“Rivalry Week” was not particularly eventful for the current top four, but Auburn’s dramatic Iron Bowl win over Alabama kicked open the Playoff door for several hopefuls that may have feared the Tide back-dooring their way into the field again. Utah, Oklahoma, and Baylor can now duke it out with each other as potential conference champions without having to worry that a team sitting on the couch for championship week may be included ahead of them. Let’s take one last look at things before the final CFP poll and break down the possibilities.
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. Ohio State (12-0; SOR: 2; SOS: 30)
Assuming the Buckeyes can take care of a Wisconsin team they destroyed 38-7 earlier this season, the only remaining intrigue with this team is which Playoff location they will play at. If they end up with Utah as their opponent, Atlanta would almost certainly be the destination of choice, sending the 2/3 matchup to Glendale. If a Big XII team elevates to the No. 4 spot, it may be a bit more up in the air — but the assumption would still be Atlanta based on proximity. The only way we could see Ohio State choosing to play in Glendale would be a scenario where Georgia beats LSU and the Tigers end up with the 4 seed. Even then, it’s not a guarantee that would be their preference.
2. LSU (12-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 25)
We suppose it’s not impossible for LSU to be able to return to the top spot, but we would consider it highly unlikely. Notwithstanding a shocking Ohio State loss of course, it would probably take a thorough beat-down of Georgia coupled with the Buckeyes struggling mightily to beat Wisconsin. We still don’t think it would be enough, but it’s not unfathomable. LSU should be focused on the task at hand, however, as they are matched up with a Georgia team that still has everything to play for. Not to mention, the Bulldogs have significantly more SEC Championship Game experience than Ed Orgeron’s current bunch of Tigers. Conventional wisdom says LSU should take care of business, but the sentiment was similar last year before Georgia held a two-touchdown lead on presumed title game winner Alabama. Of course, we would still be of the mind that LSU would manage to sneak into the Playoff regardless of the result of this game. Whether they should could certainly be up for debate, but it’s hard to see the committee leaving them out at this point.
3. Clemson (12-0; SOR: 4; SOS: 65)
The Tigers seem to be on a mission, and they will easily make the Playoff field with a win over Virginia. Many are positing that Clemson might still make the field with a loss in the way that Ohio State and/or LSU probably would. We would not feel comfortable saying that at all. In fact, we think it would be much more likely Clemson would miss the field. No matter, as we fully expect the Tigers to take care of Virginia in the ACC Championship Game. With a win, Clemson would be the No. 3 seed unless one or both of the teams above it loses.
4. Georgia (11-1; SOR: 3; SOS: 21)
For the third straight season, Georgia is in position to make the Playoff with a win in the SEC Championship Game. The Bulldogs won the first time, and were tantalizingly close to doing so again last year. We don’t see a realistic scenario wherein they make the field with a loss, despite the committee setting a weird precedent last year where they kept Georgia ahead of one-loss conference champion Ohio State because of the “great loss” against Alabama. Hopefully seeing the Tide’s ultimate fate after that will discourage the committee from doing anything like that again. Anyway, it’s a win-and-you’re-in situation for the Bulldogs, and you can’t ask for much more than that entering the final week of the season.
5. Utah (11-1; SOR: 12; SOS: 54)
The Utes kept their all-important positioning ahead of one-loss Big XII hopefuls Oklahoma and Baylor, and a win over Oregon in the Pac 12 Championship should put them in excellent position for a Playoff berth. That said, they have multiple things to be concerned about externally.
For one thing, the winner of the Oklahoma-Baylor game will be adding a higher-rated win to its resume than Utah would be with Oregon. That doesn’t mean that team would jump the Utes necessarily, but it would bring about the question of just how small the current gap between Utah and those teams is. We think a Baylor win would be the best-case scenario for Utah in that game, if only because the Utes would rather be compared to a team with a similar pedigree than one with a brand-name like Oklahoma.
Secondly, Utah needs LSU to win. If that doesn’t happen, the battle between Utah and the Big XII champion could be rendered meaningless, because it’s likely the committee still keeps a one-loss LSU ahead of those teams and just shuffles the positioning of the current top four. All Utah can do is win Friday night (preferably convincingly), then wake up Friday and pull for Baylor and LSU. Then they just have to trust the committee...
6. Oklahoma (11-1; SOR: 7; SOS: 41)
The Sooners tacked a solid win onto their resume with a three-score road win at rival Oklahoma State, and it’s likely they closed the gap with Utah at least a bit. How much? That’s the million-dollar question. Is the gap small enough that simply beating Baylor would facilitate a jump? Is it large enough that a jump can’t be made if both teams win? Is it somewhere in between, such that an Oklahoma blowout and a Utah squeaker could tip the scales? We have no idea, and honestly we don’t think the committee does either. Only time will tell.
7. Baylor (11-1; SOR: 8; SOS: 58)
For a team that is probably considered by most to be a fringe candidate, the Bears actually don’t need a whole heck of a lot to happen in order for them to secure what would be the most surprising Playoff bid since the system’s inception. They need to beat Oklahoma (obviously), but other than that, they just need LSU to win (expected) and Oregon to win (not out of the realm of possiblity). We suspect they would lose a comparison with a 12-1 Utah, but even that we can’t be completely certain of. All this to say, Baylor is more alive for a Playoff spot than people realize.
8. Wisconsin (10-2; SOR: 11; SOS: 27)
The unlikeliest of Playoff participants that could still be considered technically alive is the Badgers. Whether they are “alive” in the committee’s eyes could certainly be up for debate, but if a prediction model can give them a 7 percent chance, we’re willing to entertain the notion for the sake of chaos. Why are they alive? Essentially because a conference championship win over the clear-cut No. 1 team in Ohio State would be an unrivaled feather in the resume cap. We won’t go into the various scenarios, but a 11-2 Wisconsin could potentially put a bit of unexpected pressure on the committee. We will admit, models of this nature tend to value conference championships to a degree the committee simply never has. That’s why we all know Wisconsin basically has no chance, but it’s always fun to wonder whether the committee would ever turn heel in favor of a two-loss conference champion.
The rest of the poll:
9. Florida (10-2; SOR: 5; SOS: 11)
10. Penn State (10-2; SOR: 9; SOS: 43)
11. Auburn (9-3; SOR: 6; SOS: 2)
12. Alabama (10-2; SOR: 10; SOS: 46)
13. Oregon (10-2; SOR: 15; SOS: 47)
14. Michigan (9-3; SOR: 13; SOS: 9)
15. Notre Dame (10-2; SOR: 14; SOS: 38)
16. Iowa (9-3; SOR: 17; SOS: 35)
17. Memphis (11-1; SOR: 18; SOS: 76)
18. Minnesota (10-2; SOR: 16; SOS: 55)
19. Boise State (11-1; SOR: 21; SOS: 96)
20. Cincinnati (10-2; SOR: 19; SOS: 72)
21. Appalachian State (11-1; SOR: 20; SOS: 113)
22. USC (8-4; SOR: 24; SOS: 6)
23. Virginia (9-3; SOR: 27; SOS: 67)
24. Navy (9-2; SOR: 22; SOS: 73)
25. Oklahoma State (8-4; SOR: 29; SOS: 20)
GAMES TO WATCH:
No. 5 Utah vs. No. 13 Oregon - 8 p.m (Friday)
No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Baylor - Noon
No. 2 LSU vs. No. 4 Georgia - 4 p.m.
No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 23 Virginia - 7:30 p.m.
No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Wisconsin - 8 p.m.