Here are the College Football Playoff Committee’s Worst Nightmares

The Playoff Committee finally released its first rankings of the season on Tuesday and in a surprising twist, there was virtually no controversy!

Georgia over Alabama? Not too crazy! (And also irrelevant since they’d ultimately meet in the SEC Championship anyway). Oklahoma over Ohio State? A no-brainer given the Sooners win in Columbus. Undefeated Wisconsin and Miami all the way down and ninth and tenth? Fair, if anything maybe too generous.

For now, the Playoff rankings make almost total sense. The committee can sleep peacefully knowing their feet aren’t being held to the fire by fans and media.

…yet.

There are a handful of nightmare scenarios in play over the last month of the season that I think could prompt college football to revisit playoff expansion as soon as this off-season. This is the fourth year of the four-team system, and while two of the three years involved a controversial decision over the fourth spot (Ohio State/TCU/Baylor in 2014, Ohio State/Penn State in 2016), no one has wanted to burn the system to the ground so far.

There’s a chance that could change this year.

Now, let me go ahead and say the likelihood of six, seven or eight teams finishing the season all with one loss is slim to none. Just about every year around this time we start asking “what if Team A and Team B and Team C and Team D all run the table?” even though it NEVER happens. At this time last season, the eventual four playoff teams were ranked 1, 2, 5 and 6. Two of the four lost games after that and still made the Playoff. There’s so much that can happen between now and then, it’s silly to project a Playoff scenario where all of the top teams win out.

So what if all the top teams win out?

Here are three Doomsday Scenarios for the Playoff Committee.

SCENARIO 1

13-0 Alabama

12-1 Georgia

11-1 Notre Dame

12-1 Ohio State

12-1 Clemson

12-1 Oklahoma

12-1 Washington

How would the committee rank these teams? In this scenario, only Georgia would have lost in the final month of the season. Let’s assume it was a single-digit loss to Alabama, competitive enough where the Bulldogs are still in the conversation for one of the four spots.

Alabama is obviously a lock for the top spot, but who would be number two?

I would lean towards Oklahoma. The Sooners would have a conference championship, plus regular season wins over TCU, Oklahoma State – they may even be able to avenge their loss to Iowa State if the Cyclones keep rolling.

I think the third spot would go to Notre Dame. The Irish would have wins over USC, Michigan State, NC State, Miami, and Stanford plus the one-point loss to Georgia. Neither Ohio State nor Clemson or Washington would have close to that many top-25 wins. Clemson would be close – the Tigers’ resume would include Auburn (which would be 8-4 in this scenario, likely ranked 20th or so), Virginia Tech (who would best case be 11-2, likely ranked around 15th) and NC State. There’s a chance Clemson and Notre Dame would have two common opponents in NC State and Miami. That could be a HUGE factor in deciding who makes it in between those two.

So if Notre Dame does get the third spot, that leaves Clemson, Ohio State, Washington and Georgia for the final spot. Three conference champions, and the SEC runner-up who owns a head-to-head win over the No. 3 team.

The easy call is leaving Washington out. The Huskies’ schedule can’t come close to comparing with Clemson and Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ best wins would be Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and a potentially 12-1 Wisconsin. I think that’s enough to lift them over Clemson. Penn State and Wisconsin would both be top-10 teams, better than any of the Tigers’ wins.

Georgia fans would lose their minds, but I think the Bulldogs would be on the outside looking in. Without a conference title, they would own at most three ranked wins: Notre Dame, Auburn and Mississippi State. Notre Dame would own twice that many, which I think would be just enough to overcome the head-to-head loss.

It would be messy, but I think the rankings would look like this:

IN:

  1. Alabama (13-0)
  2. Oklahoma (12-1)
  3. Notre Dame (11-1)
  4. Ohio State (12-1)

OUT:

  1. Clemson (12-1)
  2. Georgia (12-1)
  3. Washington (12-1)

SCENARIO 2

12-1 Alabama

12-1 Georgia (L vs Auburn)

13-0 Wisconsin

12-1 Oklahoma

12-1 Miami (L vs Notre Dame)

11-1 Notre Dame

So this time, Georgia beats Alabama for the SEC title, but the ‘Dawgs suffer a lost in November to Auburn. I think this is completely possible. Also, Wisconsin skates through a cupcake regular season but manages to win its only ranked game of the year in the Big 10 Championship over Ohio State (let’s assume it’s by a touchdown or less). Oklahoma still runs the table and wins the Big 12, Miami loses to Notre Dame but goes unbeaten in ACC play and beats Clemson for the league title.

Who’s a lock? Georgia for sure. Even with the Auburn loss, the win over Alabama likely vaults them to number one. After that, you can make a case for just about anyone. I’d go with Oklahoma. The Sooners would be the strongest one-loss champion after Georgia, and a 15-point road win over Ohio State would trump Wisconsin’s tight neutral-site win over Ohio State.

After Georgia and Oklahoma, I’d go Notre Dame. The Irish would have all of the wins mentioned in the first scenario, in addition now to a win over the ACC Champion Miami – not to mention its only loss is by one point to the No. 1 team. The Irish would be in.

That leaves 13-0 Wisconsin, 12-1 Miami and 12-1 Alabama fighting for the final spot. Even if Alabama loses to Georgia and Wisconsin beats Ohio State, would anyone really think the Badgers are better than the Tide? Probably not, but I don’t think it will matter. The Badgers would have the upper hand. Alabama’s best win would be against a 10-2 Auburn team. Even though the Tide would have dominated an equally pedestrian schedule to the Badgers, it wouldn’t be enough. Alabama is out.

So, 13-0 Wisconsin or 12-1 Miami? Wisconsin would have a single win over a ranked team (11-2 Ohio State) while Miami would have wins over a potentially 10-2 Virginia Tech and most likely 11-2 Clemson. I think it would come down to how they lost to Notre Dame. If it comes down to the final minutes like every other Miami game this season, I think the Hurricanes would have a great case to jump Wisconsin. If Notre Dame wins by double-digits, I think Wisconsin would squeak in. My money’s on Notre Dame handling Miami next week pretty easily, so I’ll say the Badgers make it in this scenario.

IN:

  1. Georgia (12-1)
  2. Oklahoma (12-1)
  3. Notre Dame (11-1)
  4. Wisconsin (13-0)

OUT:

  1. Miami (12-1)
  2. Alabama (12-1)

SCENARIO 3

13-0 Alabama

12-1 Georgia

11-1 Notre Dame

12-1 Miami

13-0 Wisconsin

11-2 Iowa State

This is by far the craziest of the three scenarios, but can you seriously imagine if this happens?

Alabama locks up the top spot with an unbeaten record. If you put Notre Dame at #2, could you really leave Georgia out? The Bulldogs would have beaten the #2 team and its only loss would have come to #1. I think the ‘Dawgs would be in.

That leaves the fourth and final spot for an undefeated Wisconsin, a one-loss Miami and a two-loss Iowa State. The Cyclones would almost certainly be out BUT….BUTTTTTTTT….they would have so many more impressive wins than Wisconsin, and realistically Miami as well. They’d have a 4-0 record against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU. Those are all top-15 teams. Even with losses to Iowa and Texas…you’re at least having a conversation about the Cyclones. Ultimately, I think they’d be left out, which is a shame, because Wisconsin would have beaten just one ranked team all season long. Four top-15 wins vs. one top-25 win, and the one top-25 win gets the edge. Sad!

The Playoff would look like this:

IN:

  1. Alabama (13-0)
  2. Notre Dame (11-1)
  3. Georgia (12-1)
  4. Wisconsin (13-0)

OUT:

  1. Iowa State (11-2)
  2. Miami (12-1)

As you can see, there are a few different paths to the Playoff that would leave out at least two, if not three conference champions. There are head-to-head results that could end up meaningless. You can bet the moment anything like one of these outcomes happens, there will be a major push to expand the playoff to eight teams. I hope it happens.

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