We have reached conference championship week in college football. For the first time in the College Football Playoff era, there are teams in contention to obtain playoff spots that have no chance at winning a conference championship. This has created some volatility in the rankings. It looks like there are 10 teams with a reasonable shot at making the playoffs. Make sure to keep an eye on these teams, and watch the conference championships using this article to help understand what is at stake.
#1 Alabama (12-0, 8-0) SEC Championship Game vs. Florida: Alabama is an absolute lock to make the playoff. They could lose to Florida in the SEC title game and potentially still be the #1 seed. Florida will be their eighth opponent that has been ranked at the time they played them. It will be a huge surprise if the Crimson Tide do not win the national championship this season. That is how dominant they have been over the rest of the field.
#2 Ohio State (11-1, 8-1) Season Over: Ohio State won the best game so far this season against Michigan. They now have four quality victories over Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Michigan. The problem is that the one game they lost at Penn State cost them the Big Ten East title and a spot in the Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes will sit and watch the conference championships while hoping that they have done enough to not slip out of the top four. It would appear that no matter what happens this weekend, the Buckeyes can feel at ease that they are in the playoff even without a conference championship.
#3 Clemson (11-1, 7-1) ACC Championship Game vs. Virginia Tech: Clemson is in the playoff with a win over Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. The Tigers have quality wins at Auburn, against Louisville, and at Florida State. They struggled against NC State and Pittsburgh, but they were fortunate to come out of those two tough games with one win and one loss. Virginia Tech could be a tough opponent though, and many teams across the country will be rooting for a Clemson loss. Clemson is favored, but a loss would knock them out of the playoff.
#4 Washington (11-1, 8-1) Pac 12 Championship Game vs. Colorado: Washington seems poised to steal a playoff spot with a win over Colorado in the Pac 12 title game. While their non-conference slate was very weak, they have steadily improved their strength of schedule numbers with wins over Stanford, Utah, and Washington State. Their lone loss thus far is to USC, and the Trojans might be the hottest team in the nation behind Alabama. A quality win over Colorado should be enough to get Washington in the top four, but a loss would open up paths for many different teams in other conferences.
#5 Michigan (10-2, 7-2) Season Over: It was a heartbreaking loss in Columbus, Ohio this past week for Michigan. A win would have propelled the Wolverines into the Big Ten title game with a clear path to the playoff. Now they must sit back and hope for Clemson or Washington to lose. There is one scenario that could raise a lot of interesting scenarios. If Clemson or Washington do lose this upcoming week, then it would seem that the last playoff spot would come down to Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Michigan beat both Penn State and Wisconsin this season. The question would be whether the Big Ten title would trump the head-to-head results. If Clemson and Washington both win, then Michigan has no chance at a playoff spot.
#6 Wisconsin (10-2, 7-2) Big Ten Championship Game vs. Penn State: Wisconsin has won six games in a row heading into the Big Ten title game against Penn State. They sit squarely on the playoff bubble entering this game, and many believe a Big Ten championship game would move them into the number four slot in the playoff. This is not a sure thing, and they probably need a little help to get there. Even with a win over Penn State, they would need either Clemson or Washington to lose to move up. They would then need to jump Michigan in the standings if the committee favors a conference title over the head-to-head outcome. If Clemson and Washington both win, then Wisconsin ends up in the Rose Bowl, which is still a pretty nice consolation prize.
#7 Penn State (10-2, 8-1) Big Ten Championship Game vs. Wisconsin: Penn State is in a very similar situation with Wisconsin. A Big Ten title puts them in line for a playoff spot with a loss from either Clemson or Washington. The problem for Penn State is that they lost 49-10 to Michigan earlier this season. They would have to leapfrog Michigan to get in. They do have what many would argue is the best win of any team in the country this season when they knocked off Ohio State. The Nittany Lions have won eight in a row, and if they win a Big Ten title but don’t get into the playoff, then the Rose Bowl will more than likely be their destination.
#8 Colorado (10-2, 8-1) Pac 12 Championship Game vs. Washington: Colorado has been the most improved team this season. Their two losses were both on the road at Michigan and at USC. If there is such a thing as a quality loss, both of these could be marked as quality losses. In the past two weeks, Colorado has knocked off Washington State and Utah. A win against Washington in the Pac 12 title game would give them their seventh win in a row. Even with a win, the Buffaloes need a lot of help. They would need Clemson and Oklahoma to lose. Then they would need the committee to favor their conference title over their head-to-head loss to Michigan and favor their Pac 12 title over the Big Ten champion. If they do win but find themselves out of the playoff, then the Rose Bowl will more than likely be their destination.
#9 Oklahoma (9-2, 8-0) vs. Oklahoma State: Oklahoma has come back from utter devastation earlier this season. After beginning the season 1-2, the Sooners have won eight games in a row. They can win the Big 12 title with a win this week over Oklahoma State. Even with the win, they have almost no chance at a playoff spot. They would need a scenario where Colorado and Virginia Tech win and the Big Ten title game to turn out sloppy and poorly played. Oklahoma can turn to its Big 12 championship and also make a case that they put together a tough non-conference schedule. It is a long shot, but the Sooners should still feel good that a season that went off the rails early could end with a conference championship. It’s a pity the Big 12 doesn’t have a conference title game. This would immensely help the conference’s chances of a playoff spot moving forward.
#10 Oklahoma State (9-2, 7-1) at Oklahoma: Oklahoma State can win the Big 12 title with a win at Oklahoma this week. The committee has not shown much favor to the Big 12, so even a dominating victory over Oklahoma probably won’t be enough to get into the playoff. They would need the committee to show them some grace for the controversial loss to Central Michigan. Finally, they would need to jump Colorado and Michigan in the standings riding on their eight game win streak. The chances are slim, and if the committee disregards Oklahoma State’s arguments over the Central Michigan loss, then a playoff spot is out of reach.
By Ben Billman
Ben Billman is currently a doctoral teaching assistant at the United States Sports Academy. He lives in Mobile, Ala. with his wife Jennifer and son Derrick. He is originally from Indiana, and therefore has a deep love for the game of basketball. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.