It’s Alabama #1, Ohio State #2, Clemson #3, and Washington #4; with Michigan #5, Wisconsin #6, Penn State #7, and Colorado #8.
Those are the teams we’re tangling with as we get ready for the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday against Colorado. As always, first thing’s first: Washington needs to win.
From there, things get pretty simple. Alabama is the only undefeated team in that clump; most people believe they’ll still be ranked #1 even if they lose to 15th-ranked Florida on Saturday. Regardless, consider Bama a lock.
Ohio State has concluded its regular season schedule. By virtue of them beating Michigan last week, and Penn State beating Michigan State (just like in the presidential election, the state of Michigan continues to fuck over the entire country), and by virtue of Penn State having previously beaten Ohio State, it’s the Nittany Lions who advance to the Big 10 championship game against Wisconsin. More on them in a bit.
Clemson easily secured their spot in the ACC championship game and will play 23rd-ranked Virginia Tech on Saturday. They’re an interesting case, and I’ll get to them in a bit as well.
Michigan, by virtue of losing to Ohio State, finished their season with 2 losses in conference, and are thus on the outside looking in regarding the Big 10 championship game. Had they won, they would’ve had the tie-breaker over Penn State, and all would be right with the world. As it stands now, they’re 5th, ahead of both Wisconsin and Penn State; that feels huge to me. Part of me expected them to fall behind one or both of those teams; this gives me a little more hope that the Big 10 champion might be iced out of the playoffs if Washington and Clemson win this weekend.
Sticking with Michigan for a bit, let’s not forget they beat both Penn State and Wisconsin. They also handled Colorado (another Top 10 team at the moment) and gave Ohio State all they could handle (really, Michigan should’ve won that game, but their quarterback’s two interceptions – leading directly to two touchdowns – sealed their fate). If we’re going to have Michigan outside of the playoffs, can you really put Wisconsin or Penn State ahead of them, even though one of those teams will technically be conference champs?
Wisconsin doesn’t impress me at all. They have a win over 21st-ranked LSU (who is ONLY ranked – while having 4 losses – because they’re in the SEC and everyone sucks the SEC’s dick on the reg), and a win over now-unranked Nebraska (who fell out of the Top 25 thanks to their loss to 4-loss Iowa over the weekend). The Badgers lost to both Michigan and Ohio State, so a piddling win over Penn State should hardly impress the committee enough to put them ahead of Michigan, let alone Washington.
On the flipside, Wisconsin has steadily, all along, been ranked higher than they should’ve, and higher than Penn State (even though the Nittany Lions are the only team to have beaten the Buckeyes). There’s something about this Wisconsin team the committee likes, but when push comes to shove, I don’t think there’s enough there.
As for Penn State, they have a couple of piddling non-conference wins against Temple and Kent State, as well as a non-conference loss to Pitt. In conference, they lost to Michigan, but aside from their home victory over Ohio State, they haven’t beaten anyone CLOSE to being ranked! Shit, they didn’t even play Nebraska this year, who had been ranked the whole way until this week.
Granted, their victory over Ohio State trumps ANY victory on our schedule, but let’s be real here! We have wins over two teams in the Top 20 right now, and with a win over Colorado, there’s a Top 10 win, with our only loss to a surging USC team that might be playing the best football of anyone outside of Alabama right now (yes, including Ohio State). Penn State is probably the only team that can muddy the waters a little bit.
I’m firmly in the camp that Ohio State has done enough to deserve a Top 4 spot. They have wins over Oklahoma, Michigan, Wisconsin and a big one over Nebraska that looked a lot better a week ago, with their only loss on the road to Penn State in a nailbiter. So, there go two spots right off the bat when you toss in Bama.
Assuming Clemson, Washington, and Penn State all win, I think that puts Penn State over Michigan simply due to the tiebreaker of having the conference championship. Penn State beat Ohio State, who beat Michigan, who beat Penn State. That triad of games cancels one another out, with the resumes as they are, I think you gotta go tie-breaker on that one. So, we’ve got three teams, three conference champions, and only two spots to put them in. Who gets left out?
I’d like to point out that everyone and their mothers believe a 1-loss Washington team trumps a 2-loss Penn State team, but everyone and their mothers aren’t on the playoff committee. Let’s, again, really quickly, compare UW to PSU:
- UW – Beat Colorado, Stanford, & Utah; loss to USC
- PSU – Beat Ohio State & Wisconsin; loss to Michigan & Pitt
Penn State has had a marginally tougher schedule, and will have won the consensus “Best Conference In 2016”. They will also have the chip of having beaten a team in the Buckeyes who are already in the playoffs. Can you leave that team out, in place of a team from the Pacific Northwest, in a conference that’s allegedly having a down year, with that eyesore of a non-conference schedule?
Let’s leave that floating out in space for a minute. I told you I was going to come back to Clemson. They’ve been consistently rated ahead of us all year, they’re coming off of a season where they played in the National Championship Game and gave Alabama all they could handle, and they’re at least as good as they were last year in spite of losing a bunch of guys to the NFL. In other words, they have something we don’t: a recent track record of success. Is a rematch of Clemson and Alabama in the National Championship Game something people would be interested in? I have no idea, but I’m guessing probably YES. My question is: do they deserve to be ranked ahead of Washington?
For starters, in the ACC, they only play 8 conference games. At the moment, the ACC is getting a lot of love from the committee, by having five teams ranked, including a 4-loss Pitt team (who has somehow beaten both Clemson and Penn State, but lost to the likes of VA Tech, North Carolina, and Miami). Clemson has notable wins over 12th-ranked Florida State, 13th-ranked Louisville, and 14th-ranked Auburn, while their only loss is against that aforementioned Pitt team. However, their championship game loses a lot of luster when you figure Virgina Tech is only ranked 23rd.
Again, Washington has those two Top 20 wins, and their only loss is to 11th-ranked USC (as opposed to Clemson’s loss to 25th-ranked Pitt). Our loss is only going to look better as USC gets into the Top 10 after this week, as you figure one or more teams currently in the Top 10 will likely fall out. Maybe that team that falls out will be Colorado if we beat them badly enough; but I can’t see Colorado falling any farther than 11th, which is still a better victory than anything Clemson has put up. Virginia Tech likely won’t even BE ranked after this week when they lose to the Tigers!
So, that’s 3 ranked teams beaten per school, with the Huskies having both the more impressive win and the more impressive defeat. Clemson might still have us on strength of schedule, but they only play 8 conference games to our 9; and their conference is 2 teams bigger, which just means the bottom of their league is MUCH worse than the bottom of ours.
I dunno. When it’s all said and done, I dunno. This Sunday at 9am it will be announced. I have a hard time wrapping my brain around a Penn State team climbing three spots in the playoff rankings just because they lucked into a victory over Ohio State, and lucked even more into a championship game appearance against Wisconsin. But, in all my days, I’ve come to expect the worst out of people.
I’m trying to see if there’s any solace in looking at prior seasons. Last year, Clemson and Bama were ranked 1 & 2 going into their conference championship games and both teams took care of business. Oklahoma was 3rd going into the final week, but the Big 12 doesn’t have a championship game (they will again, starting in 2017), so they were idle. Iowa and Michigan State were 4 & 5 and playing one another in the Big 10 title game; Michigan State would go on to win. Ohio State, for what it’s worth, had 1 loss but was ranked 6th going into the final week; they ended up getting jumped by Stanford, who won the Pac-12 title, but neither team could crack the top 4. The Spartans ended up jumping over Oklahoma, who managed to keep their spot in the playoffs in spite of being idle.
In 2014, Bama and Oregon were ranked 1 & 2 going into their conference championship games and both teams took care of business. TCU was ranked 3rd, but again they’re a Big 12 team without a conference title game; they whupped up on Iowa State in their final game, but would nevertheless fall to 6th in the final playoff rankings. They were passed by Florida State and Ohio State, who both had more impressive conference championship wins; as well as Baylor, who were co-Big 12 champs with TCU, but still beat a more formidable opponent in their final game.
On the one hand, there’s some relief in knowing that having a huge matchup in your last game wins you some brownie points. On the other hand, TCU’s schedule in 2014 was pretty shitty. Aside from Baylor, Kansas State was the only other ranked team in the Big 12 (including neither of the Oklahoma teams, nor Texas). As such, TCU’s only significant win was over K-State. So, they got bitten pretty hard by the lax schedule and the down conference.
Fortunately for Washington, USC and Stanford turned their seasons around in the second half. Those are two established programs who are currently in the Top 20. Yes, Oregon laid an egg this year, and UCLA was probably the conference’s biggest disappointment, but with wins over Colorado and Utah, I would HOPE that’s enough.
Anyway, I’m rambling. It’s in our hands in one sense – beat Colorado and we SHOULD be in – but it’s out of our hands in the biggest sense – a committee of fallible human beings with biases and potential grudges ultimately have final say. Pretty fucked, but I still think I’d rather have the smallish committee over a nation of media types with their flagrant east coast bias, or coaches who don’t know their heads from their asses.
We’ll see if I’m singing a different tune come Monday.