For as crazy of a season it’s been, the College Football Playoff committee’s job is looking pretty easy right now. After conference championship weekend last year, there were some not-so-happy fan bases with legitimate arguments for why they should be in the playoff, but this year, if everything plays out like it should Saturday, No. 1 to 4 are pretty self-explanatory.
There are four major conference title games taking place Saturday: ACC, SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12. The two games with the highest probability of making the committee’s job difficult, are No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 8 North Carolina and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 18 Florida. But before I get into the different worst-case scenarios, let us take a look at what we already know for sure.
The first guaranteed is that the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners are in no matter what. There is a lot of discussion about the teams ahead of them and the teams below them, but there isn’t much talk about that No. 3 spot. The only question I have for the committee is how come last year the Big 12 conference was left out due to its lack of conference championship game, whereas this year they are automatically in due to the same fact? We will save that for another time.
The second guarantee is that the winner of the Big Ten championship game will have a spot in the playoffs. The undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes take on the 11-1 Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans are the favorite, but only by a couple points.
If Clemson and Alabama, the favorites in both their respective games win, the rankings will remain No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma, and No. 4 Iowa/Michigan State. But if either the Tigers or Tide fall or it’s a miracle and they both do, there are several teams on the sideline with valid arguments as to why they should be the next team in.
Scenario 1: Clemson loses to North Carolina, and Alabama beats Florida
If Clemson loses, it would also be added to the list of sideline teams with the potential of making that No. 4 spot. In years past, No. 1 teams who lost their conference championships were demoted to No. 4, but that was before we had this thing called the college football playoffs. But the Tigers still have an extremely impressive schedule and win over Notre Dame.
Just because North Carolina wins, the Tar Heels are not guaranteed a spot. Although North Carolina has gone 11-0 since its season-opener loss to South Carolina, that loss along with a weak schedule that included two Football Championship Subdivision opponents, will probably not be enough for the Tar Heels even with a head-to-head win over the Tigers.
Scenario 2: Alabama loses to Florida, and Clemson beats North Carolina
No. 18 Florida has zero chance of making the playoff even with a win over Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Florida has had a very lackluster back end of the season with close wins over Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt. After it ended the regular season with a loss to in-state rival Florida State, the Gators do not stand a chance.
But if Alabama loses, it doesn’t have the same opportunity as Clemson to still be in the top four. After suffering an early season loss to an Ole Miss team that failed to produce throughout the remainder of the season, the Tide cannot afford another loss. A two-loss Alabama team would have even less of a playoff argument than sideline teams.
Craziest thing about an Alabama loss, the college football playoff would be SEC-less. No one ever predicted that happening.
Scenario 3: Alabama and Clemson lose
While this scenario is the least likely, it is the best chance the sideline teams have of making it into the coveted college football playoffs.
With scenarios one through three, none of which are the most probable, Ohio State, Stanford, North Carolina and the Big Ten loser have opportunities of making the playoffs.
Ohio State: If Michigan State beats Iowa, Ohio State’s argument and resume only gets better. With the defending national champion’s only loss coming from a CFP team, the Buckeyes have a high chance. Also considering the Big Ten East division has the stiffer competition — MSU, Michigan and OSU — it has a better argument than Iowa, the Big Ten championship loser in this scenario.
Stanford: If Stanford wins the Pac-12 Conference game against the University of Southern California, the Cardinal can set itself up for a playoff spot. Stanford is going against the fact it is a two-loss team.
With a nine-game conference schedule, plus a conference championship and five games against top-20 opponents, you can almost ignore the season opening nonconference loss to No. 13 Northwestern on the road. A win over then No. 4 Notre Dame kind of cancels out the 38-36 loss to No. 15 Oregon, who has seemed to redeem itself since September.
Where Stanford would beat any of its sideline counterparts would be in its conference title. No. 24 USC has no chance of making the playoff even with a win.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels’ best chance in making the playoffs would be to win the ACC and for Alabama to lose. Like mentioned before, with just a Clemson loss, North Carolina would not be an automatic. The Tar Heels, like the Cardinal, would have a conference title on their side, but schedule weakness would be their biggest holdback.
Big Ten loser: The best chance of the loser of the Big Ten championship making the playoff is if both Alabama and Clemson lose.
If Michigan State is the loser, it would be a two-loss team like Stanford, but unlike Stanford would not have a title to back it up. The Spartans’ losses come from two higher-ranked teams, but some would say the Cardinal had the tougher schedule. MSU has the head-to-head on Ohio State but would have one more loss than the Buckeyes.
If Iowa is the loser, the Hawkeyes’ only loss would be from a playoff team much like Ohio State. Iowa would still have a better record than Stanford but wouldn’t have the title for an extra boost. The Hawkeyes and Buckeyes would have one loss suffered by the same team, but while Iowa at least made it to the title game, Ohio State had the tougher schedule.