Who’s In?

Tonight, the College Football Playoff Committee will release their penultimate rankings for the college football playoff. This past weekend, 3 teams in the top 10 lost, including #4 Michigan, #7 LSU, and #8 Washington State, while #9 UCF won, but lost their starting quarterback McKenzie Milton due to a leg injury against USF. The top 3 should remain unchanged with #1 Alabama, #2 Clemson, and #3 Notre Dame, who all won last weekend, and finished the regular season. Since Notre Dame does not play in a conference championship game, they have this weekend off, and are a lock for one of the playoff spots. Fifth ranked Georgia should slide into the fourth spot with Michigan losing, and will have a chance to keep their playoff chances alive with the SEC Championship game against Alabama.

The story line from this point though, will be focused on the next two out. Sixth ranked Oklahoma won in a shootout against West Virginia, and gave up over 700 yards. Ohio State, who has not moved from the #10 spot in the playoff rankings, dismantled Michigan at home. Basic logic could easily see the committee sliding up Oklahoma to #5 and Ohio State to #6. This is where the discussion gets interesting. Was Ohio State’s win over Michigan enough to impress the committee to have them leap over Oklahoma? Each week, the committee has not moved Ohio State and indicated that they start fresh with rankings each week. Oklahoma plays as they have done all season, and are the only team in the top 25 in the AP rankings to give up over 40 points 4 times, and win those games in a season. Their loss is also to a top 25 team on a neutral field and by 3 points. Ohio State’s loss is to a now bowl eligible Purdue team, but by 29 points. How much of a weight will that loss to Purdue bring down the Buckeyes if both teams hold similar records.

Both teams have a chance to win their respective conference and go 12-1 against top 25 opponents. Both have question marks on defense and prolific offenses led by Heisman candidate quarterbacks. Oklahoma has the chance to redeem its only loss to Texas, and Ohio State has another game against a top 25 opponents to make a statement win. There is a chance that margin of victory will become a factor when comparing the teams, but ultimately, it is a almost a coin flip who which team gets the nod over the other, and a decision in which the committee will have to provide an answer for. Based on the current situation, this is how I predict the top 10 playing out:

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Georgia
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Ohio State
  7. UCF
  8. Michigan
  9. Washington State
  10. Florida

The reason why I have Oklahoma over Ohio State right now, is that they have still be consistent, and Ohio State, despite the excitement I felt after the 62-39 win over Michigan, we still had issues with the lesser opponents. Now, what can change my mind is if I think when you look at the best four teams, Ohio State right now looks like they belong in that discussion with the top 3 teams (Although I think Notre Dame benefited from a “lucky” scheduled with perennial powerhouse teams having a bad year) and this weekend will help shape the 4th team. Ohio State has an opportunity to beat a pesky Northwestern team, and I think both OSU and Oklahoma will win, and Georgia will lose, so that is where margin of victory could be the deciding factor, as petty as it sounds. I personally am not in agreement with it, but as it seems with every year with the playoffs, and hopefully there is some reform moving forward.

So now, with only 5 days remaining between now and Selection Sunday, the questions remains, Who’s in?

FiveThirtyEight which is powered by ESPN uses a numerical data sheet for predicting the playoff teams. Now, to note, it is not 100% accurate, as even last year, when Ohio State won the Big Ten Championship, they were favored over Alabama for the 4th spot, and the committee chose Alabama. But, this does at least give some insight how things can shape out. Here is how the projections look as of today before the conference championship games:


As you can see, even without playing yet, Ohio State is one of the top 4 teams according to this ranking, with a 60% chance to make it into the playoff. Here is the link for if you want to play around with the scenarios on your own, but I ran through a few just to see what the possible scenarios would be, and went with the most likely scenarios, and then a doomsday scenario.

Scenario 1

Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma win.



This will truly be a flip of the coin scenario. Ohio State and Oklahoma would have a 69% chance to make the playoff. What is interesting though is that Notre Dame though drops to 62%. There is where I sort of disregard the numbers for a moment, because if any Power 5 team goes undefeated in the 4 team playoff formula, they are in. So the Notre Dame is a lock in my opinion, so it will come down to what separates Oklahoma and Ohio State from each other to get into the 4th spot.

Without the 13th data point for both teams, which would include the conference championship games, Oklahoma is number 1 in offense, and Ohio State is number 2. Ohio State has a better defensive efficiency than Oklahoma, and no top 25 losses, however it might come back to the Purdue loss.

If Ohio State dominates against Northwestern, and Oklahoma narrowly beats Texas, Ohio State is in.

If both teams win in blowouts, I feel like the committee will put Oklahoma in, and Ohio State will play the Utah-Washington game winner in the Rose Bowl. Now, what helps the Buckeyes is that they have a good resume, a bad loss, but they have a following and sometimes numbers financially can drive the decision. It would be hard for the committee to turn away a Ohio State vs Alabama matchup, especially since both teams have made up the top 5 watched games this season.

There is some conversation about if Georgia is still in contention even with a second loss, but it would be unprecidented for a 2 loss non-conference champion to make it, especially if there are 1 loss conference champions in contention. The committee would really have to push a case that Georgia is one of the best 4 teams with losses to LSU, and Alabama.

What I think will happen in this scenario is the top 4 will be:

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Ohio State.


Scenario 2

Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State wins, Oklahoma loses


This will make the picks pretty straight forward, and the numbers back it up with each team above a 94% chance to make it. With a second loss, Oklahoma would be out, but would be playing in a New Years 6 Bowl as an at large. As a Buckeye fan, this is the scenario you would be rooting for, so that there is no concern for a debate. With the Big 12 Championship game at noon, Ohio State fans will know what scenario will play out before they kick off at 8pm.

What I think will happen in this scenario is the top 4 will be:

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Ohio State.


Scenario 3

Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma wins, Alabama loses.


This is where things get interesting. Based on the projections, your top 4 would be Clemson, Notre Dame, Georgia, and Ohio State. The human element does come into play, and the debate would be between Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma. Alabama has been the top team all year, and lose their last game of the season. If it is a close win for Georgia, then there is some discussion, and if it is a blowout, Alabama I think would probably be out. To me, this would be no different than the 2015 scenario with the Ohio State team. They were clearly one of the top 4 teams in the country, but lost the wrong game, and was not a conference champion. The committee would have to argue Alabama is unequivocally better than Ohio State and Oklahoma, who also would have 1 loss, but both would be conference champions.

It would be hard for me to see Ohio State and Oklahoma getting in in this scenario because Alabama has won every game by more than 20 points, a feat that only one team in college football history has ever done. A loss would probably push them down to playing Clemson earlier.

If Clemson though lost and Alabama won, I think Clemson would be out though, because they do not have the same strength of record as the top teams, and in that scenario, both Ohio State and Oklahoma would be in.

What I think will happen in this scenario is the top 4 will be:

  1. Clemson
  2. Notre Dame
  3. Georgia
  4. Alabama.


Scenario 4

Doomsday: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma lose.


It is so farfetched to happen that even the predictor does not have it as a potential outcome.

It would make for great debate though. For sure Georgia would be in, and if UCF wins, This is how they could make it. The same argument as the previous scenario, with Alabama only having one loss, they would be in it too still. If UFC doesn’t win, then that opens the door back for Ohio State and Oklahoma, even as not being conference champions. I think that Clemson would be in consideration too though because that would only be their only loss of the season as well.

What I think will happen in this scenario is the top 4 will be:

  1. Notre Dame
  2. Georgia
  3. Alabama
  4. UCF


No matter how it plays out, it should be a good weekend of college football. Ohio State just needs to win, and has a chance to make the playoff, or go to the Rose Bowl, which wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize. For rooting interests, Ohio State fans should be rooting for Alabama to win and Texas to beat Oklahoma. If Oklahoma were to win, Ohio State will need Clemson to lose to Pitt.

Of course, all of this could be avoided if there were an 8 team playoff! We shall see what the future holds, and please fell free to share your thoughts on the discussion!

One comment

  • We also want to cheer for Utah to beat Washington. Now that the Huskies are ranked above PSU, a lose will improve the Nitanny Lions in the polls and improve OSU resume.

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