If you have any questions about bowl projections, playoff scenarios, etc., feel free to drop them in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter (@MrAdster99).
A Quick Primer for Championship Week
Well, this season just flew right on by. We’re done with the 12 weeks of regular season football, and yet there is still so much left to be decided by the next few games. Rivalry Week absolutely lived up to expectations, as Michigan finally exorcised their demons with a win over Ohio State, Oklahoma State exorcised their demons with a win over Oklahoma, and Auburn went to 4 OTs against the #3 team in the country with a backup QB.
#TeamChaos feasted last week, both on turkey and on upsets, as Oklahoma State toppled any chance of Oklahoma making the Playoff, while Michigan moved itself into the Top 4 and booted Ohio State out of Playoff contention with their win. I saw the Oklahoma State win coming, but the Michigan win was a hair more surprising. Although, the way Michigan shut down Ohio State in key spots and ran over Ohio State’s defense at will made it look like they had been the better team all along. If not for a questionable call or two against Michigan State, the Wolverines would be a lock for the Playoff at this point.
Conference Championship Week will hopefully help settle the rest of the debate for the final four teams, although the Committee’s selection process very rarely ends the debate over the most deserving 4 teams in the Playoff. Thankfully, it will be a fairly short turnaround between the end of Saturday’s games and the announcement of the Top 4 teams, as the Committee will announce their Playoff selections and more on Sunday, Dec. 5.
Here are the teams I think still have a chance to make the Playoff (not all have an equal chance):
These teams still have chances to make the Playoff because they are either in a conference championship game or there’s a certain amount of chaos in other games that would propel these teams into the final four spots, if they’re lucky.
Let’s take a look at the games this week; there aren’t many to choose from, but they’re going to be a whole lot more exciting than the games you’d see on most Saturdays.
NOTE: I’ll be talking a lot about conference championship wins. Those are huge “resume-boosters” for the teams that acquire them, and it has typically meant a big jump in the Playoff rankings for the winning team.
#1 Georgia vs. #3 Alabama: There are 3 Power 5 conference championship games that will ultimately decide the Playoff. For Cincinnati fans, this one’s the most important of them all, because an Alabama win would put a dagger in the hopes of Bearcats fans searching for a Playoff spot. Alabama is already ranked #3 in the country, despite a loss to #25 Texas A&M. A win over #1 Georgia at a neutral site would be a huge feather in their proverbial cap, and the Committee would essentially have no choice but to put both teams in the final four. Georgia is one of two undefeated teams in the country, with a handful of quality wins and a boatload of dominant wins, and a loss to the #3 team in the country wouldn’t be enough for the Committee to pull them out of the Top 4.
Cincinnati and Notre Dame fans (and Georgia fans, and fans of parity, and fans of the sport in general) should be rooting for a Georgia win. Georgia would be 13-0 with a conference championship win, which is a mortal lock for the Playoff’s #1 seed. However, a Georgia win would make Alabama 11-2, with no conference championship win and only a couple of quality wins, which I don’t think is enough for the Committee to justify including them without some major chaos behind the Crimson Tide in the rankings.
I’m not sure I buy that Georgia needs to win in a certain way over Alabama to help Cincinnati get in, because an Alabama loss, no matter how you slice it, simply won’t be enough for them to keep them in the Playoff hunt on their own. If Alabama were to lose by a few points and get help from some of the lower-ranked teams (Baylor, Iowa, etc.), I think they would be in, or at least considered head-to-head with Notre Dame. But an 11-2 Alabama, weighed against a conference champion in Oklahoma State or Cincinnati, would probably lose out.
#5 Oklahoma State vs. #9 Baylor: This game is very intriguing for its Playoff implications. For Oklahoma State fans, the path is simple: Win and you’re in. But if Baylor were to beat Oklahoma State, the Playoff committee would then have to consider a #9-ranked Baylor, with an 11-2 record and a conference championship. That’s hard to turn away, especially in this scenario, where the Bears would have quality wins over Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and BYU. The Committee has never selected a 2-loss Power 5 team, but I think there would be a legitimate case for Baylor to be the first in this scenario. Again, it would depend on what happened in other championship games, but a Baylor win would maybe (?) help Cincinnati and Notre Dame.
#2 Michigan vs. #13 Iowa: By far, the least exciting game of those listed thus far. If Iowa has its way, this game is going to be slow, grind-it-out, classic-Big Ten football. If Michigan has its way, this game is going to be slightly faster, grind-it-out, Big Ten football. Ugh. Thanks a lot, Minnesota, for beating Wisconsin, and robbing us of a Michigan/Wisconsin title game that would have been umpteen times better than this one.
A Michigan loss would probably eliminate them from the Top 4 if I had to guess. A 2-loss non-champion would be tough for the Committee to justify including, especially since Michigan would have only one quality win on their resume, so Cincinnati and Notre Dame fans should be rooting for an Iowa win. A Michigan win would guarantee them a spot in the Top 4.
#4 Cincinnati vs. #21 Houston: Before Cincinnati fans get way ahead of themselves and start dreaming up playoff scenarios, the Bearcats need to beat #21 Houston, a team that isn’t going to simply roll over and let Cincinnati continue its dream season. Both teams boast top-30 SP+ rankings and have top-15 defenses. A big Cincinnati win would do wonders for their Playoff resume, while a small win might hurt them a bit, but either way, Cincinnati needs to win to have a chance.
#10 Oregon vs. #17 Utah: It’s the rematch we’ve been waiting for! After the Utes absolutely blew the doors off of Oregon in Salt Lake City two weeks ago, the teams reunite for a neutral site battle to decide the winner of the PAC-12. This game has minor playoff implications, assuming that Oregon does indeed win by a sizable margin and that a handful of the teams in front of the Ducks end up losing. It would probably require losses from OSU, Michigan, Cincinnati, and Alabama for the Ducks to even be considered, but it doesn’t seem very likely. The winner of this game goes to the Rose Bowl, likely to face Ohio State. We could even get a rematch of the early-season showdown between Ohio State and Oregon!
#15 Pittsburgh vs. #16 Wake Forest: This one’s not for a Playoff spot, but the winner gets a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl! It’s going to be quite fun seeing Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett go up against another up-and-coming QB in Sam Hartman in Charlotte. For aspiring draft scouts out there, Pickett will be eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft, so keep an eye on him against a strong Wake Forest squad.
Utah State vs. #19 San Diego State: It doesn’t look like San Diego State is going to climb high enough in the Committee’s rankings to be considered for a New Year’s Six spot, but a win over Utah State would give the Aztecs their third Mountain West championship since 2013, tying Boise State for the most championships in the Mountain West.
Let’s run through some of the more popular playoff scenarios here, and sort out their implications:
NOTE: “Chalk” means the favorite wins. Alabama is represented by (ALA), Notre Dame is by (ND), Baylor is by (BAY) and Oregon is (ORE).
- All Chalk: Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma State, and Cincinnati all win – Assuming all the favorites win their games, these teams would be the final four standing. This would be the simplest of the ‘decision trees’ for the Playoff Committee.
- Mostly Chalk: Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma State, and Cincinnati win – Chalk, with the exception of an Alabama win over Georgia, would set Alabama, Michigan, and Georgia as locks in the final four spots. Now, the tricky part would be settling the final spot in the Playoff. Cincinnati and Oklahoma State sit at #4 and #5, respectively, in the Playoff rankings, indicating that the Committee legitimately thinks Cincinnati is worthy of a Playoff spot. If they both were to win in a similar fashion, would the Committee consider switching the two of them? At that point, Oklahoma State would have tacked on a win over the #9 team in the country, while Cincinnati would have a win over the #21 team, which is less of a ‘quality’ win. I think, unfortunately, that the Committee would opt to switch Cincinnati and Oklahoma State in this scenario and give the Cowboys the final spot. However, if there’s a disparity in the style of the win (for example, if Cincinnati crushes Houston and Oklahoma State ekes it out over Baylor), then there will be more debate over that final spot.
- Other Mostly Chalk: Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma State, and Houston win – Final four: Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma State, and… Notre Dame? It’s tough to say who the Committee would end up picking in this scenario, with the final spot either going to a 1-loss Notre Dame or a 2-loss Alabama. I lean towards Notre Dame.
- Yet Another Mostly Chalk: Georgia, Iowa, Oklahoma State, and Cincinnati win – Similar scenario to #3. The locks would be Georgia, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma State. The debate would be whether Notre Dame or Alabama took the spot vacated by Michigan.
- A Final Mostly Chalk: Georgia, Michigan, Baylor, and Cincinnati win – In this scenario (I think it’s the most likely of any of the scenarios listed from #2-#5), we could have a very interesting debate on our hands. Would the Committee go with 1-loss Notre Dame, 2-loss and non-champion Alabama, or 2-loss champion Baylor?
The scenarios in which 3/4 of the favored teams win makes life pretty easy for the Committee in most instances. As you can probably tell, the scenarios can change quite drastically depending on the losing team.
Here’s where the real headaches begin:
- Half Chalk: Georgia, Michigan, Baylor, and Houston win – Final four: Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, and Notre Dame. The Committee could potentially replace Alabama or Notre Dame with Baylor.
- A Second Half Chalk: Alabama, Michigan, Baylor, and Cincinnati win – Final four: Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, and Cincinnati.
- Yep, It’s Another Half Chalk: Alabama, Iowa, Oklahoma State, and Cincinnati win – In this scenario, the final four teams would be Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma State, and Cincinnati.
- Other Half Chalk: Alabama, Michigan, Baylor, and Cincinnati win – In this one, I think it would be Georgia, Alabama, Michigan, and Cincinnati. Baylor would likely end up as the #5 or #6 team in the country.
- Another Half-Chalk: Georgia, Iowa, Baylor, and Cincinnati win – Georgia and Cincinnati are locked. In this scenario, you’d have 3 teams vying for 2 spots: Alabama, Notre Dame, and Baylor.
- More Half Chalk: Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma State, and Houston win – Final four: Georgia, Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma State.
It’s a lot to wrap your head around, I know. But try this on for size:
- Mostly Underdogs, Part I: Georgia, Iowa, Baylor, and Houston win – This is where it gets very interesting. The Committee likes Cincinnati, that’s why it’s ahead of Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, etc. But if Cincinnati were to lose, along with OSU and Michigan, would the Committee maybe reconsider the Bearcats or the Wolverines for the Playoff, considering where each of them are currently ranked? My guess is no, but it’s worth thinking about.
- Mostly Underdogs, Part II: Alabama, Michigan, Baylor, and Houston win – Here, you have what could become a four-way consideration for one final spot, between Baylor, Notre Dame, Oregon (assuming they handle Utah easily), and perhaps Cincinnati.
- Mostly Underdogs, Part III: Alabama, Iowa, Oklahoma State, and Houston win – Another four-way consideration for the final spot, between Notre Dame, potentially Oregon, maybe Michigan, and possibly Cincinnati. My guess is you can probably kiss Cincinnati goodbye in this scenario.
- Mostly Underdogs, Part IV: Alabama, Iowa, Baylor, and Cincinnati win – Three locks: Alabama, Cincinnati, and Georgia. Then, you have four teams vying for the final spot: Baylor, Notre Dame, Oregon, and Michigan.
- All Underdogs: This one is understandably tricky. Alabama and Georgia are locked. Then, it’s what could be five different teams vying for the final two spots, with Notre Dame, maybe Oregon, Michigan, Baylor, and Cincinnati. This one would be absolutely wild for the Committee to have to debate, but thankfully, it’s the least likely scenario.
If you’re not totally burnt out by the million different scenarios I just ran through, take a look at the bowl projections, based on my model:
Yep, my ultimate guess is that the chalk prevails. This would be the first time ever that the Playoff would have zero repeated teams from the previous year’s final four. Parity, baby!
Once the Playoff teams are out of the way, the other dominoes can start to fall:
Yes, I have Utah prevailing once more over Oregon, this time at a neutral site. The same goes for Pittsburgh, who will finally claim their first ACC championship with a projected win over Wake Forest.
And finally, the teams that finished with 6 wins get their chance to play one more game. That means the players get a week of vacation/light practicing, the school gets a nice payout, and coaches get to go home happy (unless they’ve been fired already).
Graphic by Michael Packard (@designsbypack)