In the second edition of the College Football Playoff rankings, North Carolina moved up four spots to #17. While they are almost assuredly out of contention for the playoff, they still could get up into the New Year’s Six. It firstly requires UNC winning out. It also needs a little chaos from the rest of the country.
The most straight forward path into the NYS would probably be to get that guaranteed ACC spot in the Orange Bowl.
At this point, that probably would need Clemson and Louisville to both get into the playoff in order to go to Miami. North Carolina is close enough to Virginia Tech, that they may jump them if the Hokies go to and then lose the ACC Championship Game. However, it’s not out of the question that they reward Virginia TEch for beating UNC and winning the Coastal and keep them ahead of the Tar Heels. If the Hokies lose before that and UNC goes and loses the ACC title game, that probably eliminates that scenario.
As for the two ACC playoff teams part, that needs Michigan and Ohio State both to lose games down the stretch and both miss the Big Ten Championship game in favor of Penn State. At that point, Louisville might get the fourth spot in the playoffs, unless a two-loss conference champion gets chosen over them, which is not impossible.
Of course Louisville could also lose multiple games down the stretch and knock themselves out of the playoff and the New Year’s Six picture entirely, but that seems unlikely given who they have left to play.
Another way into the New Year’s Six would be to get an at-large spot in the Cotton Bowl. That one is a little less likely. The other three non-playoff New Year’s Six games all have ties in to specific conferences. The Cotton Bowl does not, however one of those spots will go to a Group of Five team. That leaves one at-large spot.
UNC getting that would require meltdowns from multiple of the Texas A&M, Auburn, Penn State, Oklahoma, Colorado, Oklahoma State, Utah and West Virginia group of teams. That’s not even counting the possibility that the teams that beat that group jump UNC. All of those teams knocking themselves out of contention seems unlikely, but you never know.
The main problem is that North Carolina doesn’t have a potential win left on their regular season schedule that vault them up multiple spots on its own. That doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility that they move up, though. UNC went from unranked to 10th in the final Playoff poll last season without a truly marquee win.
Of course, the other scenario is that they could win the ACC and get at least the Orange Bowl no matter what. That would be nice.