Last night’s College Football Playoff rankings brought several revelations. The familiar names were all at the top: Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and Clemson. Regardless of your opinion on if the anarchy that occurred in Week 11 should have had more impact on the Top 4, there is no question these teams have been the most consistent and dominant all season.
Of course, this is where the intrigue begins to stir. For one, Ohio State and Michigan will knock the loser out of the race. That leaves one spot open. Then you fall into the Lovecraftian madness of non-conference champions being allowed into the playoff over other Power Five conference champions. Once the wheels start turning in your head, it is easy to think of a nightmare scenario that gets your team from the outside to right in the middle of the grand ball.
For the Big 12, nothing is guaranteed.
The 10th ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys travel south down the I-35 to Norman to face the 8th ranked Oklahoma Sooners for the Big 12 championship. Once again, Bedlam will decide the conference king. To the victors go the spoils: the conference crown and a probable date in the Sugar Bowl against an SEC foe. Nothing to complain over.
But is there still a possibility for the Big 12 to vault their way into the Playoff when the dust settles?
Let us examine the teams ahead of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. What is keeping these teams ahead of the Big 12’s best and how could their play benefit the winner of the de-facto Big 12 title game two Saturdays from now.
- Colorado’s only two losses are to #3 Michigan and #12 USC.
- Other than a win over #22 Washington State, Colorado has the same amount of wins over Top 25 opponents as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. (Stanford is a fringe Top 25 team and was unranked when Colorado defeated them.)
- If Colorado defeats #22 Utah they will earn a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Colorado proved formidable in their early season loss in Ann Arbor against Michigan. Other than winning the rest of their games except USC, Colorado has beaten up on an average Pac-12. Fortunate surprises such as getting a respected and ranked Washington State at home have helped the Buff’s cause.
Of the teams ahead of Oklahoma State — Colorado is behind Oklahoma — Colorado has the least influence on whether the Big 12 is in the Playoff or not.
- Penn State’s only two losses are to unranked Pittsburgh and #3 Michigan
- A mid-season upset over the Ohio State Buckeyes have propelled the Nittany Lions into the Playoff discussion.
- If PSU defeats Michigan State and Ohio State defeats Michigan, Penn State is in the Big Ten Title Game.
This is when it gets dicey. Yes, PSU defeated Ohio State — but it took an awful day for the Buckeyes to be upset on the road, barely. Because of that, Penn State has become the 2016 version of last year’s Iowa Hawkeyes. Beating average Big Ten teams, finding luck against their toughest opponent.
It cannot be ignored that Pittsburgh dominated the early season matchup against their instate rivals. Pittsburgh, a team Oklahoma State dominated the following week. Not to be forgotten is their game against Michigan. A complete and utter curb-stomping of a game.
Yet because they found luck one night against the Buckeyes and find themselves in position to possibly hold a tie breaker over Ohio State, they may play in the conference title game and therefore be ranked ahead the Big 12 champion.
- Wisconsin’s only losses are to Michigan and Ohio State in consecutive weeks.
- Their marquee victories came against a LSU team — who eventually fired their head coach — on a “neutral” site in Green Bay, Wisconsin. They also defeated #16 (then #7) Nebraska.
- If Wisconsin wins Saturday or Nebraska loses, they will play either Penn State or Michigan in the conference title game.
Did I say that Penn State was the 2016 version of last year’s Iowa squad? Maybe that better describes the Badgers here. They are being rewarded for beating a less than solid LSU team early in the season and a middle-of-the-pack Nebraska team.
They are also being rewarded for “good losses” to Michigan and Ohio State.
Their resume’ is not that much different from Oklahoma State’s or Oklahoma’s for that matter. A “good loss” is such a terrible argument to determine a better team. It is like fighting with your sibling over who likes the most Nickelback songs; you may have more tunes on your iPod, but are you really the winner here?
- Washington’s only loss is to #12 (then #22) USC
- Their big victory has been against then Top 10 Stanford and Utah.
- If Washington beats Washington State they will play in the Pac-12 title game.
Of the teams listed above, Washington has the least impressive resume’. An early season throttling of Stanford looked impressive but then the Cardinal became an average team. A victory over Utah, while solid, is not enough to beat your chest over.
A terrible non-conference slate and an average Pac-12 schedule coupled with a “good loss” against USC. That is why Washington is ranked in the Top 6 ladies and gentlemen.
Of the teams listed, Washington and the Big Ten schools hold the most influence over the two Big 12 schools. Ohio State/Michigan and Penn State/Wisconsin will take care of themselves. But the prevailing thought is that two Big Ten teams will get in mainly because Ohio State has been impressive all season.
That leaves Washington. Simply put, cheer for our old friend Mike Leach. If Washington State can pull off the upset at home against the Huskies that will all but knock the Pac-12 out of the Playoff. That is, if the Committee doesn’t jump Colorado — if they defeat Utah and then Washington/Washington State in the Pac-12 title game — ahead of the Bedlam winner. That doesn’t seem to be a realistic possibility but again, who knows.
An outlier that has some influence over the Big 12 is USC. Why? That is a great question.
USC beat Colorado and Washington. Two good wins. But they were also destroyed by both Alabama and beaten by Utah and Stanford. They rattled off win after win in an average Pac-12 and have become a media darling. It is interesting that some media give them some Playoff love despite being so thoroughly beaten by Alabama — meanwhile Oklahoma is still paying for their sins against Ohio State.
All USC has done is beat Colorado and Washington. Two solid teams. But the “good loss” argument hangs heavy over the Committee apparently. Which is why the Pac-12 has the upper hand over the Big 12. Not because they are clearly better, but their losses have been more…acceptable.
For Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, just worry about winning Bedlam. Root for Mike Leach and if the Cougars are able to pull off the upset, perhaps that could be enough to vault one of the Oklahoma schools into the Playoff. A long shot, but possible.