The road to the National Championship once again comes through Atlanta this year as the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl hosts its second College Football Playoff Semifinal on Dec. 28. Mercedes-Benz Stadium will host two of the country’s top four teams when they face off with the chance to march on to glory with a berth in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
With more than half of the college football season in the books, the College Football Playoff picture is starting to become clearer. So far, there have been several high-profile games that could loom large come December (Notre Dame vs. Georgia, Oklahoma vs. Texas, and Florida vs. LSU, to name a few), and massive upsets that have made the path forward much more difficult for potential contenders (South Carolina vs. Georgia and Wisconsin vs. Illinois).
With the second half of the season now underway, marquee conference matchups are now on the horizon and College Football Playoff contenders will begin to emerge heading into conference championship games. There will inevitably be more surprises that shake up the national landscape, but there also remain a number of games that will give one team a win they can point to when the time comes to decide their College Football Playoff fate on Dec. 8.
The eyes of the nation will be focused on these remaining top-tier matchups as teams vie for a spot in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Auburn vs. LSU – Oct. 26
While everyone is already starting to look ahead to the LSU-Alabama showdown on Nov. 9, that highly anticipated matchup loses some of its luster if unbeaten LSU falls to Auburn at home this Saturday. The top-10 SEC West showdown in Death Valley between No. 9 Auburn and No. 2 LSU will go a long way in deciding who emerges out of the juggernaut that is the SEC West. A win by LSU would be the Tigers’ third top-10 victory of the season and would further solidify LSU’s case for having the most impressive resume in college football. It would also essentially ensure that the game in Tuscaloosa against the Tide will be the defacto “SEC West Championship Game.” Meanwhile, a win by Auburn would potentially put the Tigers in the driver’s seat in the SEC West, considering they still have games against both Georgia and Alabama at home on the Plains. While many may have written off Auburn following the loss at Florida, the Tigers still control their own destiny if they win out.
Wisconsin vs. Ohio State – Oct. 26
Wisconsin took a major hit to its aspirations for the College Football Playoff last week when the Badgers were defeated by Illinois, 24-23. Prior to that game, Wisconsin had only given up 29 points in six games, boasting the nation’s best scoring defense as well as a dynamic running attack led by Jonathan Taylor. Now, with a surprising loss on their record, the Badgers have to be nearly perfect the rest of the way to have a realistic shot at making a Semifinal game. That will be easier said than done, though, as Wisconsin’s first game following the loss is a matchup with Ohio State in Columbus. Ohio State currently boasts the nation’s second-best defense in terms of yardage along with the third-best scoring offense, and have beaten opponents by almost 42 points per game thus far. A win for Ohio State strengthens the Buckeye’s resume and keeps them on track for Big Ten supremacy and a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Florida- Georgia – Nov. 2
Jacksonville will once again be center-stage for the annual Florida vs. Georgia clash. Both teams will already enter this year’s contest with a loss (Georgia at home to South Carolina and Florida on the road at LSU), but the winner will most likely be in the driver’s seat to represent the SEC East in Atlanta. In fact, the winner of this rivalry has gone on to win the SEC East in each of the last four seasons. With two losses, the loser will face an up-hill battle to reach the SEC Championship and will put their College Football Playoff hopes in serious jeopardy. The winner, however, will position themselves right back into the College Football Playoff picture.
LSU vs. Alabama – Nov. 9
This contest on Nov. 9 is shaping up to be another “Game of the Century.” If both teams take care of business this weekend and the AP poll remains unchanged, it very well might be another No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup of undefeated teams in Tuscaloosa. Unlike the first “Game of the Century,” which was a 9-6 defensive slugfest in 2011, this year’s contest looks to be highlighted by two record-setting offenses that were both top-three in SEC history for points scored through the first five games of a season. Not only could this game be a deciding factor in who punches their ticket to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, but it also has major implications on the Heisman Trophy race as quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow are two of the front-runners. If this game is indeed a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown, whoever emerges with the victory will undoubtedly have the biggest win of the season to date and will be in prime position to make a College Football Playoff Semifinal should they win out.
Georgia vs. Auburn – Nov. 16
The Bulldogs and Tigers are in need of big wins against ranked opponents to strengthen their case for the College Football Playoff. Georgia suffered an upset loss at home to South Carolina, which severely dampened their chances, while Auburn has a loss to top-10 Florida in Gainesville. Recently, Georgia has had the upper hand in “The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry,” but the last time Auburn hosted Georgia, Auburn made quick work of the Bulldogs, 40-17. A similar result in this year’s return trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium could all but end Georgia’s Semifinal dreams, and would give Auburn signature win to add to its resume for consideration.
Oklahoma vs. Baylor – Nov. 16
Baylor has been a surprise success this season, as the Bears stand undefeated and have their eyes on a Big 12 title. Oklahoma, behind transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts, has not missed a beat from previous years after losing Heisman Trophy winners in back-to-back years. The Sooners currently have the highest-scoring offense in college football and have started to establish a defensive presence under first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. But the Bears have proven resilient, as they have won three straight conference games after trailing in the fourth quarter. If Oklahoma loses, its path to the playoff becomes much more difficult, as there are a number of strong candidates that have good chances of finishing undefeated. Oklahoma would still have the opportunity to play for a Big 12 Championship if Baylor was its only loss, but the Sooners would need other teams at the front of the pack to fall in order to have a shot at making a Semifinal. Baylor, on the other hand, is currently No. 14 despite being undefeated in a Power Five conference. Five Thirty Eight gives Baylor a 13 percent chance at making the playoff now, but a 98 percent chance of making it if they were to win out. This game will put the winner in the driver’s seat to represent the Big 12 on the game’s biggest stage.
Penn State vs. Ohio State – Nov. 23
The Big Ten East is solely in the hands of these two teams. Barring any unforeseen losses, this matchup will likely determine who represents the division in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship, and the winner of that game should have a strong chance to go on to the College Football Playoff. Penn State sits right behind Ohio State in scoring defense, only giving up 10 points per game. The Nittany Lions’ stout defense will meet an Ohio State team scoring nearly 50 points per game with speed at every position. Look for a game that goes down to the wire, as the previous three matchups have been decided by a total of five points.
Clemson vs. South Carolina – Nov. 30
Clemson’s toughest remaining test before a potential ACC Championship Game in Charlotte could be its annual in-state affair with rival South Carolina. The Tigers have owned the series of late, but the up-start Gamecocks have already defeated one highly ranked opponent this season when they shocked the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs in Athens. The Gamecocks are also notorious for having one of the best home-field advantages in the sport at Williams–Brice Stadium, so the defending national champions could be challenged when they travel to Columbia the final week of the season.
Alabama vs. Auburn – Nov. 30
Should both teams win their games entering this contest, the winner will advance to Atlanta to play in the SEC Championship Game. For the past seven consecutive years and in 11 of the last 12 seasons, either Auburn or Alabama has represented the SEC West in Atlanta. Even if LSU defeats both of these teams and clinches the SEC West, this game could still have College Football Playoff implications with Auburn having the chance to play spoiler and knock its rival out of College Football Playoff contention by giving Alabama a potential second loss.