As conference championship weekend begins tomorrow, several teams are competing for a spot in the four-seed playoff tournament in January. Here are our predictions for who will make it to the CFB playoffs in Atlanta:
#1: Clemson Tigers (11-1)
The Tigers take on the U in a critical ACC Championship game tomorrow, and if they win here, they will undoubtedly take the #1 seed in the playoffs in January. While Clemson suffered a tough road loss to Syracuse in October, they have a better strength of schedule than most other teams in the playoff hunt.
They’ve notched key wins against Georgia, Virginia Tech, and South Carolina, and 6 of their wins have come against teams with a winning record. Quarterback Kelly Bryant has filled in nicely for Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson, throwing for 2400 yards and scoring 22 total TDs. The Tigers control their own destiny heading into Championship Saturday and we predict they will defeat the 7th ranked Hurricanes tomorrow and return to the CFB playoffs for the third straight year.
#2: Oklahoma Sooners (11-1)
The Sooners and Tigers have a very similar resume heading into the weekend, and will land a playoff berth with a Big 12 Conference Championship win over TCU. Like Clemson, Oklahoma has defeated three ranked opponents this year: #6 TCU, #8 Ohio State, and #11 Oklahoma State, but was embarrassed by Iowa State at home in October. Baker Mayfield is making his case for the Heisman again, tossing over 4000 yards and accounting for 42 total TDs. The last time the Sooners played TCU, Mayfield went off for 380 total yards and 3 scores, and will need to have a similar performance to secure the 2nd spot in the playoff race against the 10th ranked Horned Frogs.
#3: Auburn Tigers (10-2)
The 10-2 Tigers are coming off of their biggest win of the year at home against the #1 ranked Crimson Tide in the Iron Bowl. Freshman QB Jarrett Stidham was efficient against Bama’s D, completing 75% of his passes and accounting for nearly 300 total yards and 1 score, while star RB Kerryon Johnson ran for over 100 yards, scored a rushing TD, and threw a TD pass as well from the wildcat position.
Auburn suffered an early 14-6 loss to Clemson in Week 2, as well as a 27-23 loss to LSU on the road, but they have major wins against #1 Alabama, then #1 Georgia, and #24 Mississippi State. The last time Auburn and Georgia faced off, Auburn cruised to a 40-17 win, but Kerryon Johnson (who rushed for 167 yards in the first matchup) is a game-time decision with a shoulder injury this time around. Assuming they defeat the Dawgs again in the SEC Championship tomorrow, and assuming Clemson and Oklahoma take care of their championship games as well, Auburn is poised to take the #3 overall spot in the playoffs this season.
#4: Wisconsin Badgers (12-0)
The Badgers are the only undefeated Power Five team left after Alabama and Miami both lost last weekend. Wisconsin has a very weak strength of schedule compared to the other playoff contenders, but they’ve notched important Big 10 victories over #20 Iowa, #24 Michigan, and Northwestern this year. The Badgers have largely relied on their defense and running game as they continue their undefeated campaign. Freshman RB Jonathan Taylor is having a breakout season, rushing for over 1800 yards (3rd most rushing yards in the country) and 13 TDs. If Wisconsin is able to defeat #8 Ohio State tomorrow in the Big 10 Championship game, they will most likely secure their first appearance in the college football playoffs.
On the Outside Looking in:
#5 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1)
It would be unlikely for a team to make the playoffs without winning their conference, but with only one loss, the Tide currently sit one spot out of the playoffs. They would need at least one of the top 4 teams to lose in their conference championships to earn a playoff bid.
#6 Georgia Bulldogs (10-2)
The SEC Championship will essentially serve as a quarter final playoff game, and Georgia could potentially earn a spot if they beat Auburn in Atlanta tomorrow.
#7 Miami Hurricanes (11-1)
The U suffered a bad loss to Pitt last weekend, but could earn itself a spot in the playoffs with an ACC Championship victory over #1 Clemson.
#8 Ohio State (10-2)
OSU has two losses but also boasts an impressive strength of schedule and wins over then #2 Penn State and #12 Michigan State (48-3 win). The Buckeyes could find their way in with a Big 10 Championship win over #4 Wisconsin tomorrow.