Saturday’s matchup between #2 Ohio State and #3 Michigan was easily the biggest matchup of the season so far, and it didn’t disappoint. The Buckeyes overcame a 10-point second half deficit and kicked a game-tying field goal in the final seconds of regulation. Following consecutive touchdowns in the first overtime, the Wolverines were forced to settle for three points in 2OT, while Ohio State capitalized with a touchdown following a controversial fourth-down conversion. Thanks to a Penn State victory over Michigan State, the game ended the regular season for both teams, putting Ohio State in a good position while essentially sticking a fork in Michigan’s playoff hopes.
Overall, not much has changed since last week’s update. Besides Michigan, no teams in the top 10 lost, and considering the showdown between #8 Oklahoma and #10 Oklahoma State isn’t until next week, no games of importance were played in the Big 12. Here’s a conference-by-conference update on what’s changed following the last few days’ action.
In case you thought there was a chance Alabama would drop its final two games and potentially miss the playoffs, the Crimson Tide defeated Auburn 30-12 in the Iron Bowl. I think they were a lock beforehand, but they certainly are now, and on top of that, I also think Nick Saban’s team has locked up the #1 overall seed in the playoffs. They’ll play Florida on Dec. 3 in the SEC Championship Game, and judging by their uninspiring loss to Florida State on Saturday, the Gators don’t stand much of a chance. Additionally, with their third loss, the extreme longshot scenario of Florida winning out, taking the SEC crown, and finding a way into the top four is officially dead.
The Big Ten:
Last week, I outlined the numerous scenarios for the Big Ten, all starting with the assumptions that Penn State and Wisconsin would take care of business against lesser opponents Michigan State and Minnesota. Both teams did prevail, creating what I believe to be the best outcome for the Big Ten. They won’t win the Big Ten title, but I can’t see a scenario where one-loss and current #2 Ohio State doesn’t finish in the top four. Additionally, the winner of the Wisconsin-Penn State game will have a great case to make for playoff inclusion. I think Wisconsin definitely has better odds, but it would be difficult to leave out the champion of what is easily college football’s best division. Michigan, as strong as their resume is, and even with the loss to Ohio State coming on the road in overtime, just aren’t going to be ranked ahead of the Big Ten champion.
Clemson completed the first half of its path to the playoffs by destroying South Carolina 56-7. Now, all the Tigers need is a victory over Virginia Tech to win the ACC, which should lock themselves into the playoffs. In other league news, Louisville fell again, this time at the hands of Kentucky, and Pittsburgh beat Syracuse 76-61 and broke the record for most points in an FBS game.
Sorry, Colorado fans- your team has been impressive recently, but a second Big Ten team would make the playoffs before the Buffaloes should they win the Pac-12 Championship Game. For Washington, things are a little more complicated. First of all, the Huskies played a great game in the Apple Cup, downing Washington State 45-17. However, a victory over Colorado far from guarantees them a spot in the top four. Especially with the recent Big Ten results, I think it’s becoming more and more likely that they too will finish below the Big Ten champ. However, unlike Colorado, at #5, Washington is currently ranked above both Wisconsin and Penn State. The Huskies’ game plan is to have a convincing win over Colorado and hope it’s enough to keep them ahead. Alternatively, a Clemson loss would also free up space and put Washington in prime position should they defeat the Buffaloes.
The Big 12:
Honestly, I don’t think I can even pretend that Oklahoma still has a shot at the playoffs. Despite not playing this week, the last few days have essentially been a worst-case scenario for the Sooners. Ohio State, Clemson, Washington, Wisconsin, and Penn State all were victorious. There aren’t enough games left for teams to lose that would open the door for the Big 12. In the ridiculous scenario where Clemson and Washington lose their title games, I still think a two-loss Clemson could get the nod. Heck, maybe even Michigan would, giving the Big Ten three teams in the top four. I see the playoff as a six-team race, and the Big 12 has none of those teams.
The Group of Five:
Obviously, none of these teams will make the playoffs, but I’m giving a shout-out to the best team no one has talked about this season, the 12-0 Western Michigan Broncos. In his fourth year as coach of the team, P.J. Fleck has transformed the program from a 1-11 season in his debut campaign to the clear favorite for a New Year’s Six Bowl as long as his team can survive Ohio in the MAC Championship. While they did not face the Bobcats in the regular season, the Broncos won every conference game by at least 14 points. In the unlikely event of a slip-up, Boise State and Navy remain in the running for the New Year’s Six Bowl. Western Michigan should enjoy a significant rise in the rankings this week from their current position at #21.
Alabama and Ohio State should both be in. Four teams are fighting for the last two spots: Clemson, Washington, Wisconsin, and Penn State. Should either Clemson or Washington lose their conference title game, the other and the Big Ten champion should make the playoffs. If both win, the committee will be left with three teams, and a difficult decision on who to leave out between Clemson/Washington/the Big Ten champion. I think Clemson has the definite edge in this scenario unless they struggle mightily against Virginia Tech while the other two win convincingly.
Things are finally beginning to clear up, but while things are clearer now than a week ago, there is still much to be decided in the final three meaningful games before the committee makes their decision: the championships of the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12.