The regular season is over and conference championship weekend is here. College Football fans have one question on their mind: Who is going to the playoffs this year?
It’s never a cut and dry answer but this year definitely has thrown some wrinkles into the playoff discussion. We have a situation where the conference champions from two Power 5 conferences may not make it into the playoff. Alabama has locked up their playoff spot with an unblemished record all year long going into the SEC Championship game and, barring getting blown out of the stadium, are a lock for the playoff.
Given the current situation between the ACC, Big 12, and Pac 12, The Game had another wrinkle this year: the winner was essentially playing for an at large bid into the playoff. Let’s take a look:
The Current Playoff Field
- Alabama Crimson Tide
- Ohio State Buckeyes
- Clemson Tigers
- Washington Huskies
- Michigan Wolverines
- Wisconsin Badgers
- Oklahoma Sooners
- Penn State Nittany Lions
- Colorado Buffaloes
As stated earlier, Alabama is in. It’s hard to imagine a scenario, even with a loss to Florida in the SEC Championship Game, where they don’t make the field. They could drop to 3 or 4 with a loss depending on other championship game results but even that seems unlikely given their dominance this year.
Is Ohio State In?
In my opinion, Ohio State is all but a lock unless the Playoff Committee is ready to come out and admit that the playoff is really going to be a 4 team playoff between the four best Power 5 Conference Champions. Is there a way that they aren’t in? Well, technically speaking things could get ugly for them if all of Clemson, Washington, AND Wisconsin win. If this happens then the presumed 3, 4, and 5 teams have won while the #2 team has not played in a conference championship game. Adding to that would be Wisconsin taking Ohio State to OT earlier in the year so the perception would be it isn’t a bad loss at all while their only other loss was to a Top 10 Michigan team. In my opinion, this alone is the only thing that makes things tricky for the Buckeyes and has them sweating out the final field.
What about the other Conferences?
Both Clemson and Washington essentially control their destinies. Win and you’re [most likely] in. Clemson has a chance to move to move to the two seed over Ohio State but two or three seed doesn’t really matter because it’s the same game placing.
Washington is a trickier scenario, I suppose, but it again depends on what the committee is valuing. The Pac 12 is down this year and Washington had a pretty soft schedule, which is currently hurting them along with a loss to USC. The USC loss isn’t terrible given the ranking that the committee has given them (10), and leaving out a one loss power 5 conference champion would certainly mean that a two loss Big Ten champion is getting in, which is pretty hard to imagine if Washington wins. Will they be blasted in the first game? Probably, but it’s probably easier to say I told you so in this instance.
Does the Big 12 have a shot? A long one, for sure. Oklahoma is sitting in the Top 10 of the last iteration of the playoff rankings but they need some help along with a win over current #11 Oklahoma State (playoff ranking). Along with that win, Oklahoma State would definitely need at least one of Clemson or Washington to lose. They’d also most likely need Wisconsin to lose the Big Ten Championship considering Wisconsin is currently slotted ahead of them and won their game this past weekend. If that occurs, then its a crap shoot with the committee picking between 10-2 Oklahoma, 10-2 Penn State as Big Ten CCG Champions, or lol 10-2 Michigan.
Speaking of which....
Can Michigan, Wisconsin, or Penn State make the playoff?
Uh...maybe? Stick with me for a minute because this is going to sound crazy. It probably is and is probably unrealistic but here we go. What if Clemson loses, Washington loses, Wisconsin loses and Oklahoma loses? You’d be down to picking between 11-2 Penn State, 10-2 Michigan, and 11-2 Colorado. What? Yes. The obvious choice here is Penn State, but what if the committee then looks at each teams losses? Well, losing to Iowa sucks, but so does losing to Pitt. Michigan lost to Ohio State, who Penn State beat, but Penn State was also blasted by Michigan. It’s a longshot but the committee could be swayed because crazy things happen and it's an odd scenario.
I touched on this above but Wisconsin's path is a bit clearer than that of Penn State. Wisconsin needs either a win and the loss of either Clemson or Washington OR to win and for the committee to decide they are going to only take the conference champions in the event that Clemson and Washington both win. They aren't a lock but winning puts them in a very good spot to have a chance.
Penn State Nittany Lions
This is a bit easier because it’s easier to pick a conference champion. Champion, right? Well, Penn State would still need to win this weekend where they are currently underdogs but they’d also need some help by one of Clemson or Washington losing and to either get ahead tonight in the new rankings or completely blast a very good Wisconsin defense to make their statement to be in. It’s a longer shot than Wisconsin has but much more feasible than Michigan, and probably a more reasonable shot than Oklahoma who doesn’t play in a conference championship game.
In my "writer" opinion, I see Alabama and Clemson winning their conferences handily. Since that's too bland and this season is far from that, either Wisconsin or Washington is going to trip up in their conference game to start allowing the crazy scenario questions to start coming out because, if anything, that would be a fitting end to this season. Here is my predicted playoff:
2. Clemson Tigers
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
4. Wisconsin Badgers