College Football Playoff committee chairman Jeff Long has made it pretty clear over the last couple of weeks that Notre Dame is solidly in the top four.
“Well they remain strong in the four,” chairman Jeff Long said about Notre Dame after this week’s rankings were revealed. “but I’ll certainly tell you that the Big 12 teams, as we anticipated — we didn’t know which ones — with their scheduled back-loaded, we now see some of those teams emerging. Certainly Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are the two that have pushed their way up closer to that five. And I will tell you that five through seven was a lot – we spent a lot of time talking about five through seven.”
Those comments have led many to wonder if an undefeated Oklahoma State, or a one-loss Oklahoma, can jump the Fighting Irish in the committee’s eyes. What if I told you they may not have to? There’s a scenario out there, and it isn’t all that unlikely, where Notre Dame would become the Big Ten’s problem, not the Big 12’s.
First, let’s look at what we know, provided there isn’t major chaos to come over the next couple of weeks. One, The Pac-12 is out. (Why is nobody talking about this more? If it were the Big 12 all but eliminated, we would be neck-deep in Big 12 implosion and conference realignment talk.) Two, let’s just go ahead and assume Clemson and Alabama make it in. That leaves the Big Ten, Notre Dame, and the Big 12 playing musical chairs for the final two spots of the playoff. Let’s look at the most likely candidates from each conference. For the Big 12, that’s #6 Oklahoma State and #7 Oklahoma. For the Big Ten, it’s #3 Ohio State, #5 Iowa, and #9 Michigan State.
Here’s the scenario in a nutshell: Should Ohio State lose one of their next two games, Oklahoma State or Oklahoma make it through without losing, and if Iowa were to lose the Big Ten Championship game, then all of a sudden, the committee will have to decide whether or not the Big Ten Champion should jump Notre Dame.
Okay, that’s a lot that has to come together, but it isn’t all that unlikely either. let’s look at it step by step.
1. Ohio State Has To Lose
Let’s just call it like it is. The Buckeyes are only ranked so high because they’re the defending National Champion. Yes, they are undefeated, but they’ve played zero ranked teams.
That changes over the next two weeks though. On Saturday the Buckeyes welcome the battle-tested Spartans to Columbus, and next weekend they travel to Michigan to take on the #12 Wolverines. That’s a tough couple of games for anyone.
It’s worth noting that Ohio State can still make the Big Ten Championship game with a loss to Michigan, but a loss suffered so late would certainly knock them behind the Big 12 favorite.
2. Oklahoma State or Oklahoma Has To Win Out
Both the Cowboys and the Sooners have big games this weekend, but if they can get by them, then the Big 12 will have a strong case for the CFB Playoff regardless of who wins Bedlam.
3. Iowa Has To Lose The Big Ten Championship Game
A lot has been made of Iowa’s unexplainable ranking at fifth. Mostly because their resume of two top 25 wins isn’t nearly as impressive as it sounds once you realize those wins are over Northwestern and Wisconsin, and that those teams seem to be overrated themselves. That argument is also going to get weaker this week, as Northwestern and Wisconsin play each other, which should knock one of them from the rankings.
Furthermore, according to FPI, they wouldn’t be favored to win against Ohio State or Michigan State. Which happens to be who they’d face in the Big Ten Championship game.
At this point the committee wouldn’t be able to deny the Big 12 any longer, and with only one spot left open, the committee would have a conundrum on their hands. Keep Notre Dame where they are, or catapult the champion of the conference they hold so dear to their heart over the Fighting Irish.
It looks like the committee might be aware of the possible scenario as well. Both Michigan and Michigan State are inexplicably climbing the polls and lightning pace. In the same week that we saw TCU fall three spots after a win, Michigan jumped two spots to 12th after giving Indiana their sixth loss in a row, and Michigan State jumped four spots to 9th after beating 2-8 Maryland. The committee is stacking the deck, but with everyone’s eyes on the Big 12, Notre Dame may want to keep theirs on the Big Ten.