The 2016 season’s first weekend of actual chaos give us some of the most interesting College Football Playoff rankings of the year.
Alabama's the obvious No. 1, but after that, what do you do with a crowd of teams that have all lost at least one game (or are mid-major Western Michigan), as of now? Remember, the committee re-evaluates the full-season picture from scratch each week, rather than just sliding down the teams that have lost most recently.
Regardless of the rankings, most of the Playoff paths are apparent. Alabama and Clemson are win-and-in (and Bama could lose a game and still make it). Michigan is as well, since it holds tiebreaker advantages in the Big Ten. Washington and West Virginia can still finish as one-loss Power 5 champs, which would be hard to turn away.
And then there’s the pile of question marks. Louisville and Ohio State are still contenders, but would need either standings miracles that’d allow them to play for their conference titles or to break precedent and make it in as non-champs. Nine two-loss teams still have shots at winning Power 5 conferences, and WMU is still undefeated.
Here are the Playoff committee's updated updated top 25 rankings.
|Rank||Conference||Prev week||Week 11 result|
|1||Alabama, 10-0||SEC||1||W vs. Miss. State, 51-3|
|2||Ohio State, 9-1||Big Ten||5||W vs. Maryland, 62-3|
|3||Michigan, 9-1||Big Ten||3||L at Iowa, 14-13|
|4||Clemson, 9-1||ACC||2||L vs. Pitt, 43-42|
|5||Louisville, 9-1||ACC||6||W vs. Wake Forest, 44-12|
|6||Washington, 9-1||Pac-12||4||L vs. USC, 26-13|
|7||Wisconsin, 8-2||Big Ten||7||W vs. Illinois, 48-3|
|8||Penn State, 8-2||Big Ten||10||W at Indiana, 45-31|
|9||Oklahoma, 8-2||Big 12||11||W vs. Baylor, 45-24|
|10||Colorado, 8-2||Pac-12||12||W at Arizona, 49-24|
|11||Oklahoma State, 8-2||Big 12||13||W vs. Texas Tech, 45-44|
|12||Utah, 8-2||Pac-12||15||W at Arizona State, 49-26|
|13||USC, 7-3||Pac-12||20||W at Washington, 26-13|
|14||West Virginia, 8-1||Big 12||16||W at Texas, 24-20|
|15||Auburn, 7-3||SEC||9||L vs. Georgia, 13-7|
|16||LSU, 6-3||SEC||24||W at Arkansas, 38-10|
|17||Florida State, 7-3||ACC||18||W vs. Boston College, 45-7|
|18||Nebraska, 8-2||Big Ten||19||W vs. Minnesota, 24-17|
|19||Tennessee, 7-3||SEC||NR||W vs. Kentucky, 49-36|
|20||Boise State, 9-1||MWC||22||W at Hawaii, 52-16|
|21||Western Michigan, 10-0||MAC||21||W at Kent State, 37-21|
|22||Washington State, 8-2||Pac-12||23||W vs. Cal, 56-21|
|23||Florida, 7-2||SEC||NR||W vs. South Carolina, 20-7|
|24||Stanford, 7-3||Pac-12||NR||W at Oregon, 52-27|
|25||Texas A&M, 7-3||SEC||8||L vs. Ole Miss, 29-28|
There’s still a ways to go.
With this many weeks to go in 2014, Mississippi State was still in the top four. MSU would lose again and finish No. 7. In 2015, Notre Dame and Ohio State were both in line for semifinals, and they instead met in the Fiesta Bowl.
One seemingly insignificant game can alter things quite a bit. We saw this in 2014, when Baylor jumped TCU in the final rankings after beating Kansas State, and thus drawing near enough in strength of schedule for the Bears’ previous win over the Horned Frogs to matter. (If that sounds like I’m making it up, no, that’s exactly how the committee described their thought process. It makes sense to me.)
Still, the closer you are to the top, the better, and time is running out.
In 2014, Ohio State had surged from No. 16 to No. 6 at this point and would still need a massive Big Ten Championship blowout win to make the field.
In 2015, Oklahoma was the team that overcame the longest odds to make the Playoff, jumping up from No. 15, but it was No. 7 at this point. Michigan State had fallen to No. 13, but had made it back up to No. 9.
So if you’re not in the top 10 at this point, history (and common sense) say you’re probably playing for New Year’s Six bowls, not the Playoff.
This also affects more than just the Playoff.
The committee also matches up the rest of the New Year’s Six bowls. This year, that means the Cotton, Orange, Rose, and Sugar.
The Rose is simple: the top non-Playoff Big Ten team vs. the top non-Playoff Pac-12 team. Same for the Sugar with the Big 12 and SEC.
The Orange pairs the top non-Playoff ACC team against the top Big Ten or SEC team not in any of the above games. (Notre Dame also has a tie to this game, but the Irish might not be making any bowls this year, period.)
The Cotton is left to take the top mid-major conference champion and the highest-ranking at-large from any conference.
Here's how I think it'll all turn out (I'll update that shortly, now that rankings are out).
And here's what it'd all look like if the season ended right now.
Peach Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Clemson
Fiesta Bowl semifinal: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Michigan
Rose Bowl: No. 6 Washington vs. No. 7 Wisconsin
Sugar Bowl: No. 9 Oklahoma vs. No. 15 Auburn
Orange Bowl: No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 8 Penn State
Cotton Bowl: No. 10 Colorado vs. No. 20 Boise State (which needs Wyoming to lose another game in order to reach and win the Mountain West Championship and thus be eligible for the mid-major autobid)