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Breaking Down Championship Week Scenarios

Eddie Jackson (No. 4) celebrating an interception in Alabama's 2016 CFP title game versus Clemson
Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The final poll of the regular season was released on Tuesday night by the College Football Playoff selection committee. This week’s rankings did not change much but it certainly sets up for plenty of controversy when the final four is announced on Sunday after Championship Week. 

Alabama held on the top spot in Tuesday’s rankings while Ohio State, Clemson and Washington currently round out the top four teams. Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt was interviewed on ESPN during the release show and said that the selection committee does not look ahead to future games, which explains the Buckeyes number two ranking despite missing the Big Ten Championship Game.

The Big Ten has been a mess this season and deciding between its four teams could be a nightmare for the committee. Ohio State seems to have secured a spot but without a conference championship, that may not be certain. Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State are also all in the top seven. No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 7 Penn State play in the title game on Saturday but that still lives three teams to debate on maybe just one spot.

The PAC 12 may be overlooked completely when it is all said and done. Hocutt also said that the committee struggled with separating Washington and Michigan in Tuesday’s rankings, which tells us they are not very impressed by the teams on the west coast. No. 8 Colorado faces No. 4 Washington in Friday night’s conference championship and a win by the Buffaloes may leave the conference on the outside of the playoff.

The Big 12 is likely going to be left out of the playoff for the second time in three years but still could make a push with some miracle. No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 10 Oklahoma State could end up being the best game of the weekend though.

The SEC and ACC games seem to be in hand but the last few weeks have had no guarantees. Both Alabama and Clemson will have to play other Top 25 teams (Florida and Virginia Tech). However, an Alabama loss is not expected to change the top four much, if at all.

No one knows what the final four will be but there are still plenty of teams in the fight. To prepare for the chaos, I try to go over each possible scenario of the weekend and predict who I believe will make the final four. So let’s get started.

If the favorites win…

In this scenario, we get boring games this weekend and all the favorites win their conference championship. That means Alabama (-24), Clemson (-10), Washington (-7), Wisconsin (-2.5) and Oklahoma (-12) get wins this weekend. So now we have to decide where that puts each team in the rankings.

The Crimson Tide would still hold on to the top spot and I’d suspect Clemson would grab the number two spot with a conference championship under their belts. That leaves Washington, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State for the final two spots in the playoff. The Huskies and the Badgers would have conference titles, which the committee says carries a lot of weight for the rankings.

The committee’s guidelines say that in order to let a non-champion into the playoff, they must be “unequivocally one of the four best teams in the country.” In this case, I think you have to make the argument that Ohio State fulfills that criteria so the Buckeyes would be the number three team.

Many people could make the argument that Michigan also fulfills that criteria but the loss to Iowa makes that less clear. Wisconsin has two losses this season to Ohio State and Michigan. Unfortunately for the Badgers, they do not have a chance to make up either of those games so I do not suspect a win against Penn State is enough for them to jump in. So in this scenario, I would have the fourth spot going to Washington.

If there’s only one upset…

If Colorado is the only team to pull off an upset this weekend, I’d expect for Wisconsin to grab the four spot instead. The Badgers get the edge over Michigan, thanks to a conference title. That would leave two Big Ten teams in the playoff, each in a separate semifinal.

If Penn State is the only team to pull off an upset, things can get a lot more complicated. Alabama, Clemson and Washington would seemingly have for sure spots in the final four but it would be interesting to see what the committee did to separate Ohio State and Penn State. The Nittany Lions won the head-to-head meeting and would have a conference title to show off. As much as I believe they would deserve that fourth spot, I do not see the committee leaving the Buckeyes out. So in this case, it would be no different from a Wisconsin win.

If Virginia Tech is the only team to pull off an upset, the Big Ten would be celebrating more than anyone else. Alabama would still take the top spot and I think Ohio State would slide into the number two spot with no argument from its conference champion. Washington would move to three, avoiding that semifinal meeting with the Crimson Tide. This would leave the number four spot up to Wisconsin again.

If there are two upsets…

For me, the two most likely upsets are Penn State over Wisconsin and Colorado over Washington. This would likely leave the top three teams unscathed and would leave the fourth spot up for grabs between Michigan, Colorado and Penn State. Michigan beat both of those teams this season but they would be lacking the conference title that each of the other teams has. The Nittany Lions would have a win over a top-four team (Ohio State) while Colorado would have no bad losses (at Michigan and at USC). I think this would be the toughest decision for the committee to make and I would give the edge Colorado. That, of course, means nothing so I think that the committee would actually give the edge to Penn State, setting up a classic matchup in the 1 vs. 4 semifinal.

The other matchups have upset possibilities as well though. If Virginia Tech and Colorado are the two underdogs to win, we could see three teams from the same conference in the playoff. Alabama would hold the top spot with Ohio State taking control of the two seed. I think the Big Ten champion, whether it be Penn State or Wisconsin, would grab the three spot. The four spot would then be open for Michigan, Colorado or even the winner of Oklahoma-Oklahoma State. Despite the head-to-head meeting, I think Colorado would be given the edge over Michigan because the Buffs would be riding a 7-game winning streak while the Wolverines would be coming off a second loss in a three-week span.



Caleb Turrentine is a columnist and contributor at Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He also does work for Alabama’s team page at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @CalebTurrentine.

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