The biggest test ahead and the Playoff odds for the CFP contenders

At least we have Alabama. As other College Football Playoff contenders fail to maintain their grip on a top-four seed — here’s looking at you, Georgia and Notre Dame — the Crimson Tide find a way to remain unbeaten, most recently by outlasting Mississippi State’s best shot in a 31-24 win.

The road has opened for the Tide: win and they’re in. Likewise with the rest of those programs with realistic Playoff hopes, a list that numbers at least seven and upward of a dozen teams as the regular season surges to a close. For this exercise, let’s cap the number at eight — beginning with top-ranked Alabama and running through Ohio State.

It’s time for a primer. What’s ahead for each of those teams battling for a berth in one of the two national semifinals? What game figures to be each team’s biggest test? And what are the odds that each team gets it done during the next three weeks?

No. 1 Alabama

Schedule: vs. Mercer, at Auburn, SEC championship (if applicable)

Toughest test: Auburn

Odds of reaching the CFP: 70%

The Tide may be unbeaten, but they have no wiggle room, because a loss to Auburn would hand the Tigers the SEC West Division title. But even as Auburn looks the part — and it certainly did against Georgia — Nick Saban and the Tide are the safer pick to enter the postseason as the conference champions and top seed.

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No. 2 Miami (Fla.)

Schedule: vs. Virginia, at Pittsburgh, vs. Clemson (ACC championship)

Toughest test: Clemson

Odds of reaching the CFP: 40%

Miami will cruise past Virginia and smother Pittsburgh in advance of a winner-take-all ACC title game against Clemson. It’s probably not a great idea to bet against the Hurricanes, who have demolished the idea that they were not ready for prime time by tearing through Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. But Clemson would present a totally different test.

No. 3 Clemson

Schedule: vs. The Citadel, at South Carolina, vs. Miami (ACC championship)

Toughest test: Miami

Odds of reaching the CFP: 60%

It’s not like Clemson will be able to sleepwalk past South Carolina, the second-best team in the SEC East Division, but the matchup with the Hurricanes undoubtedly is the Tigers’ biggest hurdle to reaching the Playoff for the third time in as many years. Why give Clemson the edge over the Hurricanes? One thing that’s important: Clemson has been here before.

No. 4 Wisconsin

Schedule: vs. Michigan, at Minnesota, Big Ten championship

Toughest test: Big Ten championship

Odds of reaching the CFP: 33%

Wisconsin has clinched a berth in the conference title game. Meanwhile, a win Saturday against Michigan combined with an Ohio State win against Illinois would mean a pairing with the Buckeyes to decide the Big Ten crown. Should Ohio State maintain last weekend’s play against Michigan State and roll into the first weekend of December at 10-2 … well, it probably wouldn’t be a great matchup for the Badgers.

No. 5 Oklahoma

Schedule: at Kansas, vs. West Virginia, Big 12 championship

Toughest test: Big 12 championship

Odds of reaching the CFP: 65%

You have to like Oklahoma’s chances of reaching a semifinal even if the Sooners’ projected opponent in the Big 12 championship remains undecided — though it likely will be TCU, barring a slip-up in the Horned Frogs’ final two games of November. And taking that one step further, you have to like OU’s chances of beating TCU in the rematch, even if the neutral-site affair in AT&T Stadium negates this past weekend’s home-field advantage.

No. 6 Auburn

Schedule: vs. Louisiana-Monroe, vs. Alabama, SEC championship (if applicable)

Toughest test: Alabama

Odds of reaching the CFP: 35%

Say this for Auburn’s chances: The team that showed up against Georgia could beat any opponent in the country. But is that performance repeatable? Maybe it is. We’ll find out in the Iron Bowl, when a win would send Auburn rocketing into the SEC title game and a rematch with the Bulldogs. Maybe Alabama’s too tough a test. But if Auburn does beat the Tide, look out — this team is headed to the Playoff.

No. 7 Georgia

Schedule: vs. Kentucky, at Georgia Tech, SEC championship

Toughest test: SEC championship

Odds of reaching the CFP: 25%

The matchup isn’t good if it’s Alabama or Auburn, and since it’s going to be one of Alabama or Auburn in the SEC championship game … you know, it’s not good. But the Bulldogs should take care of business against the Wildcats and Yellow Jackets, meaning it will take only 60 minutes of strong football to clinch a spot in the four-team field. That gives Kirby Smart and Georgia a shot.

No. 8 Ohio State

Schedule: vs. Illinois, at Michigan, Big Ten championship (if applicable)

Toughest test: at Michigan

Odds of reaching the CFP: 15%

Ohio State could run the table but still fall at least one spot short of the top four, which tends to happen when you lose by 31 points to Iowa. But the Buckeyes can create a mess along the way, including by handing Wisconsin its first loss, and maybe sneak into the semifinals should enough chaos occur in the ACC, Big 12 and SEC.

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Source: USA Today Fan Sports Poll

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