MADISON – When the College Football Playoff Committee released their newest rankings on Tuesday night the Wisconsin Badgers got good news. They moved up from eighth to fifth after their 38-14 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Part of the reason the Badgers were able to make the three-spot jump was due to three matchups between teams in the top 10 last weekend. The then No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs were defeated at then No. 10 Auburn 40-17, then No. 3 Notre Dame was dominated in Miami 41-8, and then No. 5 Oklahoma pounded then No. 6 TCU 38-20.
The result of those games had a major influence on how the newest rankings looked. Auburn, Georgia, and Notre Dame fall directly behind the Badgers, clearing the way for Wisconsin to control their own destiny.
While Wisconsin will still have rooting interests to grab the highest seed possible, the fact of the matter is that thanks to last weekend, there is little to no chance that Wisconsin will be left out of the College Football Playoff if they finish the season with a perfect 13-0 record and are Big Ten Champions.
There are a number of different scenarios that could play out, and more chaos certainly could consume the college football world as the regular season winds down. It’s hard to completely eliminate teams, but common thought is that any team currently below No. 9 Ohio State has a best-case scenario of a New Year’s Six Bowl.
Since Wisconsin essentially controls their own destiny, there isn’t as much of a clear rooting guide like last week. Instead, here’s a look at the potential playoff path for the top 10 teams including Wisconsin.
1. Alabama – The Crimson Tide are completely in control of their own destiny being one of the three Power-5 teams still unbeaten, along with Wisconsin and Miami. Looking at their upcoming schedule they play an FCS school this week in Mercer, and then close out the regular season against Auburn. In college football, it’s always ill-advised to assume anything, but an Alabama loss to Mercer would be one of, if not the biggest, upsets in the history of college football. For the sake of this writing, that game is going to considered an Alabama win. They’ll then take on Auburn in the Iron Bowl to close out the regular season. A win against the Tigers would put them in the SEC Championship game to take on Georgia. If they lose to Auburn, the Tigers would advance and play for the conference against Georgia and things would get very interesting. Would a single loss be enough to knock the Crimson Tide out of the playoff? This writer isn’t so sure. It might take two losses to eliminate them completely from the playoff picture. A win against Mercer would cement that Alabama would head into the bowl season with no more than one loss, and all but clinch their place in the semi-finals.
VERDICT: Winning against Mercer likely clinches their place in the playoffs, beating Auburn definitely does. A one-loss Alabama would not be left out.
2. Clemson – The Tigers have one of the more impressive resumes in college football, with wins over Auburn, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, and Louisville. The Tigers aren’t perfect, however, as they lost on the road to Syracuse, a team currently below .500. The committee placing them at No. 2 this week sets them up in a great position moving forward. They control their own destiny, and depending on the rest of the landscape, could sneak in with two losses. Moving forward, they face FCS foe The Citadel this weekend before taking on South Carolina in the final week of the regular season. They’ll then square off with Miami in the ACC Championship game.
VERDICT: Winning out gives Clemson a berth in the playoffs, losing the ACC Championship game to Miami in a close game may not knock them out, either.
3. Miami – The Hurricanes just put on one of the more impressive performances of the season, thoroughly dominating Notre Dame for 60 minutes last Saturday. That vaulted them up from No. 7 to No. 3, and deservedly so. Miami had played a relatively weak schedule prior to their matchup with Virginia Tech two weeks ago, but in their first two matchup ups with ranked opponents they’ve outscored them 69-18 in back-to-back weeks. They should be able to defeat Virginia and Pitt to head into the ACC Championship game 11-0.
VERDICT: If Miami wins out and beats Clemson in the ACC Championship they’re a lock, as they should be. If they lose to Clemson things get interesting, but the ACC could potentially have two teams make the playoffs in that scenario.
4. Oklahoma – The Sooners have somehow flown under the radar. In the past two weekends, they’ve defeated Oklahoma State and TCU by double-digits and have the leader in the clubhouse for the Heisman Trophy. They also boast a double-digit win on the road against Ohio State this season. Baker Mayfield has been outstanding, and the offensive side of the ball is one of the most explosive in the country. Sure, the defense leaves something to be desired, but their resume is stronger than given credit for.
VERDICT: Win the Big 12 and they’re in. If they lose a game things get really dicey for the Sooners, but their head-to-head win over Ohio State could loom large at the end of the season.
5. Wisconsin – The Badgers aren’t given much credit for navigating their schedule flawlessly thus far. They’ve lined up every Saturday and defeated their opponent. It hurts them that their opponents haven’t been great to date, but going unbeaten is a challenge, nonetheless. Their dominating victory of Iowa last week definitely helped their cause, and doing something similar to Michigan this weekend would help as well. Their path is very cut and dry. Win the Big Ten and they’re in.
VERDICT: Finish 13-0 as Big Ten Champions and they’re in the playoffs, no matter what else happens. If they lose one of their three remaining games they’re out due to their schedule strength.
6. Auburn – Auburn is the highest ranked two-loss team, and deservedly so. Their losses come on the road to Clemson and at LSU. On the flip side, they’ve looked dominant in nearly all of their wins. That includes last weekend’s 40-17 thrashing of then No. 1 Georgia. Looking ahead, they finish the regular season with Louisiana-Monroe and the Iron Bowl against Alabama. If they win those two games it will place them in a rematch with Georgia for the SEC Championship.
VERDICT: If Auburn wins their final two regular season games and beats Georgia in the SEC Championship game they’ll have one of the most impressive four week stretches in recent memory and will likely become the first team to reach the playoffs with two losses.
7. Georgia – Georgia has looked dominant all-season long. They had one of the best wins in the country by defeating Notre Dame in South Bend in September and had won the rest of their games by double-digits. The Bulldogs deserved to be the No. 1 team in the country until Auburn hosted them and took them to the woodshed last weekend. While the loss was bad, it doesn’t totally eliminate them from the playoffs. They’ve already clinched the SEC East and will play for the SEC Championship against the Iron Bowl winner. It’s vital that they take care of business against Kentucky and Georgia Tech in impressive fashion first, however.
VERDICT: If Georgia wins the SEC Championship game, they will likely find themselves in. Their hope should be that it’s a rematch against Auburn and they can avenge the beat-down they were just served. One bad loss shouldn’t wipe away a full season of dominance.
8. Notre Dame – The Irish are quite the longshot to reach the playoffs this season after getting crushed by Miami last weekend. While, like Georgia, that bad loss shouldn’t wipe away a season full of impressive wins, it does make things extremely complicated for them to reach the playoffs. To close out the year Notre Dame hosts Navy and then travels to Palo Alto to take on Stanford in the final week of the season. Having two losses and no 13th data point in the form of a conference championship game really makes this tough to envision Notre Dame playing in anything but a New Year’s Six Bowl.
VERDICT: Using the word eliminated seems a little strong for this writer, but Notre Dame reaching the playoffs would likely require two losses by Georgia, Miami losing their final three games, and potentially some other chaos while the Irish win out.
9. Ohio State – No team ranked below No. 9 in the third edition of the College Football Playoff Rankings has made the playoffs. The Buckeyes are lucky to be ranked as high as they are two weeks after losing by 31 on the road to an unranked Iowa team. If they win their final two games against Illinois and Michigan they’ll be squaring off with Wisconsin for the Big Ten Championship game. Winning that would be nice, but Ohio State would still need a lot of things to fall their way, as they wouldn’t be the team with the most impressive two-loss resume.
VERDICT: For Ohio State to make the playoffs they need to look like the best team in the country over the final three weeks, and have a major upset happen elsewhere. Even if Clemson, Miami, Georgia, or Alabama all lose in the final three weeks, as long as they’re not blown out, there is no reason the Buckeyes should jump them.
10. Penn State – The Nittany Lions close out the top 10, and it’s awfully difficult to envision them making the playoffs. They’re all but locked out of the Big Ten Championship game due to their losses against Ohio State and Michigan State. They close the season against Nebraska and Maryland, and neither of those wins will do enough to vault them over any other teams in the top 10.
VERDICT: This writer cannot foresee a scenario in which Penn State makes the playoffs. It was previously stated in this writing that using the word eliminated seemed a little strong. The Nittany Lions are in fact eliminated. If anything, they could get jumped by a team outside the top 10.