When the College Football Playoff rankings were announced on Tuesday night, the Colorado Buffaloes checked in at No. 12.
Somehow, this season has gone from hoping for a bowl game – any bowl game – to really, truly wondering if the Buffs (7-2 overall, 5-1 Pac-12) could play for a national title.
So could they? The quick answer is: Yes, they could.
However, with two losses already, it’s complicated, and it certainly won’t be easy to get there.
Just for fun, let’s examine CU’s chances, including which teams and which scenarios Buff fans need to root for over the next few weeks. This, of course, is all speculation and my opinion. There’s no telling what the selection committee will do when they sit down to meet and choose the teams that’ll play for the title.
First off, here’s a look at the top 16 teams in the CFP rankings (outside of the top 16, nobody really has a shot).
1. Alabama (9-0)
2. Clemson (9-0)
3. Michigan (9-0)
4. Washington (9-0)
5. Ohio State (8-1)
6. Louisville (8-1)
7. Wisconsin (7-2)
8. Texas A&M (7-2)
9. Auburn (7-2)
10. Penn State (7-2)
11. Oklahoma (7-2)
12. Colorado (7-2)
13. Oklahoma State (7-2)
14. Virginia Tech (7-2)
15. Utah (7-2)
16. West Virginia (7-1)
NO. 1: GOTTA KEEP WINNING
Obviously if CU loses another game, it has no shot at the championship, and you can forget anything beyond this sentence. The Buffs have to win their final three regular season games and then win the Pac-12 title game, hopefully against undefeated Washington. Do that, and the Buffs will have wins over No. 23 Washington State, No. 15 Utah and No. 4 Washington in consecutive weeks. No team in the country could match that closing stretch. That would vault CU ahead of some teams, but not enough, on its own, to get into the top four. That means the Buffs need a little help.
NO. 2: ROOT FOR THE TOP 4
Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Washington are sitting in the spots everybody else wants. It may seem crazy, but the Buffs need to root for all four teams to keep winning, and here’s why:
1. Alabama: If the Tide finish as a 13-0 SEC champ, they’re a lock to take the top seed. It would also mean they handed Auburn its third loss (on Nov. 26), knocking the Tigers out. Auburn beating Alabama (and then winning the SEC title game) would severely damage CU’s playoff chances, because an 11-2 SEC champ Auburn and 11-1 Alabama would likely both finish ahead of the Buffs.
2. Michigan: The Wolverines already own a win against Colorado, so Michigan winning out would help CU in a variety of ways. First off, the loss to Michigan looks better if they are 13-0, as opposed to 11-1 or 12-1. Second, if Michigan does win out, it would hit Ohio State with loss No. 2 and Wisconsin (most likely) with loss No. 3. In that scenario, it would also be difficult to keep Penn State – with two losses and no conference title – ahead of the Pac-12 champion Buffs. So, Michigan could, in theory, clear three teams from CU’s path: Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. If Ohio State wins out – including a win against the Wolverines – the Buckeyes are in the playoff and the Buffs would have a tough time vaulting ahead of a 1-loss Michigan team that beat them.
3. Clemson: The Tigers are already through the toughest games on the schedule, and they should reach the ACC title game with a 12-0 mark. Right now, they’d be slotted to play Virginia Tech in that game. Virginia Tech sits two spots behind CU right now, but if the Hokies beat Clemson in the title game, they’d have a realistic shot at jumping the Buffs. Clemson winning out clears Virginia Tech out of the way.
4. Washington: Of course, CU would need to beat Washington in the Pac-12 title game, but until then, the Buffs need the Huskies to keep winning. For CU to have a shot at the playoff, it needs the best wins possible. Nothing would be better than beating undefeated and top-4 Washington in the Pac-12 title game.
NO. 3: EYES ON THE BIG 12
CU is currently sandwiched in the rankings by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, which have matching 7-2 records, and West Virginia, lurking at No. 16 with a 7-1 mark.
All three teams are in the hunt for the Big 12 championship, with Oklahoma likely posing the biggest threat. Oklahoma faces OSU and West Virginia down the stretch, giving the Sooners a chance at two high quality wins.
If CU goes 11-2 and wins the Pac-12 title game, that might be enough to beat out all the Big 12 teams, since they don’t have a conference title game. Just in case, though, the Buffs need to root for the Big 12 to beat up on itself, which is quite possible, given its back-loaded schedule. So, CU need to hope for Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia to all suffer one more loss.
NO. 4: SOMEBODY BEAT LOUISVILLE AND A&M
If everything above works out, two other teams potentially remain in CU’s way: Louisville and Texas A&M.
Both teams are highly unlikely to land in their respective conference championship games, so it might be tough for both to stay ahead of CU. Just to make sure, CU fans need to hope both lose at least once more.
Louisville: If the Cardinals finish 11-1, that one loss would be a close one to Clemson. And, they’ve got the Heisman Trophy front-runner in Lamar Jackson. They’re a very attractive team to the committee, and CU might need them to lose in order to pass them up. That loss could happen on Nov. 19 when the Cardinals visit Houston (7-2).
Texas A&M: The Aggies lost starting quarterback Trevor Knight to a season-ending injury, so another loss seems inevitable. The Aggies still have to face Ole Miss and LSU.
If all of this plays out, Alabama, Clemson and Michigan will be the top three seeds in the CFP, but the fourth spot would be wide open. Washington would be the only 1-loss team left, but that loss would come against Colorado. And, Colorado would sit at 11-2 and be the only Power 5 conference champion left that actually won a championship game. It would be difficult for the committee to keep the Buffaloes out of the No. 4 spot at that point.
While the path to the CFP is not clear, it’s there for Colorado. Keep winning and the Buffs will become a legitimate contender for the biggest prize in college football.
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.