The college football season is down to the end. Two weeks ago everything was a mess when the #2, 3, and 4 all lost the same weekend as Washington lost to USC, Clemson lost to Pitt on a last second field goal, and Michigan lost to Iowa on the same thing.
Now it’s the final weekend and the playoff picture has been significantly clarified in the past few weeks as Louisville and Michigan stumbled to the finish line.
Both were, at some point, considered among the top 4. Some thought Louisville was better than Clemson even though Clemson beat them. Louisville put that argument to bed when they got embarrassed at Houston.
Michigan was the best team in the country according to some, or at least the only team that could challenge Alabama. Then they lost to Iowa.
Yes, you read that right. Iowa.
Losing to Iowa isn’t the worst thing in the world.’ (Cough … Appalachian State … Cough). But it’s close when you are trying to stake a claim to a top 4 spot in the CFP.
Then Michigan lost to Ohio State, in a game that was essentially a playoff game: You win and you are in; you lose and you are out. Michigan lost. They’re out.
There’s a lot of ways this could theoretically play out, but there’s only a few within the realm of legitimacy. So headed into the final weekend, here’s how I see it.
#1 Alabama plays #15 Florida for the SEC Championship tomorrow. With a win, ‘Bama is the #1 seed. With a loss, they might still be the #1 seed, that is if the world doesn’t come to an end. It is likely that there is a greater chance of the world ending than ‘Bama losing to Florida.
#2 OSU is idle. They have the strange benefit of not playing a conference championship which means they can’t lose. Given that, it will be hard to justify demoting by three spots (from #2 to #5) an 11-1 team that doesn’t lose, especially when that team is widely considered a top 4 team.
#3 Clemson plays Virginia Tech. With a win they are in, probably at #3. A loss almost certainly eliminates Clemson (and the ACC) from the CFP, unless the world ends (see above), in which case there will be no CFP.
Now the hard work begins.
#4 Washington (11-1) plays #8 Colorado (10-2) for the Pac 12 Championship. If Washington wins, they have a strong claim. They most likely become the fourth team, unless they win close and the B1G championship between Wisconsin and Penn State is decisive. Then the B1G champ might pass over Washington.
#5 in the CFP rankings is Michigan. Michigan is out except in one narrow scenario (keep reading). They are out because they lost very badly to Iowa and then lost to OSU. For those who want an expanded playoff, remember Michigan went to Columbus knowing a CFP berth was on the line and they lost. That was essentially a playoff game. There was no margin for error. They had a chance to play their way to the next round and they didn’t get it done. Having lost the game that would have gotten them in, they have no legitimate call for a rematch. If OSU was their only loss, they might still have claim, but an extremely weak one. But they lost to Iowa. They will have a nice New Year’s trip somewhere. It just won’t be the CFP.
#6 and #7, Wisconsin and Penn State play for the B1G championship. Winner has a strong claim to the CFP if Washington loses. Otherwise, the winner ends up at #5 or #6 and out. Of course, Michigan beat both of these teams (Wisconsin in a close one and Penn State in a blowout). But Michigan is still the fourth place (maybe third if you want to argue about it) B1G team because they didn’t win the games when everything was on the line. You don’t lose to Iowa, finish third in your division, and still have a claim to be the best team in the country.
#8 Colorado only gets in with a decisive win over Washington, a close game between Wisconsin and Penn State, and a kind-hearted committee.
No one else has a shot.
So here’s my final call:
Alabama wins and is the #1 seed. OSU is idle and is the #2 or #3 seed. Clemson wins and stays #3 unless they win big in which case they might be #2. (#2 and #3 don’t matter since they play each other.) Washington wins and they are #4.
Now the “If”s.
If Washington loses a close one, a decisive winner of Wisconsin-Penn State gets in as the B1G champ.
If Colorado wins decisively over Washington and Wisconsin-Penn State is close and ugly, Colorado gets in at #4 as the Pac 12 champ.
“Wait,” you say, “Michigan beat Colorado.”
True. That’s the nightmare scenario for the committee. But here’s the question: Do you take a fourth place team in their conference over a conference champion in another conference even though the conference champion lost head to head? I don’t know. Football wise, probably.
But do you take a fourth place team over a conference champion in their own conference? I don’t see how.
So the B1G winner gets in over Michigan unless there is a total disaster in Indianapolis. Yes, Michigan beat them both, but championships matter to the committee.
My guess is that scenario remains purely hypothetical. Michigan’s only chance is that Colorado wins narrowly over Washington, Wisconsin-Penn State is an embarrassment in a close, low-scoring game, and the committee wants to avoid being harangued mercilessly by Michigan fans who apparently don’t think regular season games count for much. If so, the committee slides a two-loss Michigan team into the #4 slot over their own conference champ and over the Pac 12 conference champ. That’s a tall order.
In the end, I think ‘Bama, Clemson, and Washington win in a fairly decisive manner and the top four remain as they are right now.
If this plays out this way, and all remains as it is healthwise for these teams, I think Alabama beats Washington and Clemson beats OSU in a relatively close game. Then I think we have a rematch of last year’s title game.
If it doesn’t play out this way, forget I ever said it.
We will see on Sunday.