As hard as it is to believe, we’ve got just two weeks left in the college football season. Which means that teams hoping for a playoff berth have just two weeks left to impress the committee.
It also raises a fascinating question: With most teams playing a huge rivalry game this weekend (with the exception of those in the Big 12), what is the best-case scenario for each playoff contender during rivalry weekend? As in, besides simply beating their rival, what other dominoes have to fall to ensure them a playoff berth?
Let’s take a look. Here are the best-case scenarios for all 11 teams that still have a realistic (not matter how small they may be) shot at the playoff entering rivalry weekend.
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It sounds insane, but after beating LSU last weekend, the Gators have an outside shot, albeit a tiny one, at making the playoff. For starters, Florida has to beat Florida State this weekend. Considering they’ve lost three in a row and five of six, that’s no small feat. And even if the Gators do get a win, they need chaos around them. A loss by Washington (making a Pac-12 bid less likely) would help, so too would a loss by Clemson.
Ultimately though, you know what would help Florida the most? Alabama losing to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. It would set up a scenario where if the Gators beat the Crimson Tide next week in Atlanta, both teams would have two losses, and Florida would own a head-to-head win as well. How could the committee not take Florida as the SEC representative then?
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Oklahoma State Cowboys
Like Florida, Oklahoma State’s playoff chances are about as thin as Texas’ fans patience with Charlie Strong It almost certainly isn't happening. But let’s look at the scenario where it could.
To get there, Oklahoma State not only needs to beat rival Oklahoma next week, but also have chaos around it. In a best-case scenario Colorado loses to Utah this week and Washington loses Washington State as well, setting up a scenario where -- at best -- the Pac-12 has a two-loss champion. It would also probably benefit Mike Gundy’s club if Michigan beats Ohio State this weekend, before taking down Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, all but ensuring there is only one Big Ten representative in the playoff.
If all that happens and the Pokes beat Oklahoma next week, it seems likely that Mike Gundy’s club -– which would be riding a seven-game win streak, with a loss on their resume that shouldn’t count (against Central Michigan) -- would make the playoff.
For starters, Colorado has to take care of business against Utah this weekend. The Buffaloes also need Washington to beat Washington State, setting up a scenario where they play the best possible opponent next week in the Pac-12 title game. Also, Michigan winning out would help them too; not only would it eliminate the likelihood of a second playoff team from the Big Ten, but also help Colorado’s schedule. Remember, the Buffs have a head-to-head loss against Michigan in Ann Arbor. The final piece would be for Oklahoma State to beat Oklahoma next week.
Assuming Alabama and Clemson win out (and Michigan is the Big Ten champ) you’d basically be putting Colorado’s resume against Oklahoma State’s. And it’s hard to argue that with their only losses coming at Michigan and at USC that Colorado’s resume would be more impressive than Oklahoma State. Can you imagine a world where Colorado is in the playoff? It could definitely happen.
Like their cross-state rivals, Oklahoma still needs a bit of chaos to punch its ticket. First off, the Sooners have to beat Oklahoma State next week. Second, a loss from Washington would help.
The other key for the Sooners’ playoff argument is what happens in the Big Ten. In a best-case scenario (which this article is, after all), Ohio State would beat Michigan this weekend and Michigan State would beat Penn State. That would put Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, and assuming it wins win out, make it the Big Ten champ. In the process, it would eliminate the possibility of a second playoff team from the Big Ten, while also boosting Oklahoma’s resume. Remember, they have a head-to-head loss over Ohio State, that would look better by comparison.
Under this scenario you’d basically be comparing a two-loss Oklahoma against a two-loss Washington. Considering the Sooners would have won nine straight at that point, would own a conference championship, and their two losses -– against Houston and Ohio State -– would look better than the Huskies. Add it all up, and the Sooners would likely be in the playoff.
Penn State Nittany Lions
James Franklin’s club is in a precarious situation, because even by winning -- both against Michigan State this weekend and Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game -– it still might not be enough. In this strange, bizarre, College Football Playoff world we live in, even as Big Ten champ, and even with a head-to-head win over Ohio State, the committee might leave the Nittany Lions out. So for Penn State, the best-case scenario is to ensure two Big Ten teams get into the playoff.
For that to happen, they need Ohio State to beat Michigan. That win simply gets Penn State into the Big Ten title game, and if the Nittany Lions beat Wisconsin, then they need Washington to lose at some point as well.
If that happens, then the committee wouldn’t have to decide between a one-loss Ohio State or a two-loss Penn State for the final spot. Both would get in.
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Like Penn State, the easiest path to the playoff for Wisconsin is for two Big Ten teams to make it. And since the Badgers have head-to-head losses with Ohio State and Michigan, simply winning the conference is enough. Still, rather than re-hashing a two-bid scenario for the league (which would be similar to Penn State’s) let me lay out Wisconsin’s best-case scenario for them being the Big Ten’s only representative.
For that to happen, Wisconsin would to obviously beat Minnesota this weekend (to ensure their spot in Indy) and then from there, Michigan would need to beat Ohio State. If Wisconsin then beat the Wolverines in the title game, it would set up a scenario where there’d be four -- yes, four –- two-loss teams in the Big Ten.
In that case, Wisconsin would have a head-to-head win over Michigan, and would trump Penn State, who lost to Michigan (while the Badgers would have beaten them). At that point, it’d be two-loss Wisconsin vs. two-loss Ohio State. Could the Buckeyes get in based on their head-to-head win with the Badgers? Yes, but Wisconsin would also have a head-to-head win over Michigan, a team which had just beaten the Buckeyes a week before. That would be a pretty compelling argument to get Badgers into the playoff.
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For Washington, it all starts with beating Washington State in the Apple Cup on FOX Friday. The Huskies also should be rooting for Colorado to beat Utah, setting up the best possible matchup (and best possible win) in the Pac-12 title game.
From there, they should also be rooting for Michigan to beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten. Do that and it means only one team from the Big Ten is going to the playoff. It would also clinch a playoff spot for Washington just as long as they win the Pac-12.
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Clemson controls its own destiny in the playoff picture. So just as long as the Tigers win out, it doesn’t matter what everyone else does.
The only addendum I would add is this: They should also be rooting for Virginia Tech to beat Virginia this weekend. If that happens, it means the Tigers would get the Hokies in the ACC title game, instead of North Carolina. While Clemson would be heavily favored against either, the Tigers should probably look to avoid the Tar Heels, who played them tough in last year’s ACC title game.
Like Clemson, Michigan controls its playoff fate. Jim Harbaugh should be channeling his inner Al Davis, and tell his club “Just win, baby” as the Wolverines get set for Ohio State on Saturday.
But since that’s so obvious, let’s look for a best, best, BEST-case scenario for Michigan. How about the Wolverines winning out, and Alabama losing to Florida in the SEC title game? At that point, both teams would have one-loss, and couldn’t Michigan argue that with a loaded schedule that included wins over Ohio State, Penn State, Colorado and two over Wisconsin, that they deserved the No. 1 seed? Especially since Alabama wouldn’t be a conference champ?
It seems like it, even if the idea of Alabama actually losing seems unlikely.
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Ohio State Buckeyes
While the Buckeyes might be No. 2 in the polls, they don’t have the benefit that the two teams behind them (Michigan and Clemson) do: They don’t control their own destiny. Even if they beat Michigan this weekend, it isn’t a guarantee they make the playoff. Even if it is likely.
Therefore, the best-case scenario is not only for Ohio State to beat Michigan this weekend, but also for Michigan State to beat Penn State as well. That punches the Buckeyes’ ticket to the Big Ten title game, and therefore control their own destiny going forward.
Again, Ohio State doesn’t need Michigan State to pull the upset. But it would certainly help.
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Alabama Crimson Tide
It’s hard to come up with a “best-case scenario” for ‘Bama, since the Tide are so clearly the best team in college football. Win out and they aren’t only in the playoff, but the No. 1 seed. Even if they lose one game, they would probably still retain the No. 1 seed.
So if we’re really talking about a “best-case” scenario, it’s that Ohio State and Penn State both win this weekend, clinching the Big Ten East for the Nittany Lions. In that case, we’d be looking at a two-loss Big Ten champ, and no scenario which Alabama gets trumped for the No. 1 seed, even if the Tide loses a game between now and the end of the season.
Again, Alabama needs no help. But if the Tide is looking for it, that’s the best-case scenario.