Chaos Theory: Week 12 rooting guide to max College Football Playoff controversy
- The Big Ten and Pac-12 could both leave the College Football Playoff selection committee with some controversial decisions if they finish up the season the right way.
Wasn’t last week fun? After a season mostly filled with power programs proving their superiority, college football seemed to expel a year’s worth of pandemonium on one week as Clemson, Michigan and Washington all lost their first games of the season.
But while chaos undeniably won the battle last week, it has yet to win the war. Signs are looking good for a controversial College Football Playoff selection process—will one-loss Washington get snubbed? Can the Big Ten get two teams in?—but it’s time to finish the job.
After all of last week’s upsets, there’s an abundance of possible chaos to inflict on the playoff selection committee. Here is what to root for in Week 12 to make the committee’s job as brutal as possible:
Ohio State beats Michigan State, Michigan beats Indiana, Penn State beats Rutgers, Wisconsin beats Purdue
The Big Ten's chaos scenario is fascinating because it’s possible for neither of the conference’s two teams in the current top four of the playoff rankings to make the Big Ten title game. That’d remain the case if these results happen in Week 12. No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan would surely keep their spots with wins this week, but if the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines next week and Penn State wins out, the No. 8 Nittany Lions will take the Big Ten East’s spot in the conference championship.
That’d create a fantastic headache for the selection committee. Would Ohio State become the first team to make the playoff without winning its conference? Would Penn State or Wisconsin (which will win the Big Ten West if it wins out) become the first two-loss team to make playoff? If there’s only room for one Big Ten team (say Alabama, Clemson and Washington all finish the season strong), what would the committee do with a two-loss conference champ Wisconsin and the Ohio State team that beat it in Camp Randall? Or a two-loss conference champ Penn State and the Ohio State team it beat?
If Ohio State or Michigan makes the Big Ten title game and wins it, the Buckeyes or Wolverines would obviously make the playoff. If any other outcome happens, the Big Ten becomes a nightmare for the selection committee members.
Oklahoma State beats TCU, Oklahoma beats West Virginia
If uncertainty keeps growing, there is a more compelling a case the Big 12 can make for sending a team to the playoff. If a few more upsets happen in the other four power conferences, the league that was written off from playoff consideration could suddenly enter the mix.
Based on the current rankings, No. 9 Oklahoma is the Big 12’s best shot at getting a team in the mix for a national semifinal berth despite the Sooners two losses. Oklahoma’s case only becomes stronger if it closes the season with wins at No. 14 West Virginia and over No. 11 Oklahoma State.
That won’t be enough by itself to put the Sooners in the playoff, but it creates the potential for some great controversy. Say the Pac-12 champion also finishes with two losses or the ACC Coastal champion win the conference title game. The playoff hits its highest threshold for controversy when all five power conference champions have legitimate cases for inclusion. Oklahoma can still build one if it gets a little help.
Washington State beats Colorado, Washington beats Arizona State, Utah beats Oregon, USC beats UCLA
An undefeated Pac-12 champ would have been a shoo-in for a playoff berth. A two-loss Pac-12 champ has almost no shot. But one-loss one is the Goldilocks answer for creating controversy. As No. 6 Washington is now in perfect position to become exactly that, playoff chaos is served by the Huskies winning out.
The case for the Huskies only gets stronger as their remaining schedule gets more difficult. If Washington doesn’t start beating ranked opponents—its only victory over a top 25 team right now is Utah—it’ll get pushed to the side pretty easily. So while the Huskies’ matchup with 5–5 Arizona State isn’t very impactful, some other Pac-12 games are key.
If No. 22 Washington State can knock off No. 10 Colorado, next week’s Apple Cup could become the toughest test of the season for Washington. And if No. 12 Utah and No. 13 USC both win this week, they’ll help ensure that whoever comes out of the Pac-12 South to play in the league title game will give the Huskies another opportunity for a quality win.
Right now, Washington is the second-lowest ranked one-loss team from a Power 5 conference, and it’s hard for the Huskies to argue they should be ranked any higher. But add two wins over ranked opponents and a conference title, and suddenly keeping Washington out of the playoff would qualify as a legitimate snub no matter what happens in the other power conferences.
Chattanooga beats Alabama, Michigan State beats to Ohio State, Indiana beats Michigan, Wake Forest beats Clemson, Arizona State beats Washington
Last week was fun, so let’s do it again! Louisville's loss Houston guarantees that at least one of the top six teams will lose in Week 12, but maybe Saturday can add two or three more to the carnage.
The least likely of these results would also be far and away the most fun. Alabama is far and away the No. 1 team, and even if the Crimson Tide finish 12–1, they’d still clearly make the playoff, right? But what if that one loss is an absolutely appalling loss to Chattanooga? It’s basically unthinkable that that would happen given how well Alabama has been playing, but hey, the point of this column is to create chaos and that would definitely do it.
How far could the Tide drop? They’d still boast a better collection of wins than most of the other one-loss team, but falling the Chattanooga would easily be the worst loss of the bunch. Unless Alabama drops two of its remaining three games (it’s already clinched a spot in the SEC Championship Game), it’s almost impossible for the Tide’s inclusion in the playoff to be subject to controversy. Losing to Chattanooga is the lone exception.