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College Football Playoff Chase: Who’s Still Alive After Week 5

College Football News logo College Football News 9/29/2019 Pete Fiutak

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As always, here's how we know the unwritten College Football Playoff rules work …

1) Win your Power Five championship and finish 13-0, and you're in. There won't be five of them, and if there are, the Pac-12 is almost certainly out. Or …

2) Win your Power Five championship and finish 12-1, and you're probably in. Ohio State was the first to miss out last year after doing this, partly because it got blown away by Purdue, and totally because Notre Dame was 12-0.

3) Go 11-1 in the SEC or Big Ten with that one loss coming to a conference champion who's off to the College Football Playoff. That's how Alabama got in on the way to a title in 2017. Or, be dominant and have one loss that was by crazy circumstances, like Ohio State did to get in despite losing to Penn State in 2016.

4) Win your Group of Five conference championship at 13-0 and pray for a whole lot of luck. We have yet to have a slew of two-loss Power Five champions, but that's what it would take for an unbeaten Group of Fiver to get in.

With all of that in mind, this is broken down into five categories.

- The Group of Five hopefuls

- One-loss teams still alive … technically

- The one-loss teams that actually have a shot

- The unbeaten College Football Playoff contenders

Finished. It's over. Let's go take a steam …

These teams are either Power Five programs with multiple losses - with one notable exception - or have one loss from a Group of Five conference.

These 92 teams are out of the national title hunt.

American Athletic Conference

Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Navy, Temple, Tulsa, UConn, UCF, USF


Boston College, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Louisville, NC State, North Carolina, Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia Tech

Big 12

Iowa State, Kansas, Texas Tech

Big Ten

Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers

Conference USA

Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, Rice, Southern Miss, UAB, UTEP, UTSA, WKU


Army, BYU, Liberty, New Mexico State, UMass

MAC Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami University, Northern Illinois, Ohio, Toledo, Western Michigan

Mountain West

Air Force, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, San Jose State, UNLV, Utah State, Wyoming


Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington State


Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Missouri (not eligible), Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt

Sun Belt Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Louisiana, South Alabama, Texas State, Troy, ULM

- The Group of Five hopefuls

- One-loss teams still alive … technically

- The one-loss teams that actually have a shot

- The unbeaten College Football Playoff contenders

Group of Five hopefuls

It'll take something miraculous to happen for any of these teams to get within sniffing distance of the CFP. The only possible way it works is to 1) go unbeaten, 2) be dominant doing it, and 3) hope for chaos in the Power Five championship games.

There can't be four other options from the Power Five leagues.

Ranking the only four Group of Five programs still alive (sort of) …

4. Appalachian State

The Mountaineers were SO close to being right in the mix for something big. Had North Carolina hit its two-point conversion attempt late against Clemson, Appalachian State - technically - would've had to be ranked ahead of the defending national champs. No one's beating this ASU team outside of, maybe, South Carolina on the road.

3. Memphis

The Tigers were of this week, and they just don't have anything to get too excited about on the slate. The win over Ole Miss was fine, but whatever. Where's the other possible big win? Cincinnati in the regular season finale? SMU at home? Yes and yes, but that's not enough to get into the CFP.

2. SMU

The win over TCU is looking stronger now, and disposing of USF this weekend was solid. There aren't any major games left, but a win at Memphis would look solid. As long as the offense keeps rocking, the Mustangs will stay alive.

1. Boise State

Beating Florida State won't be enough, but the brand name is enough to at least get in the room if the Broncos go 12-0 with a Mountain West title. Beating Utah State on the road won't be enough to get anyone excited, but they lead the pack now in the hunt for a New Year's Six spot.

- Finished. It's over. The College Football Playoff dream is kaput

- One-loss teams still alive … technically

- The one-loss teams that actually have a shot

- The unbeaten College Football Playoff contenders

One loss teams that have a shot … Technically

Run the table and finish the season at 12-1 with a conference championship, and that should get the job done. There's also a key two-loss program still in the mix, but for all of these teams … nah. It's not happening.


When it'll all be over: In a hurry if Khalil Tate is done for any length of time. The Wildcats will lose at Colorado next week or against Washington the week after.

Arizona State

When it'll all be over: At Utah in two weeks, but if the Sun Devils can get past that, it's a not-that-bad slate overall with Oregon coming to Tempe.


When it'll all be over: At Oregon in two weeks, and there's a backstop of Washington and at Utah to close out the regular season.


When it'll all be over: The Blue Devils blew past Virginia Tech, and now they should be on their way to 5-1 before going to back-to-back road games at Virginia and North Carolina. That's where it all ends.

Kansas State

Will it happen? The Wildcats have a nice three-game homestead before going to Kansas, but one of those home dates is against Oklahoma at the end of October.

Texas A&M

When it'll all be over: The Aggies are still in the mix with two losses because what's ahead. Beat Alabama in two weeks, get by Georgia and LSU on the road, and if Auburn loses three games … it's not going to happen. There's a path, though.

West Virginia

When it'll all be over: It'll either end against Texas this week or at Oklahoma in mid-October.

- Finished. It's over. The College Football Playoff dream is kaput

- The Group of Five hopefuls

- The one-loss teams that actually have a shot

- The unbeaten College Football Playoff contenders

One loss teams that really do have a shot

There was a misfire along the way early, but if any of these teams win out and go 12-1 with a Power Five conference championship … in. Done. No questions asked - okay, with the possible exception of the Pac-12 champ -unless there are four other unbeaten Power Five conference champs. That's almost certainly not going to happen.


Loss two will come: The team really is good enough to keep winning, but it has to go to Penn State, host Notre Dame, and deal with Michigan State and Ohio State. There's a loss in there somewhere.

Michigan State

Loss two will come: This week at Ohio State, or the next week at Wisconsin, or the week after against Penn State.

Notre Dame

Loss two will come: If it doesn't happen at Michigan, there's an outside shot it happens at Duke, or maybe against Stanford, or USC, but … it's at Michigan or bust to 11-1.

Oklahoma State

Loss two will come: The Cowboys might just be able to slide through the next several weeks without a loss. They have to go to Texas Tech and Iowa State, but they get TCU at home. There will be a clank at some point before the regular season finale against Oklahoma.


Loss two will come: At Washington on October 19th. If the Ducks can get by that, there are road games at USC and Arizona State, but first, survive the Dawgs.


Loss two will come: With three road games in the next four - all of them are problems - along with a home date against Texas, the loss will come before in the next few weeks.


Loss two will come: Either against Oklahoma in a few weeks, or there should be a loss somewhere on the road against TCU, Iowa State or Baylor over the second half of the year.


Loss two will come: If the Utes can get by home games against Arizona State and Cal after going to Oregon State, they'll still have to deal with a trip at Washington. They'll split the games against the Sun Devils and Bears.


Will it happen? With three games in the next four, the loss will either come at Miami in two weeks, or at North Carolina. The Cavaliers could lose to Duke, too, but … the Cavaliers should be savored in every game the rest of the way.


Loss two will come: The Huskies have to go to Stanford and Arizona over the next two weeks, but the real tests are at home against Oregon and Utah. The battle with the Ducks on October 19th is the best shot at a second loss.

- Finished. It's over. The College Football Playoff dream is kaput

- The Group of Five hopefuls

- One-loss teams still alive … technically

- The unbeaten College Football Playoff contenders

The unbeaten College Football Playoff contenders

13-0 with a Power Five championship will all but guarantee an invite into the CFP. Remember, one loss isn't necessarily a killer. 12-1 with a conference championship still likely gets it done.


Will it happen? The Tide haven't really played anyone yet with a pulse. The Texas A&M game in two weeks will be interesting, but the LSU showdown on November 9th, or the regular season finale against Auburn, are the only real chances.


Will it happen? The Tigers are good enough to beat anyone left on the schedule, but not all of them. At Florida, at LSU, Georgia, Alabama - it's too tough to get through without two losses.


Will it happen? It's a really, really shaky 4-0. The Bears will lose at Kansas State this week, or at Oklahoma State in two weeks.


Will it happen? Nope. It all ends at Oregon this week, or at Utah at the end of October.


Will it happen? It didn't seem like it was possible for the Tigers to blow this against a squishy-soft schedule - and then they almost did. They survived North Carolina, but watch out for Florida State to be plucky in two weeks. There's no one the slate, though, that should be able to stay within 20 of them.


Will it happen? It'll get interesting if they get by Auburn this week. The date at LSU to follow will be when the first loss comes, but if it doesn't, there's still the battle with Georgia. Expect two losses, but the team might just be better than everyone thinks.


Will it happen? The rested Dawgs shouldn't have too many problems until November. Get by Florida, and the East should be theirs. The date at Auburn won't really matter - 11-1 with a trip to the SEC Championship puts them one win over the West champ away from the CFP.


Will it happen? Nah. The Hawkeyes will lost at Michigan this week, or against Penn State the following week, or at Wisconsin in early November. There are two losses on the slate.


Will it happen? Can the defense be the LSU defense again? The Tigers get Florida and Auburn at home and have to go on the road to Alabama. They have to win two of the three, but they'll lose to the Crimson Tide to end up 11-1 without a West championship.


Will it happen? It's been a fun ride that should go a little further. As shaky as the Gophers might be, they can beat Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland before getting to Penn State. They'll lose two of the three - at least against the Nittany Lions, at Iowa, and against Wisconsin.

Ohio State

Will it happen? Yup. Even if they lose to Wisconsin or Penn State at home or - perish the thought - Michigan on the road, they'll be 11-1 and will almost certainly get to the Big Ten Championship and win it.


Will it happen? Houston, South Dakota and UCLA, even if that win over the Bruins looks a whole lot better now. There won't be even the slightest of tests until they have to deal with Texas, and then things start to get at least a little challenging. They'll drop a game, but the 12-1 Sooners will get in.

Penn State

Will it happen? No, but if the Nittany Lions can play like they did against Maryland for the next few weeks, they might make this interesting. However, they have to go to Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State - there's only one loss among them - and host Michigan. There are two losses in there somewhere.

Wake Forest

Will it happen? If North Carolina can come so close to beating Clemson, can Wake Forest do it at home on November 16th? It would be a blast to get there at 9-0, but the Demon Deacons will lose before then, and will drop the date with the Tigers.


Will it happen? Will the Badgers sharpen back up after the rough game against Northwestern? They have Kent State to do it, and then the next big test comes against Michigan State. They'll get to 11-1 - losing at Ohio State - and get to the Big Ten Championship with a shot at getting to the CFP.

- Finished. It's over. The College Football Playoff dream is kaput

- The Group of Five hopefuls

- One-loss teams still alive … technically

- The one-loss teams that actually have a shot


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