(CBS) The initial release of the College Football Playoff rankings will come next Tuesday evening. The top four teams will have the inside track to nab an invitation to the inaugural playoff bracket, but there will still be plenty to play out over the final six weeks of the season. Here’s a look at five games, in order of date, that will be crucial in deciding which four teams end up in the Playoff.
Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8
The winner of this game will almost assuredly win the East Division, and if it’s able to navigate the rest of its schedule unblemished and finish with just one loss, the door would be open for nabbing the fourth and final CFP spot. A one-loss SEC team would certainly be chosen before the Ohio State-Michigan State survivor, but there are so many tough intra-conference matchups left in the SEC that it’s quite possible that everyone except the champion will finish with two or more losses.
Notre Dame at USC, Nov. 29
After a heartbreaking ending last Saturday in which a penalty erased the apparent winning touchdown at defending champion Florida State in the waning seconds, Notre Dame remains in solid shape in the CFP race. The Irish proved they belong with the best of the best, and they’ll have a great argument to nab a top-four spot if they finish 11-1. This contest at rival USC will be the final hurdle and take place in a harsh environment.
Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29
Each has one loss right now and therefore is in the passenger’s seat in trying to win the SEC. But Auburn still has Ole Miss left, and Alabama has Mississippi State to play yet. Win those, and chaos will reign in the SEC West. That would also make this contest full of drama — even if a berth in the SEC title game isn’t on the line, a berth in the CFP could be on the line, as any SEC team with just one loss is almost a lock to go.
Mississippi State at Ole Miss, Nov. 29
They both remain undefeated heading into this weekend, but each has a couple hurdles to clear before the rivalry game. No. 1 Mississippi State has Arkansas and a trip to Alabama on the docket. No. 3 Ole Miss plays at LSU at night this Saturday, then still has to face Auburn and Arkansas. If both these teams are undefeated entering this game, they could both end up in the CFP. If there are losses mixed in before then, it figures to be a win-and-get-in or lose-and-be-left-out proposition. And wouldn’t that be fun?
Pac-12 championship game, Dec. 6
If Oregon can top nemesis Stanford on Nov. 1, it will have a clear path to the Pac-12 championship game. Who the Ducks may find there, it’s still too hard to decipher. USC, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah all still have one loss in the Pac-12 South, and two-loss UCLA might be the best team. If Oregon can win out to finish 12-1, it could tout a conference title and its 19-point nonconference win against Michigan State as the deciding factors in slipping into the fourth and final playoff spot.