15 games remaining that will help decide the College Football Playoff
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

15 games remaining that will help decide the College Football Playoff

The preseason Heisman frontrunner has been benched. Alabama and Ohio State have already lost, Cincinnati is ranked No. 2, Clemson is unranked, and there are teams from Athens to Eugene who think they have a shot at a national championship.

Of course, the season is just barely halfway over and there is a lot of important football to be played. Just as Texas A&M popping Bama and Stanford stunning Oregon have shown us, there are trap games all through the schedule and you never know when the next upset will happen. Still, there are games that just look so much more important than others, whether it is contenders facing off against one another or a team with playoff hopes heading on the road for a tough matchup. We broke it down to 15 games that will help decide who gets those coveted four playoff spots.

Warning, it is Big Ten heavy. The league decided to backload its East Division schedule so that Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State (all but Penn State are currently top ten teams) all play each other in the final weeks of the season. Still, there are so many good games on tap all over the country.

 
1 of 16

Iowa at Wisconsin (Oct. 30)

Iowa at Wisconsin (Oct. 30)
Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Iowa's offensive woes bit them against Purdue, but the Hawkeyes are technically still in the race for a playoff spot. Their remaining schedule lacks a matchup against a ranked team, but there are some traps laid out, starting with Wisconsin on Halloween weekend. No, this Badgers team isn't very good but it is still dangerous at home. Iowa's defense can keep them in any game and they still are the favorite to win the Big Ten West and take on a bruised East champ in the title game. Winning the brass bull will be a great start for a run at the division crown. The Badgers have won 7 of 9 in this series, though the Hawkeyes won last year's game.

 
2 of 16

Georgia vs. Florida (Oct. 30)

Georgia vs. Florida (Oct. 30)
Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Georgia's most likely toughest game for the rest of the regular season is their rivalry showdown against Florida in Jacksonville. Florida has struggled a bit of late, losing to Kentucky and LSU, but they are good enough to pull an upset. It is also a great matchup of strengths, as Florida's dual-threat quarterbacks go up against a suffocating Dawgs defense. This series goes through runs. Florida won three straight in the series from 2008 to 2010; Georgia won the next three, Florida the next three and Georgia won from 2017 to 2019. Florida won last year's game and ended Georgia's title hopes. 

 
3 of 16

Penn State at Ohio State (Oct. 30)

Penn State at Ohio State (Oct. 30)
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Here begins the Big Ten storyline. As of now, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State are all ranked in the top ten and all have a legitimate shot at coming out of the East Division and a chance at a Big Ten championship and a College Football Playoff berth. This Penn State-Ohio State game is up first and is a de facto elimination game. The Buckeyes lost to Oregon while Penn State blew a lead in a loss to Iowa and a stunning 9-overtime game to Illinois which makes a loss here devastating to the loser's national title hopes. Ohio State is surging at the moment, with quarterback C.J. Stroud finding his rhythm and Ryan Day's offense clicking. Penn State's defense is stout, but if their offense can click against Ohio State then an upset could happen. 

 
4 of 16

Michigan at Michigan State (Oct. 30)

Michigan at Michigan State (Oct. 30)
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As we dive into the run of must-see Big Ten games, it is important to remember that both the Wolverines and Spartans are two undefeated teams at this point. One will stay that way entering November, but the loser will still have a crack at both Ohio State and Penn State to build their resume if the other one slips up down the road. Both these schools are physical rushing teams with two of the best backs (Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III and Michigan's Blake Corum) in the nation. 

 
5 of 16

Michigan at Penn State (Nov. 13)

Michigan at Penn State (Nov. 13)
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Another Big Ten showdown that will be bigger if Michigan survives earlier tests. The Nittany Lions have won the last two meetings between the two, but the Wolverines walk into this game with arguably their best team since 2018. This should be a brutally physical game on a cold November afternoon. Both Jim Harbaugh and James Franklin have been knocking on the door for a playoff spot and this game could go a long way in deciding who has a chance to play for a spot in the conference title game in two weeks. 

 
6 of 16

Oklahoma at Baylor (Nov. 13)

Oklahoma at Baylor (Nov. 13)
Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Does Lincoln Riley have his team figured out? He better hope so by the time the Sooners travel to Waco to face a Baylor team with their own explosive offense. The Bears' lone loss was to Oklahoma State (more on them in a bit), but they have a top ten rushing offense led by Abram Smith. The Sooners begin a tough four-game stretch that sees them at Baylor, hosting a dangerous Iowa State, then traveling to Oklahoma State before hopefully playing in the Big 12 title game. 

 
7 of 16

NC State at Wake Forest (Nov. 13)

NC State at Wake Forest (Nov. 13)
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Yes. When discussing the important games over the final stretch of the season, NC State at Wake Forest is one of them. I know, the ACC appears to be a complete dumpster fire this season with pre-season favorites Clemson, North Carolina, and Miami falling over themselves from the first week and have been complete bombs ever since. But Pittsburgh, NC State, and Wake Forest have turned into the best teams in the league. The Demon Deacons have beaten nobody this year, but NC State is at least something of a somebody. NC State has already beaten Clemson so far and would love to end Wake Forest's undefeated season. If Wake can go undefeated and win the ACC championship, could they have a better case than someone like Cincinnati? 

 
8 of 16

SMU at Cincinnati (Nov. 20)

SMU at Cincinnati (Nov. 20)
Albert Cesare / The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Right now both teams are undefeated and each has an eye on an AAC title. Cincinnati has a legitimate look at reaching the College Football Playoff berth, so not only is a win over the Mustangs a must, but they likely need to have a convincing win. This is the only big landmine remaining on the Bearcats (who are ranked No. 2 in the AP poll) schedule and Cincy hopes that SMU stays on track and keeps winning to make this a valuable win on their resume. Who knows -- these two could meet again in a couple of weeks for the AAC championship. 

 
9 of 16

Michigan State at Ohio State (Nov. 20)

Michigan State at Ohio State (Nov. 20)
Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

This game is smack dab in the middle of a brutal stretch for Michigan State. After their showdown with Michigan, they travel to Purdue (who recently knocked off Iowa), host Maryland before this game ... then next week host Penn State. No one expected the Spartans to be a top ten team nor in a position to nab a playoff spot. Of course, as we get to this game that all could change. It is still a big game as Michigan State has the goods to topple an Ohio State whose defense isn't as good as it typically is. This will be a must-win game for both teams. The Buckeyes have won five straight over the Spartans, with the last four wins coming in blowouts. 

 
10 of 16

Oregon at Utah (Nov. 20)

Oregon at Utah (Nov. 20)
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon hasn't really looked strong lately. They gave away a win against Stanford and were kind of mediocre against California after a bye week. This Utah game looks to be the toughest game left on their schedule, though a road trip to UCLA and Washington loom before this one in Salt Lake. Utah's defense is formidable and can slow down a suddenly sluggish Quack Attack. The Utes are currently leading the Pac-12 South Division, so these two could meet up again in Las Vegas for the conference championship. It goes without saying that Oregon needs to win out and it wouldn't hurt for Ohio State ... which Oregon beat in Columbus ... to become Big Ten champions to help prop up the Ducks' playoff case. 

 
11 of 16

Wake Forest at Clemson (Nov. 20)

Wake Forest at Clemson (Nov. 20)
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Typically we'd be talking about Clemson's side of this meeting for its importance, but it is Wake Forest that has a better chance at reaching the playoff. The Demon Deacons are undefeated, though they haven't beaten anyone of note. The second half of their schedule is more daunting, with this Clemson game at the end of a stretch where they travel to North Carolina and host NC State. NC State is ranked right now and Clemson still is a name, so it isn't out of the possibility for Wake Forest to sneak into the playoff as an undefeated ACC team. Clemson's offense is still really bad, but the defense is good enough to be a problem for anyone. A great test for quarterback Sam Hartman.

 
12 of 16

Alabama at Auburn (Nov. 27)

Alabama at Auburn (Nov. 27)
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Let me start out by saying that November 27th should be one heck of a day in college football (as you'll see in a bit). Let's start the day out with the Iron Bowl. Alabama spent the bulk of the season as the overwhelming favorite to win another national championship ... until they lost at unranked Texas A&M. Now not only is there a scramble to climb back up into contention, but Alabama has no room for error. With a possible showdown against Georgia in the SEC title game lurking, Bama has to win out if they want to repeat as champions. Auburn isn't on Alabama's level this year, but they are always a thorn in Nick Saban's side. Three times in the last decade has a top-five ranked Alabama team gone into Auburn and left with a loss. 

 
13 of 16

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Nov. 27)

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Nov. 27)
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Bedlam. This year's Bedlam already meant more than usual with Oklahoma's announcement they are moving to the SEC ... at some point. It could mean even more with a Big 12 title on the line. Oklahoma has made a stunning move to replace pre-season Heisman favorite Spencer Rattler at quarterback with Caleb Williams. The move has lit a spark for the Sooners and has the offense more explosive as the season rolls along. The Cowboys just lost their first game of the season to Iowa State last week, plus head coach Mike Gundy has lost 14 of 16 to the Sooners during his tenure in Stillwater. To have any chance to make the playoff, he'd likely have to win this game, then turn around and beat the Sooners again in the Big 12 title game. 

 
14 of 16

Penn State at Michigan State (Nov. 27)

Penn State at Michigan State (Nov. 27)
Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

While another rivalry game will be going on that day, the Penn State-Michigan State may actually be the one with a playoff berth on the line. Depending on how we got here, the darkhorse Spartans could be playing for a surprise trip to the Big Ten title game. Penn State, who just lost to Illinois, wants to play spoiler to their conference rival. 

 
15 of 16

Ohio State at Michigan (Nov. 27)

Ohio State at Michigan (Nov. 27)
Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press, Detroit Free Press via Imagn Content Services, LLC

This could be a pseudo-playoff game in itself in things break right. The Buckeyes-Wolverines showdown in the finale could determine who gets to play in the Big Ten championship game and will likely eliminate the loser from any shot at a playoff berth. Michigan was in this boat in 2018 and got soundly spanked by Ohio State, 62-39. There was no meeting last year as Michigan couldn't play due to COVID issues (and there's some rivalry ribbing over that) which will make this matchup one of the most anticipated in years.

 
16 of 16

Conference championship weekend (Dec. 3-4)

Conference championship weekend (Dec. 3-4)
Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

After those 15 games have been played (as well as hundreds of others) we will have what could be one of the most epic championship weekends in memory.

We could have Georgia and Alabama facing off in the SEC championship game with the winner clinching a playoff spot and the loser likely having a shot at still getting in. The Big 12 title game will feature the two best teams in the conference, which means Oklahoma could be playing for their playoff life against Oklahoma State, Iowa State, or Baylor. What kind of chaos will we see setting up the Big Ten championship? Oh, and Cincinnati could be on the doorstep of becoming the first Group of 5 team reaching the playoff if they can cap off an undefeated season in the AAC title game.

That doesn't even mention the possibility of Wake Forest also trying to go undefeated in the ACC championship, or Oregon attempting to lock in a playoff spot in the Pac 12 title game on a Friday night in Las Vegas.

The point is that we have a long way to get to that first weekend in December. Buckle up. 

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