As long as everything goes according to plan, the playoff is set. Clemson, Alabama and Oklahoma are in. The last place goes to the Big Ten champion, either Iowa or Michigan State. Oklahoma’s season is finished. They are the Big 12 champions and have beaten Baylor on the road, TCU at home and Oklahoma State on the road in the last three weeks. They’re in. Clemson needs to beat UNC in Charlotte, and Alabama needs to beat Florida in Atlanta. That’s what will probably happen, and that’s the plan. If that happens, it will be a drama free decision day for the committee. If something changes, it could be very interesting.
If Alabama loses…
If the Crimson Tide lose, they are out. Being the SEC runner-up with two losses doesn’t get you anywhere. The question is, who would take their place. There are two candidates.
Ohio State. The Buckeyes seem like the logical choice here. They only have one loss, a three point affair, to Michigan State. Assuming all else goes according to plan, they will the only one loss team or one of two one loss teams (if Iowa loses). They have a big name and are the defending national champions. Their problem would be quality wins. While they don’t have any bad losses, they only have one real quality win: at Michigan. That could be a problem for the committee. If it is, that would open the door for …
Stanford. The Pac-12 was written off long ago. Would the committee be interested in having a West Coast team in the playoff? Stanford would make an attractive candidate. Assuming they win, they would be the Pac-12 champion. Their out of conference schedule would be Northwestern, Notre Dame and UCF. That’s the kind of schedule the committee wants to promote. They would have a win over Notre Dame and two wins over Southern Cal. Neither of their losses is good, but they are both Top 15 teams. It would be controversial, but the committee might be OK with that.
If Clemson loses…
If the Tigers lose, who takes their place? It would be easy to say North Carolina as the ACC champion, but it might not be that simple. The Tar Heels would have a quality win against Clemson, but that’s it. Their only loss would be to 3-9 South Carolina. That’s a bad loss, and it might keep them out of the playoff. The only thing they would have going for them is that substituting UNC for Clemson would be easy for the committee.
Ohio State would still be an option. See above.
Stanford could be one too. Same.
Iowa could be in. If the Hawkeyes lose a close game to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game, they would be a candidate. They have wins on the road at Wisconsin and Northwestern. Those have aged well, and would look good at the end of the season. A loss to Michigan State wouldn’t be terrible. Don’t count them out.
Clemson would be the fifth option. They might make it anyway. It’s possible that Stanford could take itself out of consideration by losing to Southern Cal. If that happens, the choices narrow. If an undefeated Iowa team could lose its championship game and get in, so could Clemson. While the Tigers’ win over Notre Dame was devalued over the weekend, the FSU win looks better. It would be hard for the committee to take Clemson over the North Carolina team who just beat them, but they could do just that.
If Clemson and Alabama lose…
This scenario would strengthen Clemson’s hope of losing and going to the playoff anyway. All the other teams mentioned above would be in the running too. It would be whatever the committee wants. They could make up just about anything.
The Playoff Committee could pick three Big Ten teams. What if Michigan State beats Iowa on a controversial call or in overtime? Add to that a Southern Cal win over Stanford. If the ACC and SEC eliminate their best contenders, could the Big Ten get two teams in? Could they get three? Probably not, but imagine the controversy. The committee would probably take one of the ACC teams, but they could pick three Big Ten teams. The SEC would explode with indignation.