By this point in the season, we know the situation we’re rooting for. If Alabama, Clemson, Washington and the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan game win out, those four teams will make the College Football Playoff without much controversy. Perhaps if Ohio State wins, the winner of the Big Ten title game (between Penn State and Wisconsin) could make a claim over Clemson or Washington, but it’d be an uphill battle.
Simplicity is the enemy for those rooting for playoff controversy, so we need at least one upset. That’s all it would take for chaos to reign, as it would open the door for a host of two-loss teams to duke it out for a national semifinal berth with little to distinguish them.
So keep that in mind for the next two weeks. Here’s your Week 13 rooting guide for College Football Playoff chaos:
South Carolina beats Clemson
As mentioned above, a two-loss Big Ten champion could possibly claim that its tougher schedule and larger set of quality wins make it more deserving of a playoff spot than a one-loss Clemson, but that’s a difficult sell. If the Tigers lose to the Gamecocks, things are guaranteed to get interesting.
The playoff selection committee could be forced to choose between two-loss ACC champion Clemson, two-loss Big 12 champion Oklahoma and a two-loss Big Ten champion (either Wisconsin or Penn State). That debate is ripe to leave some disgruntled fan bases. Could the Tigers get in when they lost to a mediocre Gamecocks team so late in the season? Could the Big Ten get two teams in while the ACC and Big 12 get shut out? Finding the right answer to those questions would be elusive and playoff selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt would have a tough time explaining either decision.
Ohio State beats Michigan, Penn State beats Michigan State, Wisconsin beats Minnesota
The Big Ten is the best potential source of playoff controversy this year simply because it could end in such bizarre fashion. If these results happen, Penn State would make the conference title game despite having a worse overall record than Ohio State and despite having lost to Michigan by 39 points.
Then the Nittany Lions could go on to win the conference title game over Wisconsin, only to get shut out of the playoff by the same Ohio State team they a) beat head-to-head and b) finished above in the Big Ten standings. Hocutt said Tuesday the committee does not see the gap between Ohio State and Penn State as small, so don’t expect a conference title to vault the Nittany Lions ahead of the Buckeyes.
If Wisconsin were to beat Penn State in the Big Ten title game, Ohio State’s spot would be even more secure because of its head-to-head win over the Badgers. Still, that leaves the selection committee in the awkward position of leaving out a conference champion for another team in that same conference. Or the committee could include the Badgers and face the backlash for whatever conference’s champ gets bumped to No. 5. Again, there are no good solutions for the committee, which means only good outcomes from a chaos perspective.
Washington beats Washington State, Colorado beats Utah
You may wonder why you would root for Washington if you want a chaotic playoff situation when the Huskies winning the Pac-12 is the most clear-cut way for the conference to finish from a playoff perspective. But keep in mind, the more two-loss teams with a legitimate case for a playoff berth, the better. In the Pac-12, that means building up No. 9 Colorado’s résumé.
The Buffaloes have two shots to close the season on a high note. First they need to beat No. 22 Utah on Saturday to clinch the Pac-12 South. Then, their best shot is to hope they face the No. 5 Huskies (who will move into the top four if they win this week, passing the loser of Ohio State-Michigan). Colorado only has one win over a currently ranked team (Stanford), so it needs to bolster its résumé to move up. A Pac-12 title won’t be enough if it comes over Washington State.
So root for Washington this week. Then the Pac-12 championship game becomes a prime opportunity for chaos next Friday.
Auburn beats Alabama, Florida beats Florida State
Alabama has already been penciled into the playoff field, but the playoff committee can go ahead and write the Crimson Tide in with a pen if they beat Auburn on Saturday. A loss to Florida in the SEC Championship Game, as unlikely as that is, wouldn’t be enough because 12–1 Alabama would still finish in the top four.
The only way the Tide don’t make the playoff is if the seemingly invincible team suddenly nosedives in its final two games. What would the committee do then? Could they really take a squad riding a two-game losing streak? However, could they really keep out the team that looked leaps and bounds better than the rest of the country for the first 12 weeks of the season?
Meanwhile, if Florida beats Florida State on Saturday and follows that up with a stunning upset of Alabama, the Gators would have to enter the playoff conversation. At No. 15 in the current playoff rankings, they’re hardly in the conversation now, but it’s difficult to definitively say they don’t still control their playoff destiny.
If you piece together all these scenarios, you see how the college football season could end in maximum chaos. Two-loss teams win the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, while Ohio State misses out on its league title game yet finishes the year with one loss. The Buckeyes would surely make the field in that case, but as for the other three slots, they’d be anyone’s guess. Wouldn’t it be great?