Do Ohio State and Michigan both deserve to make the Playoff? And how it can happen
Let’s start with the fact that the College Football Playoff selection committee doesn’t think exactly like the various media pundits around the country.
The committee doesn’t get bored of slotting the same teams into its tournament year after year. It isn’t necessarily enamored more with aesthetically pleasing, high-scoring Pac-12 ball than the league that plays defense. That’s obvious from the latest reveal, which has Ohio State at No. 2, Michigan at No. 3 and fellow unbeaten Washington at No 5.
The loser of The Game — Buckeyes at Wolverines on Nov. 25 — certainly could be looked at as the best 1-loss team in the country in the eyes of the voters who matter. That almost certainly will be the debate when the committee gets together to announce the 4-team field on Dec. 3.
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Unless Minnesota and/or Maryland pull off the most unlikely of upsets this Saturday, that debate will occur this year just as it did last year, when both the undefeated Wolverines and 1-loss Buckeyes made the Playoff. Yes, this assumes the B1G West champ doesn’t win the B1G title game, an upset almost as unlikely as the Gophers (at Ohio State) or Terps (vs. Michigan) pulling off a stunner this weekend.
It’s possible, but unprecedented, that 4 undefeated teams will make this season’s field. CFP No. 1 Georgia, No. 4 Florida State, No. 5 Washington and the B1G champ could lock out everyone else by running the table. Otherwise, the committee will have to split some hairs.
Does Michigan deserve to make the CFP?
If the Wolverines run the table, of course they’re in. It gets dicey if they lose The Game, though.
Their soft schedule won’t do them any favors, and their win over Penn State was impressive only in an odd sort of way. And the committee could cite the sign-stealing scandal to make a tough call in favor of, say, a 1-loss Alabama or Texas. That’s a wildcard that’s hard to weigh.
On the positive side, they have brand recognition from 2 straight CFP appearances. Having the best scoring and total defense — plus a QB in JJ McCarthy who has been in the Heisman conversation — bolsters the resume. And the Free Jim Harbaugh/Michigan Against Everybody narrative makes for great theater, a factor if the committee members care about ratings (read: $$$), which they surely do. Is Washington going to bring a Ric Flair type into the drama? No. Woooo, no!
Does Ohio State deserve to make the CFP?
Again, the easy path is not to lose. But the Buckeyes would have a better 1-loss resume than Michigan, thanks to its win over then-No. 9 Notre Dame on the road in September. That’s why the committee slots the Buckeyes above Michigan now, with both teams at 10-0.
Ohio State’s defense ranks just a smidge below Michigan statistically and is the only other unit in the country allowing less than 10 points per game. And the Buckeyes’ offense is better, led by headliner and Heisman candidate Marvin Harrison Jr.
What OSU-UM loser should root for/against
No. 1, don’t get blown out in The Game. A top-3 team losing a tight game to another top-3 team will have as good a case as any other 1-loss team. Beyond that, here’s what would help:
Root against No. 8 Alabama: If the SEC’s big 2 both get in, the B1G is not getting the other 2 spots without a lot of craziness. So you want Bama (9-1) to lose in or before the SEC title game. The Tide have been on a roll since their Week 2 loss to Texas. If they hit Selection Sunday on an 11-game win streak — fresh off a win over No. 1 Georgia — they’re very likely to jump all other 1-loss teams. (Yes, even if 1 of those teams is Texas.)
- Bama remaining schedule: vs. Chattanooga (7-3), at Auburn (6-4), SEC title game vs. Georgia (10-0).
- Georgia remaining schedule: at No. 18 Tennessee (7-3), at Georgia Tech (5-5), SEC title game vs. Alabama (9-1).
Root against No. 4 Florida State: If the No. 4 Seminoles (10-0) run the table, they will get a spot. A season-opening win over LSU helps the resume, and the ACC might rate as a tougher league than the Big Ten this season. Plus, 13-0 is 13-0. The best hope for an upset will come in the ACC title game, probably against No. 10 Louisville (9-1). The Cardinals’ loss is to 2-8 Pitt, so they’re not getting in. In the ACC, it’s Florida State or nobody. Root for nobody.
- FSU remaining schedule: vs. North Alabama (3-7), at Florida (5-5), ACC title game.
Root for No. 11 Oregon State to muck up the Pac-12: The Beavers (8-2) have games remaining against No. 5 Washington (10-0) and No. 6 Oregon (9-1 with a narrow loss to Washington). If the Beavers don’t pull off the double-whammy, root for Oregon over Washington in the Pac-12 title game. One unbeaten Pac-12 team is more likely to crowd out a 2nd B1G team than 2 1-loss Pac-12 teams. That logic flips if Florida State loses and Georgia wins out, though. In that scenario, you have unbeatens Georgia, Washington and the B1G winner. B1G #2, provided its loss isn’t a blowout, would have a great shot to get picked over potential 1-loss teams Texas, Florida State and Louisville.
- Washington remaining schedule: at No. 11 Oregon State (8-2), vs. Washington State (4-6), Pac-12 title game?
- Oregon remaining schedule: at Arizona State (3-7), vs. No. 11 Oregon State (8-2), Pac-12 title game?
Root against No. 7 Texas: The Longhorns (9-1) have won their past 2 games by 3 points apiece; they’re not exactly hot. Their loss came against No. 12 Oklahoma (8-2), a likely rematch opponent in the Big 12 title game. Their big win, 34-24 over Alabama, came in Week 2. Texas might get snubbed even at 12-1, but a loss takes the entire conference out of the picture.
- Texas remaining schedule: at Iowa State (6-4), vs. Texas Tech (5-5), Big 12 title game?
For the loser of The Game, the No. 1 rooting interest is against Alabama. If the Tide and Georgia both finish 12-1, they’re both in. The Bulldogs play No. 18 Tennessee this weekend, but an upset in unlikely. The Vols are coming off a 36-7 loss to No. 14 Missouri, which doesn’t bode well for threatening the top team in the country. If the SEC gets 2 spots in the CFP and the B1G champ is in, only 1 spot remains. At that point, you’d need Florida State and Washington to have fallen from the unbeaten ranks, then probably Texas to have taken a 2nd loss. If Texas finishes 12-1 with a win over Bama, that might trump Ohio State or Michigan. A 1-loss Oregon might get the 4th spot as well.
So it’s not you against the world, or you against everybody. It’s you against the Tide. Unless of course your side wins The Game. Then it’s everyone else for themselves.