Here’s something that looks like a real possibility following the reveal of the final College Football Playoff rankings of the regular season:
Ohio State and Michigan both make the final four, with the Big Ten champion missing out.
The Buckeyes seem to be as close to a lock as there is, staying the No. 2 team in the country following their double-overtime win over the Wolverines last weekend. And while Urban Meyer’s team certainly would’ve liked the opportunity to play for a conference title, losing the Big Ten East tiebreaker to Penn State could prove a positive, as Ohio State doesn’t have a game to lose between now and when the Playoff bracket is announced Sunday.
But Michigan looked to have its Playoff chances very much alive Tuesday, dropping just two spots after losing from No. 3 to No. 5. Selection committee chair Kirby Hocutt revealed multiple times in his comments after this week’s rankings were released that there is very little separating fifth-ranked Michigan from fourth-ranked Washington. That means there’s a legitimate chance that the Wolverines could jump the Huskies — perhaps even regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s Pac-12 title game between Washington and No. 8 Colorado.
The committee has indicated several times in its rankings this season that it isn’t overly impressed with Washington’s resume compared to other top teams. And while the Huskies are worthy of praise for their one-loss record, the truth is that their resume does pale in comparison with others. Washington has two wins over currently ranked teams this season, coming against No. 18 Stanford and No. 20 Utah. Obviously a win in the Pac-12 Championship Game would give the Huskies their signature win of the season. But Michigan already has three of those signature wins, three victories over top-10 squads in Wisconsin, Penn State and Colorado. And, with the Wolverines beating the Buffaloes by 17 earlier this season, perhaps even a close win by the Huskies wouldn't be enough to keep their slight edge on the Wolverines.
And then there's this: Michigan making the Playoff over whichever team wins this weekend’s Big Ten Championship Game. The Wolverines have beaten both Wisconsin and Penn State and have three top-10 wins (and took No. 2 Ohio State to double overtime). The Badgers’ best win is against current No. 21 LSU, while their two losses have come against No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan — by a combined 14 points, no less, with one of those games going to overtime. The Nittany Lions have that huge win over Ohio State, but that’s their only win over a currently ranked team, with losses coming against No. 5 Michigan and No. 25 Pittsburgh.
So the committee is faced with a tricky situation. Either Wisconsin or Penn State will add a top-10 win this weekend. Washington could, too. Would a top-10 win added to the resume of two of those teams be enough to box out Michigan?
Currently, the Huskies are ranked ahead of the Wolverines, which could indicate that if Washington beats eighth-ranked Colorado it will stay ahead. It’s possible there might not be a situation in which both Clemson and Washington win their conference championships and Michigan still makes the Playoff.
But should Washington or Clemson lose, Michigan could take the vacated spot over whichever team wins the Big Ten title game. That seems to be what the committee could be thinking, keeping the Wolverines ahead of both the Badgers and Lions in this set of rankings.
And here’s one more wild scenario to chew on: What happens if both Clemson and Washington lose? Do Michigan and the Big Ten champ take both those spots and make it three Big Ten teams in the Playoff? That might’ve sound farfetched a little while ago, but that’s how the rankings stack up right now. That would definitely be crazy.