oct. 8
Landmine To Sidestep: at Texas Tech, Nov. 26
Where It Could All Go Wrong: Oklahoma State, Nov. 19
Bottom Line: Is the world dismissing Oklahoma a little too easily after a down 2021 and a coaching transition? The schedule is a nice and breezy walk in the park compared to what most of the other College Football Playoff contenders have to deal with, and it’s still Oklahoma – it’ll be okay.
Can it get by Nebraska on the road? Of course. The other four road games are at TCU, Iowa State, West Virginia, and Texas Tech – those are all more dangerous than they appear – with Baylor and Oklahoma State coming to Norman.
Will Oklahoma Make the College Football Playoff? It will be in the discussion. The talent might not be there to win the whole thing, but 12-1 with a trip to the tournament is a more than reasonable ask for this program and this schedule.
OU Preview | Top 10 Players | Schedule Analysis
NEXT: Top 5 College Football Playoff Chase Rankings
Top 5 College Football Playoff Chase Rankings
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +2180
Must Win Game: at Utah, Oct. 15
Landmine To Sidestep: at Oregon State, Sept. 24
Where It Could All Go Wrong: at UCLA, Nov. 19
Bottom Line: It seems to be lost on everyone – at least when it comes to the College Football Playoff discussion – that Lincoln Riley is really good and USC just got itself an all-star team through the transfer portal.
The starting 22 is as talented as any in the country, there’s no Oregon or Washington on the slate, and the team will be favored in every game except for – most likely – the trip to Utah and possibly the home date against Notre Dame. 12-1 with a Pac-12 Championship absolutely gets the Riley and his bunch into the CFP.
Will USC Make the College Football Playoff? Want … to make … the call of YES. However, that trip to Utah is a problem, and there will be a slip somewhere, so go with this. If the Trojans win two of the three games against Utah, UCLA, and Notre Dame, it’ll be deep in the discussion.
USC Preview | Top 10 Players | Schedule Analysis
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +375
Must Win Game: Florida (in Jacksonville), Oct. 29
Landmine To Sidestep: Tennessee, Nov. 5
Where It Could All Go Wrong: Oregon (in Atlanta), Sept. 3
Bottom Line: All things considered, the schedule isn’t that horrible for an SEC team that has to start the season against a loaded Oregon. And why? The four road games are South Carolina, Missouri, Mississippi State, and Kentucky – that’s not totally awful, relatively speaking. The Dawgs aren’t as strong as the 2021 national champion version, but they’re still full of NFL parts, veterans, and enough to be amazing again.
Will Georgia Make the College Football Playoff? A soft no, but I can’t get to a hard yes on USC, Oklahoma, or a slew of other contenders. There will be one loss when things don’t quite right against a South Carolina or a Tennessee or maybe a Kentucky, but it’ll be tough to get to two in the regular season. 11-2 with an SEC loss won’t get it done.
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +1060
Must Win Game: NC State, Oct. 1
Landmine To Sidestep: at Wake Forest, Sept. 24
Where It Could All Go Wrong: at Notre Dame, Nov. 5
Bottom Line: The party line is that Clemson will roll right into the College Football Playoff thanks to an easy schedule. It’s mostly SEC people at that party. The slate has its problems – at Wake Forest, at Florida State, NC State, at Notre Dame, Miami, South Carolina – but it’s not like dealing with the SEC West. The Tigers will have one of the nation’s best defenses, and the offense will show a spark that wasn’t there in 2021. So …
Will Clemson Make the College Football Playoff? Yup. It’ll lose once along the way – at Notre Dame is possible, and it could drop a thriller to Florida State, Miami, or South Carolina – but it almost certainly isn’t losing twice. 2021 will feel like an aberration.
Clemson Preview | Top 10 Players | Schedule Analysis
2. Ohio State
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +315
Must Win Game: Michigan, Nov. 26
Landmine To Sidestep: at Maryland, Nov. 19
Where It Could All Go Wrong: Wisconsin, Sept. 24
Bottom Line: There’s way too much offensive firepower. At least six of Ohio State’s games will be over after the first quarter, and now the defense should be good enough to carry a bit of the load. It’s not a breeze of a slate, but the nasties games – Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan – are all at home, and there are just four road dates.
Michigan State and Penn State will be challenging, and don’t blow off the Maryland game – the Terp O is going to be a problem this year – before the finale against Michigan. Even so, it’s College Football Playoff or bust.
Will Ohio State Make the College Football Playoff? Yes. The Buckeyes will lose once along the way – watch out for the road trip to Penn State – but they’re not losing twice, and they’re not losing the Big Ten Championship game.
Ohio State Preview | Top 10 Players | Schedule Analysis
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +181
Must Win Game: at LSU, Nov. 5
Landmine To Sidestep: at Arkansas, Oct. 1
Where It Could All Go Wrong: at Texas, Sept. 10
Bottom Line: The good: there isn’t any one team in the SEC West who appears to be ready to survive the gauntlet to take over the division this year. The bad: EVERYONE in the SEC West is good enough to beat Alabama on the right day.
Almost anyone else with road games at Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU, and Ole Miss would be just hoping for a restaurant quality bowl game, but it’s going to take something catastrophic for this Crimson Tide team to lose twice.
Will Alabama Make the College Football Playoff? Yes, but it’s going to take an SEC Championship win to do it. There will be a loss somewhere – pick any one of those five road games and you might be right – but again, there won’t be a second.
Alabama Preview | Top 10 Players | Schedule Analysis