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TCU's Path to the College Football Playoff: An Updated Look

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The Horned Frogs are in the drivers' seat, sitting at No. 4, but with four action-packed weeks left things could get crazy down the home stretch.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Gary Patterson put it best yesterday in his weekly press conference.

It's a lot easier to be the hunter than the hunted

That's what TCU is, sitting at No. 4 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. They're the hunted. And they're not only being hunted by No. 7 Baylor, but also No. 5 Alabama, No. 6 Arizona State, and No. 8 Ohio State. It doesn't help that in this instance, winning out doesn't necessarily mean you're in. Taking a look at the remaining schedules of these five teams reveals quite a bit. Let's start by looking at TCU and Baylor.

Here are the remaining schedules for the Big 12 frontrunners, along with their win probability as projected by Football Study Hall.

Date

No. 4 TCU (8-1, 5-1)

F/+ Win Probability

No. 7 Baylor (8-1, 5-1)

F/+ Win Probability

11/15

at Kansas (3-6, 1-5)

98.6%

BYE

11/22

BYE

vs. Oklahoma State (5-4, 3-3)

98.2%

11/29

at Texas (5-5, 4-3) (Nov. 27)

93.4%

vs. Texas Tech (3-6, 1-5)

97.6%

12/6

vs. Iowa State (2-7, 0-6)

98.6%

vs. No. 13 Kansas State (7-2, 5-1)

80.9%

TCU has an advantage insofar as their remaining schedule is easier, which means they're more likely to win out than Baylor. However, Baylor has the hardest remaining game (vs. Kansas State) the final week of the season, and a dominating win, heck, even just a normal win, could be enough to propel them ahead of TCU in the CFP standings.

However, it is very clear at this point that Baylor has been negatively effected by their non-conference schedule. SMU, Buffalo and Northwestern State are a combined 9-19, and that hasn't been good for the Bears, according to the committee. As for all the Baylor fans shouting about head-to-head, Jeff Long, Chariman of the committee, says that head-to-head will only be considered if all else is equal:

It's largely due to the two top-25 wins that TCU has and their overall schedule. Baylor, obviously, has only one top-25 win. Head-to-head comes into play when all other things are equal. So if they are equal in the eyes of the committee, then we will use that head-to-head to make that determination. But at this point, I think three consecutive weeks, we've said that [Baylor's] body of work, their strength of schedule is not the same. They've gotten closer together. Thus far, head-to-head has not been a determining factor.

A Baylor loss would, for the most part, seal the deal for the Frogs, but it is far from the only thing that could help TCU out. That brings us to the other three schools to keep an eye on in the rearview mirror. Granted, Baylor winning out doesn't doom the Frogs, because the Big 12 won't submit a conference champion to the committee, or lobby on behalf of one team.

Date

No. 5 Alabama (8-1, 5-1)

F/+ Win Probability

No. 6 Arizona State (8-1, 5-1)

F/+ Win Probability

No 8 Ohio State (8-1, 5-1)

F/+ Win Probability

11/15

at No. 1 Miss. St. (9-0, 5-0)

68.3%

at Oregon State (4-5, 1-5)

92.1%

at No. 25 Minnesota (7-2, 4-1)

84.7%

11/22

vs. W. Carolina (6-4)

98.6%

vs. Washington St. (3-7, 2-5)

97.3%

vs. Indiana (3-6, 0-5)

98.6%

11/29

vs. No. 9 Auburn (7-2, 4-2)

67.5%

at No. 14 Arizona (7-2, 4-2)

66.0%

vs. Michigan (5-5, 3-3)

98.0%

12/6

SEC Championship

Pac-12 Championship

Big Ten Championship

The two games that have the potential to benefit TCU the most are both happening this weekend, when Mississippi State and Alabama, and Ohio State and Minnesota face off.

As far the MSU-Bama game goes, TCU could benefit regardless of who wins. Obviously, if Mississippi State wins it gives Alabama their second loss of the season, which would probably drop them to somewhere in the 9-10 range in the rankings. The second loss, as long as MIssissippi State doesn't incur more than one along the way, should eliminate Alabama from playoff contention.

However, if Alabama wins, it will be interesting to see how far Mississippi State falls. You see, their non-conference schedule (Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama, Tennessee-Martin, combined record of 18-22) is just as bad, if not worse due to the fact that they had four games, as Baylor's. So, if they lose they could be punished in similar fashion to the Bears and fall a few spots more than another team would. A blowout either way though would definitely help TCU's cause.

No. 25 Minnesota hosts No. 8 Ohio State this weekend as well, and a Gopher win could be the biggest boost to TCU's playoff hopes. Granted, it's quite the long shot, as Minnesota only has a 15.3% win probability, even though the game is in Minnesota. The forecast for the game is 28-degrees with a 20% chance of snow/precipitation, according to The Weather Channel. Both teams are run-heavy teams ranked in the top-30 for rushing, with Ohio State averaging 260 rushing yards per game, and Minnesota averaging 224 rushing yards per game.

Meanwhile, both teams rank outside the top 50 in passing, so we should see a grind-it-out, old school ballgame this Saturday. You never know what could happen in college football, and a MInnesota win would be huge.

Of course, if the Gophers lose on Saturday it's not the last chance for them to help out the Frogs. They still have games against No. 16 Nebraska and No. 20 Wisconsin left this season, and a win against either of them would make TCU look good. Currently, Minnesota has a 19% chance of beating the Huskers, and a 21% chance of beating Wisconsin.

Arizona State still has to get through Arizona and Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game to have a shot at the Playoff, but a 35-point home loss to UCLA may have already done enough damage to keep them out.

However, as we witnessed this weekend, just winning doesn't keep you where you are. Florida State found out the hard way, dropping from No. 2 to No. 3 despite being a perfect 9-0. The Noles are coming off of back-to-back mediocre performances and they've been punished for it. Florida State hasn't looked very good, and this week they face a Miami team in Miami that could very well upset them. Get this, Miami actually has a 61% win probability over FSU this weekend.

If that were to happen, the Noles would most certainly fall out of the top 6, allowing TCU to move up to No. 3. A Miami win would push TCU to No. 3 almost certainly, because Arizona State wouldn't jump them for beating Oregon State, and Baylor is on a Bye. Not to mention, if Mississippi State loses Alabama will jump TCU, but the Bulldogs will fall beyond No. 3 (most likely). And, obviously, if Alabama loses they won't jump the Frogs.

So the biggest games to watch this weekend, besides TCU-Kansas? Mississippi State-Alabama, Ohio State-Minnesota, and Florida State-Miami.

Things are pointing up for the Frogs, and they could very well continue to do so after this weekend.