Playoff Rankings Preview: The Fastest Risers and Craziest Chaos Scenarios

Michigan will enter the College Football Playoff field in this week's rankings. West Virginia is likely to be a top-10 team. What other changes will the playoff committee make?
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The first iteration of the 2018 College Football Playoff rankings mostly gave us what we were expecting and set up what appeared to be potentially juicy matchups for the weekend. But instead, we got No. 1 Alabama shutting out No. 3 LSU, No. 6 Georgia taking care of No. 9 Kentucky with relative ease and No. 5 Michigan crushing No. 14 Penn State.

Those results are sure to give us the following top five when the latest rankings are released on ESPN on Tuesday night:

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Notre Dame
4. Michigan
5. Georgia

As for what the rest of the committee's top 25 may look like, here are a few things worth considering.

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West Virginia will definitely be in the top 10

By pulling off a two-point conversion in the final seconds to edge Texas, 42-41, West Virginia earned the most exciting win in Week 10. The Mountaineers also received the good fortune of having three teams in front of them lose (LSU, Kentucky and Florida) as well as having three other higher-ranked teams—Washington State, Ohio State and UCF—skate by with close wins against less impressive opponents. This is the perfect combination to see WVU surge to at least No. 9, if not higher.

Dana Holgorsen & Co. could be as high as No. 7 or No. 8 depending on two factors: 1. How far the committee drops two-loss LSU (don't forget its wins over ranked teams Georgia and Mississippi State), and 2. Whether it deems Washington State's not-so-impressive schedule as unworthy of being ahead of the Mountaineers after they've defeated the Longhorns.

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If you want complete nonsense, Boston College is your team

In his weekly Punt, Pass & Pork column, SI's Andy Staples laid out the case for each of the 10 teams still realistically left in the playoff hunt. He specifically avoided coming up with an up-is-down-down-is-up scenario that results in Boston College making the CFP. So let's do that here.

First order of business? Take down No. 2 Clemson at home this Saturday in primetime after hosting College GameDay to take over first place in the ACC Atlantic division. Then, BC must win its three games after that—at Florida State, vs. Syracuse, ACC Championship Game in Charlotte—to be crowned ACC champs at 11–2.

The other things BC would most likely need are the fun part:

SEC — Alabama needs to demolish Georgia, handing the Bulldogs their second loss of the season and leaving no doubt the only SEC team deserving of a playoff spot is the No. 1 ranked, 13–0 Crimson Tide

Big 12 — Oklahoma must lose to Oklahoma State and West Virginia, while Texas wins out to set up a Big 12 Championship Game between WVU and UT. And then the Longhorns need to win the title game to end up with a three-loss Big 12 champ

Pac-12 — Either Washington or someone from the self-imploding Pac-12 South needs to win the title game

Notre Dame — Beat Florida State and USC, but lose to Syracuse to boost the quality of a potential win left on BC’s schedule

Big Ten — Michigan must take care of its remaining regular-season schedule, only to lose to whoever emerges from the West Division in the Big Ten Championship Game

ACC — Clemson must finish 11–1, with its lone loss to Boston College

Such a messy finish would leave us with the following Power 5 conference champions: 13–0 Alabama, 11–2 Boston College, 10–3 Texas, and three- or four-loss champs from the Pac-12 and Big Ten. BC definitely gets into the playoff if this all transpires. Who would the committee pick to fill out the field after Bama and BC? We'll spare you those permutations.

*We're aware it may not take this much of a disaster to get BC there, but we figured we'd go all out.*

How many losses can the top three teams afford?

O.K., back to a reality where we won't have multiple three- or four-loss major conference champs. Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame control their own destinies at this point. What happens if they don't finish undefeated, however?

Alabama already clinched a division title and will get an SEC title-game rematch against Georgia. The Tide can, in all likelihood, lose once more—whether against Georgia or in one of their remaining regular season games—and still finish in the top four with a record of 12–1. Two losses would make things a little dicier, but not improbable. If the committee finds itself seriously considering a two-loss team for its final rankings of the season, what better candidate than Bama?

Clemson does not have the same luxury as Alabama. 12–1 ACC champs? Yes, you're in the playoff. 11–1 with no division title after losing to BC or some 11–2 combo without an ACC crown? Probably not. Since the ACC isn't as deep as the SEC and likely one-loss champs from the Big Ten and Big 12 and Notre Dame are also in the playoff picture, Clemson would need help if it tops out at 11 wins.

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As for Notre Dame, one loss would be enough to at least start a debate. Let's assume the SEC champ gets in and Clemson keeps rolling to an undefeated season. Then Michigan and the Oklahoma-West Virginia winner both finish with no more than one loss to win their respective conferences. The conversation for the fourth and final playoff spot would be between 12–1 Big Ten champion Michigan and 11–1 Notre Dame. Would the committee take Notre Dame based on its win over Michigan in Week 1 or would it place higher value on Michigan having a 13th "data point" and a conference title? Continuing this exercise to get to a two-loss Fighting Irish would almost certainly knock them out.