The College Football Playoff selection committee will pore through dozens of games over the next several weeks to determine its weekly top-25 rankings, but where the playoff field is concerned, only a handful will determine which four teams receive a berth. With the liberty of a few predictions, including a fade from TCU and three not-yet-set conference-championship matchups, College Football 24/7 takes a look at seven games that will determine the playoff field.
Note: If the start time for a game isn't listed below, it's because the start time has not yet been determined.
Michigan State at Ohio State
When: Nov. 21, 3:30 p.m. ET
Why it matters: Before the season began, the Spartans looked on paper to be the only team on the OSU schedule capable of knocking off the defending national champions, and today, that still looks accurate. With apologies to a resurgent Michigan team awaiting OSU in The Big House on Nov. 28, a huge performance from MSU quarterback Connor Cook is the only thing standing between the Buckeyes and a 12-0 regular season. A Spartans upset here would knock OSU out of playoff contention because the Buckeyes would be locked out of the Big Ten title game, presuming MSU finished its business against Penn State on Nov. 28. Would it put Michigan State back in the picture? Most definitely, considering MSU's last impression for the selection committee might then be a win over undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten title game.
Baylor at Oklahoma State
When: Nov. 21, 7:30 p.m. ET
Why it matters:As the last remaining Big 12 team with an undefeated record, Oklahoma State is at the center of the league's universe for now, particularly because the Big 12 doesn't have a championship game. Baylor is fully capable of rebounding from its loss to Oklahoma with a win on the road over the Cowboys here, but it's the last thing the league wants from a playoff standpoint. The selection committee established last year that a once-beaten Big 12 champ can be boxed out of the playoff field, and an Oklahoma State loss could set up the very same scenario this year.
Notre Dame at Stanford
When: Nov. 28
Why it matters: This is the only game that could keep the Fighting Irish out of the playoff. As such, the Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and ACC will all become Cardinal fans for this contest, because a Notre Dame loss will secure an extra playoff berth for a Power Five conference team. With the Pac-12 out of playoff contention, a Stanford win would be Power-Five neighborly. With the Fighting Irish already at No. 4 in last week's rankings, they won't be taking a step backward in the rankings if they beat Stanford, even though they'll be taking in conference title games from the players' lounge.
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
When: Nov. 28
Why it matters: The backloaded Big 12 schedule pushed the league's most important games into late November, and if the Cowboys knock off Baylor, this one will be just as important. If Notre Dame beats Stanford to lock up a playoff spot, Oklahoma State can't afford even one loss. Having already beaten an undefeated Baylor team, the Sooners have a chance to stamp their resume with consecutive wins over the Bears, once-beaten TCU, and the Cowboys. A trio of wins like that would be hard for the selection committee to ignore, but so would the Sooners' embarrassing October loss to Texas.
ACC Championship Game
When: Dec. 5
Why it matters: Clemson has won its division and North Carolina is on the brink of qualifying as the Tigers' opponent in this game. Clemson, the No. 1 team in the CFP rankings, will be a heavy favorite over a UNC team that has surprised the nation with a nine-game winning streak. With a win here, an undefeated Clemson team would not only be in the playoff but likely would secure the No. 1 seed. Could North Carolina jump into the playoff picture with an upset? Knocking off the No. 1 team in the country on a conference championship stage would be a huge statement to the committee, but a season-opening loss to a bad South Carolina team wouldn't help.
Big Ten Championship Game
When: Dec. 5, 8:17 p.m. ET
Why it matters:If Ohio State and Iowa meet as unbeaten division champions here, the Big Ten title game is unquestionably a play-in for the four-team playoff. Consider it a quarterfinal if that is the matchup. Iowa can clinch the Big Ten West with a win over Purdue on Saturday. Ohio State, despite being the higher-ranked team, has a much tougher late-season path to the Big Ten East crown with Michigan State and Michigan left to play. If the Big Ten champ ends up with a loss somehow, and Notre Dame beats Stanford, the league could easily be left out of the playoff.
SEC Championship Game
Why it matters: Florida has clinched its spot in the game from the East division, and Alabama has all but clinched. Only an Alabama loss to Auburn on Nov. 28, coupled with a series of other late-season SEC outcomes conspiring to muddle the West standings, would jeopardize a renewal of the most frequent matchup in SEC title game history. Given that the selection committee had Alabama ranked No. 2 last week, the Tide's loss to Ole Miss appears already forgiven and a win over Florida would buy UA a second consecutive playoff trip. The Gators, ranked No. 11, will move into the top 10 when the new CFP rankings are released on Tuesday. The worst-case scenario for Florida would be a Notre Dame win over Stanford, and Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma State each running the table unbeaten. In that scenario, even wins over Florida State and Alabama wouldn't guarantee the Gators a playoff spot.