There is just one game left in the season, and there are true few scenarios left. In all honesty, only seven — maybe an eight, but we’ll get to that — schools have a real shot at the Playoff, and four of those are in the Big Ten. Alabama and Ohio State are locks. Clemson and Washington are win and in. After that, it’s a whole lot of Big Ten waiting in the wings.
College Football Rooting Interests: Week 14
Clemson — There’s not much to root for here, honestly. Win and get in. If you compare resumes, maybe Clemson has a case at backing its way in if Washington also loses, but that’s the longest of long shots. Just win, and don’t worry about any other games. Also, Alabama has no rooting interests this week. If Tide fans have a preference about who they want to face in the semifinals, that’s fine. But Alabama is a lock, so there’s no reason to worry about any game outside of Atlanta for Tide fans.
Ohio State — You’re in. Just relax and enjoy the weekend. If you’re still a little nervous at getting jumped by three conference champions, root for an upset. Any upset will do. Even Alabama losing would be enough. I’m pretty sure that the committee will never be able to leave out a consensus No. 2 team. But I can 100% guarantee that the committee won’t leave out a consensus No. 1. Remember all the hubbub when the BCS left out No. 1 USC in 2003? Well, leaving the No. 1 team out of a four-team playoff would be, quite literally, twice as bad.
Michigan — You’re rooting for at least one upset this weekend (not including Alabama), but two would make it feel a lot safer. Michigan will have no guarantees coming into Selection Sunday no matter what happens this weekend, but if both Washington and Clemson lose, the Wolverines should be feeling pretty safe. It’s hard to guess who Michigan should root for in the Big Ten Championship Game. On the one hand, Michigan dominated Penn State in a way that would have to give the committee extreme pause before selecting the Nittany Lions over the Wolverines. On the other hand, Penn State has a better collection of wins than Wisconsin, so it’s pretty much a wash.
Penn State and Wisconsin — The winner of this game needs to see either Clemson or Washington lose. If that happens, there will be some biting nails while waiting on Sunday. Both of these teams lost to Michigan and neither has as many Top 10 wins as the Wolverines — though Penn State has a legitimate argument that it has more wins over Top 25/fringe Top 25 teams than the Wolverines do (Ohio State, Pitt, Iowa, plus Wisconsin if it wins this game). In fact, Penn State has beaten both teams that beat Michigan this season. If both Clemson and Washington lose, the Big Ten winner should be safely in the Playoff–but Penn State and Wisconsin fans should be rooting that Colorado doesn’t beat Washington by too much (more on that later).
Washington — Washington also has no reason to watch any other game this week. If the Huskies win, they’re in the Playoff. Lose, and it’s the Cotton Bowl (unless Colorado sneaks into the Playoff).
Colorado — This is the most interesting team this weekend. The Colorado Buffaloes should have no path to the Playoff. There is almost no reason that a win over Washington would jump the Big Ten champion. As I pointed out in Bubble Watch, though, Colorado’s resume is pretty similar to Wisconsin’s — so the Buffaloes should be rooting hard for the Badgers to win on Saturday night. Of course, Wisconsin can’t win too convincingly, because that would deter the committee from jumping anyone over the Badgers. Also, it would be hard to see Colorado jump Michigan. Michigan has three Top 10 wins (to Colorado’s one, if it beats Washington) and a head-to-head win over the Buffs. Colorado definitely can’t jump Alabama or Ohio State.
So how can Colorado make the Playoff? First, the Buffaloes need to beat Washington in convincing fashion — as or more convincing than USC did three weeks ago. Second, Clemson obviously needs to lose. Finally, the Buffaloes need to hope that the committee seriously balks at the idea of putting three Big Ten teams in the Playoff. The current rankings indicate that they don’t mind too much, but there’s a big difference between hinting that you’re willing to do something viewed as radical and actually doing it. Lastly, Colorado probably needs Wisconsin to be the Big Ten champion, and in an ugly way. The committee will be looking for an excuse to jump Colorado over a Big Ten team. It won’t have an excuse to jump Colorado over Michigan. It certainly won’t have one to jump the Buffaloes over Ohio State. Jumping over Penn State will be tough — yes, the Nittany Lions have worse losses, but they also have a much better collection of wins. Wisconsin is still, in a sense, living off the credibility it gained for beating Michigan State. If the committee goes over these resumes with a fine-toothed comb, maybe there are hairs to split that can put Colorado ahead of Wisconsin. Maybe.