Gabriel: Playoff seeds still up in air with championship week here
Welcome to championship week in college football, when this year more than any other in recent memory the outcome of the conference championship games will have less effect on which teams makes the College Football Playoff.
The way I see it, two, perhaps three schools are already in the Playoff — regardless of who wins the championships games. Alabama has held the No. 1 spot since the beginning, and even if the Tide loses to Georgia, they will be in. Last year was a similar situation, when Alabama lost to Georgia in the SEC Championship but made the Playoff and won the National Championship. Win or lose, there is no way Alabama doesn’t get in.
Notre Dame isn’t in a conference, and they do not play this week, but the Irish have a perfect 12-0 record and are currently ranked No. 3 in the Playoff rankings. They also have beaten three other ranked teams (Michigan, Northwestern and Syracuse), as well beating the ACC Championship Game participant, Pitt. Their schedule guarantees they will not fall out of the top four.
No. 2 Clemson is a heavy favorite to beat Pitt in the ACC Championship game, and if both Alabama and Clemson win, they will be the top two seeds in the Playoff. Should Clemson lose to Pitt, then the shuffling begins. Would losing to Pitt still make Clemson the most attractive one-loss team? Would they even deserve to be in the Playoff with a loss to Pitt? Several schools lower in the standings will argue that last point.
Let’s assume that Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame are the first three seeds. Who is number four? This is where it gets interesting.
If Ohio State beats Northwestern in a close game, the Playoff Committee could look at that as almost being a loss. Ohio State has already lost to unranked Purdue and didn’t play well down the stretch until easily beating Michigan last week. Also, the Big Ten is not considered to be a real tough conference this year. I think Ohio State has to win very handily in order to be part of the Playoff. Obviously, a loss to Northwestern seals the Buckeyes’ fate.
In the Big 12, Oklahoma is also in a must-win situation. If the Sooners lose to Texas for the second time this year, they are out. A solid win should put them in as the fourth seed, especially if Ohio State wins in a close game. If both teams win easily, the Playoff Committee will have a tough decision.
What happens if both Ohio State and Oklahoma lose? That would bring Georgia back into the Playoff picture, even if the Bulldogs lose to Alabama. Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Michigan would all be two-loss teams, so which would be the most deserving? With Michigan having lost twice during the regular season, with the second loss a blowout to Ohio State, I think it kills the Wolverines’ chances. By virtue of strength of schedule, Georgia could get the nod.
Should Oklahoma and Ohio State lose, Central Florida could enter the picture. Undefeated at 11-0, UCF currently is ranked No. 8. Should UCF beat Memphis to get to 12-0, the Knights will have made a strong argument to be in the Playoff.
With only a few games left to be played, it’s interesting to note that there is still no clarity regarding which clubs get which seed, much less who is invited to the Playoff. The Committee couldn’t have asked for a better scenario.