Michigan, Big Ten hoping for chaos after latest playoff rankings

Thoughts on the fifth set of CFP rankings, including how the Big Ten can benefit from chaos, a comparison between Clemson and Washington and a look at New Year's Six matchups.
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The College Football Playoff selection committee released its latest set of rankings Tuesday night. Here are three thoughts on the playoff committee's fifth top 25, which is the last one before the final rankings are released on Sunday:

1. The Big Ten would benefit from chaos this weekend

The Big Ten put four teams in the top seven of the rankings, with Ohio State the highest at No. 2. The Buckeyes have seemingly clinched a playoff spot, but there's a good possibility that the Big Ten could land two, if not three, teams in the playoff if chaos occurs this weekend. 

By chaos, I mean Clemson losing to Virginia Tech and Washington losing to Colorado.

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Michigan stands as the team most likely to benefit from a loss by either the Tigers or Huskies. Coming in at No. 5, the Wolverines continue to have a stronger resume than both Wisconsin and Penn State, Nos. 6 and 7 respectively. I made that argument in this week's Bubble Watch and still believe it to be true. Committee chair Kirby Hocutt said Tuesday night on ESPN that the committee does not see Penn State as close to Ohio State. He also said the committee is focused on putting the best four teams into the playoff, which may mean that conference championships could take a back seat to better overall resumes, also helping Michigan. Hocutt finished the interview by saying that Washington and Michigan are extremely close, with very little separation. A lot can change in one week—strength of schedule numbers will move slightly, and the committee could place more importance on conference titles than it is letting on—but look for Michigan to move into the top four if Clemson or Washington lose. The Wolverines' three top-10 wins are something neither Wisconsin nor Penn State will be able to match.

If both Clemson and Washington lose, then things get really crazy. Michigan would keep Colorado from jumping the Wolverines, and it would make sense for the Big Ten to then possibly get three teams into the playoff, with the Wisconsin-Penn State winner taking the No. 4 seed (setting up an Ohio State-Michigan rematch). Colorado should root for Penn State in the Big Ten title game, as Wisconsin still seems to be regarded as the better team by the committee and would make things tougher for Colorado to get in if it won. The Big Ten has been the best conference in college football this year, and it hasn't been close, so if both the Huskies and Tigers fall, don't be surprised if three Big Ten teams make it.

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For Oklahoma or Oklahoma State fans that say the Big 12 champion should get in, that seems impossible at this juncture. Washington losing means Colorado would stay ahead of both the Sooners and Cowboys. The Big Ten championship game winner would be ahead, and Michigan would also be ahead in the rankings. That makes three teams that would all be placed ahead of the Big 12 champion in the pecking order.

2. Can Washington jump Clemson?

Now, what happens if both Clemson and Washington win this week? The easy answer is that both teams make the playoff. However, the resumes have gotten closer as the season has gone on. How good of a shot do the Huskies have at the No. 3 seed?

Let's break it down. Both teams would be 12–1 conference champions. Both come from weak leagues. This week, Clemson has the slight advantage in strength of schedule: 47th to 60th. That will change next week, however, as Washington faces No. 8 Colorado and Clemson faces No. 23 Virginia Tech. Expect that metric to become very close. 

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Next up is wins over ranked opponents, something I view as the most important factor. In this scenario, Clemson will have wins over No. 12 Florida State, No. 13 Louisville, No. 14 Auburn and No. 23 Virginia Tech. Washington will have beaten No. 8 Colorado, No. 18 Stanford and No. 20 Utah. While not a ranked win any longer, drubbing Washington State on the road is a nice win as well for the Huskies. So Washington has the best win, but Clemson has more. The Huskies lost to No. 11 USC on the road, while the Tigers lost to No. 25 Pittsburgh at home.

So after taking a closer look, the resumes are tighter than one might think. However, the committee has placed Clemson above Washington all season long, and I would bet it will stay that way should both teams win and make the playoff.

3. Here's how the rankings affect the New Year's Six bowl games

Much of the focus surrounding the College Football Playoff rankings is on the top four, but there are several teams that have their New Year's Six bowl hopes tied to the rankings.

The Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl will host the playoff semifinals. The Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl round out the rest of the six games. The Rose Bowl will feature the Big Ten and the Pac-12. The league champion from each will play there unless either is in the playoff. If the league champ makes the playoff, then the highest ranked team left from the conference takes that spot. The same works for the Sugar Bowl with the SEC and Big 12, and the ACC's slot in the Orange Bowl.

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The Rose Bowl could feature Wisconsin, Penn State or Michigan. If the Big Ten title game winner doesn't make the playoff, that team will be in the Rose Bowl. If that team does make the playoff, Michigan will head to Pasadena. On the Pac-12 side, it will likely be either Colorado or USC. If Washington goes to the playoff, it would come down to whether Colorado or USC is ranked higher. If Colorado beats the Huskies, it will play in the Rose Bowl (provided it doesn't finish in the top four).

The Orange Bowl will have either Michigan or the winner of the Big Ten title game—Michigan if only Ohio State goes to the playoff, and Wisconsin or Penn State if both OSU and Michigan get in. If chaos happens and three Big Ten teams make the playoff, the loser of the Big Ten title game could play here. From the ACC, it comes down to whether Louisville or Florida State is ranked higher, assuming Clemson goes to the playoff. Currently, Florida State is one spot ahead of the Cardinals, meaning right now it would be the Seminoles against the Wolverines. If Virginia Tech beats Clemson, the Hokies will play in the Orange Bowl.

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The Sugar Bowl will host the highest ranked SEC team after Alabama, which right now is Auburn at No. 14. Florida is one spot behind at No. 15. On the other side, it will take the Big 12 champion, which will be either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State.

The Cotton Bowl will see Western Michigan represent the Group of Five if it wins the MAC title game on Friday. There's a slim chance Navy could take that spot, but it's unlikely. The Big Ten title game loser will most likely play in the Cotton Bowl as well. If three Big Ten teams somehow make the playoff, that would knock Clemson or Washington to this spot. 

Full College Football Playoff rankings

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State

3. Clemson

4. Washington

5. Michigan

6. Wisconsin

7. Penn State

8. Colorado

9. Oklahoma

10. Oklahoma State

11. USC

12. Florida State

13. Louisville 

14. Auburn

15. Florida

16. West Virginia

17. Western Michigan

18. Stanford

19. Navy

20. Utah

21. LSU

22. Tennessee

23. Virginia Tech

24. Houston

25. Pittsburgh