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Breaking Down Every Playoff Possibility: Chaos Looms

It could all get very complicated, or super easy. College football!

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Media Day John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

With Auburn’s victory over Alabama, five teams control their destiny. If those teams win, I have almost no doubt they are in the field.

Clemson defeated South Carolina. Notre Dame has collapsed in the fourth quarter. We’re editing to assume the Irish have lost. We will update if they make a miraculous comeback.

We’ll start the discussion with a few points. First, the committee members change from year-to-year. Like new justices on the Supreme Court, the changing composition of a body can affect how they view things. Just because Tom Osborne’s 2014 committee thought something doesn’t mean the 2017 committee with new members will view things the same. Second, precedent doesn’t bind them. Ohio State at 11-1 made it over Penn State last year. I thought that would happen, but I disagreed with that decision. The committee is not obligated to take a one loss team over a two loss team because of that. Third, head-to-head and conference titles are supposed to come into play with comparable resumes. The committee can skirt those tiebreakers by arguing the resumes are not comparable.

Control their destiny:

Oklahoma- The Sooners at 12-1—with a win at Ohio State—are for sure in if they beat TCU.

Wisconsin- The Badgers would end 13-0 and have a win over Ohio State. Their schedule is terrible, but there is zero chance an undefeated power five team—with a 13th data point—gets left out.

Clemson- A 12-1 Clemson with a win over Auburn (this will become very relevant if chaos strikes), and an ACC title is absolutely making it.

Miami- This is the most debatable of the five here. At 11-1, Miami would have wins over Clemson and Notre Dame. They would also have a conference title. That resume seems substantially better than Alabama’s. I am convinced Miami would make it over Alabama in that scenario.

Georgia- The Bulldogs have a win over the Irish, and they’d be 12-1 with a revenge win over Auburn. There’s no shot a one loss SEC champ misses the playoff.

How does Auburn not control their destiny?

As explained above, if Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Miami all finish as one loss conference champs, they are making the playoff. They’d either be undefeated or have some excellent victories.

I think Auburn probably controls their destiny. But if Clemson loses to Miami, does Auburn 100% make it over Clemson?

Clemson has a head-to-head victory over Auburn. The committee has also ranked Clemson higher than the media all season. Kirby Hocutt, the playoff chairman, has mentioned they have considered that Clemson’s quarterback was injured during their loss to Syracuse. So, does Clemson suddenly crater enough that head-to-head doesn’t matter?

Auburn’s candidacy would be that their resume is better than Clemson’s, and head-to-head should not matter. Auburn’s candidacy has several good arguments. They’d have wins over Alabama, Georgia and Georgia again. They’d argue it’s been quite a while since their loss at Auburn. And they’d claim that Clemson is worse now, as evidenced by falling to Miami. They’d also mention that conference titles should matter, maybe even as much as the head-to-head result.

In this scenario, watch out for Alabama making it over Auburn and Clemson. My belief is that Auburn makes it in this world, but Alabama would rely on precedent, to a degree (and to a Baylor fan, more than a degree). In 2014, the committee moved TCU from 3rd to 6th after the Frogs blew out Iowa State. My belief is that the committee decided TCU was greater than Ohio State, Ohio State was greater than Baylor, and because of head-to-head, they had to make Baylor greater than TCU. Somehow they held the illogical belief that A>B, B>C, and C>A.

Alabama’s case isn’t really that close to Ohio State’s last season, but it’s similar. Ohio State also made the playoff over Penn State last season, when Penn State was 11-2 with a Big Ten title, and Ohio State finished 11-1 with a head-to-head loss to Penn State. Ohio State had a win in Norman against a top ten Oklahoma team, and Alabama lacks a win even close to that good. Some also claimed Penn State’s win was a weird fluke. Auburn was much better than Alabama tonight.

Clemson finishing 11-2 would be an interesting debate. I think 11-2 Auburn’s resume would be strong enough that the committee would decide head-to-head is not a relevant tiebreaker. But anything could happen if Clemson finishes 11-2, Auburn finishes 11-2 and Alabama is 11-1.

Is Wisconsin for sure making it with a win?

Yes. The Badgers would be 13-0 with a win over Northwestern, who will finish in the top 25. And a win over Ohio State, who will for sure finish in the top 25. Alabama is going to have at most two top 25 wins—LSU and Mississippi State—and they may not have that many. With their loss to Ole Miss, Mississippi State could be left out of the top 25.

The Badgers would have a conference title, a 13th data point and be an undefeated power five team. There’s no way Wisconsin is getting left out at 13-0.

Ohio State and TCU have to win for chaos

The ACC is getting a team in the playoff. The SEC is getting at least one team. For the next several paragraphs, we’ll assume Auburn and Clemson win their title games.

Alabama’s resume still isn’t that great. But the Tide have been pretty dominant most of the season. They’ve made the playoff every season and advanced statistical models love them. Maybe some of those things shouldn’t matter, but I thoroughly believe the committee will put a one loss Alabama in the field before a two loss champion from the Big 12, Big Ten or PAC-12.

If Wisconsin loses, then there is one spot left for everybody else. Wisconsin at 12-1, with only a single top 25 win, would probably get left out. The committee has not given them a ton of respect. I think they’d say the feel in the room was that when watching Wisconsin the committee came away with the belief they were not a top four team.

Would TCU for sure be above Oklahoma? The Frogs would have played a nearly identical schedule. They’d be 1-1 against the Sooners. The Frog’s case would be that they beat Oklahoma more recently, their loss is on the road, and they lost to Iowa State in Ames, while Oklahoma lost in Norman. In addition, TCU would be the Big 12 champ.

Oklahoma’s case would be that their resume is nearly identical, with one important difference: Oklahoma beat Ohio State in Columbus. Oklahoma already beat TCU once. Those teams are tied. Yes, conference championships have some value, but when the teams play two times, and the series is split, why would the second game have to matter that much more than the first game? The committee in 2014 kept saying TCU and Baylor did not have comparable resumes until Baylor played Kansas State. Well, TCU never played a top 10 Ohio State team. Oklahoma did.

Ohio State would have a tough time making it because Oklahoma at 11-2 would have a head-to-head win in Columbus. Could the committee really ignore that? I think the resumes would not be distinct enough for Ohio State to discount Oklahoma’s huge victory.

My belief is that TCU would make it. They’d have two good loses, a win over Oklahoma and the Big 12 title. Ohio State would have a head-to-head problem with Oklahoma and their 31 point loss to Iowa matters too much. The committee let Ohio State jump TCU in 2014. I think TCU would jump Ohio State in 2017.

A few teams would linger. 11-2 USC would have some good victories, and their two losses—Notre Dame and Stanford—are both good losses. But they were crushed by Notre Dame, and TCU’s win over Oklahoma would be better than any USC win. I don’t think they have good enough victories to trump TCU.

Then there’s Miami. The Hurricanes have a number of close wins, and the committee didn’t give them a ton of respect, until vaulting them after the Notre Dame victory. Miami would have lost two of their final three contests. They’d also have a terrible loss to Pitt. I don’t see them making it.

Could Georgia make it at 11-2? I don’t see the SEC getting three teams in the field. Their win over Notre Dame is nice, but they’d have lost twice to Auburn. Plus, I don’t see the committee putting three teams from one conference in the field.

Basically, TCU is the easiest choice. They have a conference title, split with Oklahoma and they don’t get eliminated by a head-to-head loss to another contender.

If Clemson loses to Miami, then I think Clemson will make the playoff over TCU. The Tigers have been viewed favorably by the committee, they’d have a win over Auburn and as the defending champions, the benefit of the doubt would probably go their way. Though TCU would be a conference champion, so they could still make it. And Matt Hinton thinks they’ll make it. I think they should, but I think Clemson would get in over them.

If Georgia wins the SEC, and Clemson wins the ACC, then I think TCU will get the spot. Auburn would have three losses. Miami’s two recent losses are too much, as mentioned above. And I think TCU is the easiest choice of the Oklahoma-Ohio State-USC triumvirate.

If we get a Wisconsin loss and an Oklahoma loss, anything is truly possible. The committee would have a lot of teams to consider for one spot. A lot of fans would be justifiably angry at their team being left out.