College Football Preview: A Dozen Games That Could Decide the CFP


Aug 31, 2023

The College Football season is a long and winding road. One full of marquee matchups, rivalries, and upsets is to come.

Georgia (-220 @FanDuel) is the only team at minus money to make the College Football Playoffs in 2023, followed by Ohio State (+115), Michigan (+125), Alabama (+155), and USC (+250). They headline a group of 16 teams with odds of +1000 or shorter to make the CFP with Texas (+320), Clemson (+320), LSU (+340), Florida State (+380), Penn State (+460), Oregon (+600), Washington (+650), Notre Dame (+750), Oklahoma (+850), Tennessee (+1000), and Utah (+1000) rounding out the list of contenders.

It’s hard to pinpoint this early in the calendar which games and outcomes will have playoff ramifications, but it’s fun trying! Here are 12 matchups in 2023 that could decide the four CFP teams.  

1) #3 Ohio State Buckeyes @ #2 Michigan Wolverines (Nov. 25)

The Game is the best in terms of the preseason rankings. While the outcome of last year’s matchup didn’t matter much regarding the CFP (both teams made it), that likely won’t be the case unless both teams are undefeated again. At least one of these teams will be in the playoff hunt going into the finale, likely both.

SuperBook Look Ahead Line: Michigan -2.5 

2) #5 LSU Tigers @ #4 Alabama Crimson Tide (Nov. 4)

The winner in Tuscaloosa is the likely SEC West champ, which means they will get a crack at the SEC East representative (#1 Georgia?) in the conference title game. The last time the SEC champion didn’t play for the national title (BCS Championship Game or CFP) was 2005.

SuperBook Look Ahead Line: Alabama -7

3) #2 Michigan Wolverines @ #7 Penn State Nittany Lions (Nov. 11)

This is Michigan’s first test of the season, and the winner of this game will be looking good, with an excellent chance of reaching at least 11 wins. Is that enough to win the Big Ten East? Will it matter in terms of making the CFP? We’ll need to wait for those answers, as the B1G East could have two teams make the playoffs for the second straight year.

SuperBook Look Ahead Line: Michigan -2.5

4) #5 LSU Tigers vs. #8 Florida State Seminoles (Sept. 3)

It’s a substantial early feather in the cap for the winner, and it shouldn’t be an elimination game for the loser. Still, it does narrow the margin of error, especially for LSU, which has three more games against ranked teams, not including a potential SEC Championship Game appearance.

FanDuel Line: LSU -2.5 

5) #7 Penn State Nittany Lions @ #3 Ohio State Buckeyes (Nov. 11)

A third top-10 Big Ten East matchup. Penn State has played Ohio State tough over the years, but James Franklin has only one win against the Buckeyes, and he will need to pull off at least one upset in 2023 if the Nittany Lions are to crack the CFP for the first time.

SuperBook Look Ahead Line: Ohio State -9.5 

6) #11 Texas Longhorns @ #4 Alabama Crimson Tide (Sept. 9)

Is Texas back? We’ll find out very soon. The Longhorns sit just outside the top 10 and will quickly join the CFP conversation if they pull off the upset in Tuscaloosa or even play ‘Bama within one score. A Tide loss would put pressure on Alabama to run the table if they want to make it back to the playoffs.

SuperBook Look Ahead Line: Alabama -7 

7) #3 Ohio State Buckeyes @ #13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Sept. 23)

Despite their impressive opening win over Navy in Ireland, the oddsmakers aren’t high on the Irish as a national title contender…yet. An upset over Ohio State would be a statement win for Notre Dame. This is the first of three road games against ranked teams for the Buckeyes, who can’t afford a slip-up.

SuperBook Look Ahead Line: Ohio State -7.5

8) #8 Florida State Seminoles @ #9 Clemson Tigers (Sept. 23)

It’s a challenging first four weeks for Florida State, who could play an early CFP elimination game (depending on their W1 result). But don’t punch the winner’s ticket to the playoffs, as these rivals will likely meet again in the ACC Championship Game.

SuperBook Look Ahead Line: Clemson -3 

9) #12 Tennessee Volunteers @ #4 Alabama Crimson Tide (Oct. 21)

So many questions… Can Tennessee do it again? Will Alabama have a depth chart by then? This is the biggest SEC inter-division game, which will undoubtedly have SEC title ramifications and could have CFP implications. 

SuperBook Look Ahead Line: Alabama -10

10) #1 Georgia Bulldogs @ #12 Tennessee Volunteers (Nov. 18)

Yes, the Dawgs handled the Vols much easier than the 27-13 final score indicated. That one was between the hedges. This year, they play in Rocky Top, where Josh Heupel’s offense hung 52 on Nick Saban’s defense. This is UGA’s most challenging regular-season game (only game with a spread under ten, barely) and an opportunity for Tennessee to vault themselves into the convo.

SuperBook Look Ahead Line: Georgia -9.5

11) #6 USC Trojans @ #15 Oregon Ducks (Nov. 11)

It’s the only game that USC is the underdog in going into the season and the final of four second-half contests against ranked teams and potential CFP contenders. If they’re not undefeated, it becomes a must-win for the Trojans, and if they are…oh baby, buckle up. It’s a massive opportunity for the Ducks if they want to emerge as a playoff sleeper.

SuperBook Look Ahead Line: Oregon -1.5 

12) #11 Texas Longhorns (-7) vs. #20 Oklahoma Sooners (Oct. 7)

Unless the ‘Horns upset Alabama in Week 2, they will have to run the table in Big 12 to make their first CFP appearance. OU has been there before, and to make a return, they will probably have to upset Texas, one of only two preseason-ranked teams on what is an easy schedule.  

SuperBook Look Ahead Line: Texas -7

20 More Impact Matchups

#25 Iowa Hawkeyes @ (-12.5) #7 Penn State Nittany Lions (Sept. 23)

#5 LSU Tigers (-4.5) @ #22 Ole Miss (Sept. 30)

#1 Georgia Bulldogs (-19.5) @ Auburn Tigers (Sept. 30)

#2 Michigan Wolverines (-13.5) @ Minnesota Golden Gophers (Oct. 7)

#4 Alabama Crimson Tide (-7.5) @ #23 Texas A&M Aggies (Oct. 7)

#6 USC Trojans PK @ #13 Notre Fighting Irish (Oct. 14)

#15 Oregon Ducks @ (NL) #10 Washington Huskies (Oct. 14)

#14 Utah Utes @ (-6) #6 USC Trojans (Oct. 21)

#3 Ohio State Buckeyes (-9.5) @ #19 Wisconsin Badgers (Oct. 28)

#15 Oregon Ducks @ (-2.5) #14 Utah Utes (Oct. 28)

#10 Washington Huskies @ (-6.5) #6 USC Trojans (Nov. 4)

#13 Notre Fighting Irish @ (-6.5) #9 Clemson Tigers (Nov. 4)

#8 Florida State Seminoles (-6.5) @ Pittsburgh Panthers (Nov. 4)

#11 Texas Longhorns (-7) @ #17 TCU Horned Frogs (Nov. 11)

#14 Utah Utes @ (-3.5) #10 Washington Huskies (Nov. 11)

#21 North Carolina Tar Heels @ (-12.5) #9 Clemson Tigers (Nov. 18)

#10 Washington Huskies (-1) @ #18 Oregon State (Nov. 18)

#23 Texas A&M Aggies @ (-9.5) #5 LSU Tigers (Nov. 25)

#9 Clemson Tigers (-7.5) @ South Carolina (Nov. 25)

UCLA Bruins @ (-11.5) #6 USC Trojans (Nov. 18)

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Thumbnail photo via Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

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