Chaos Theory: Week 12 rooting guide to maximum playoff controversy
Last week was a pretty good week for #TeamChaos in the College Football Playoff. With four teams in the top 10 teams of the playoff rankings entering Week 11 all losing, Saturday helped set the stage for a controversial finish that will force the selection committee to make some impossible choices.
But there are still some outcomes that will leave the committee with relatively simple choices. I can only imagine their eagerness to get four clearly playoff-worthy teams that almost no one can argue with. For example, if Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma State all win out, few could argue with each of those four making the field. Or if Notre Dame wins out and Oklahoma State and Oklahoma both lose, the Fighting Irish would earn a bid with little disagreement.
That’d be much too neat, clean and, frankly, boring. Where’s the fun in the playoff committee revealing its final rankings, only for those rankings to be met with, “Well, yeah that seems about right. Can’t argue with that”?
The good news is that with only three weeks left before the playoff field is set, we can start imagining specific situations that would produce some wonderfully entertaining chaos. With those in mind, here is your rooting guide to Week 12, designed to create the most controversial playoff scenarios possible.
Oklahoma beats TCU, Notre Dame beats Boston College, Oklahoma State beats Baylor
The controversial scenario most likely to confront the playoff committee is if Notre Dame and Oklahoma both win out. The Irish currently sit at No. 4 in the rankings while Oklahoma is at No. 7. However, the Sooners have a chance to secure two more wins over currently ranked teams with this week’s matchup against TCU and next week’s trip to Oklahoma State (which would enter the Bedlam game undefeated if the Cowboys can take down Baylor this week).
If both Notre Dame and Oklahoma finish 11–1, each will have strong arguments for why it should outrank the other. The Irish’s loss, a two-point defeat at No. 1 Clemson, is miles better than the Sooners’ seven-point defeat to Texas. However, Oklahoma would have three marquee wins in its final three games (at Baylor, TCU, at Oklahoma State) plus a conference chamionship, something the Irish can’t get. The Sooners’ résumé would resemble Ohio State’s from last year in that both suffered a single loss to a clearly inferior team but provided clear evidence of their improvement by the end of the season, including a Power 5 conference title.
No matter which team the playoff committee picked in this scenario, fans of the other team would be outraged. This is particularly true if Oklahoma were denied a spot in the field, making that two years in a row that the Big 12 was left on the outside looking in.
Michigan State beats Ohio State, Notre Dame beats Boston College, Oklahoma beats TCU
The Spartans aren’t the subject of much playoff discussion despite their No. 9 ranking because it’s generally assumed they’ll lose to Ohio State and fall out of contention. But things could get really interesting if they win.
If Michigan State takes down Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday, brushes off Penn State the next week and then beats Iowa in the Big Ten championship game, Mark Dantonio’s squad would finish the regular season riding quite a wave of momentum—not unlike the one that carried the Buckeyes into the playoff last year. But would that be enough to earn a spot in this year’s field?
At No. 9, the Spartans need to pass five teams to make the playoff. Beating Ohio State and Iowa would move them ahead of two teams. They’d also pass the loser of Oklahoma-Oklahoma State and the SEC Championship Game. It’s that fifth team that could be tricky.
Michigan State would have no chance of leapfrogging an undefeated Cowboys squad coming off of victories over Baylor and Oklahoma, even with the Spartans’ advantage of playing a conference title game. But if the Sooners beat Oklahoma State, the comparison begins to resemble last year’s between Ohio State, Baylor and TCU: a 12–1 Big Ten team with a bad loss that some might excuse (due to the poor officiating that contributed to Nebraksa’s win) vs. an 11–1 Big 12 team that didn’t get the opportunity to play a 13th game.
The Spartans could also pass Notre Dame on the strength of their 13th game and conference title. However, similar to Oklahoma’s jockeying with the Irish, Notre Dame’s loss is much better than Michigan State’s, even if committee members are sympathetic to the Spartans due to the officiating.
Regardless, the three-way debate for two spots between Michigan State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame could be even more entertaining than just the Sooners and Irish because whoever got left out would have two teams to complain about. That’s bad for them but fun for everyone else. Even in the case where Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma to lock up a playoff berth, the decision between Notre Dame and Michigan State would produce some quality griping.
Wake Forest beats Clemson, Charleston Southern beats Alabama, Michigan State beats Ohio State, Boston College beats Notre Dame, Purdue beats Iowa, Baylor beats Oklahoma State, TCU beats Oklahoma, Florida Atlantic beat Florida
Of course, there’s always the nuclear option, in which every playoff contender gets upset leaving a completely reset race in which no team with two losses or less is totally out of the mix. Someone has to win the Ohio State-Michigan State and Oklahoma State-Baylor games, so the victors of those two would likely jump near the top of the rankings. As for the rest of the field, it’d be a wasteland.
So close your eyes, ignore the fact that there’s no chance Wake Forest and Charleston Southern win (no matter what Nick Saban says) and wish with all your heart. This one just might drive Jeff Long and the rest of the playoff committee to resign on the spot.