The first official College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night. I could see a scenario playing out that would force the selection committee to make some tough decisions and ignite conversation amongst the fans. Starting with a review of the top 12 teams with remaining opponents in parentheses (excluding any potential conference championships):
Ohio State (Maryland, @Rutgers, #4 Penn State, @ #14 Michigan)
LSU (@ #3 Alabama, @Ole Miss, Arkansas, Texas A&M)
Alabama (#2 LSU, @Mississippi State, Western Carolina, @ #11 Auburn)
Penn State (@ #17 Minnesota, Indiana, @ #1 Ohio State, Rutgers)
Clemson (@NC State, #19 Wake Forest, @South Carolina)
Georgia (Missouri, @ #11 Auburn, Texas A&M, @Georgia Tech)
Oregon (Arizona, @Arizona State, Oregon State)
Utah (UCLA, @Arizona, Colorado)
Oklahoma (Iowa State, @ #12 Baylor, TCU, @ #23 Oklahoma State)
Florida (Vanderbilt, @Missouri, Florida State)
Auburn (#6 Georgia, Samford, #3 Alabama)
Baylor (@TCU, #9 Oklahoma, Texas, @Kansas)
Starting with the SEC, only LSU or Alabama can represent the SEC West in the conference title game. Let’s say Alabama beats LSU this weekend in a close game, LSU and Alabama both win the remainder of their respective regular season games, and then Alabama enters the SEC title game undefeated against a one loss Georgia. Georgia then beats Alabama. I’d like to argue a conference championship game would be treated as an elimination game, eliminating Alabama in this case. But that argument doesn’t hold up when teams have not made the conference championship game and still made the playoffs (see 2016 Ohio State and 2017 Alabama), and teams like Notre Dame get a bye during conference championship week.
In the Big Ten, we’ll assume Ohio State goes undefeated and wins the conference title. Penn State finishes the season with only one loss in a close game on the road to #1 Ohio State, keeping them in consideration. Minnesota in the Big Ten still stands undefeated as well at #17 with playoff hopes, but to simplify things a bit we’ll assume Minnesota loses at least one game to eliminate them.
Three from the SEC, two from the Big Ten, and in the remaining conferences, we’ll say #5 Clemson goes undefeated and wins the ACC. #12 Baylor goes undefeated and wins the Big 12. #7 Oregon wins out and gets a win over #8 Utah in the PAC-12 championship.
If the above results happen, I’d say current #1 Ohio State and #5 Clemson would absolutely be in the playoffs based off of current ranking and performance. The remaining six teams have a case to be made for the final two spots:
Georgia – SEC Champion, only one loss, and wins over Alabama, Florida, and Auburn
Alabama – Wins over LSU and Auburn, no close games to date, only loss to Georgia
LSU – Wins over Auburn and Florida, only loss on the road to Alabama in close game
Penn State – Wins over Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, only loss on the road close to #1 Ohio State
Baylor – Undefeated Big 12 conference champion, wins over Oklahoma and #16 Kansas State
Oregon – One loss Pac 12 champions, only loss in final seconds first game of year vs. Auburn
It’d be tough to not include Georgia as the SEC champion with win over Alabama, so we’ll say they’d be the third team. If Baylor gets in on grounds of being undefeated in a Power 5 conference, the other 4 teams miss. LSU and Penn State would be especially unfortunate to miss the playoffs with each only having one loss to a top five team on the road.
The question of course is how would the committee select the playoff teams? Sometimes it feels like the committee looks for the resume with no losses, a big win, or the title of conference champion. Other instances would indicate they look for who they just feel is the best team. This exact scenario will likely not occur, but there are similar variations with the same theme: 4 playoff spots and more than 4 teams with a case to make it. The questions open for debate: Who has the best resume? Who is actually the best team? With a limited number of games on the schedule it can be difficult to say, and no one really knows for sure. Let’s see how it actually plays out.