One out of the four College Football Playoff positions is clear. Alabama will be playing in a semifinal game, even if it loses to Florida in the SEC Championship Game.
A second team is almost as clear. Ohio State is as consensus a No. 2 team as you can have. If this was the BCS era, Ohio State would have had one of the biggest leads over a third-place team in the entire history of the BCS. And yet, some are clamoring for the Buckeyes to be left out in favor of a two-loss Big Ten champion. Ohio State’s four Top 25 wins is the most of any team in the country this year. Ohio State is one of four P5 teams with zero or one losses. This should be open-and-shut.
And yet, it’s not, and only because history has put the selection committee in a pickle. The first eight teams in the College Football Playoff were all conference champions. However, that was as much a function of circumstance as it was a statement of precedent. Last year, four teams had resumes that were far superior to all others. No one else was even close, really. Two years ago, there were six teams with zero or one losses, all of whom had solid-to-good resumes, and all of whom were conference champions. Again, there was no room to debate a team that didn’t win its conference getting in.
This year, it also should be obvious. Ohio State is one of the four best teams in the country. There is no question about that. Ohio State has one of the best four resumes in the country. There is no question about that either. The Buckeyes should be a lock, but we can’t 100% guarantee that the committee won’t fall victim to the unfortunate precedent that history has set for it.
As for the last two spots, things can get a little dicey. Clemson is in with a win over Virginia Tech; that much is guaranteed. After that, we could see something interesting. Wisconsin would have a resume that is very comparable to Washington’s if those two both win this weekend. However, the committee has never shown an interest in jumping the two-loss Badgers over the one-loss Huskies, and I don’t expect that to change this week. If all we’re adding to the resumes is a win over Colorado for Washington and a win over Penn State for Wisconsin, then I don’t see why the committee would suddenly favor the Badgers. Washington should be in with a win as well.
The real discussion starts with what happens if either Clemson or Washington (or both) loses this weekend. The obvious first successor would seem to be the Big Ten champion. However, obvious isn’t so obvious here. Michigan, after losing two of its last three games, still will own a head-to-head win over the eventual Big Ten champion. Michigan would also own a win over Colorado, who would be one of the Playoff contenders if the Buffaloes defeat Washington. Colorado, in its own right, could have as many as four ranked wins, but three of those (Stanford, Utah, and Washington State) will be at the tail end of the rankings, if ranked at all.
If we’re honestly taking the full season into account, Michigan still has the best resume of any two-loss team. The Wolverines have beaten three Top 10 teams. One of the losses is, with little question, the best loss in the country (in 2OT on the road against the No. 2 team) and the other loss doesn’t look nearly as bad as it did three weeks ago. The only real thing stopping the committee from leaving Michigan as the “first team out” next week would be a feeling that the Wolverines didn’t really earn it in November. While that’s how a lot of teams and fans definitely feel, if the claim is truly that “every game matters,” then the Wolverines have to be smack in the thick of the next in line if Clemson or Washington — especially Washington — loses.
That being said, there’s no way to even close to definitively predict that the committee will treat Michigan that way. After all, it still will rub fans very much the wrong way. We’ll just have to wait and see how far the committee drops Michigan this week and if Hocutt gives any hint about its current Playoff chances. It wouldn’t surprise me if the committee kept Michigan at No. 3, but it also wouldn’t surprise me (well, not too much) if the committee dropped Michigan behind a Wisconsin or Colorado team that the Wolverines have beaten.
Week 13 CFP Implications: Teams Remaining in College Football Playoff Contention
Last week, there were 11 teams remaining in Playoff contention. With one elimination this week (Florida), we are now down to just ten teams. And I know I haven’t eliminated Western Michigan (and won’t until the Broncos lose), but it doesn’t have a shot at the Playoff this season no matter how much chaos happens, but I refuse to “eliminate” an undefeated team, even if there’s no chance.
Big 12: Oklahoma
Big Ten: Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State
Conference USA: None
MAC: Western Michigan
Mountain West: None
Pac-12: Washington, Colorado
Sun Belt: None
This list is a little unfair, though. Western Michigan isn’t getting in, which drops us down to nine contenders. And Oklahoma just won’t have the resume necessary to get in even if we see total chaos this week. The Sooners will have a maximum two ranked wins, which is less than every other contender. In addition, the Sooners loss to Houston is one of the worst losses that any contender has (I’ll put it on par with Michigan’s loss to Iowa and Penn State’s loss to Pitt). Oklahoma’s SOS is not superior to that of either Big Ten team in question. It’s hard to imagine Oklahoma moving up to No. 4 with a win this weekend. It seems unlikely that the Sooners jump Michigan or the Big Ten champion, let alone Ohio State. In fact, I’m not sure why Oklahoma should jump Clemson if the Tigers lose this week. To put it simply: Oklahoma likely will only have three wins over teams with winning records this year (unless TCU or Baylor can pull an upset this weekend). Michigan has three Top 10 wins, Clemson has three ranked wins. Why should Oklahoma jump either?
Is it time to talk about three Big Ten teams?
I won’t go too deeply into this, because at this point the committee will just be splitting hairs and it’s entirely possible that the committee will leave out a Big Ten team solely because of “optics,” but if both Clemson and Washington lose this week then three Big Ten teams (Ohio State, Michigan, and the Penn State vs Wisconsin winner) will probably have three of the four best resumes in the country. Comparing Colorado’s resume to the Big Ten champion’s would be very interesting, and the Buffaloes may in fact have a better overall resume than Penn State or Wisconsin. On the other hand, that leads to another major optics issue — will the committee really take two Big Ten teams, neither one being the conference champion?
It is abundantly clear in all computer rankings and advanced metrics that neither of the best two teams in the Big Ten will be playing in Indianapolis on Saturday night. The Big Ten’s best two teams, without question, played in Columbus last Saturday. Ohio State and Michigan both have better wins than both Penn State and Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s losses are better than Michigan’s, but not by nearly enough to make up the gap in quality wins. Would the committee really leave out a Big Ten champion in favor of Ohio State or Michigan? Would the committee really leave out a Michigan team in favor of a Big Ten champion that it beat — especially in Penn State’s case, when Michigan won that game by 39 points.
The committee will be in a serious pickle if Clemson and Washington both lose this week. Even if just one loses, picking between Michigan and the Big Ten champion will be a difficult — and fascinating — decision. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the room where that’s discussed.
Group of 5 chaos
Western Michigan seems on its way to locking up a Cotton Bowl bid. Navy might be close, but conventional wisdom is that an undefeated season has to be rewarded. It’s not like Western Michigan played no one, either — the Broncos beat two Big Ten schools, one of whom actually finished with a winning record in-conference (Northwestern). If the Broncos lose to Ohio, though, the committee will default to Navy, who has an awful defense but potent offense out of the AAC. That leaves the committee in the awkward position of probably having to wait a week, until the Army/Navy game, before solidifying the Cotton Bowl, which would wreak havoc on bowl matchups around the country. (Then again, even at 10-3 Navy’s resume might be superior to all other G5 conference champions anyway.) If Navy were to also lose to Temple this weekend, it really is up in the air. Temple is not a bad option, but that could mean a regular-season rematch against Penn State. Also, if Western Kentucky wins Conference USA the Hilltoppers might have a resume that can compete with Temple. The committee’s choice won’t be too difficult or controversial either way, but you can bet that Cotton Bowl executives and CFP officials are cringing at the thought of having Western Kentucky or Temple in an New Years’ Six bowl. If we do see one of those teams — and they get blown out — there may end up being a push to have the Group of 5 representative be the best team, regardless of conference championship. Boise State, even with its loss to Air Force this past weekend, is still certainly the most tempting team (after Western Michigan and Navy) to an NY6 Bowl.
What to look for in Week 14
Honestly, watch everything. Just about every game matters. Every Big 12 game will affect the Bedlam winner’s resume. Every championship game will affect bowl seeding or Playoff position. I’ll be back Thursday with rooting interests so every team with Playoff hopes can know what to look for in specific games this week. But it all matters, a lot, which is why it’s one of the best weeks in college football, every year.