The Weird, but Simplified, College Football Playoff Conversation
Paddy Cotter, Tom Shively, David Arroyo and Eric Ohlson breakdown all the different College Football Playoff scenarios.
Ever since a failed comeback at Heinz Stadium against the Pittsburgh Panthers and a blowout loss to Michigan, the chaos that is this college football season has benefitted Penn State. The Nittany Lions are only a few unpredictable upsets, spectacular special team plays and second-half surges from reaching the College Football Playoffs.
However, the odds are stacked against them.
Alabama is the clear the clear No.1 bid for the CFP. The Crimson Tide has diminished potential upsets through a consistent defensive effort and an ever-so-reliable running game. Even if the Tide was to fall to sneaky No. 15 Florida, they would still likely remain in the driver's seat. Bama is the only team with a truly certain spot in the CFP.
No. 2 Ohio State has the next most impressive resume. Despite a loss to the Lions, the Buckeyes have beaten four teams in the current top 25. The victory in an overtime classic against rival Michigan was an impressive audition for the Buckeyes; so impressive, they most likely reserved their spot in the CFP despite not playing in Big Ten championship game.
The final two spots in the CFP are the true battlegrounds. No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington are secure in their rankings, but a loss in their respective conference championship games will kick them out of the conversation.
The Tigers will face confident Virginia Tech in the ACC championship this weekend. Despite being a 10-point underdog, the Hokies should make the Tigers worry after coming off a bludgeoning of their in-state rival, Virginia.
Clemson has also been exposed by N.C State, who lost to the Tigers because of a botched field goal; Louisville, who would have beaten the Tigers if Lamar Jackson could throw to Lamar Jackson; and Pittsburgh, who executed the Tigers in Death Valley.
If Clemson can set up an offense around supremely talented quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Hokies won’t be able to wreck havoc on the playoff conversation.
Washington is on upset alert in the Pac-12 championship game. The Huskies will take on No. 8 Colorado on Saturday. The Buffaloes have proven to be a threat after a 10-2 season. Their only losses came to No.12 USC, who also beat the Huskies, and No. 5 Michigan. Both teams were at peak momentum heading into their contests against Colorado. Since beating the Buffaloes in week six, USC has been undefeated.
The Huskies have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Brandon Browning. The sophomore Heisman candidate has throw for over 3160 yards, 40 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions.
However, it is the Huskies defense that has led them to the upper echelon of college football. They have limited opponents to an average of 17.8 point per game to the offense’s 44.8.
Then there are the bubble teams. Each has a fighting chance but a slim margin for error.
With complete dependence on an upset, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, Colorado (unlikely), and Oklahoma (barely) will be auditioning for a spot in the playoffs.
The Big Ten championship game between the Badgers and the Lions will either serve as an exhibition that influences bowl placement or a true competition for a spot in the playoff.
Judging by comments from the selection committee on ESPN’s ranking show, the Lions’ playoff outlook is bleak. If they beat Wisconsin, it is probable that Michigan would steal the fourth spot in the playoffs.
So even though coach James Franklin could not have scripted a better season after the loss to Michigan, only a true bludgeoning of the Badgers may be able to boost the Lions’ resume into contention.
Even though Oklahoma is currently No. 9 in the latest CFP rankings, the Sooners can sneak their way into the playoffs. They will face tough competition in fellow Big 12 competitor No.10 Oklahoma State. A Big 12 team making the playoffs is the least likely thing to happen, but so was Penn State’s rise to the adult’s table of college football.
I predict that the Hokies will upset the Tigers, leaving one opening in the playoffs. That void, which will cause the selection committee to release a collective groan, will result in two spots for Big Ten teams. Because of a tough schedule and the infatuation with a Jim Harbaugh coached team, Michigan will swipe the final seat in the playoffs.
Paddy Cotter is a freshman majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.