Who Can Win This Year’s College Football Playoff


Whether you want to believe it or not, there are only a handful of teams that will have a chance at winning the 2023-24 college football playoff (CFP). It’s a select group.

But, there are 133 Football Bowl Subdivision schools that all start the season 0-0, you say. They all have a chance, right? Well, if you would like to believe that, you go right ahead. With decades of experience in playing, coaching, handicapping, and writing about college football, Coach Rick has a unique perspective of the game.

Select few are ready for the College Football Playoff

If you want to understand college football, you must know the reality of it all is that the college football playoff is geared toward college football’s elite programs. Bettors should understand how it works and place their futures bets accordingly.

The College Football Playoff Defined

As a fan and bettor on college football, you should know that the college football playoff determines each season’s national champion. The CFP was started in 2014 as a “better” means of determining a champion. It put an end to – or at least tried – a national championship based on opinions.

The current playoff format includes the top four teams in the final CFP rankings. The four teams play two national semifinal games as part of the normal college football bowl schedule. The national championship game is then held in Jan. after the bowl season is complete.

Last year’s national championship winner Georgia became the first repeat champion in CFP history with its 65-7 blowout win over TCU in January. Could the Bulldogs become the first team in college football history (in the media poll era) to three-peat?

It’s certainly possible.

The 2023-24 CFP Schedule

After the committee selects the four teams to participate in the college football playoff, the first round games are set. Two semifinal games are played each year. A bowl game like the Rose Bowl or Orange Bowl serves one of the first round games.

The Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Cotton Bowl are used as part of the college football playoff on a rotating basis.

The national championship is played in Jan. on the Monday following the first round games. The semifinals are held either on New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve. The final schedule is determined by the NFL’s scheduled games. Sunday NFL games always take precedent.

2023-24 CFP Schedule

The 2023-24 first round – aka the national semifinals – will utilize the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. The Rose Bowl will take place on Monday, January 1, 2024, in Pasadena at 5 p.m. ET. The Sugar Bowl will host the other semifinal. That game is also scheduled for Monday, January 1, 2024. That game will take place in New Orleans at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN will televise both games.

The national championship will take place in Houston at NRG Stadium on January 8. ESPN broadcasts the game each year.

College Football Playoff National Championship

The national championship game could be coming to a location near you. The game has only been held in certain cities, typically in warmer climates. Atlanta, Miami Gardens, New Orleans and Arlington, Tex., have hosted the most national championship games so far.

Next year when quarterfinal games are added to the mix, the first round of the playoff will start in Dec. with the national championship again being played in Jan. Next year’s game will be played in Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The stadium is always a concern in regards to the national championship. Don’t forget, the weather is also a concern since the game is held in Jan. The committee usually comes to a consensus to award the national championship to a city with an indoor stadium or at least one with a retractable roof.

New Year’s Six Bowls

The conference commissioners look forward to the CFP committee selections because it determines which teams play in the New Year’s Six bowls. The bowls not involved in the semifinals will host the other teams that will participate in the rest of the New Year’s Six bowls. This year, that will include the Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Sugar Bowls.

These games will include the seven next-highest ranked teams plus the highest-ranked team from the Group of 5 schools. Keep in mind, schools like Iowa State, Penn State, and Miami are part of the Power 5. Schools like Houston and Memphis are G5 programs.

Map of Group of 5 Conferences

Commissioners from the Group of 5 conferences are hopeful one of their teams will crack into the national championship picture. That way, they are sure to sell a ton of tickets. Speaking of which, fans can search “bowl games Dec” to find tickets for all of the bowl games, not just the ones on New Year’s Eve.

History of the College Football Playoff

History is a great indicator and is a key to understanding which teams can and cannot play in the college football playoff. Later, we’ll show you how you can take over 100 teams out of the equation immediately.

The CFP committee begins ranking teams in a poll, typically around the first week of November. The committee continues ranking teams each week and then puts out its final poll after conference championship weekend.

Big changes for the 2024 CFB season

The top four teams in that final poll make the college football playoff. This system will change to a new format and include 12 teams beginning with the 2024 CFB season. That means the CFP will include more bowl games like the Peach Bowl, for instance.

The college football playoff has been dominated by the SEC. Of the nine CFP national championship games played, an SEC team has won six of them, including the last four straight. As mentioned, Georgia won the last two and Alabama has won three. LSU in 2019 is the other SEC team with a title.

That domination is part of the reasoning behind why only a select few teams can realistically make the college football playoff.

Dump All the Dead Weight

Just last season, three $1,000-plus bets were placed on Utah State to win the CFP. Whoever placed those bets would have been better off rolling the hundred-dollar bills into a stogie and smoking it. 

The point here is that bettors should not waste their time with any Group of 5 program. That means take out every team in the following conferences:

  • American Athletic Conference
  • Conference USA
  • MAC
  • Mountain West Conference
  • Sun Belt Conference

Cincinnati is now in the Big 12 and Boise State still wins games, but they are nowhere near a playoff-caliber team. Tulane had a great season last year and returns a bunch of talent. It doesn’t matter. None of the 65 teams in the five conferences listed above have a realistic chance of making the CFP.

Current odds to win the College Football Playoff

While we’re at it, you can eliminate the four FBS independents too. That would include Notre Dame, Army, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The Fighting Irish is the only team with even a sliver of hope, but the Golden Domers don’t play in a conference championship game and that weighs heavily with the CFP committee.

The College Football Playoff is Not in Our Future

Next, you can eliminate most of the Pac-12 and the Big 12. In nine seasons of the college football playoff so far, 36 teams have earned a berth. Of those 36, exactly two came from the Pac-12. Oregon earned a spot in the first CFP in 2014 and Washington made it in 2016.

Last year, TCU became the first Big 12 team not named Oklahoma to make the college football playoff. The Sooners earned a trip to the national semifinals in four different seasons. Oklahoma lost all four times.

Oklahoma’s head coach during those four CFP trips was Lincoln Riley. Riley is now the head coach at USC. He gives the Trojans a glimmer of hope at making this year’s CFP. 

Clemson made the playoff six years in a row between 2015 and 2020. The only other ACC school to qualify was Florida State in the CFP’s very first year. The Big Ten has had Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State.

Eliminate Most of Power 5 

If you look at all the Power conferences, they are usually dominated by two or three teams. Every now and then an outlier has a great season. Tennessee (11-2) in the SEC is a good example. Even TCU’s storybook season was somewhat of a surprise.

Adding this information to what we’ve just learned, we can go ahead and eliminate a number of teams from contention for this year’s playoff.

Teams like Boston College, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Washington State, and West Virginia…sorry, but you are never playing for a national championship. In thinking about CFB futures, don’t get caught up in believing any such longshot is worth a small bet. You’ll be throwing your money away.

Introducing the 2023-24 College Football Playoff Candidates

What’s left now are the teams that actually have a real shot at winning the college football playoff. It all starts with the SEC. As mentioned already, the SEC has dominated the sport and the playoff since its institution.

Two-time defending national champion Georgia is the overall favorite to win again at +225. The Bulldogs arch-rival and three-time CFP winner Alabama is next on the NCAAF odds board at +600. The two teams do not play each other in the regular season. Should the teams run the table and play for an SEC title as unbeatens, it’s possible that both teams make the playoff. It has happened before.

The issue for both Georgia and Alabama is their schedules. Georgia will face SEC East foe Tennessee, which is on the board as a +3500 longshot. The Vols beat then No. 3 Alabama last year 52-49 and they had four other wins over ranked opponents.

The Tide will have to face LSU (+900) who they lost to last season. That could move the Tigers into the mix for this year’s college football playoff. Head coach Brian Kelly’s team opens the season with Florida State in a game that will impact the playoff.

To recap then, from the SEC, the college football playoff candidates are Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and LSU.

Big Ten Candidates

The other big conference in the postseason mix is the Big Ten. Eight of the 36 entrants in the playoff have hailed from the Big Ten, including Michigan and Ohio State last year. 

Those two programs will once again be among those that have a realistic shot at winning this year’s CFP. If both enter their year-end showdown unbeaten, they will once again have a chance at making the final four. 

Hailing from Pennsylvania and having coached in the great state for many years, Coach Rick is a Penn State fan. That said, he does not see the Nittany Lions in the mix this year. Penn State’s schedule is brutal – Michigan and Ohio State every year – with tricky road games at Illinois early and Michigan State late.

Ohio State and Michigan have a shot

There isn’t a real contender from the West Division. Wisconsin has a new head coach. Iowa will have a new quarterback and Purdue is a few years away. That means the only teams with a path to a national title from the Big Ten are Ohio State and Michigan.

The Rest of the College Football Playoff Field 

The rest of the CFP field boils down to this. Clemson always has a shot, though this may be the first season in a while where the Tigers are not in the preseason top-10. 

Clemson always need to be in the conversation

This is also the first year where there is a legitimate second candidate from the ACC. Florida State returns electric QB Jordan Travis and a stout defense that was fourth in the nation against the pass last season. Head coach Mike Norvell has 16 starters back from last year’s 10-3 team. A Sept. 23 date at Clemson will determine which ACC team has the best shot at the playoff.

The Big 12 usually beats itself out of college football playoff contention. It will take an unbeaten season to have a shot to crack the field and that will be difficult. Texas might have the best shot from the conference, but this is a program that has gone 5-7 and 8-5 under head coach Steve Sarkisian. 

The only other candidates on the board come from the Pac-12. Lincoln Riley, former Oklahoma head coach who took the Sooners to four CFPs, is now at USC and the Trojans are looking to build on last year’s 11-3 campaign. 

The other two Pac-12 teams with a chance are Washington and Oregon. USC faces the Huskies on Nov. 4 and then travels to Oregon the very next weekend. Washington returns the nation’s leading passer in Michael Penix Jr. and the Ducks have veteran QB Bo Nix. Those two weeks in November will determine the fate of the Pac-12.

Earlier, I wrote a comprehensive article on 2024 CFP surprises. Tell us who you think we left off the list.

The 2023-24 College Football Playoff Candidates

There you have it. The only teams with a real shot at the national championship this season. By process of elimination, there are only 12 true college football playoff candidates. Here they are:

  • Georgia
  • Alabama
  • LSU
  • Tennessee
  • Ohio State
  • Michigan
  • Clemson
  • Florida State
  • Texas
  • USC
  • Washington
  • Oregon

Return to Sports Hub for All Your CFB Needs

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Sports Hub is your College Football Playoff destination
Sports Hub is your College Football Playoff destination

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