How the Final Week of the Season Will Impact the College Football Playoff

The new College Football Playoff rankings are out and we try to cut through the final week of the season to see how the Playoff will shake out.

Nov 30 2016, 1:18am

Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The new College Football Playoff rankings are out, and with one week left, we have a better idea of which teams will be selected for the Playoff on Sunday. These were this week's rankings, with each team's next opponent:

  1. Alabama (Florida)
  2. Ohio State (None)
  3. Clemson (Virginia Tech)
  4. Washington (Colorado)
  5. Michigan (None)
  6. Wisconsin (Penn State)
  7. Penn State (Wisconsin)
  8. Colorado (Washington)

Here's how this weekend's games will impact the rankings:

The Locks

Alabama and Ohio State

Alabama can still make the Playoff even if it loses to Florida this week. The Buckeyes didn't even win their division, but sitting at No. 2 with wins against Michigan (No. 5), at Wisconsin (No. 6), and at Oklahoma (No. 9), it's nearly impossible to see Urban Meyer's team falling out of the top four. Argue all you want about why Penn State should pass OSU with a win, but it's simply not happening.

Win and They're In, Lose and They're Out

Washington and Clemson

Clemson's situation is pretty straightforward: If they win, they deserve to be in. If they lose, they don't.

The selection committee has struggled to embrace Washington all year, but the Huskies sit above Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin this week; they will be coming off two of their best wins of the year if they beat Colorado in the Pac-12 championship. They aren't falling past the Big Ten title game winner.

If either Washington or Clemson loses...

This is where things get interesting. Does the committee put Michigan, currently at No. 5, through to the Playoff ahead of the Big Ten championship winner? Badgers and Nittany Lions fans will cry foul, but that's a realistic possibility.

The committee does consider conference championships as part of the selection criteria, but committee chair Kirby Holcutt said that metric is not any more or less important than things like strength of schedule, strength of wins, and head-to-head results. Michigan's body of work, despite its lack of a division title, is very strong. The Wolverines have the same record as Penn State and Wisconsin, but:

  • Michigan beat both of them head-to-head, and beat Penn State, 49-10.
  • Michigan is 3-1 against the rest of the top ten. Penn State is 1-1, while Wisconsin is 0-2.
  • Michigan had to play at Ohio State, and still took the Buckeyes to overtime.

The committee seems to like Michigan a lot still—or at least more than the teams behind the Wolverines. Holcutt said that "the separation between Washington at No. 4 and Michigan at No. 5 is extremely small" and also that Penn State and Ohio State "are not close in the eyes of the selection committee."

It's impossible to know which metrics the committee will weigh more heavily than others, so it's impossible to say for sure which team will get in. But it's entirely possible that Michigan gets in over the Big Ten champ. Either way, if either Washington and Clemson loses, two Big Ten teams are getting in.

If Washington and Clemson both lose...

It's likely that a whopping three Big Ten teams will get into the College Football Playoffs. Alabama and Ohio State would still take the top two spots, but Michigan could slide into either of the No. 3 or No. 4 spots with the Big Ten champ rounding out the group.

There is an outside chance Colorado could jump up, or that Clemson could hold on to a spot, but more likely than not upsets in the Pac-12 and ACC title games will mean three Big Ten teams make the Playoff.