In a way, the College Football Playoff has already begun.
If Iowa or Michigan State (or maybe the Ohio State-Michigan winner, if MSU falls to Penn State this weekend) wins out, that's one spot. Same for Alabama or Florida from the SEC. Clemson's in with two more wins, and it's not hard to picture North Carolina stealing a spot with an ACC Championship upset and some help. That would be three, unless one of these eventual conference champs loses this weekend.
This Saturday's Notre Dame vs. Stanford isn't quite a qualifier, but it is an eliminator. The winner will join the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State Bedlam winner (OU's the big winner of the week, vaulting all the way from No. 7 after beating TCU and maybe even putting itself in the top group) and possibly Baylor in the holding pen; the Bears and Cardinal would also have games during conference championship weekend (and Stanford would have a real chance to impress against USC or UCLA), but the others in this group would be sitting and waiting.
That's a list of 13 teams still theoretically alive, with almost all of them still to play at least one other team from the group.
That's how it stacks up at the moment, based on the committee's freshly released top 25:
|Playoff committee ranking (last week)||S&P+ ranking||Best win, per S&P+||Worst loss, per S&P+||If the season ended today|
|1||Clemson (11-0)||1||Florida State||Orange Bowl vs. Iowa|
|2||Alabama (10-1)||2||LSU||Ole Miss||Cotton Bowl vs. Oklahoma|
|3 (7)||Oklahoma (10-1)||4||at Baylor||Texas||Cotton Bowl vs. Alabama|
|4 (5)||Iowa (11-0)||29||at Wisconsin||Orange Bowl vs. Clemson|
|5 (9)||Michigan State (10-1)||14||at Michigan||at Nebraska||Rose Bowl vs. Stanford|
|6 (4)||Notre Dame (10-1)||9||Navy||at Clemson||Fiesta or Peach|
|7 (10)||Baylor (9-1)||6||West Virginia||Oklahoma||New Year's Bowl, perhaps Sugar|
|8 (3)||Ohio State (10-1)||5||Penn State||Michigan State||Fiesta or Peach|
|9 (11)||Stanford (9-2)||12||UCLA||at Northwestern||Rose Bowl vs. Michigan State|
|10 (12)||Michigan (9-2)||3||at Penn State||at Utah|
|11 (6)||Oklahoma State (10-1)||19||at West Virginia||Baylor||New Year's Bowl, perhaps Sugar|
|12 (8)||Florida (10-1)||10||Ole Miss||at LSU||Sugar Bowl vs. Big 12|
|13 (14)||Florida State (9-2)||7||NC State||at Georgia Tech|
|14 (17)||North Carolina (10-1)||31||at Pittsburgh||vs. South Carolina|
|15 (16)||Navy (9-1)||11||South Florida||at Notre Dame||Fiesta or Peach|
|16 (20)||Northwestern (9-2)||48||Stanford||Iowa|
|17 (23)||Oregon (8-3)||33||at Stanford||Washington State|
|18 (22)||Ole Miss (8-3)||8||at Alabama||at Memphis|
|19 (18)||TCU (9-2)||18||West Virginia||at Oklahoma State|
|20 (NR)||Washington State (8-3)||60||at UCLA||Portland State|
|21 (NR)||Mississippi State (8-3)||23||at Arkansas||at Texas A&M|
|22 (NR)||UCLA (8-3)||17||at Utah||Arizona State|
|23 (13)||Utah (8-3)||32||Michigan||at Arizona|
|24 (NR)||Toledo (9-1)||21||Arkansas||Northern Illinois|
|25 (NR)||Temple (9-2)||39||Penn State||at South Florida|
And here's the SB Nation Selection Committee's top four:
Clemson, Alabama, Notre Dame and Iowa.