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Who is the lowest-ranked team that can make the College Football Playoff?

We analyze possible CFP paths for lower-ranked teams as we head into conference championshiip weekend.

Auburn v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As we approach conference championship weekend, there are a few teams out there still rooting for pure chaos and a chance to find a backroad into a coveted final four spot. The four teams that control their own destinies with a win this weekend are Georgia, Michigan, TCU, and USC — but this is college football, after all. When does everything ever go as planned?

The teams lurking just on the outskirts praying for a shake-up in the rankings include a few different categories. In one category, we have the teams who are playing in the conference championships, hoping to get a bid through that — No. 9 Clemson, No. 10 Kansas State, No. 11 Utah, and No. 14 LSU.

A conference championship win is the surest way to get into the final four, but each of these teams has two or three losses this season. No team with two or more losses has ever made the CFP, even if they won their conference (see: Ohio State in 2017, Oregon in 2019, etc). The precedent has been set there — if you have more than one loss, you’re not getting in.

However, this year presents a much more complicated picture than that, with just three undefeated teams and two one-loss teams remaining. This brings us to another category — teams sitting just outside the top four in the rankings with no chance to prove themselves this weekend. This category includes Ohio State, Alabama, and Tennessee.

So sure, Ohio State only has one loss, but it was a bad one to Michigan. Would they deserve to be in over a TCU team with one loss in the Big 12 championship, or even over a USC team with two losses if the Trojans can’t overcome Utah?

If USC and TCU both lose, does two-loss Alabama sneak in? We know the committee loves SEC teams — ten of the 32 teams selected in CFP history have been SEC, compared to seven ACC and six Big Ten. Though there’s never been a two-loss team in the CFP, we could see a first. There has also never been a CFP without the SEC champion from that year, but if LSU beats Georgia, it’s a long climb up from No. 14 to get to the top.

And can Clemson still get in with an ACC championship if it’s them against two-loss Alabama and two-loss USC for a final spot? It’s hard to say after that brutal loss to Notre Dame, but if they can dominate their championship game, they may be able to win themselves a spot.

Realistically, the CFP Committee likely wouldn’t go outside this week’s top 10 for a final four candidate. Clemson at No. 9 may be the lowest ranking that can still get in, if they’re able to hop over Alabama, Tennessee, and LSU. The Crimson Tide at No. 6 appear to be the lowest team with the highest odds to be selected in the final four at this point, but we’ll have to see how the games play out this weekend.

Here are the latest odds at DraftKings Sportsbook to win the 2023 College Football Playoff:

Georgia -150
Michigan +300
Ohio State +800
USC +1200
TCU +1200
Alabama +6000