College Football Playoff Bubble Watch: Playoff field shrinking with one week left in the regular season
It should be a pretty easy week for the College Football Playoff selection committee, as Louisville was the only team in the top 10 to lose over the weekend. Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and Clemson all picked up wins leading into rivalry week.
There are only 10 teams left with plausible paths to the playoff: the eight teams below, Colorado and Florida.
Before the rankings are released, here’s a look at the cases for and against eight teams in playoff contention, ordered by their likelihood of appearing in the top four this week. (We're using this week's AP Top 25 Poll for rankings of opponents, since last week's playoff rankings are now outdated.)
Strength of schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 15
Last week: Won 31–3 vs. Chattanooga
This week: vs. No. 16 Auburn
Best wins: vs. No. 12 USC, at No. 25 LSU, vs. No. 22 Texas A&M, at No. 24 Tennessee
Case for: It's easy, Alabama is the only undefeated Power 5 conference team in the country and has been dominant in almost every game. The Crimson Tide make the playoff by winning one of their final two games against rival Auburn or against Florida for the SEC championship. Winning both will lock Alabama in as the No. 1 seed.
Case against: None. The only way Alabama doesn't make the playoff is by losing to both Auburn and Florida. That would potentially open the door for Florida, but only if the Gators also beat Florida State
Consensus: In. Doesn't get any easier for the committee.
Ohio State (10–1)
Strength of schedule: 23
Last week: Won 17–16 at Michigan State
This week: vs. No. 3 Michigan
Best wins: at No. 5 Wisconsin, at No. 7 Oklahoma, vs. No. 17 Nebraska
Losses: at No. 8 Penn State
Case for: It's simple for Ohio State: beat Michigan and it's in the playoff. A one-loss Ohio State with wins over Michigan, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Nebraska could end up the No. 2 seed in the playoff even without a Big Ten championship. Clemson doesn't have a strong enough opponent left on the schedule to jump the Buckeyes. Beating Michigan, however, is no easy task. The Buckeyes luck out being the host, and Michigan may be starting John O'Korn at quarterback again instead of Wilton Speight due to injury. Michigan's defense is still one of the best in the country and anything can happen in rivalry games.
Case against: Ohio State didn't play well against Michigan State. You actually can make the case for Michigan being No. 2 this week, as the Wolverines beat a better team in Indiana. If Penn State beats Michigan State this week and Ohio State wins, the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten East. It shouldn't be an issue, but the thought in the back of every Buckeye fan's mind is whether the committee could actually leave out a one-loss OSU because it wasn't a conference champion. It remains a very slim possibility, but never say never.
Consensus: In. Ohio State has a great résumé.
Strength of schedule: 51
Last week: Won 20–10 vs. Indiana
This week: at No. 2 Ohio State
Best wins: vs. No. 5 Wisconsin, vs. No. 8 Penn State, vs. No. 9 Colorado
Losses: at Iowa
Case for: Michigan knocked off Indiana in a snowy affair to move to 10–1. The Wolverines started slow, but played much better in the second half against a much improved Indiana defense. Michigan will win the Big Ten East with a win at Ohio State. This alone would put Michigan in very good position to make the playoff as Michigan would be the only team in the country to own four top-10 wins. A win in the Big Ten title game would assure the Wolverines the No. 2 seed in the playoff.
Case against: Beating Ohio State on the road will be quite the challenge. Michigan hasn't played well on the road this season, and might be starting its backup quarterback again. Michigan may well miss the playoff if it loses to Ohio State.
Consensus: In. Michigan is the only team in the nation with three top 10 wins right now, and is more than deserving of a top four ranking.
Strength of schedule: 34
Last week: Won 35–13 at Wake Forest
This week: vs. South Carolina
Best wins: vs. No. 11 Louisville, at No. 15 Florida State, at No. 16 Auburn
Losses: vs. Pittsburgh
Case for: Clemson will play for the ACC title after beating Wake Forest. The Tigers will be heavily favored in that game, and assuming they beat a struggling South Carolina, will make the playoff with a win. Clemson hasn't been particularly impressive, but it has taken care of business and has earned its straightforward path to the national semifinals.
Case against: Clemson probably will miss the playoff if it loses another game. A two-loss Clemson likely would get jumped by both a two-loss Big 12 champion Oklahoma and two-loss Pac 12 champion Colorado (should it beat Washington). It also likely would also be jumped by a potential 11–2 Michigan and a two-loss Big Ten champion. Simply put, don't lose and Clemson is safe.
Consensus: In. Clemson still has a stronger resume than Washington, for now.
Strength of schedule: 65
Last week: Won 44–18 vs. Arizona State
This week: at No. 23 Washington State
Best wins: at No. 21 Utah, vs. Stanford
Losses: vs. No. 12 USC
Case for: Washington got back on track with a win over Arizona State. Next up is a huge road test against rival Washington State for the division title. Pac 12 playoff hopes rely on the Huskies winning this game. Obviously, the league's best chance is if Washington wins out, something that is certainly possible and would probably land the Huskies in the top four. However, should Colorado wish to have a chance, the committee would value a conference title win against the Huskies far more than the Cougars.
Case against: Washington's best win took a hit when Utah lost on Saturday, and with Washington State losing, there's a possibility it could fall out of the rankings, meaning Washington would have to wait until the conference title game to pick up another ranked win. Strength of schedule is still very poor. Another loss would knock Washington out of playoff contention and open the door for two Big Ten teams, Colorado, Oklahoma or Florida.
Consensus: Out. With a win this week, Washington should jump ahead of the Michigan-Ohio State loser.
Strength of schedule: 18
Last week: Won 49–20 at Purdue
This week: vs. Minnesota
Best wins: vs. No. 24 LSU, vs. No. 17 Nebraska
Losses: vs. No. 2 Ohio State, at No. 3 Michigan
Case for: Wisconsin continues to have the best résumé of all two-loss teams. For Wisconsin to make the playoff, it needs to win the Big Ten championship game, preferably against Michigan as that would look better than a win over Penn State. The Badgers would also benefit greatly from either Clemson or Washington losing. Washington falling is more likely simply based on strength of opponents left. First things first, however, Wisconsin must beat Minnesota.
Case against: If Wisconsin loses another game, it will miss out on the playoff. There will not be a three-loss team in the final four (sorry, USC). The only likely scenario that a Big Ten champion Wisconsin doesn't make the playoff is if Alabama, Clemson, Washington and Ohio State all win out (and Penn State handles Michigan State). This would create a toss-up between Wisconsin and Washington. Both are conference champions, Wisconsin has a better strength of schedule, but also has two-losses.
Consensus: Out. Despite it's advantage in strength of schedule, I don't think Wisconsin will jump Washington.
Penn State (9–2)
Strength of schedule: 35
Last week: Won 39–0 at Rutgers
This week: vs. Michigan State
Best wins: vs. No. 2 Ohio State
Losses: at Pittsburgh, at No. 3 Michigan
Case for: Penn State gets the nod over Oklahoma for the same reason as last week: a better win. That win against the Buckeyes continues to hold Penn State up in the playoff race. If Ohio State beats Michigan and Penn State beats Michigan State, Penn State wins the Big Ten East. This likely would allow the Nittany Lions a chance to beat Wisconsin in the league title game. For Penn State to get in, it will have to do just that and get some help.
Case against: Penn State has a weak résumé if you take out the win over OSU. The Nittany Lions were obliterated by Michigan in Ann Arbor in the only other game against a ranked team they have played. If Oklahoma wins next week, the Sooners would likely jump over Penn State in the rankings as could Colorado with a win over Utah.
Consensus: Out. Penn State needs some help to move up.
Strength of schedule: 17
Last week: Won 56–28 at No. 19 West Virginia
This week: vs. No. 10 Oklahoma State
Best wins: at No. 19 West Virginia
Losses: vs. No. 2 Ohio State, vs. No. 18 Houston
Case for: The Sooners picked up their first ranked win of the season after beating West Virginia on the road in blowout fashion. They also got a lift from Houston, who not only knocked Louisville out of the way, but boosted Oklahoma's strength of schedule in the process. Oklahoma will have a battle with Oklahoma State this weekend for both in-state bragging rights and a Big 12 championship. Oklahoma can make the playoff by winning out and a series of losses by teams currently in the top seven.
Case against: One ranked win over an overrated West Virginia team isn't going to make me go crazy over the Sooners. They are still a team that needs significant help to make the playoff and can still be jumped by other teams. The best chance Oklahoma has of making the playoff is if the Pac 12 implodes, meaning Washington and Colorado each lose another game and Michigan wins out. This would knock Washington, Colorado, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State out of playoff contention, leaving Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and Oklahoma. If Washington and Colorado both win this week, and Colorado then beats Washington to win the Pac 12, Colorado should jump Oklahoma. If Ohio State beats Michigan and Wisconsin beats Penn State in the Big Ten title game, both Ohio State and Wisconsin likely would be in ahead of Oklahoma.
Consensus: Out. Better put your maize and blue on, Sooners fans.