The College Football Playoff Committee has released the penultimate rankings. More important than where each team stands is each team’s path to the Playoffs. Below is immediate analysis on how each of the top eight teams can get to the Playoffs.
#1 Alabama: The Crimson Tide are by far the team most likely to earn a playoff spot. It’s possible that even with a loss to Florida in the SEC Championship Game, the Tide could still make it. Even with the SEC taking a step backwards this season, the Tide have the strongest resumé and highest hopes of making the playoff, sitting at 12-0. Expect them to be playing on New Years Eve.
#2 Ohio State: Because they did not win their division, the Buckeyes now must wait. The Big-10 has been the best conference in college football this season, so that alone will help them. Their 11-1 record will also do them a lot of good. The major knock on their resumé will be the lack of a conference title. Those titles are used by the Playoff Committee as a tiebreaker. The Buckeyes could rest easier if either Clemson or Washington loses this weekend.
#3 Clemson: What a tight rope walk of a season it’s been for the Tigers. Despite playing close game after close game, they finished the regular season with an 11-1 record. The task for them is simple; win and they’re in. Virginia Tech is the last obstacle standing between the Tigers and a playoff berth. It’s worth noting that the two teams haven’t faced off yet this season.
#4 Washington: The Huskies have the most intriguing playoff situation in front of them. They too are 11-1 and will play for their conference title this weekend. However, there’s a chance that a conference title might not be enough to get them in. If they beat Colorado on Friday, it will come down to how the Committee views them. A two-loss Big-10 champion might have a shot at making it in over the Huskies. It’s likely though that if the Huskies win, they’ll be in.
#5 Michigan: After their gut-wrenching loss to Ohio State, the Wolverines’ playoff hopes are slim to none. When Curtis Samuel scored that game-winning TD, Michigan’s playoff hopes went with it. With two losses on their ledger and without a shot at the Big-10 title, it’ll take a miracle to get them in. The Committee would most likely grant the Big-10 champion a playoff spot over Michigan. For the Wolverines, it’s time to pray that both Clemson and Washington lose this weekend. That would give them at least a shot at making it in.
#6 Wisconsin: The case to be made for Wisconsin is a good one. Although the Badgers are 10-2 this season, their two losses have come to Michigan and Ohio State. They lost both of those games but just a touchdown. There’s no doubting that Wisconsin is a great team, and they’ll have one more chance to show it. If they’re able to win the Big-10 title, they’ll at least have put their name in the Committees’ basket. A two-loss Big-10 champion over a one-loss Pac-12 champion is a feasible scenario. Regardless, the Badgers would like Virginia Tech and Colorado to make their climb into the top four a bit easier.
#7 Penn State: The Nittany Lions’ path to the playoff is identical to Wisconsin’s. Like the Badgers, the Nittany Lions sit at 10-2, and will need to not only win the Big-10 championship game, but also impress the Committee to the point where they decide to include them in the playoff field. It will be a great matchup on Saturday night between Penn State and Wisconsin. Each team will be fighting for both the conference title and increased playoff hopes.
#8 Colorado: The biggest surprise team of this college football this season, the Buffaloes have work to do. Although the matchup against #4 Washington could be a springboard for their hopes, they still need some dominoes to fall. The biggest issue for Colorado is that #5 Michigan beat Colorado outright earlier this season. Both teams have a record of 10-2, so the Committee might have trouble ranking Colorado higher than Michigan.
There it is. The paths are clear. Championship Weekend will allow these eight teams to sort themselves out to the committee. Will it be clear, or will there be controversy?