The College Football Playoff committee had their hands full this week trying to decipher the top four teams to play for the championship. For many teams on the outside looking in, chaos in week 12 was their only reason for hope. And, they got it… 3 of the top 4 ranked teams lost this past weekend, all to unranked opponents. Only once in history have that many top teams lost on the same day. Playoff hopefuls Louisville and Ohio State looked to have gained huge boosts to their outlook. After Tuesday’s release of the rankings, it looks like the Buckeyes came away with a much bigger boost than the Cardinals.
As we get closer to the postseason reactions to the polls will heighten, and this week’s release is sure to cause some arguments. Let’s take a look at the contenders and some scenarios for each team based on the new rankings.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
3. Michigan Wolverines
4. Clemson Tigers
5. Louisville Cardinals
6. Washington Huskies
7. Wisconsin Badgers
8. Penn State Nittany Lions
9. Oklahoma Sooners
10. Colorado Buffaloes
- Alabama Crimson Tide (Previous Rank: 1)
Nothing changes this week for the Crimson Tide, CFB’s best team stays atop the pecking order. Saban’s crew looks like a lock for the playoff, and unlike the rest of the contenders, could overcome a late-season loss.
- Ohio State (Previous Rank: 5)
The biggest winner by far from Saturday’s shakeup, the Buckeyes seem to control their destiny the rest of the way. If they take care of Michigan on their home turf, Urban’s crew should feel great about their chances amongst the top four. However, if the Bucks win out, they’d still need a Penn State loss to play for the Big 10 championship, opening the door for the possibility of two Big 10 representatives.
- Michigan Wolverines (Previously: 3)
This one’s tough to explain. The Wolverine’s stayed put at #3 despite a loss to an unranked Iowa team on Saturday. Yes, they have big wins over Wisconsin and Penn State to their name, but I expected to see them slip after a weak showing on Saturday. The reality is this: the Wolves only path to the playoff is knocking off the Buckeyes on the road Nov. 26th. They’re the most likely of the top four to fall out of the race.
- Clemson (Previous Rank: 2)
Wherever Clemson winds up at the conclusion of the season, there will be controversy. The Tigers have good wins over Louisville, Auburn, and Florida State, but have looked underwhelming against the likes of Troy, NC State, and Saturday’s loss to unranked Pitt. The victory over the Cards earlier this season gives Clemson them inside position as the likely ACC representative, but there’s no room for error for Dabo Sweeney’s squad.
- Louisville (Previous Rank: 6)
Initial reaction to Saturday’s mayhem had some thinking the Cards would slide into the 3-4 range in this week’s release. They found themselves on the short end of the stick as Michigan and Clemson both lost and remained ahead in the polls. It’s clear the committee doesn’t have much respect for their body of work, so the Cards will continue to rely on the eye-test to prove they’re one of the nation’s best. There’s a very real chance they will finish 10-1, with their only loss coming on the road at Clemson, and still be left out of the mix. Another Clemson loss would help them tremendously, but they also face some challenges with teams that sit behind them. A one-loss Pac-12 champion in Washington would likely jump them, and there’s another tough scenario where Penn State/Wisconsin could leapfrog the Cards. PSU looks likely to win out with two weak opponents remaining. If that’s the case, they’ll probably face the Badgers for the Big-10 title because of their head-to-head victory over Ohio State. In this scenario, the winner has a good shot of moving into the playoff picture, leaving Louisville’s resume stacked against fellow non-conference champ Ohio State to get in. They won’t win that argument. There are many outcomes, but this much is clear: the Cards need Michigan to win out to ensure only one Big-10 team makes the final four.
- Washington (Previous Rank: 4)
The Huskies chances took a hit Saturday after a loss to USC. The Trojans were riding a winning streak, but a home loss won’t sit well in the eyes of the committee. They’ll have the opportunity to prove themselves with Washington State and the possibility of a Pac-12 Championship matchup still remaining, but they’ll have to step up. It’ll be interesting to see how the committee rewards conference champions this season, and the Huskies will need to claim one if they’re going to find a way in. They may be positioned below Louisville currently, but could be more likely to land a 3rd or 4th spot than the Cards based on their remaining schedule and being in the conference championship hunt..
- Wisconsin (Previous Rank: 7)
The Badgers should be thankful to reside the Big-10 West. While Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan duke it out for a spot in the conference championship, Wisconsin sees a clearer path. However, we’ll have to see how the committee views a 2-loss conference champ if the Badgers can win out. They have good wins over Nebraska and LSU, but nothing that jumps off the page. They’ll need to bolster their reputation by winning out and picking up a marquee win as a result. They seem like a reasonable shot at the 4th spot, but will likely be sweating it on selection day.
- Penn State (Previous Rank: 10)
The Nittany Lions are the thorn in the remaining playoff hopefuls’ side. They’ve climbed the ranks of late and face a favorable schedule remaining, likely landing them in the Big-10 championship game. If this is the case, and the Nittany Lions claim the title of the nation’s most competitive conference, they’ll be right in it. Should Michigan win out, they have no shot, but they hold the tiebreaker over Ohio State should they prevail. A lot of teams will have eyes on Michigan vs. OSU, Penn State more than any.
- Oklahoma Sooners (Previous Rank: 11)
They always say it’s best to lose early. After starting 1-2, the Sooners have worked their way back towards the top. However, they seem to be the biggest longshot of the group due to the Big-12’s lack of a championship game (which continues to hurt its conference members). They do have two impressive opponents remaining in Oklahoma State and West Virginia, but it doesn’t seem like it will be enough. They’ll need chaos like we haven’t seen before.
- Colorado Buffaloes (Previous Rank: 12)
Little is known to the casual football fan about the Buffaloes, but they’re another team that could sneak their way right into the top 4. They’ll need a lot of help from the teams ahead of them but they have to love the opportunities ahead of tem. They’ll close the regular season against two ranked opponents, #22 Washington State and #12 Utah. Should they win they’ll have another great resume opportunity in the Pac-12 title game. With their two losses both coming on the road against Michigan and USC, there’d be a decent argument to be made for the Buffs resume.
It’s tough to explain how Michigan and Clemson lost as 20+ point favorites and neither received much of a penalty, but the question becomes who would have replaced them?
There’s not an easy answer, so we’ll have to see how this all shakes out down the stretch.