How the College Football Playoff would shape up if conference championship chaos happens

A lot of chaos could take place in the coming week. Many competitors take a gamble on playoff chances when they take the field for their respective conference championship games. I took an in-depth look at one possibility if Conference Championship apocalypse takes place:

Here’s how I project Tuesday’s release of the College Football Playoff Rankings to shape out:

  1. Alabama 12-0
  2. Ohio State 11-1
  3. Clemson 11-1
  4. Washington 11-1
  5. Michigan 10-2
  6. Wisconsin 10-2
  7. Penn State 10-2
  8. Oklahoma 10-2
  9. Oklahoma State 10-2
  10. Colorado 10-2
  11. USC 9-3
  12. Western Michigan 12-0

Here’s what each team needs to do to find themselves in the playoff:

#1 Alabama– As the nation’s only undefeated Power 5 team, all Alabama needs to do to is  knock off an inferior Florida team.

#2 Ohio State– Even if they don’t have a shot to play in the Big Ten Championship, we’ll say a one-loss Ohio State team is a lock no matter what chaos ensues.

#3 Clemson– Clemson needs a home win over a 6-5 South Carolina team, followed simply by a win over Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game.

#4 Washington– If Washington wins the Pac-12 championship game to (Colorado/Utah), you’d have to think they’re overall body of work warrants a CFP berth.

# 6 Wisconsin– Wisconsin needs to defeat either Penn State in the Big Ten Championship game, and either Clemson or Washington to lose their respective conference championship games.

#7 Penn State– Penn State needs to defeat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, and

#8 Oklahoma– Oklahoma needs to convincingly win the De facto Big 12 Championship game/ Bedlam rivalry game vs. in-state rival Oklahoma State. Having no conference championship game is a double-edged sword; They don’t have to deal with the potential for upset like Alabama, Clemson, Washington, and Wisconsin do. However, a convincing win in the Big 12 Championship could help their case if chaos ensues.

#10 Colorado- Colorado needs to upset Washington in the Pac-12 Championship game, and needs Alabama, Clemson, and Wisconsin to lose as well. Even that may not be enough for the Buffaloes.

Outside Contenders-

#5 Michigan- It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Michigan, having lost a clunker at Iowa and head-to-head at Ohio Sate, could find themselves in the playoff over Ohio State or the winner of the Big Ten Championship game. It’s even harder to imagine the committee selecting the Wolverines over a Pac-12 championship game winner, as well.

#9 Oklahoma State: The Central Michigan and Baylor losses (even though the NCAA admitted Oklahoma State shouldn’t have lost to Central Michigan) holds Oklahoma State back a lot. They need Alabama, Clemson, Washington, and Wisconsin to all lose.

#11 USC: Though it’s been a great run for the Trojans, 3 losses will likely keep the Trojans out of the playoffs.

#12 Western Michigan: Good for the Broncos. Their 12-0 regular season is something to be proud of. However, they play in the MAC, whose talent level simply just doesn’t stack up compared to the schools ahead of them.

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Chaotic Scenario:

ACC Championship: #20 Virginia Tech defeats #3 Clemson

Pac-12 Championship: #10 Colorado defeats #4 Washington

Big Ten Championship: #7 Penn State defeats #6 Wisconsin

Bedlam/De facto Big 12 Championship: #8 Oklahoma defeats #9 Oklahoma State

MAC Championship: #12 Western Michigan defeats Ohio

*The SEC Championship was not included, because when Alabama’s level of play is compared to the lackluster recent play of Florida, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Gators knock off the tide. Even if they do, A one-loss Alabama team is a lock for the CFP

Post Chaos CFP Rankings:

  1. Alabama 13-0
  2. Ohio State 11-1
  3. Penn State 11-2

Looking at the top three…

Ohio State has been designated as a CFP lock from the beginning of the article, so they’d likely slot in at #1. The Big Ten champion, Penn State, would slide in at #2. Despite the one loss to Florida in the SEC Championship Game, Alabama’s lone loss would be enough to keep them in the playoff (we’ve seen this trend in earlier rankings, i.e, Michigan and Clemson remaining in the Week 11 rankings despite losing to unranked teams). 

So now comes the extremely difficult decision. The race is so close, it will require the College Football Playoff committee to examine each eligible team’s regular season schedule.

Who takes the final playoff spot? Will it be…

Pac 12 Champion, 11-2 Colorado?

OR

de facto Big 12 Champion, 10-2 Oklahoma?

Here’s an in-depth look at each contender after the hypothetical chaos, listed by alphabetical order.

Colorado Buffaloes Resumé
Potential record: 11-2
Pac-12 Champions

Notable wins: Washington (11-2), Washington State (9-3), at Stanford (9-3)
Losses: at Michigan (10-2), at USC (9-3)

Oklahoma Sooners Resumé
Potential Record: 10-2
Big 12 Champions (by record, no official championship game)

Notable wins: West Virginia (10-2), Oklahoma State (9-3)
Losses: Ohio State (11-1), Houston (9-3)

——————————————————

So, if these two teams are so close in this chaotic scenario, what sets them apart?

The committee, through past rankings and media statements, has made it clear that the four best teams will make the playoff. However, certain metrics give their selections empirical backing, such as conference championships, FPI, and strength of schedule.

One glaring difference could be the value of a Conference Championship game victory. The Big 12, confusingly only having 10 teams, doesn’t have a championship game. However, the Pac 12 does. If the committee goes ‘old school,’ and picks a team based off a conference championship winner, the edge would go to Colorado.

The Football Power Index (FPI), a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team’s performance going forward for the rest of the season. FPI represents how many points above or below average a team is. Projected results are based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date, and the remaining schedule.

Oklahoma is ranked 8th with a 21.5 rating on ESPN’s power index, a tool that the committee has used in forming prior rankings. Colorado is ranked 13th with a 17.5 score.

Colorado, at this point having won the Pac-12 Championship game, has also defeated Washington State and Stanford, both 9 game winners. They’ve also lost to a 10 win Michigan team on the road, in addition to a 9 win USC team on the road.

OU is a total wild card. The competition they faced playing in conference play in the Big 12 wasn’t as tough as Colorado or Florida faced in the Pac-12 and SEC respectively. However, Oklahoma has the clear advantage when it comes to the losses they took, losing to a lock for the CFP, Ohio State at home, as well as a 9-win Houston team at a neutral site.

The committee showed two years ago, when the Big 12 possessed two 11-1 playoff contenders in Baylor and TCU, that it didn’t like the fact that neither team played in a conference championship game. All that being said, here’s how I predict the standings would shake out following this chaos…

Week 15 (post Conference Championship)

  1. Alabama 13-0
  2. Ohio State 11-1
  3. Penn State 11-2
  4. Oklahoma 10-2
  5. Colorado 11-2
  6. Michigan 11-2
  7. Clemson 11-2
  8. Washington 10-2
  9. USC 9-3
  10. Western Michigan 13-0
  11. Wisconsin 10-3
  12. Oklahoma State 9-3

Colorado’s victory in the Pac-12 Championship won’t be enough to clinch them a spot in the College Football Playoff, pitted against Ohio State. In the end, Colorado’s losses at Michigan and at USC, in addition to the victory in a conference championship game, might not be enough compared to Oklahoma’s season turnaround and stampede through the Big 12.

Oklahoma- for the second straight year, with a convincing win over their in-state rivals, could find themselves in the playoff.

This is just one possible scenario out of many. It’s unlikely that any one of Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma State lose their conference championship games, let alone all lose. But it’s interesting to imagine.

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