Alex Hickey: Michigan and Ohio State are in the CFP top 4. Can both stay there?
The chess pieces continue to move the right way for the Big Ten.
With Ohio State at No. 2 and Michigan at No. 3 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, the possibility of 2 B1G teams reaching the Playoff is coming into focus. The SEC has placed 2 teams in the field twice in the CFP’s 8-year existence, but no other conference has had the opportunity.
Of course, either the Buckeyes or Wolverines are guaranteed to lose when they face each other in Columbus to close the regular season. And that is where things will get tricky. Will either team be able to sneak in with a loss and no conference title?
Possibly. But only if Ohio State is the team with the loss.
Because of their season-opening win over No. 20 Notre Dame, the Buckeyes have a resume edge that currently has them a spot ahead of the Wolverines. And that edge may come in handy if a life raft is needed.
Right now there are plenty of teams with a path to preventing the Big Ten from getting both contenders into the CFP.
No. 4 TCU
Let’s say the Horned Frogs lose to Texas this week. It’s over, right?
Not so much.
If TCU falls to the Horns but wins the rest of its games, including the Big 12 championship game, it finishes 12-1 with a conference title.
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It’s hard to see an 11-1 Ohio State getting the nod, particularly if Texas is the team TCU beats in the Big 12 title game. And an 11-1 Michigan team would have an even weaker argument thanks to its non-conference schedule.
The loser of the Ohio State-Michigan game will dip below TCU unless the Frogs lose twice. Granted, that could still mean getting into the CFP as the No. 4 seed.
But that’s where another problem awaits.
No. 5 Tennessee
The Volunteers are ideally positioned to make it the third time that the SEC places 2 teams in the CFP.
There’s virtually no chance Tennessee is losing again. The Vols close out with Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Their only loss is to No. 1 Georgia, and they have wins over top 10s LSU and Alabama.
Neither Michigan nor Ohio State is going to have a better head-to-head resume than Tennessee — unless Alabama and LSU stumble down the stretch, somehow taking the shine off those wins. That doesn’t look like something you want to bank on at the moment.
If TCU and Tennessee both win out, the Ohio State-Michigan loser may very well tumble to No. 5.
No. 6 Oregon
Things get even more complicated if the Ducks run the table.
Like Tennessee, Oregon’s only loss would be to Georgia. It was an ugly loss — 49-3 — but the season opener under a first-year head coach was a long time ago. And the committee smiles upon teams that have the guts to schedule the defending national champions in the season opener instead of, say, Colorado State.
A scenario in which Oregon and TCU are both 12-1 with conference championships and Tennessee is 11-1 with its lone loss coming to Georgia leaves the Ohio State-Michigan loser at No. 6 in the conversation. There really isn’t an argument for placing the 11-1 Buckeyes or Wolverines ahead of any of those teams.
That means the Ohio State-Michigan loser needs Oregon to pick up a second loss.
No. 7 LSU
If the Tigers win out, they’d have the resume to sneak into the field at No. 4 despite an 11-2 record. LSU would be the SEC champ, topped off with a win over unbeaten Georgia. The winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game would move up to No. 1 in the CFP, and the loser is surely short of luck.
No. 8 USC
The Trojans are in a similar spot as Oregon.
USC has the potential to finish 12-1 with a Pac-12 title. That path would include wins over Notre Dame and probably the Ducks in the conference championship game. It again becomes difficult to see a 1-loss team without a conference title getting a nod over such an opponent.
No. 12 UCLA
The Bruins are in a similar spot as Oregon and USC. Win out, and UCLA is 12-1 with a Pac-12 title. That path would require UCLA to beat USC in the Battle of Los Angeles, and then avenge its only loss against Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.
That pair of top 10 wins, as well as one over No. 13 Utah, gives the Bruins a better resume than the Ohio State-Michigan loser.
There will need to be plenty of outside help in order for the Buckeyes and Wolverines to both get into the Playoff. And waiting for outside help is not a position you want to be in.
So, the solution is pretty simple. Win The Game. Don’t choke against the Big Ten West champ. Go to the College Football Playoff.