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College Football Playoff worst-case scenarios: Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State

The third set of College Football Playoff rankings were unveiled on Tuesday — and the top four teams remained the same.

No. 1 Alabama (9-0), No. 2 Notre Dame (10-0), No. 3 Clemson (9-1) and No. 4 Ohio State (5-0) have not changed through the entire process, and the most likely scenario if the chalk holds is those four teams matching up in the College Football Playoff semifinals. This year, those will be the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. In a season that has been riddled with cancellations — the latest “The Game” between Ohio State and Michigan — that wouldn’t be the worst thing.

Aside from Florida, the teams outside the top four need help to make the College Football Playoff. The Gators should be in with a victory over Alabama in the SEC championship game.

MORE: How Ohio State-Michigan cancellation impacts CFP hopes in 2020

What’s the worst case for the top four teams in the College Football Playoff field? Sporting News takes a closer look:

Alabama’s worst-case scenario

Considering the Crimson Tide are a 31-point favorite at Arkansas this week, the absolute worst-case scenario would be the first loss to the Razorbacks since Mike Shula’s final season in 2006. We’ll assume Alabama wins there, which sets up the SEC championship game against Florida. How could Alabama be denied a Playoff berth for (gasp) the second straight season?

A two-touchdown loss in a collapse against the Gators in Atlanta would be the first step. Clemson beats Notre Dame by a last-second field goal, and Ohio State wins the Big Ten championship (assuming the conference removes its six-game minimum requirement). Texas A&M loses to Tennessee in the final weekend, which weakens the Crimson Tide’s strength of schedule.

Even if all that happens, Alabama could still manage to get in. They have the most room to work with in the final two weeks.

Notre Dame’s worst-case scenario

The Irish look pedestrian in a two-touchdown loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game. Trevor Lawrence lights up the Notre Dame defense, and the Irish hit another snag when Florida beats Alabama in the SEC championship game. Ohio State stays unbeaten and wins the Big Ten championship, and Cincinnati stays unbeaten. The Irish slip all the way to No. 6 in the final College Football Playoff rankings and settle for a Cotton Bowl matchup against one-loss Texas A&M.

Notre Dame is the only one of the top four teams who hasn’t won a national championship in the College Football Playoff era. They do not have the same clout as Alabama, Clemson or Ohio State, especially in the one-loss discussions.

MORE: Playoff rankings: Who are the top four teams after Week 14?

Clemson’s worst-case scenario

Clemson’s worst-case scenario is simple. The Tigers are likely out if they lose to Notre Dame for the second time. That gives Clemson two losses, and no two-loss team has made the Playoff.

Even then, however, Clemson could still have a chance, but a Florida win in the SEC championship game would make that impossible. The SEC would get two Playoff teams at that point. Even if Florida loses, Clemson could get stuck in an argument that includes a two-loss Big 12 champion in either Iowa State or Oklahoma, one-loss Texas A&M and undefeated Cincinnati. Undefeated USC would even have a case at that point.

The Tigers do not want to be in that discussion.

Ohio State’s worst-case scenario

Ohio State is almost there right now. “The Game” against Michigan was canceled, and the Buckeyes are scrambling to find a sixth game in order to meet the Big Ten’s six-game requirement to play in the conference championship game.

Even if the Buckeyes don’t play, they would have a strong Playoff case with the sixth game that will come next weekend — perhaps against Iowa or Wisconsin. If the Big Ten doesn’t waive that requirement, then the Buckeyes could have a problem legitimizing a Playoff case with the committee without a conference title. If Clemson beats Notre Dame and Florida beats Alabama, then the number of games Ohio State has played is going to be a significant point of contention. The Buckeyes would be fine there, so the worst-case scenario is a loss to anybody — whoever those opponents are — over the next two weeks.

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