Here’s the Typical Path to the College Football Playoff

    It's Week 12 of the college football season and history tells us there has never been a team ranked outside of the top 10 of the College Football Playoff

    November 13, 2018

    It’s Week 12 of the college football season and history tells us there has never been a team ranked outside of the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings this late in the season that’s made the playoff.

    10 of the 16 teams that have made the playoff were ranked in the top four in Week 12 and only one of those ten teams, Alabama last season, fell out of the top four after Week 12 before climbing back to make the playoff field.

    In short, if your team is ranked in the top four this week, it has a really good chance of making the playoff, and if your team is in the top four this week, but drops out in the coming weeks, it’s really hard to climb back into national championship contention.

    The following chart shows the week-by-week path to the College Football Playoff for all four playoff teams from the last four years.

    School Season Week 10 Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Conf. Champ/ Game Winner? Pre-CFP Record
    Alabama 2014 No. 6 No. 5 No. 5 No. 1 No. 1 No. 1 No. 1 Yes 12-1
    Oregon 2014 No. 5 No. 4 No. 2 No. 2 No. 2 No. 2 No. 2 Yes 12-1
    Florida State 2014 No. 2 No. 2 No. 3 No. 3 No. 3 No. 4 No. 3 Yes 13-0
    Ohio State 2014 No. 16 No. 14 No. 8 No. 6 No. 6 No. 5 No. 4 Yes 12-1
    Clemson 2015 No. 1 No. 1 No. 1 No. 1 No. 1 No. 1 Yes 13-0
    Alabama 2015 No. 4 No. 2 No. 2 No. 2 No. 2 No. 2 Yes 12-1
    Michigan State 2015 No. 7 No. 13 No. 9 No. 5 No. 5 No. 3 Yes 12-1
    Oklahoma 2015 No. 15 No. 12 No. 7 No. 3 No. 3 No. 4 No 11-1
    Alabama 2016 No. 1 No. 1 No. 1 No. 1 No. 1 No. 1 Yes 13-0
    Clemson 2016 No. 2 No. 2 No. 4 No. 4 No. 3 No. 2 Yes 12-1
    Ohio State 2016 No. 6 No. 5 No. 2 No. 2 No. 2 No. 3 No 11-1
    Washington 2016 No. 5 No. 4 No. 6 No. 5 No. 4 No. 4 Yes 12-1
    Clemson 2017 No. 4 No. 4 No. 2 No. 3 No. 1 No. 1 Yes 12-1
    Oklahoma 2017 No. 5 No. 5 No. 4 No. 4 No. 3 No. 2 Yes 12-1
    Georgia 2017 No. 1 No. 1 No. 7 No. 7 No. 6 No. 3 Yes 12-1
    Alabama 2017 No. 2 No. 2 No. 1 No. 1 No. 5 No. 4 No 11-1
    Playoff Teams Ranked in Top Four 8/16 10/16 10/16 12/16 12/16 15/16
    Avg. Ranking Of Playoff Teams 5.1 4.8 4.0 3.1 3.0 2.6
    Lowest Ranked Playoff Team No. 16 No. 14 No. 9 No. 7 No. 6 No. 5

     

    Here are some traits of the typical path to the playoff:

    • 13 of the 16 playoff teams won their conference championship game
    • Every playoff team was ranked in the top 15 in Week 11
    • Every playoff team was ranked in the top 10 in Week 12
    • Every playoff team was ranked in the top six heading into the final weekend before the final rankings were announced
    • 10 of the 16 playoff teams went 12-1 to reach the playoff, while three teams went 13-0 and three went 11-1
    • There has never been a two-loss team that has made the playoff
    • There has never been a team that has lost its conference championship game that has made the playoff

     

    The most common path to the College Football Playoff — one taken by roughly three of the four teams annually, on average — is a 12-1 season ending with a conference championship.

    There’s a chance that three of the four playoff teams this season could break the norm. There could be three undefeated teams in the playoff for the first time if Alabama and Clemson both run the table and win their respective conference championships.

    If Notre Dame wins out, it could be the first 12-0 team to make the playoff.

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