A cloudy College Football Playoff picture has been at least partially defrosted by recent results in the SEC and ACC,
leaving at least four teams with a win-and-in road to the national semifinals and several others just one Saturday away from joining the top four.
Every team still in contention has pathways to the playoff ranging from the sublimely simple –
as is the case with those four teams atop this week's rankings –
to the deeply complex, with some in the latter group requiring the equivalent of chaos in November.
No matter how you map out these final weeks, however,
there will be at least one spot available to a team currently outside the top four.
That's due to the head-to-head matchup between Big Ten favorites Ohio State and Michigan,
which could end up being an elimination game for the loser.
Even then, the losing team in that rivalry could still land in fourth with enough help from teams in the other Power Five leagues. In other words: Everything is very complicated.
Let's try to simplify things by mapping out the most realistic road for every unbeaten,
one-loss and select two-loss playoff contender to reach the semifinals, starting with those teams currently at the top.
In every case but one – and you can guess which team is the outlier – every contender needs to win out to guarantee a seat at the table.
Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and TCU Of this group, only Georgia can afford to lose once and still land in the top four.
In fact, that loss can come at any point, including in the SEC championship game – as was the case a season ago,
when the Bulldogs lost to Alabama before avenging that defeat to claim the national championship.
For argument's sake, here's how the loser between the Buckeyes and Wolverines could climb back into the playoff with some help, as long as the loss is competitive: TCU losing once;
Oregon, USC or UCLA losing once but winning the Pac-12 championship; LSU winning the SEC West but losing to Georgia in the SEC championship.
TCU has a more difficult road should the Horned Frogs lose one to either Texas, Baylor or Iowa State but still take home the Big 12 crown. In that case, TCU would need: Ohio State or Michigan losing by a significant amount;
A two-loss Pac-12 champion; LSU losing to Georgia; Clemson losing the ACC championship to North Carolina.
But given how the committee has waffled on TCU, one loss may end up being enough to send the Horned Frogs packing from the playoff race.
Tennessee Oregon LSU and Mississippi Southern California and UCLA Alabama