The best time of the year for college football is upon us. Rivalry Week is here, and many of the games will impact who makes the conference championship games and in turn, the College Football Playoff. Then, we’ll have 39 bowl games, including the CFP. So let’s look at what’s most important in the sport right now: the current College Football Playoff picture.
This is how I expect the College Football Playoff rankings to look on Tuesday night: 1) Alabama, 2) Michigan, 3) Ohio State, 4) Clemson, 5) Washington, 6) Oklahoma, 7) Wisconsin, 8) Colorado, 9) Penn State, 10) Southern California. I believe the top 5 control their own destiny (with the loser of Michigan-Ohio State falling into the still alive but needing help category), while teams 6-10 are the “Still Alive Five”: they have a shot, but they need a win and some help.
First, an assumption: a 1-loss Ohio State gets into the playoff even if, with a win over Michigan, they miss the Big Ten title game by Penn State beating Michigan State, giving Penn State the Big Ten East.
So now, how could the “still alive” teams get in? Let me say this first: they all must win this weekend in order to stay alive. Beyond that, there are too many possible scenarios to count, so I’ll detail what I believe are the simplest ways for these teams to make the playoffs.
Now, let’s look at the “Still Alive Five” one by one.
Oklahoma: Because the Big 12 doesn’t play a championship game, Oklahoma is in the precarious position of potentially being jumped by a team who enters next weekend with a lower ranking but wins its championship game.
First things first, Oklahoma must beat Oklahoma State this weekend. Then, they need Michigan to beat Ohio State. This would likely eliminate Ohio State AND certainly Penn State, who then wouldn’t go to the Big Ten Title game. It would also be very helpful to Oklahoma if Washington State beats Washington. This would set up a Pac 12 title matchup of Washington State vs. USC or Colorado. In this game, Sooners fans would root for Washington State to win. Washington, Colorado, and USC would all be eliminated in this scenario. Finally, if Michigan beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, Wisconsin would be eliminated (but the reverse may not be true). That would leave us with Alabama, Michigan, Clemson, and Oklahoma… almost the same CFP as last year.
It’s more straightforward for the rest of the Still Alive Five because their conferences all play a championship game. Winning that game is essential for any of them to have a shot. Here’s what else would need to happen.
Wisconsin: Like Oklahoma, they need Michigan to beat Ohio State. This would eliminate Ohio State and Penn State, with the Big Ten title game being between Michigan and Wisconsin. Then, they need to beat Michigan. They would benefit from the Pac 12 scenario I described for Oklahoma, too. If Clemson and Oklahoma win out, this leaves us with Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin as our final four.
Colorado: Let’s start with this weekend, when the Buffaloes would love it if Oklahoma loses to Oklahoma State. Then, the Buffaloes need Michigan to advance to the Big Ten title game and beat Wisconsin there. This rules out Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Washington and USC are ruled out by Colorado winning the Pac 12 title. The CFP is then Alabama, Michigan, Clemson, and Colorado.
Penn State: The one and only team of the Still Alive Five that needs Ohio State to beat Michigan, because that’s their only path to the conference championship game. For this reason, Penn State has a tougher road than any of the others, because one fewer CFP spot would remain as we approach the conference title games. They would need a Pac 12 title game that involves Washington State beating USC or Colorado (eliminating Washington too), and an Oklahoma loss to Oklahoma State. This would give us Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, and Clemson.
And finally, Southern Cal: Yes, a 3-loss team has a shot at the CFP. Hardly anyone in the country is playing better than USC right now. So what do they need? First and foremost, USC gets into the Pac 12 title game if Utah beats Colorado. Then, USC must win that game. But first, Trojans fans should also root for Michigan to beat Ohio State and to then defeat Wisconsin for the Big Ten title, in order to avoid any scenario where the Big Ten gets two teams in the playoffs. One other result USC needs is for Oklahoma State to beat Oklahoma. I believe that then, we would see Alabama, Michigan, Clemson, and USC battling for the championship.
Does this sound like a lot? I’ve said more than a mouthful here in talking about the chaos that could take place to shake up the CFP picture over the final two weeks. But, the short history of the CFP shows us that these scenarios aren’t so far-fetched. At this point in 2014, very few people thought Ohio State would make the playoffs, and all they did was go on to win the first-ever CFP championship. Oklahoma was considered a long shot to make the CFP at this point last year, and they did. So, I can’t wait to see how everything shakes out, and I know you can’t either. Before you do that, join me again on Tuesday night as I give you my CFP and New Year’s Six projection.