We’re officially at the midway point of the college football season, and by this point, you have a pretty good idea if your school has a dog in the fight or not in making the 4-team College Football Playoff in January before it inevitably expands to 12 teams in the years to come. If your school doesn’t fall in that select category, only a few years left until you can talk yourself into that hope even longer than October! For now, you can root for getting a decent bowl game, as only 6 wins allows you into a neutral site with an absurd sponsorship that you’ve never heard of that is a paragraph long against a midmajor in Kentucky.

On a larger scale though, the playoff still generates a national rooting interest. It’s entertaining to have a dog in the fight. So, if your alma mater has been eliminated, let’s take a look at some of the schools that are still in play to crash the 4-team playoff by placing them into specific tiers based off of who you believe you could be rooting for as the field has now been narrowed.

Tier 1: The Alabama Tier

Schools: Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama has dominated college football for so long that at this point if you want Alabama to win the National Title yet again, they are not your alternate. You are still the front-runner and have not been eliminated yet. You are already indoctrinated into the Nick Saban machine, so good news! You haven’t been eliminated yet! You’ve been “roll tide”-ing this whole time!

Though they’re currently on the outside looking in with their miraculous loss to Tennessee, and they haven’t been “as dominant” in their meek wins against Texas and Texas A&M, they are still always going to be the team to beat with Saban at the helm. The brand name alone with their recruiting will carry them in the polls, and running the table in the SEC will still make them the favorite.

Tier 2: The “Anybody but Alabama” Tier

Schools: Georgia Bulldogs, Ohio State Buckeyes, Clemson Tigers, Michigan Wolverines

These are the other powerhouses one would consider frontrunners as the major schools that are either a big name or have been in the playoff every single year. If you hitch your wagon to one of these schools without already having allegiance or ties, it’s merely because they are the lesser of the two evils with the “big bad” of Alabama that could throw a punch and prevent another title to Saban’s name.

Georgia is trying to protect their crown; though they’ve had some lulls in getting bored against their lesser opponents, their balance should still make them the class of the SEC East, but the road ahead will remain tough with Tennessee and the eventual SEC West Champion. Ohio State and Michigan are the two undefeateds in the Big 10 that you certainly have chosen a side between the two in that historic rivalry by now; Ohio State has been the most dominant offense in the conference with Heisman-contender CJ Stroud, and Michigan will look to win two in a row with another dominant defense and running game that was too much for OSU last year in the Big House. Barring a surprise along the way, their matchup will determine a playoff participant.

Then there’s Dabo and Clemson. Clemson has consistently made the playoff and had dominant recruiting classes. You have your opinion on Clemson by now. They’re undefeated and winning clunkers in the ACC consistently and not even looking like they’re having fun doing so, benching their quarterback last week against Syracuse, but going undefeated where their offense merely doesn’t play poorly enough to lose the game for that defense will have the Tigers back in the dance in January.

Tier 3: The “Hungry for Nostalgia” Tier

Schools: Tennessee Volunteers, USC Trojans

If you love the big programs from your youth with the classic uniforms that have been longing for a comeback, be it the 90’s Volunteers or the early 2000’s Pete Carroll Trojan army, you’re in luck! There’s a route for them to be back!

After middling SEC finishes year after year, Tennessee has possibly the most-captivating quarterback to watch in Hendon Hooker, the Heisman-favorite who slayed Alabama with 5 touchdowns, they’re 7-0 and looking to crash the playoff should they go on and run the table. It’s made for their matchup against Georgia looking like the game of the year. There’s no telling where they’ll be in January given the gauntlet of an SEC schedule, but Hooker is enough for the path to clearly be there. If you long for that iconic and gaudy orange and electrifying superstar quarterback play, the Volunteers may be back.

We’ve waited for USC to be back and relevant as a west coast powerhouse for years, so the acquisition of “quarterback guru” coach Lincoln Reilly and all of his Oklahoma skill player transfers to the program with the unmistakable cardinal and gold was the story of the offseason. The Trojans were humming along with Caleb Williams to start the year as a video game-like quarterback for the first several weeks, but ran into a wall in Utah. However, winning the Pac 12 as a 1-loss champion should they beat UCLA and then possibly Oregon in the Championship still gives them a route to the Playoff.

Tier 4: The “New Blood” Tier

Schools: TCU Horned Frogs, Oregon Ducks, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Oklahoma State Cowboys

These schools just have one loss or fewer in major conferences and could still make some noise! 

TCU has felt like the team of destiny thus far- blowing out Oklahoma, getting a come-from-behind-win against undefeated Kansas, getting a come-from-behind win in 2OT against Oklahoma State, and then coming back and scoring 28 unanswered points against 1-loss Kansas State makes them the last undefeated left in the Big 12. With a new and fun offense under a new head coach and a quarterback, Max Duggan, who plays like an absolute grown man and leader of men when slinging the ball to Quentin Johnston (look out for him in the pros), the Frogs are having fun.

Photo: Sam Hodde / The Associated Press

Oregon went from week 1 getting curb-stomped by the defending national champions in the prime TV spot to having a Heisman-candidate gun-slinging transfer quarterback in Bo Nix ever since that awful loss. Nix has bridged the gap of pivotal southern QB to the chaotic nature of “Pac-12 after dark” games With how dominant Georgia is, should the Ducks run the rest of their schedule and win the Pac-12, the loss seems much more excusable and could allow Oregon to sneak in. 

As for Wake Forest and Oklahoma State, they’ve only tripped up against undefeateds in their conference: Wake losing to Clemson close and OSU losing in 2OT to TCU. Should they stay the course the rest of the year and dethrone their conference leaders currently, there’s a way for Sam Hartman and the Deacs or Spencer Sanders and the Pokes to still be alive despite their losses.

Tier 5: The “Long Shot” Tier

Schools: Penn State Nittany Lions, Ole Miss Rebels, UCLA Bruins

All of these schools still just have one loss in major conferences. There’s a path for them to still conceivably be alive should chaos ensue, but the road ahead feels bleak.

Not only did these losses already occur, they all happened to be sucker punches, which is NOT good to have on the resume. Penn State had Michigan run ALL over them in their 17-41 loss; they also haven’t done anything else relatively impressive thus far aside from maintaining the course, and they’ve still got Ohio State on the schedule. If they find a way to win that game and win the Big 10, however, what a miraculous turnaround that would be.

UCLA got manhandled in Eugene in their 45-30 loss to Oregon (that wasn’t as close as it looks) and will still have to go through USC and then a Pac-12 Championship game. They do get style points with their offensive trio of DTR, Charbonnay, and Jake Bobo, but a lot has to go right for the Bruins. 

Ole Miss was clobbered against LSU last week in a game they needed to win given their SEC schedule coming up, and it feels like all they do is try to avoid the limitations of their quarterback Jaxson Dart (I promise this isn’t the name of a Madden Create-a-player QB). Finishing with 1-loss in the SEC with a win against Alabama coming up, though, still keeps them alive.

If you like rooting for miracles, you’re in this tier.

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