Michigan among handful of teams that control own destiny for College Football Playoff

Wolverines have won 7 straight games

Devin Bush and Lawrence Marshall carry the Paul Bunyan Trophy off the field after beating Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Devin Bush and Lawrence Marshall carry the Paul Bunyan Trophy off the field after beating Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan football team is already two-thirds of the way through its regular season, and with only one loss, a College Football Playoff appearance is still a possibility.

In fact, Michigan is one of a few teams that still controls its own destiny in terms of getting into the College Football Playoff.

The Wolverines are riding a seven-game winning streak, including dominant wins over Wisconsin and at Michigan State the last two weeks. Michigan beat then-No. 15 Wisconsin and then-No. 24 MSU by a combined score of 59-20 and outgained the two teams 839-377.

Michigan is clearly good enough to be a contender.

What does it mean to control your own destiny?

In terms of the College Football Playoff, a team that controls its own destiny doesn't need any outside help to get into the top four spots. In other words, if a team controls its own destiny, it will be in the top four if it wins the rest of its games.

If a team needs even one game outside its schedule to go a certain way, it doesn't control its own destiny.

We won't know for sure how the CFP committee views the top teams in the country until it releases its first set of rankings Oct. 30, but we can look at the best resumes and make predictions based on past decisions.

Undefeated powers

There are two teams in Power Five conferences that have yet to lose a game, and a third undefeated heavyweight in Notre Dame. These teams will hold the top three spots as long as they remain unbeaten.


Alabama's greatness has reached the point where it's boring. Every game is over before halftime, and the closest test came in a 45-23 rout of Texas A&M.

Tua Tagovailoa is leading Nick Saban's most lethal offensive attack ever while the defense has held five of eight opponents under 20 points. Even though there are three undefeated teams, Alabama is in a class of its own.


Compared to Alabama's dominance, Clemson has looked underwhelming at times this season, but the Tigers are starting to hit their stride.

Close calls at Texas A&M and against Syracuse feel like ancient history after Clemson smacked Wake Forest by 60 and demolished a previously unbeaten North Carolina State squad 41-7.

N.C. State was supposed to be Clemson's toughest test in the ACC, so it looks like the Tigers will roll through what's become one of the weakest Power Five conferences.

Notre Dame

Unlike Alabama and Clemson, Notre Dame doesn't have a conference championship to fall back on if it suffers a loss, so to be safe, Brian Kelly's team might need to stay perfect to control its own destiny.

But with wins over Michigan and Stanford, the Fighting Irish have done more than enough to earn a top three spot as an unbeaten team.

Since there are no undefeated teams left in the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12, Notre Dame has absolutely no worries if it finishes 12-0.

One-loss locks

There are a handful of teams that have one loss, but still control their own destiny since only three teams are unbeaten.


As the team that currently holds the No. 4 spot in The Associated Press Poll, LSU is considered the one-loss team with the most impressive resume.

The Tigers have a respectable road loss to a Florida team that is currently ranked No. 9 in the AP Poll, and wins over Miami, Georgia, Mississippi State and at Auburn.

Auburn and Mississippi State both have three losses, but LSU still has a 20-point win over Georgia to hang its hat on.


Since losing by a touchdown at Notre Dame in the opener, Michigan has been one of the most impressive teams in the country.

On top of the two marquee wins over Wisconsin and MSU, Michigan dominated the weaker teams on its schedule, beating Western Michigan, SMU, Nebraska and Maryland by an average of 34.5 points.

Even the close road win over Northwestern doesn't look bad since the Wildcats ripped off three straight wins to take the lead in the Big Ten West Division.

Michigan is currently No. 5 in the AP Poll, but with Alabama and LSU set to play in two weeks, the Wolverines will likely slide into the fourth spot ahead of the loser.

The one scenario that could muddy the waters for a 12-1 Michigan team would be if Alabama finishes 11-1 but doesn't make the SEC title game. That would lock up a spot for the SEC champ, Clemson and Notre Dame, and leave Michigan and Alabama to fight for the final spot.

In this scenario, I believe a Michigan team on a 12-game winning streak coming off wins over Wisconsin, MSU, Penn State, Ohio State and the West Division champ would get the nod over an admittedly dominant Alabama team that didn't even win its own division.

If Alabama goes 12-1 with a loss to Georgia in the SEC title game, putting Georgia in the playoff, the committee would likely point to the SEC title game as an extended playoff round and exclude the winner.


Despite an ugly 20-point loss to LSU, Georgia has plenty of time to rebound.

With games against Florida and Kentucky coming up the next two weeks, Georgia has a chance to regain a stronghold on the SEC East Division and get to the conference championship at 11-1. A win over Alabama or LSU in Atlanta would cement the Bulldogs' return to the final four.


It might sound crazy, but Kentucky just has to keep winning to get to the SEC championship game, and beyond that, the playoff.

With wins at Florida and against Mississippi State, Kentucky is already No. 12 in the country. No. 7 Georgia is still on the schedule, and if they win out, the Wildcats would need to beat Alabama or LSU in the conference title game.

Kentucky getting into the College Football Playoff would be a massive Cinderella story, but so far, it's still on track.

Ohio State

This is the pick I'm least certain of after Ohio State's blowout loss to a Purdue team that lost to Northwestern, Eastern Michigan and Missouri at home in consecutive weeks.

But it's difficult to imagine a 12-1 Ohio State team with a Big Ten championship under its belt getting held out of the College Football Playoff.

Ohio State has a win at Penn State and could potentially pick up a top-five win in the season finale against Michigan. Would that be enough to vault the Buckeyes over an 11-1 Alabama team? Or a 12-1 Big 12 champion?

The knee-jerk reaction is that there's no way Ohio State could climb from No. 11, where it sits in the AP Poll, to the top four, but if you look at the committee's decisions from the last two years, it might change your mind.

Ohio State was seriously considered over Alabama last season in almost the same exact situation, except the Buckeyes had an additional loss on their resume. If they can overcome a blowout loss to Iowa, they can overcome one to Purdue if they run the table.

If it comes down to a comparison between a 12-1 Texas team and a 12-1 Ohio State team, is a loss to Purdue much worse than a loss to Maryland? The 29-point margin and the timing don't favor Ohio State, but recent history and the presence of Dwayne Haskins won't hurt.

One things for certain: If 12-1 Ohio State gets left out of the College Football Playoff, it won't take long for the field to expand past four teams.

One game away

There are a couple of teams that are just one outside game away from controlling their own destiny. While neither technically controls its own destiny, per se, winning out would give them a great chance to make the playoff.


Florida is No. 9 in the AP Poll with a win over No. 4 LSU, still gets to play an elite opponent in No. 7 Georgia and could finish 12-1 with an SEC championship. So how don't the Gators control their own destiny?

Believe it or not, Kentucky is the reason. A Week 2 loss to the Wildcats means Florida doesn't even control its own destiny in the SEC East. In other words, if both Florida and Kentucky win out, Florida wouldn't go to the SEC championship game, and therefore would need complete chaos around the conference and in the Big Ten and Big 12 to get into the playoff.

As soon as Kentucky loses a game, Florida joins the group of teams that control their own destiny.


The Big 12 is in an interesting position with four one-loss teams battling for two spots in the conference title game. Texas Tech also has an out-of-conference loss, so that narrows down the playoff contenders to three.

Texas is the last remaining undefeated team in conference play, and despite losing the season opener to Maryland, has put together a solid resume with wins over Oklahoma and Southern Cal.

Texas currently has the inside track to finish as a 12-1 Big 12 champion, but that currently wouldn't be good enough to get into the playoff. If Notre Dame or Clemson slip up before the end of the season, that could change.

Clemson has been a powerhouse in the playoff era, but there's a very real possibility the Tigers finish the season without a single win over a team in the top 25. Yes, N.C. State was No. 16 when it played Clemson, but the Wolfpack is one loss away from falling out of the rankings without any impressive wins of its own.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, is always at risk because it will only play 12 games and is at the mercy of teams like Stanford, Virginia Tech and Southern Cal. If those teams don't look like great wins for the Fighting Irish at the end of the season, Notre Dame will need to be 12-0 to have a spot locked up.

if Texas wins out, and Notre Dame, Clemson and the eventual Ben Ten champion don't lose, the Longhorns have a good chance of finishing the season at No. 5.


The Sooners are in the same position as Texas, as they could finish 12-1 and avenge their loss in the Big 12 title game.

Oklahoma has the advantage of a high-powered offense and a Heisman Trophy candidate in Kyler Murray. It also participated in last season's playoff, which can't hurt.

Oklahoma doesn't have a single quality win on its resume, but it would have to get through Texas Tech, West Virginia and the other Big 12 title game participant to get to 12-1.

West Virginia

A 16-point loss to Iowa State hurts, but if West Virginia knocks off Texas on the road and Oklahoma at home before winning the Big 12 title game, it will get the same treatment as the other conference contenders.

The rain out against N.C. State robbed West Virginia of a chance to earn a quality win, but 11-1 with three great wins in November should be enough to pull West Virginia within one outside upset of the playoff.

Still alive

Central Florida

It would take absolute chaos to get a Group of Five team into the playoff, but if UCF goes 12-0, it would be that team.

Games against Cincinnati and South Florida at the end of the season would be UCF's best wins, so Notre Dame, Clemson and the Big Ten champion would all have to have at least two losses. There's no guarantee a two-loss Power Five champ or an 11-2 SEC team wouldn't get in over the Knights, either.

UCF has a chance because it's won 20 games in a row, but it's still a long shot.

Washington State

The Pac-12 is in a rough spot, as every team but Washington State has at least two losses.

Mike Leach's team became the conference standard bearer with a win over Oregon last week, but has to win at Stanford, at Colorado and against Washington before season's end to earn a trip to the conference title game.

If the Cougars finish 12-1 and every other conference champion has two losses, they would be back in the mix.

Who doesn't want to see Leach in the College Football Playoff?


Nobody is talking about Iowa because Iowa hasn't done anything yet. But the Hawkeyes are still afloat thanks to a light schedule.

Despite a loss in the biggest game of the season against Wisconsin, Iowa is one of four teams tied with one loss in the Big Ten West.

If the Hawkeyes win at Penn State this week, beat Purdue in the stadium where Ohio State lost by 29 and upset Michigan or Ohio State in the conference title game, they would be 12-1 and in position to make the College Football Playoff if some other conference champs stumble.

Texas A&M

Texas A&M is the only two-loss team still hanging on because it lost to the nation's top two powers: Alabama and Clemson.

If Alabama somehow lost to LSU and Auburn and Texas A&M wins out, which would include a win over LSU, the Aggies would go to the SEC title game. An 11-2 SEC champ with excellent wins and two understandable loses early in the season would at least get some consideration.

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