Games most likely to determine who reaches playoff

Published 8:24 am Monday, August 15, 2016

If you can only watch six games this college football season, well, you should probably consider changing jobs or something because that is no way to live. If that truly is your plight, though, we’re here to help.

Out of the more than 700 FBS regular season games (conference championships not included) scheduled to be played from Aug. 27 (Aug. 26, Australia time) to Dec. 2, these six will have the greatest impact on which teams reach the College Football Playoff:


Oklahoma vs. Houston at NRG Stadium in Houston, Sept. 5

The “neutral site” is about a 10-minute drive from the Cougars’ campus, but expect plenty of Sooners support at the home of the NFL’s Texans. The stakes are high for the Sooners, but Oklahoma can slip here and recover to make the playoff. This nonconference game makes the list because of its importance to Houston and the American Athletic Conference. If Tom Herman’s team pulls the upset, it could vault the Cougars and by extension the entire AAC into the playoff conversation. Lose and the playoff pretty much comes off the table for the Cougars — in week one!


Oklahoma at TCU, Oct. 1

Since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 in 2012, every game against Oklahoma has been decided by one score. The Sooners and Frogs have split the last two, with the winner taking home at least a share of a conference title. There will still be a long way to go in the season, and the Big 12 has the feel of a conference that will produce an upset or two from the middle of the pack. But these are the best two rosters and the winner in Fort Worth has the inside track to being the league’s One True Champion — even though it has retired the slogan.


Clemson at Florida State, Oct. 29

The winner of this game has won the last seven Atlantic Division titles and as Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney have grown their programs into national title contenders, it has become one of the most significant rivalries in the country. In each of the last three seasons, the winner has gone into the postseason with a chance to win the national championship. There is certainly a possibility both the Seminoles and Tigers could be playoff teams in 2016, but only one can win the ACC and this showdown in Tallahassee could end up being a playoff elimination game.


Alabama at LSU, Nov. 5

Since the Tigers’ 9-6 Game of the Century victory in 2011, the Crimson Tide has won five straight in the series. As Ole Miss can attest, beating Alabama does not guarantee an SEC West championship. But no SEC West team has won the division in college football during Nick Saban’s time at Alabama without beating the Tide. Can Alabama’s defense derail a second consecutive Leonard Fournette Heisman Trophy campaign? Can the Tigers keep the Tide from a third straight playoff appearance?


Stanford at Oregon, 

Nov. 12

The Ducks (two) and Cardinal (three) have won all the Pac-12 titles since the conference broke into divisions in 2011. The twist last season was Oregon won the head-to-head meeting and probably spoiled Stanford’s playoff hopes, though the Cardinal still went on to win the conference. The Pac-12 could be looking at another season with a two-loss champion. And Washington might very well have a say, for once, in who wins the North. But until proven otherwise this is the Pac-12’s most important game.


Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 26

Michigan State fans, feel free to be a little slighted — the Spartans have won two of the past three Big Ten titles, after all. That said, the second Harbaugh-Meyer matchup sets up to be the first of many to decide the Big Ten East, and send the winner to Indianapolis looking to win not only a conference title but a spot in the playoff.