This is all a forecast, so let's get meteorological. Things look clear for Oregon through the next week or so, after their 44-10 defeat of Colorado this week. They even look pretty nice through the 14-day forecast as they head into the Pac-12 Championship, likely against UCLA, a team the Ducks beat pretty soundly in October. Their only opponent in between is Oregon State, a team who by rule will make a "passionate, but ultimately futile" effort against a superior team.
If the forecast holds, the Ducks finish the season as Pac-12 champions with one very close loss to an excellent Arizona team. That's not a perfect resume, but in a season of deep imperfections, it would be the nearly perfect day with light showers around 11 a.m. Given the weather lately, that's about as good as it can get.*
*This is a forecast for clear skies, so anticipate a Cat 5 typhoon out of nowhere at any minute. Have Marcus Mariota carried by Oregon staffers across campus to all of his appointments, and have Nike's bioengineers ready his replacement legs, just in case he needs them down the stretch.
Threats: Oregon State and the constant specter of a rivalry game, i.e., performing at levels said team has no right performing at for longer than one quarter. And whoever survives the Pac-12 South.
Slides down in this nearly meaningless four-team order because it played Western Carolina in a 48-14 paycheck game, and in the course of enjoying a romp over an FCS team, injured starting tackle Cam Robinson and star wide receiver Amari Cooper. This is part punitive, because I hate these paycheck games whenever they're played, and also more forecasting because ...
Well, mostly because the Iron Bowl is next week, and if Blake Sims doesn't have Cooper at full speed, then he's missing a huge chunk of Alabama's passing game. How big? Cooper has 1,349 yards receiving this year. The next Alabama receiver in terms of yardage is DeAndrew White with 319. It matters, even if you are Alabama and about to face a team playing defense like 11 toddlers running around under a parachute.
That said: finish this and win the SEC title, and they're in with a resume as good as or better than Oregon's.
Threats: Auburn, and whatever shambles out of the East.
3. Florida State
No one will give Boston College the proper amount of credit in a 20-17 loss to FSU, and that's a shame. Steve Addazio's turned that team into Stanford East: burly, power running offense complemented by a defense that limits mistakes and forces opponents to go underneath coverage for gains. They're also like Stanford this year in their inability to score when they really have to, and that's how we talk you into believing in the Seminoles even if you happen to hate them.
If Boston College had just run the ball down the stretch and hit a field goal or two, this would be a much easier Playoff picture. Florida State is not letting anything be an easy discussion, and for that and their utter unkillability, they're in. Also they have the best kicker in the universe in Roberto Aguayo, an unsexy and completely necessary part of this formula. When FSU crossed the 40 on the last drive, the game's outcome became a formality thanks to Aguayo's range and reliability.
Threats: Florida next week and Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game.
4. Mississippi State
No, I'm not happy about this, either, but if you're looking to validate Alabama's ranking, you can't punish Miss State for a loss against the Tide too much, even if Miss State spent this week pummeling a hapless Vanderbilt team, 51-0.
If Ohio State wins the Big Ten outright and beats Michigan, it could go here. If Baylor and TCU finish huge, one of them could go here. You want a definite answer? I dunno. Go ask an idiot who thinks there's a clear answer here. I'd rather be honest with you, dear reader.
I'd put Miss State here based on their resume, but know this: something really bad and unfair will happen at this spot, and you should just prepare for it in advance. (Given Mississippi State's history and general luck, the chances of that "something bad" happening to MSU? VERY MUCH HIGH.)
Threats: A heartbroken Ole Miss team in the Egg Bowl. Not getting to play in the SEC title game, potentially.
ONE-LOSS TEAMS FROM THE BIG 12 THAT WILL ATTEMPT TO SCORE AS MANY POINTS AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE OVER THE NEXT TWO WEEKS
TCU, idle this week, and Baylor, winners of a 49-28 grudge match over Oklahoma State. Without losses somewhere else, both teams will have to rely on shock, awe, and the sheer watchability of Big 12 football to get them in.
P.S. Baylor STOP SCHEDULING CRAP GAMES EARLY. I LOVE YOU AND WANT TO PUT YOU IN THE PLAYOFF, AND BUFFALO'S MANGY PELT AIN'T GETTIN' MUCH AT THIS HERE TRADING POST.
ANYONE ELSE LURKING WITH TWO LOSSES?
Wisconsin, possible Big Ten title opponents for Ohio State, coming off a 26-24 win over Iowa. The Badgers' chances of getting in are super remote, but they're out there if everything else falls apart.
Same for Georgia Tech, because all the Jackets have to do is beat Georgia and Florida State in consecutive weeks, and ahaahahahahaa sure that's easy.
Georgia (55-9 over Charleston Southern this week) and Mizzou (29-21 winners over Tennessee on the road) are both at 9-2 and in line for a shot at the SEC West's champion, and thus cling to life.
The Arizonas (both 9-2) could get in line with a UCLA loss, but if the 9-2 Bruins get clean through Stanford, they get the shot at Oregon.