College Football Playoff Outlook Week 14
A crazy slate of high-profile games Week 12 saw Notre Dame, Michigan, Baylor and Oklahoma State all go down along with their playoff chances. With a dominating win over the Cowboys in the Bedlam game to clinch the Big 12 title, Oklahoma is likely the first team of 2015 to lock up a spot in the top four. Although they may not move up from their spot at #3 in the College Football Playoff rankings, they have no more games this year and are highly unlikely to be passed over in favor of another one or two-loss team. Going team-by-team, I am going to break down what it will take for the remaining playoff hopefuls to secure a spot in the top four.
Clemson: (12-0 ACC)
For Clemson, it is pretty simple: win and they’re in. However, after a disappointing performance last week at South Carolina where they eked out a 37-32 victory, a close win over North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game coupled with a dominant Alabama performance in the SEC Title Game may result in Clemson dropping to #2 in the final rankings. A loss to UNC would put the committee in a tough position. Clemson has run the table so far, but played a relatively easy schedule with their overall SOS checking in at 36. They do have quality wins over Notre Dame and Florida State, and if it comes down to Florida and Clemson for the final playoff spot, the committee will definitely take into consideration Florida State, and team that Florida just got pasted by 27-2, as a common opponent.
Alabama: (11-1 SEC)
Alabama is in the same position as Clemson. As long as they win, they will be in. Derrick Henry joined Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker as the only players to rush for 200 yards four times in a single season and looks to have just about locked up the Heisman.
Derrick Henry's performance today put him among an elite group of SEC running backs pic.twitter.com/440lRTLzBb— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 29, 2015
Next up for Alabama is the SEC Championship Game against a floundering Florida team. A loss in this game would likely push Alabama out of the top four if Clemson and Stanford both win.
Iowa: (12-0 Big Ten)
Iowa has had to listen to the doubters all season. Iowa has played one of the easier schedules in the country, with a strength of schedule at 63. But more importantly, they have yet to lose. Now, they face their biggest test of the season, a red-hot Michigan State team, in the Big Ten Championship Game. A win here would cement Iowa’s place in the top four, and probably move them ahead of Oklahoma and into third place in the rankings. A loss and Iowa would be headed to Pasadena to face either Stanford or USC in the Rose Bowl.
Michigan State: (11-1 Big Ten)
Michigan State did what they needed to on Saturday, leaving no doubt in a routine win over Penn State. At this point, it’s pretty simple for Sparty. Like Iowa, win this coming Saturday and they will be in the top four, lose and a New Years Six Bowl awaits.
North Carolina (11-1 ACC)
Of the teams that are not guaranteed a birth in the playoff with a win, the North Carolina Tar Heels might have the most convincing argument to be next in line. Their only loss on the season came in Week 1 on the road against South Carolina, and they have only played one really close game, a 30-27 win over Virginia Tech, since then. The committee would be hard pressed to omit a 1-loss champion from a Power-5 conference, Naysayers will cite North Carolina’s 62nd ranked strength of schedule as an area for concern, but a win over consensus #1 Clemson would certainly silence some of them.
Ohio State (11-1 Big Ten)
If you think Ohio State fans and players haven’t already started to lobby the committee, think again. These photos are from a since deleted tweet from Ohio State Wide Receiver Michael Thomas pleading his case for inclusion in the playoff.
At this point, Ohio State has done all they can, and their only loss on the season came last-second at the hands of Michigan State.
ESPN’s Football Power Index has Ohio State listed as the 3rd best team in the nation, but they will need Clemson or Alabama to slip up to even dream of a chance to defend their title from last season.
Stanford (10-2 Pac-12)
Stanford salvaged their season and chances at a playoff bid with a last-second win over Notre Dame in Palo Alto on Saturday.
Next up for Stanford is the Pac-12 championship against #24 USC at Levi’s Stadium, where Stanford should enjoy home-field advantage. Stanford still needs either Clemson or Alabama to lose to have a shot at finishing in the top four. Stanford's argument to be included over Ohio State would be their conference title, and their argument over a potential ACC Champion North Carolina would be their superior strength of schedule (18 vs. 62).
Ultimately, if Clemson and Alabama take care of business on Saturday, the only drama when the committee unveils the final rankings will be the seeds of the top four teams. However, if one of them loses and Stanford wins, there will be plenty of debating and arguing over who deserves a shot to take home the second ever College Football Playoff trophy.