Well, what a wild 120 hours we’ve untangled since Saturday’s plethora of upsets. #2 Michigan, #3 Clemson and #4 Washington all lost, but Louisville still lags behind with a #5 ranking
Opening Thoughts: Why #5?
Personally, I think Louisville should have been ranked fourth behind Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson in that order. But, being ranked fifth with Michigan in front of them basically means they are fourth. At the end of the regular season, someone between Michigan and Ohio State will lose, meaning they will likely eliminate someone from the CFP for good. That will open the door for Louisville, but there will be other teams gunning for that spot with conference championships and bigger games down the road.
However, an Ohio State win against Michigan will mean that Penn State likely gets into the Big Ten Championship, provided the Nittany Lions get past a 2-8 Rutgers team and a 3-7 Michigan State squad. With a two-loss Penn State winning the Big Ten, would there be a possibility that they leapfrog Louisville with a conference championship in their bag? Wisconsin could theoretically leap Louisville by winning the conference also, but they have a stronger schedule with wins over Nebraska and LSU.
Well, the overall ACC picture just got a lot more interesting, thanks to the Pittsburgh Panthers. With Clemson now at one-loss in the ACC, this sets up a winner-take-all situation for Clemson. If Clemson loses to Wake Forest, Louisville will win the Atlantic Division, and go to the ACC Championship against either Virginia Tech or North Carolina. And Wake Forest, with a penchant for forcing turnovers and strong defense (as evidenced by their first half against Louisville), could push a Clemson team that has struggled to take care of the football.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech’s loss to Georgia Tech means that they are tied with North Carolina for the division lead. But they will have to lose another game to rival Virginia, in order for the Tar Heels to win. Pitt’s win means that Clemson isn’t exactly bulletproof of an upset, but a loss in the championship game would be disastrous. Clemson would likely be eliminated at that point with two losses, but UofL as the wild-card from the ACC would either be in the playoff, or possibly left out for a second Big Ten team in the playoff.
Up until last Saturday, Michigan had a wide open path to the playoff as an undefeated team in arguably the best conference in college football.
Unfortunately, that path got a little bumpy after the Wolverines lost at Iowa on a last-second field goal. That means Michigan will have to win out against Indiana and Ohio State to advance to the Big Ten Championship, possibly without starting quarterback Wilson Speight.
Another Michigan loss would open the door for two-loss Penn State getting into the championship, but also creates a bigger threat for Louisville’s chances in the playoffs. Penn State has an exceptionally easy road, only having to win out against 2-8 Rutgers and 3-7 Michigan State. Unless the Nittany Lions lose to either of them — and it would be quite the massive upset at that point — Ohio State winning out will not affect them whatsoever.
Meanwhile, in the Big Ten West, Wisconsin will need to win out against Purdue and Minnesota to lock up its division title. With its only two losses to Michigan and Ohio State by one score each, the Badgers still have an outside shot of cracking into the top four. The advantage that Wisconsin has, though, is they also have wins over LSU and Nebraska to hold them up, while Penn State only has the one marquee win against the Buckeyes. It would stand to reason that Wisconsin would have a more likely shot to leapfrog Louisville than Penn State due to strength of schedule and their wins, which is why Clemson and Michigan held their rankings over Louisville this week.
West Virginia just doesn’t get any love in the polls. The only one-loss team in the entire Big XII appeared lower in the rankings than two-loss Oklahoma, with the Sooners ranked ninth and WVU ranked 14th. However, West Virginia will have an opportunity to earn some respect with a Saturday night home game against the Sooners, with major Big XII implications.
If Oklahoma wins, that will likely make the Big XII race come down to them and rival Oklahoma State in the Bedlam game.
If West Virginia wins, they will need Oklahoma State to lose again at some point, most likely to Oklahoma in their season finale. Oklahoma State would hold the tiebreaker over the Mountaineers, due to their 37-20 win three weeks ago.
Regardless, it is fair to say that the Big XII will likely not get a team in the playoff this season, as the committee will likely look down upon all three for lack of strong wins.
For all the talk about Louisville being neglected in the rankings in favor of losing teams like Clemson and Michigan, Washington may have the biggest issue out of the two. How can a ranked USC beat Washington and the Huskies fall out of the top four, but Clemson and Michigan losing to unranked Pitt and Iowa have minimal effect on this week’s CFP rankings?
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but the Huskies will have their chance at redemption. Washington has two games against Arizona State and at Washington State, which winning out will grant them (A) a solid ranked win, and (B) a shot at the Pac-12 championship against either Colorado or Utah.
Speaking of the Buffs, the 10th-ranked team will also face Washington State this week, as they try to hold on to the Pac-12 South division lead. The Buffaloes will need to win out to secure a Pac-12 championship berth, as another loss would force a three-way tie with rising USC and Utah. If Colorado loses to Washington State, then a win against Utah would leave the division title to USC. However, another USC loss at rival UCLA would set up a winner-take-all scenario between Colorado and Utah next week.
It is safe to say at this point that Alabama is as safe a lock for the CFP as it gets, as they will get a tune-up game against FCS Chattanooga before hosting rival Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide have locked up the SEC West title, and will await either Florida or Tennessee in the conference championship. Florida will have to beat LSU to lock their spot; but if the Gators come up short, then Tennessee must win out against Missouri and Vanderbilt to earn a rematch against the Tide.
But as dominant as Alabama has looked, it’s really hard to see any remaining opponents beating them until they make the playoffs. The Crimson Tide have been college football’s best team up to this point, and they are well deserving of a playoff spot when the final polls are released.
Group of Five:
Western Michigan remains undefeated, but a bigger scare for the Broncos is that Boise State managed to leap them as a one-loss team in the CFP rankings. Boise State and Western Michigan are 20th and 21st respectively, and that may be in large part due to (A) Boise State beating a ranked Washington State team, and (B) Western Michigan lacking a strong win on their resume. Houston could jump into the mix with a win over Louisville next week, but if Navy wins out and take the Cougars’ spot in the AAC Championship Game, that would hurt their opportunity to get back into the conversation for a Group of Five bid.