The big mover and shaker of Rivalry Week was Michigan, which exorcised its Ohio State demons and beat the Buckeyes by two touchdowns to vault into the No. 2 spot in the poll. Alabama nearly (read, should have) lost but pulled out a near-miraculous win at Auburn to stay alive in the Playoff race. As always, Championship Week will decide who this year’s final four will be, so we will break down all the possible scenarios. First, let’s take a look at the poll:
***“SOR” denotes strength of record
***“SOS” denotes strength of schedule
1. Georgia (12-0; SOR: 1; SOS: 56)
2. Michigan (11-1; SOR: 2; SOS: 26)
3. Alabama (11-1; SOR: 3; SOS: 33)
4. Cincinnati (12-0; SOR: 4; SOS: 96)
5. Oklahoma State (11-1; SOR: 5; SOS: 38)
6. Notre Dame (11-1; SOR: 6; SOS: 50)
7. Ohio State (10-2; SOR: 9; SOS: 36)
8. Ole Miss (10-2; SOR: 8; SOS: 16)
9. Baylor (10-2; SOR: 12; SOS: 43)
10. Oregon (10-2; SOR: 11; SOS: 27)
11. Michigan State (10-2; SOR: 7; SOS: 13)
12. BYU (10-2; SOR: 19; SOS: 73)
13. Iowa (10-2; SOR: 10; SOS: 44)
14. Oklahoma (10-2; SOR: 13; SOS: 47)
15. Pittsburgh (10-2; SOR: 18; SOS: 72)
16. Wake Forest (10-2; SOR: 14; SOS: 60)
17. Utah (9-3; SOR: 28; SOS: 75)
18. NC State (9-3; SOR: 22; SOS: 54)
19. San Diego State (11-1; SOR: 15; SOS: 111)
20. Clemson (9-3; SOR: 17; SOS: 12)
21. Houston (11-1; SOR: 23; SOS: 129)
22. Arkansas (8-4; SOR: 21; SOS: 1)
23. Kentucky (9-3; SOR: 24; SOS: 23)
24. Louisiana (11-1; SOR: 16; SOS: 114)
25. Texas A&M (8-4; SOR: 29; SOS: 42)
GAMES TO WATCH:
No. 10 Oregon vs. No. 17 Utah - 8 p.m. (Friday)
No. 9 Baylor vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State - Noon
No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 3 Alabama - 4 p.m.
No. 21 Houston vs. No. 4 Cincinnati - 4 p.m.
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Iowa - 8 p.m.
Georgia has clinched its spot in the Playoff for all intents and purposes. Even if Alabama somehow blows the Bulldogs off the face of the earth tomorrow, there’s just not enough teams with Georgia’s pedigree sitting around waiting to pounce on a spot. The only drama here is whether they can get the Alabama-sized monkey of their back in the SEC Championship tomorrow to sew up the No. 1 seed.
Alabama, by contrast, almost certainly has to be in “must-win” mode entering the weekend, as their play over the last month has had them on the brink of being upset on three different occasions, and they simply don’t have the old “We are Alabama, and we are beating everybody by 40” mantra that typically affords them so much benefit of the doubt. Assuming they lose to Georgia, how can you objectively say this looks like a Playoff team? There is of course a chaotic scenario or two wherein the committee may have to keep them in the Top 4 even with a loss, but that just sounds awful. Beat Georgia, and you deserve to be in. Lose, and you should be out.
Michigan seems to have established a safe spot at No. 2, but things could go awry quickly if they lose to Iowa in the Big Ten title game. This would be a shocker, but crazier things have happened. The Wolverines would then need Alabama and Oklahoma State (or maybe Cincinnati) to lose to make certain they could backdoor their way in, although we’re not entirely sure how the committee would stack them up against the Tide in that scenario. And would the committee be willing to slide Notre Dame above them? If Michigan wants to take the intrigue out of it, it will take care of business against the Hawkeyes.
Anybody who thinks Cincinnati is guaranteed a spot by simply beating Houston in the AAC Championship has no understanding of how this committee operates. The Bearcats need to win, obviously, but also need either Alabama or Oklahoma State to lose in order to seal the first Group of Five berth in the short history of the Playoff. If Alabama beats Georgia, and Michigan handles Iowa, that locks up three of the four spots. If you don’t think the committee would jump a 12-1 Big XII champion Oklahoma State (fresh off a hypothetical win over top-10 Baylor) over the Bearcats, then you could be in for a rude awakening if this scenario plays out. We wouldn’t guarantee that jump 100%, because the committee knows it would have the wait of potential outrage on its shoulders, but we still think they would seize any opportunity to oust Cincinnati.
Notre Dame seems more like a placeholder than anything else, but if enough upsets go down there could be a situation where the committee has to throw it hands up and slide the Irish into the field. We wouldn’t count on that scenario playing out.