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Playoff Picture: Week 13

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We take a look at the College Football Playoff poll each week and break down the path to the Playoff.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State
Ohio State destroyed Michigan to knock the Wolverines out of the Playoff race and elevate itself closer to a bid.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The college football season has once again flown by, and championship week is upon us. As usual, there is still plenty of intrigue with regard to how the four-team field will look. If all the favorites win on Saturday, your foursome should be Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma. If anything goes awry, we could be in line for a shakeup. Let’s break it all down one last time.

NOTE: We will only provide individual breakdowns for teams that have a reasonable shot to make the Playoff.

***“SOR” denotes strength of record

***“SOS” denotes strength of schedule

1. Alabama (12-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 58)

The Crimson Tide has been the most consistently dominant force in college football all season, and the committee currently believes it is head and shoulders above all other teams at this moment in time — with good reason. It stands to reason, then, that Alabama should handle Georgia in the SEC Championship and cruise into the Playoff as the undisputed No. 1 seed. But just for argument’s sake, what if that doesn’t happen? If the Bulldogs upset the Tide (undoubtedly securing a Playoff berth for themselves in the process), what becomes of the former “best team of all time”? There are several scenarios that could play out, and few make things easy on the committee. Without diving into all of those here, you can basically boil this down to two schools of thought. The first says that the committee would value the conference championship of either a 12-1 Oklahoma or a 12-1 Ohio State over a 12-1 Alabama with no SEC title. The second says the committee thinks Alabama is so great, that even if they lose it doesn’t matter because they still think it is a better team than Oklahoma or Ohio State. If you fall in the second camp (which may be the correct one, for all we know), it’s important to recognize that while we’ve seen the committee eschew conference champs to allow non-champions before, we haven’t seen whether they would be willing leave out a one-loss champion in that scenario. That’s what they would be doing here, which would set a new and, frankly, questionable precedent.

2. Clemson (12-0; SOR: 3; SOS: 49)

There are ways the Tigers could still get into the Playoff with a loss to Pitt, but honestly if they can’t beat the Panthers with a berth in the field on the line, they don’t really deserve to go. Just take care of business.

3. Notre Dame (12-0; SOR: 2; SOS: 36)

The Irish avoided an upset bid at Southern Cal, and though there are algorithms that may suggest otherwise, there’s just no way the committee would leave out an undefeated Notre Dame for any team with a loss.

4. Georgia: (11-1; SOR: 4; SOS: 25)

The surest way for the Bulldogs to guarantee their inclusion is to knock off Alabama in the SEC title game. If they can’t pull off the upset, they have to hope both Oklahoma and Ohio State lose their respective games, giving the committee no choice but to throw up their hands and keep the rankings status quo. The only problem there? They would be setting up an Alabama-Georgia rematch just four weeks later. But they may have no other choice if that scenario were to play out.

5. Oklahoma (11-1; SOR: 6; SOS: 34)

The committee correctly tempered any possible overreaction to Ohio State’s thumping of Michigan by keeping the Sooners slotted ahead of the Buckeyes. That’s good news for Oklahoma, who basically just needs to win its matchup with Texas and make sure Alabama and Clemson win to ensure that it gets into the field. There’s simply no way the committee could justify Ohio State leap frogging Oklahoma if both teams win this weekend. Put simply, there’s no potential margin of victory over Northwestern for Ohio State that could outweigh an Oklahoma win over Texas.

6. Ohio State (11-1; SOR: 5; SOS: 48)

The Buckeyes came back from the dead and escorted Michigan out of Playoff contention by whooping the Wolverines courtesy of a 62-point offensive explosion against what many had touted as perhaps the nation’s best defense. It’s a great win — one of the very best in the country — but it just doesn’t override the rest of a season in which Ohio State has simply looked pedestrian. This position is about all the Buckeyes could ask for. If they beat Northwestern, and Oklahoma falls again to Texas, they will get in the Playoff if everybody else holds serve. Considering where they were a week ago, that’s a great situation.

7. Michigan (10-2; SOR: 7; SOS: 23)

The Wolverines seemed to be in control of their own destiny for a Playoff spot, but they laid an absolute egg in their annual rivalry without Ohio State and are no longer a serious factor.

8. UCF (11-0; SOR: 9; SOS: 107)

In addition to obvious primary concern with McKenzie Milton’s tragic injury (his health), it’s a shame knowing there was still a remote shot for UCF to actually be in position for Playoff consideration. With LSU and Washington State bowing out, the dream scenario for the Knights was still in play. It probably won’t pan out anyway, and it’s likely UCF wouldn’t have been selected, but now there is basically zero chance the committee would consider them with a backup quarterback running the show. With Milton out, even with a potential AAC Championship win over Memphis, there’s just no way the committee would give them a serious thought. Milton is what makes the UCF machine go, and they are definitely not a Playoff caliber team without him.

The rest of the poll:

9. Florida (9-3; SOR: 12; SOS: 43)

10. LSU (9-3; SOR: 8; SOS: 12)

11. Washington (9-3; SOR: 13; SOS: 29)

12. Penn State (9-3; SOR: 16; SOS: 35)

13. Washington State (10-2; SOR: 11; SOS: 53)

14. Texas (9-3; SOR: 15; SOS: 8)

15. Kentucky (9-3; SOR: 10; SOS: 41)

16. West Virginia (8-3; SOR: 18; SOS: 28)

17. Utah (9-3; SOR: 17; SOS: 20)

18. Mississippi State (8-4; SOR: 21; SOS: 38)

19. Texas A&M (8-4; SOR: 14; SOS: 19)

20. Syracuse (9-3; SOR: 20; SOS: 66)

21. Northwestern (8-4; SOR: 23; SOS: 24)

22. Boise State (10-2; SOR: 22; SOS: 72)

23. Iowa State (7-4; SOR: 24; SOS: 4)

24. Missouri (8-4; SOR: 19; SOS: 13)

25. Fresno State (10-2; SOR: 32; SOS: 102)

OTHER NOTES:

— The assumption has long been that Alabama would head to the Cotton Bowl semifinal if it earns the No. 1 seed, but that’s starting to come into question. If this weekend goes devoid of upsets and the Tide is matched up with Oklahoma as the No. 4 seed, it may be deemed more advantageous for Alabama to play in Miami at the Orange Bowl rather than in Dallas, which is a mere 3-hour drive from the Oklahoma campus. It’s something to keep an eye on.

— Playoff predicting algorithms, while interesting to look at, are best taken with a grain of salt. The biggest reason — aside from the ever-debatable “eye test” that seems to always benefit the bluebloods — is that they tend to value conference championships to a degree the committee has historically shown it does not (One could argue the committee has not valued them to the degree it should, or at least purports to in its guidelines). The way the last two seasons played out allowed the committee to send a two-loss champion packing, but as previously mentioned, things could change when they are presented with a one-loss non-champion vs. a ONE-loss champion. In fact, way back in 2014 we saw that committee jump Big Ten winner Ohio State above Big XII co-champions (A.K.A. not outright champions) TCU and Baylor in the final poll. So while we’re talking about a different animal with Alabama (some assume they are in regardless of a win or loss this weekend, because Bama), it wouldn’t be as crazy as some people think to see the committee leave them out. The algorithms seem to project that they would, for what it’s worth.

— In a similar vein, these formulas actually put undefeated Notre Dame at risk of being jumped by teams like Oklahoma and Ohio State if they achieve conference titles, because the Irish have no such bullet point to add to their resume. Here, we think they’re a little more dubious. It’s hard to picture the committee dropping Notre Dame lower than No. 3, much less out of the Playoff entirely, especially when they haven’t placed that type of premium on conference championships before. Not to mention, we’re talking about Notre freaking Dame. Whether fair or not, we know the committee is not going to slight name-brand programs if they can help it. Algorithms can’t account for biases of that nature.

— As per the FiveThirtyEight article linked earlier, there are supposedly scenarios where Texas — yes, Texas — would be in contention for a Playoff spot with a win over Oklahoma. Given that any of those would involve the committee suddenly valuing conference championships above all other factors to an incredible degree, I just don’t see it.

BIGGEST WINNERS: Ohio State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame

BIGGEST LOSERS: Michigan, Washington State

GAMES TO WATCH:

No. 17 Utah vs. No. 11 Washington, 8 p.m. (Friday)
No. 14 Texas vs. No. 5 Oklahoma, Noon
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Georgia, 3:30 p.m.
No. 2 Clemson vs. Pitt, 8 p.m.
No. 21 Northwestern vs. No. 6 Ohio State, 8 p.m.