• Tailgating: The CFP Report



    With the B1G dominating the landscape of college football by boasting 4 of the top 8 teams in the country, along with the cavalcade of upsets we’ve seen over the past week, it’s become clear that silence is no longer an option for at least one member of the Tailgating crew. While I’m sure many of you were hoping to hear from Matt, unfortunately you’re stuck with me this week.

    I’m not going to sit here and tell you that last weekend was the most exciting college football weekend we’ve ever seen, but I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed a more improbable series of games? While Alabama was reminding everyone of how tired we are of them, #2 Clemson fell to unranked Pitt, #3 Michigan lost on a last-second FG to an unranked Iowa that was housed the previous week by Penn State, and #4 Washington lost to #20 USC. Add in losses by #8 Texas A&M and #9 Auburn, along with #5 Louisville going down this past Thursday night, and we’re in full-on mayhem mode. Let’s break down what this means for the top teams in the current playoff rankings, whether or not the committee has it right at this moment, and how I expect everything to shake out. It’s been awhile, but I’m glad to be back in the saddle. Here we go…


    Where We Stand-- The Current Rankings

    1. Alabama (10-0) 11/19 vs. Chattanooga, 11/26 vs. Auburn, 12/3 SEC Championship

    Barring the impossible, the Tide are in. The biggest question is whether or not they’re invincible. A mediocre Ole Miss team was able to hang with them toe-to-toe in week 3, and LSU was able to hold them scoreless through 3 quarters a couple of weeks ago, but the Tide found a way to win both. Clemson, Ohio State, and Michigan are all capable of beating Alabama, but even though the SEC is not nearly as strong a conference from top to bottom as it was a few years ago, as long as Alabama is rolling, it will take a near perfect effort to bring them down. If they do bring home the title, I think it's time for us to officially declare this the greatest dynasty of all time.


    2. Ohio State (9-1) 11/19 @ Michigan State, 11/26 vs. Michigan

    It’s weird to say it, but I think there’s a significantly greater than zero chance that despite currently being the highest ranked team, Ohio State is the only one of the four B1G teams being considered that doesn’t control their own fate. I’m not saying this should be the case, but I am saying that after nearly witnessing this exact scenario play out last year with Alabama and Ole Miss, we may finally see once and for all how the committee values each of the criteria. Over the first couple years of the CFP, the committee has not yet selected a non-conference champion. The committee has also not yet selected a team with more than 1 regular season defeat. Yet Ohio State, even if they beat #3 Michigan, has that loss to potential B1G champ #8 Penn State hanging over their head. The criteria set forth by the committee is that a team that does not win its conference must demonstrate itself to be clearly better than a power conference champ. Ohio State’s win over #7 Wisconsin may be enough to rank them over the Badgers if they happen to take home the B1G championship. However, a title for Penn State could possibly throw a major monkey wrench at the committee, because despite having one more loss, Penn State would not only have the H2H matchup in their favor, but would also have the hardware. With #5 Louisville going down on Thursday, it would only take a loss by Washington to render this discussion moot and potentially lock two B1G participants into the playoff. But, if Washington and Penn State win out and add a title to their respective resumes, it’s at least possible that the committee could vault both the Nittany Lions and Huskies ahead of the Buckeyes and into the playoff.


    3. Michigan (9-1) 11/19 vs. Indiana, 11/26 @ Ohio State

    Michigan's path to the playoff is much more straightforward than Ohio State's. If they win out, they’re in the playoff as at least the 2 seed. If they lose, they’re out. Last week’s loss to Iowa was the most improbable upset of the season, and with QB Wilton Speight likely to miss at least this week with a broken collarbone, the Wolverines would be wise not to overlook an Indiana team that took them to OT last year, and nearly upset Penn State last week.


    4. Clemson (9-1) 11/19 @ Wake Forest, 11/26 vs. South Carolina, 12/3 ACC Championship

    Similar to Michigan, Clemson also has a clear path to a repeat appearance in the CFP. 3 wins and they’re in. 1 loss and they’re out. This was the case even before Louisville lost to Houston on Thursday night.


    5. Louisville (9-2) OUT

    The Cardinals' fate was sealed by a 36-10 loss on Thursday night at the hands of Houston. Their loss, coupled with a guaranteed loss for Ohio State or Michigan, opens things up wide for the next 3 teams on the list.


    6. Washington (9-1) 11/19 vs. Arizona State, 11/26 @ Washington State

    As of this moment, Washington wouldn’t even be participating in the Pac-12 Championship. But, the Huskies do still control their own destiny thanks to a potential Apple Cup for the ages in Pullman against Wazzou (With Mike Leach and Chris Peterson prominently involved, it is a guarantee Matt and I would have left the Egg Bowl at the alter and run off with the Apple Cup had we not remained mostly muted this season). However, even if the Huskies win out, they could find themselves in an uphill battle against the numbers. Washington played the weakest non-conference schedule in FBS this season, and while they still have 2 more potential games against ranked opponents, a win would likely knock Washington State out of the top 25, and would knock whomever the beat in the Pac-12 championship further down the food chain, leaving them severely lacking in the quality wins category, especially when compared with the B1G candidates. We are getting to the point that it’s really difficult to envision a playoff without the B1G champ (even if the champ has 2 losses). Therefore, Washington fans should be rooting heavily for Michigan the rest of the way. If both Michigan and Washington win out, as conference champion, the Huskies would clearly be the pick over a 2-loss Penn State that didn’t make its conference championship, and would almost certainly beat out the Big 12 champ, whether it’s a 2-loss Oklahoma, a 2-loss Oklahoma State, or even a 1-loss West Virginia. But if Ohio State beats Michigan, and the B1G champ is either 2-loss Wisconsin or Penn State, things could get really murky for U-Dub.


    7. Wisconsin (8-2) 11/19 @ Purdue, 11/26 vs. Minnesota

    The Badgers are not locked into the B1G Championship game as of yet, but are the clear favorites to emerge from the West as we head into the final 2 weeks of the regular season. There’s a strong possibility that a 2-loss program will crash the playoff for the first time this year. If the Badgers win the B1G, it’s pretty clear that they’d be the top 2-loss team left standing. But would that be enough if Clemson, Ohio State, and Washington each win out?


    8. Penn State (8-2) 11/19 @ Rutgers, 11/26 vs. Michigan State

    WE ARE!!!

    I can’t think of a more unlikely team to be sitting in this position than Penn State, especially considering Michigan’s 49-10 beatdown of them just 2 months ago. I’d get into the why, but I’d need the benefit of an entire article to do that justice, so I’ll let us sit on the reality that Penn State has earned the opportunity to be very much alive in the B1G and playoff picture. And it’s not just the win over Ohio State. NO ONE does Iowa like that. With the Hawkeyes solidifying that point by rebounding to beat Michigan the very next week, most of the sting from 49-10 is officially gone. Thanks to remaining schedules and win probabilities, the current most likely scenario in the race for the B1G championship has Penn State emerging as the East Division champions to take on Wisconsin. I’ve talked plenty about the potential B1G playoff paradox above, but considering the committee’s clear focus on the importance of H2H as well as the designation of “champion” when determining the CFP participants, we may finally have some legwork to consider in the future if the final spot does indeed come down to the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes. As a Penn State fan, just the talk of a New Year’s Six bowl with this team has me giddy. That they are currently a legit member of the playoff conversation is something I’m still trying to fully comprehend. This program is only going to get better, folks.


    9. Oklahoma (8-2) 11/19 @ West Virginia, 12/3 vs. Oklahoma State

    Frankly, I think the Sooners are going down to West Virginia, but even if they don’t, they have a major uphill battle to climb. Considering the strength of the B1G, Oklahoma isn’t passing a 2-loss champion from that conference, especially since they won’t have a conference championship game of their own for added leverage. Even more problematic is that H2H loss against Ohio State that would give the Buckeyes the edge even if they find themselves sitting at home during conference championship weekend. But things also aren’t as simple as Oklahoma merely rooting for Michigan to win out since Ohio State would still own that H2H edge even if the Sooners have hardware on their side. For Oklahoma to get in, I think they’d need Washington to lose and Ohio State to win the B1G, meaning Penn State would need to lose to either Rutgers or Michigan State.


    So You're Saying There's a Chance-

    The only other Power 5 team I haven’t mentioned with a chance to finish with just 1 loss on the season is West Virginia. The Mountaineers host the Sooners this week, and Matt brought up a great point a while back about WVU’s significant advantage in home conference games considering the travel involved for the other schools in the Big 12. If West Virginia can take advantage and beat Oklahoma, I think they suddenly have a really interesting case. However, they’d also still need Oklahoma State to lose at some point as well, otherwise it would be the Cowboys who are declared as the official champion of the Big 12. And why not Colorado, who's currently the 10th ranked team according to the CFP? They host Washington State and Utah to close the season, and if they win, could meet Washington for the Pac-12 championship. If they can navigate their way through that 3 game gauntlet, the Buffs, whose only losses are at Michigan and at USC, would have a very strong resume for the committee to consider. Utah and Washington State are each also a potential 2-loss Pac-12 champ, but are pretty far back in the rankings at this point, and probably have too many mountains to climb unless a complete eruption of chaos continues to ensue over the next 3 weeks.


    Does The Committee Have it Right?

    I mean, for now? Sure. But this is where they’ve left us a bit confused in the past. Just 2 years ago, TCU was ranked ahead of Baylor and Ohio State every week leading up to the unveiling of the final rankings. Despite each of those 3 teams not losing another game, TCU dropped from #3 to #6 behind both Ohio State and Baylor in the final rankings, thanks in part to their H2H loss against Baylor (even though that hadn’t played a role in the previous 6 weeks), and because of the official edition of B1G hardware that was added to Ohio State’s resume. That leads me to believe that we could be in store for some strange shake-ups again this year.


    Let’s Shake This Thing Out-

    Alabama is getting in and will be the overwhelming favorite. How’s that for some groundbreaking analysis?

    If Michigan wins out, they're in and it almost certainly locks the committee into selecting 4 conference champions. If Clemson wins out, they're in. That would leave the last spot for the Pac-12 or Big 12 champ. Washington would be the 4th team if they win out. If they lose, that opens the door for Oklahoma. But if Oklahoma and Washington each lose and WVU sticks with just 1 loss, the committee would have a tough choice between WVU and a 2-loss Pac-12 champ, with Oklahoma State, who owns the H2H over WVU, still in the mix as well if they win out. The best 2-loss team without a conference championship would almost certainly be Penn State thanks to their H2H over Ohio State, but it would take something mammoth to happen for them to be considered in this scenario.

    However, if we stay on schedule and Ohio State takes care of Michigan at home (they'll be the slight favorite), I think there's a real chance Penn State or Wisconsin could trump even a 1-loss Washington. If Wisconsin beats Ohio State or Michigan in the B1G Championship, that may be enough for them to leap all teams not named Bama or Clemson. But I also don't think a Wisconsin win over Penn State would be enough for them to pass Washington. Penn State's path could be a bit more transitive. If the committee believes Ohio State is superior than Washington, but they also value PSU's H2H and Championship over OSU, then it's at least possible both could pass the Huskies. Beyond that, it's very clear at this point that any 2-loss B1G champ would trump any 2-loss champ from any other conference, and that a 1-loss Ohio State non-champ would trump a 2-loss champ from the ACC, Big 12, or Pac-12. I also think West Virginia can't pass the B1G champ, even if they end up with only 1 loss. The lack of a Big 12 championship game is really going to hurt them this year. And yes, if mass chaos continues to ensue, there is as high as a 0.37% chance we could reach a point where the best non-Alabama teams remaining are Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan.


    In Conclusion

    Well, if we’ve learned anything from the past week, it’s that we know nothing. You’d think we’d have already learned that, but it seems like each year we’re reminded at some point of exactly how little we know. The big games this weekend are in Morgantown and Boulder, but as always, we never know when another big game may make a random appearance. Indiana looked frisky last week against Penn State and nearly beat Michigan last year. Michigan State may finally have a little bit of momentum, and while this clearly isn’t the same Sparty that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, Mark Dantonio is still their coach, and they’ve had Ohio State’s number in recent seasons. Also, TCU hosts fringe contender Oklahoma State in a tricky spot for the Cowboys, and USC and UCLA should be all kinds of beautiful at the Rose Bowl in a late 10:30 kick on ESPN.

    Enjoy your College Football Saturday everyone!

    Comments 43 Comments
    1. hobbes27's Avatar
      Well, if we’ve learned anything from the past week, it’s that we know nothing. You’d think we’d have already learned that, but it seems like each year we’re reminded at some point of exactly how little we know.

      There's one thing I know. Alabama is going to be your national champion. Even if they have a subpar game in the playoff, they can still win. They are that good.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Ohio State survives Michigan State 17-16 in the standard windy, nasty November Michigan weather. Dantonio decided to go for 2 after a late TD, and it didn't work out. Michigan State scares the crap out of me heading into next week. It's really tough to envision that Sparty would end the conference season with their only win coming against Rutgers.
    1. Amy's Avatar
      What a horrible way for Michigan to lose. As someone with no horse in the race, who barely even watches college football, I feel bad for them. They made a stop on that 4th down. Barrett had to get to the 15, and the arm with the ball never gets there.

      Both the NCAA and the NFL need to start putting mobile camera's on the sidelines, small ones, that can look right down the LOS for plays like that.
    1. hobbes27's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Amy View Post
      What a horrible way for Michigan to lose. As someone with no horse in the race, who barely even watches college football, I feel bad for them. They made a stop on that 4th down. Barrett had to get to the 15, and the arm with the ball never gets there.

      Both the NCAA and the NFL need to start putting mobile camera's on the sidelines, small ones, that can look right down the LOS for plays like that.
      It did seem to be a generous spot by the refs.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      I don't know. Live, I really wasn't sure if Barrett made the 15, and you knew as soon as the play was over that there was no way the spot could be overturned on replay. That said:


      It looks to me like he's got the 15 in this shot. It's important to remember, too, that since the original LOS in OT is at the true 25 yard line, the spot basically adheres to the same principle as the goal line: if any of the ball touches chalk on the 15 yard line for forward progress, that is a first down.

      Also, if you have three turnovers and only manage 90 yards of offense in the second half, it's really not the day to blame your defeat on the officials.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      I thought Barrett got the 15. I thought the PI on Michigan was clear. It is possible they missed the PI against Ohio State, but even after seeing the replay the first time, I thought he avoided any hindering contact on the WR.

      VERY bad look for Harbaugh.
    1. Amy's Avatar
      Yeah.

      I thought Michigan played better for most of the game. But, they made too many mistakes.
    1. hobbes27's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Matt Kocsan View Post

      It looks to me like he's got the 15 in this shot. It's important to remember, too, that since the original LOS in OT is at the true 25 yard line, the spot basically adheres to the same principle as the goal line: if any of the ball touches chalk on the 15 yard line for forward progress, that is a first down.

      Also, if you have three turnovers and only manage 90 yards of offense in the second half, it's really not the day to blame your defeat on the officials.
      You are right. At the end of the day, Ohio State played better to win the game. So you can't really blame the refs. Don't let Curtis Samuel get close enough on the previous play after running around for like 40 yards to gain 8.5 yards, and you are going into another overtime at best and possibly even winning the game right there because they have a long field goal for the kicker who had the yips.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      That was far too good a game to go whining about the zebras.

      Whether Barrett got the 15 or not, that was the call on the field. There was no concrete evidence he did or did not make it. Therefore, the ruling stands.

      Score more points. Make sure the other guys score less.

      Period.

      Oh. And don't throw your clipboard in the air like a petulant child.

      Go Blue.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Another year and another failure by the committee (up to this point) to successfully distinguish the difference between "best" and "most deserving". The committee says "best", therefore ESPN argues "best". Yet, in the past 2 years, despite continuing to say the word "best", they've picked "most deserving".

      THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH ADMITTING THAT YOU'RE TAKING THE 4 MOST DESERVING TEAMS!!!

      If we talk about best teams, then suddenly idiots like David Pollock can wax poetic about 3-loss USC and how they should have an argument. Idiots like Desmond Howard can argue Michigan, who finished 3rd in their own division, and whose only win outside the state of Michigan was against Rutgers.

      -Alabama-- IN no matter what.

      -Ohio State-- IN and deserving of that monicker. I think there's a good argument that they're more deserving than the B1G champ even if Penn State, the team that beat them, adds another Top 10 win (Wisconsin will stay in the Top 10 even with a loss). Wins @Oklahoma, @Wisconsin, and over Michigan is by far a more impressive collection of wins than any other team can boast.

      -Clemson-- IN and deserving, but only if they win. If Clemson isn't on their game, Virginia Tech is a very dangerous opponent tonight.

      -Washington-- Rutgers. Idaho. Portland State. All home games. Those are their non-conference wins. If we're considering penalizing unbeaten Western Michigan for the MAC and their schedule in relation to 2-loss Navy, why are we rewarding Washington for playing in the MAC of the Power 5? How else does Colorado end up as a division winner? USC is by far and away the best team Washington played and the Trojans dominated them IN Washington. That was only 3 weeks ago. An undefeated Washington would have been deserving. Add in that loss, and reward their very good season justly with a Rose Bowl berth. No shame in that.

      -Michigan-- played a Penn State at home in September that was forced to play 2nd/3rd stringers on the DL, and was literally down 5 LBs, forced to play true freshmen and walk-ons. The game got away from them early. In the last month, they've struggled with Michigan State (Penn State beat them 45-12), struggled to put up 20 at home vs. Indiana (PSU hung 45 on them in Bloomington the week before), lost to Iowa the week after PSU beat them 41-14, and lost to Ohio State (PSU- 24-21). If they play right now, are we certain Michigan beats Penn State? Are we certain Michigan beats Wisconsin again? If Wisconsin wins tonight, I can see the argument for Michigan over the Badgers, who played in the weaker division, and lost to both the Wolverines and Buckeyes. But if Penn State wins...

      -Penn State- Home win over Ohio State cancels out early season road loss against Michigan when they were as undermanned on defense as any team has been all year. If PSU wins-- Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State will each be 2-1 H2H against each other plus Wisconsin. Add in the B1G championship, and YES, the team that also won Michigan's division is more deserving of a playoff spot than the Wolverines.

      -Wisconsin- Yes, I can see an argument for Michigan if Wiscy wins. BUT, if Wisconsin is B1G champ I think they should be rewarded and I'd put them into the top 4, even over Washington.

      My playoff picks-- Alabama, Ohio State, B1G champ, Clemson/Michigan. I don't think we should reward Washington no matter what happens.

      WE ARE!!!!
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Trace McSorley and Penn State's offensive weapons are the difference tonight.

      Penn State wins in impressive fashion. 41-17.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Also-- Temple in an upset. Oklahoma over OSU 45-31. Alabama over Florida (close for a half).

      And I've got a hunch the ACC Championship tonight looks an awful lot like the Big 12 championship in 1996 (Texas over #3 Nebraska), 1998 (Texas A&M over #3 Kansas State), and 2001 (Colorado over #3 Texas).
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Brian Williams View Post
      Also-- Temple in an upset. Oklahoma over OSU 45-31. Alabama over Florida (close for a half).

      And I've got a hunch the ACC Championship tonight looks an awful lot like the Big 12 championship in 1996 (Texas over #3 Nebraska), 1998 (Texas A&M over #3 Kansas State), and 2001 (Colorado over #3 Texas).
      Hint: for those of you out of practice with TG on hiatus for this year, Brian is picking Virginia Tech.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      If I had it in on time, I would have picked Oklahoma (looking at least plausible right now, even though the Cowboys are up 17-10 late in the second) and Navy (uh, less plausible).

      Alabama, basically, will beat Florida by as much as they want to beat them by.

      I think Virginia Tech is going to have to benefit from turnovers to beat Clemson.

      I'm interested to see how Penn State does away from Happy Valley. It's obviously not a road game for the Lions, but they have been pretty magnificent at home; after two early-season losses on the road (Pitt, Michigan), they've only had to travel to Purdue (yuck), Indiana (decent!), and Rutgers (just awful). I do think this is a game where if Penn State builds an early lead, we could see a gigantic beatdown--kind of like what happened to the Badgers in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game. If things stay tight, though, who knows?

      Oh, and as you all know, I am obligated to call Wyoming's number for an upset over San Diego State in the Mountain West Championship Game. It's a re-run of a game just a couple weeks ago, actually, when the Cowboys beat the Aztecs, 34-33, in Laramie, where they'll meet again tonight. The Cowboys are undefeated at home this season and have been a kind of unsurprising surprise (yes, I just wrote that) in Craig Bohl's third year at Wyoming. This game would be worth flipping to occasionally for SDSU's all-world runningback Donnel Pumphrey alone, but this really should be some fun.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Matt Kocsan View Post
      If I had it in on time, I would have picked Oklahoma (looking at least plausible right now, even though the Cowboys are up 17-10 late in the second) and Navy (uh, less plausible).

      Alabama, basically, will beat Florida by as much as they want to beat them by.

      I think Virginia Tech is going to have to benefit from turnovers to beat Clemson.

      I'm interested to see how Penn State does away from Happy Valley. It's obviously not a road game for the Lions, but they have been pretty magnificent at home; after two early-season losses on the road (Pitt, Michigan), they've only had to travel to Purdue (yuck), Indiana (decent!), and Rutgers (just awful). I do think this is a game where if Penn State builds an early lead, we could see a gigantic beatdown--kind of like what happened to the Badgers in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game. If things stay tight, though, who knows?

      Oh, and as you all know, I am obligated to call Wyoming's number for an upset over San Diego State in the Mountain West Championship Game. It's a re-run of a game just a couple weeks ago, actually, when the Cowboys beat the Aztecs, 34-33, in Laramie, where they'll meet again tonight. The Cowboys are undefeated at home this season and have been a kind of unsurprising surprise (yes, I just wrote that) in Craig Bohl's third year at Wyoming. This game would be worth flipping to occasionally for SDSU's all-world runningback Donnel Pumphrey alone, but this really should be some fun.
      That's the game I forgot. I like San Diego State.

      Penn State has been the best 2nd half team in the country since the start of October. Most weeks, they'll play it pretty close to the vest throughout the first half, make a few adjustments at halftime, and dominate the 2nd half. That trend was true against Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana, Rutgers, and Michigan State. It was also true against Pitt, when they looked awful in the 1st half, then in the 2nd half simply ran out of time (McSorley led them nearly all the way back from a 21 point deficit, had them driving, but in his 2nd career start forced a ball into the endzone on a bad read when the field was wide open, and Pitt hadn't stopped them in basically the entire 2nd half).

      Against then-unbeaten Maryland and Iowa, they played complete games. Especially against Iowa, and no one does Iowa like PSU did Iowa. The next week, Iowa did to Michigan what they've historically done to PSU (and many other teams) and grinded out an ugly win on a last second FG.

      I'm expecting a complete game tonight, and Penn State absolutely has the horses to make it ugly. I'm a little put off by everyone's love of Wisconsin for a schedule that's basically enhanced by early season wins over 2 incredibly overrated teams (LSU and Michigan State), and 2 moral victories against Ohio State and Michigan. I'm never a fan of the "quality loss" argument, and that's all Wisconsin has. Outside of that, it's a bunch of close wins over mediocre competition mixed with a couple blowouts over the likes of Illinois and Purdue.

      2 good losses do not equal the 2 top 10 wins that would be on PSU's resume should they win tonight. That's why I'm a little down on Wisconsin even though they're the higher ranked team.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Also, if a current best team argument invariably includes USC, please tell me what they've done in their 8 game winning streak that Penn State hasn't over the same stretch. Except for win their division and play for a conference championship. That's the problem I have when people start throwing out "best team". It's subjective and ridiculous.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Ummm... Slow-playing it. Yeah, that's what's happening.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      As of right now, Wisconsin is making a better statement than Washington did last night.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Game. On.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Next!!!