CFP Speculation and Conjecture

The CFP Committee unveiled the penultimate rankings on Tuesday night, and the Ohio State Buckeyes still have some work to do as they sit No. 8 in a system that only allows the top four teams to advance. There is some hope though based on quotes about the rankings from the committee members and the slate of games set for Saturday.

Here is how the WFNY staff sees the possibilities playing out and also some notes on the rest of the landscape.

These teams are considered to have almost zero chance of making the CFP despite being potentially only two-loss or fewer teams and some as a potential conference champion. Do you think any deserve consideration? Why or why not?
Central Florida, USC, Penn State, Washington

Joe: No. I do not think any of these four teams are worthy of consideration for the playoff. Central Florida simply did not play a tough enough schedule. Washington also does not have the resume with Washington State being their top win. USC has a better resume, but still Stanford and Arizona are not big enough wins to be mentioned. Penn State lost all of their big games, except for Michigan, and that is just not good enough to earn them a mention.

Bode: I wish Central Florida had a tougher out of conference schedule because having a Group of Five team crash the part would be fun, but they do not have the resume. Washington and Penn State don’t merit inclusion without a conference championship (each has one high quality win on the season). USC is in a similar spot to Ohio State, except with a weaker overall profile.

Gage: Among the grouping, I do not believe any of these teams have a strong case. Central Florida’s “gauntlet” was rated as a lower half strength of schedule, without a marquee win. USC, Penn State, and Washington all fall into the category of two loss teams with weaker resumes than Ohio State. For one of that grouping to go, a much more deserving team would have to be left out.

Jake: I see that grouping and only wish there was some sort of way for UCF to crash the party in the top four. While on one hand they haven’t scheduled a tougher non-conference opponent, we also don’t know how willing those Power Five teams are to schedule them. UCF won’t get a shot, but I wish they could somehow find a way. USC, Penn State, and Washington all have weaker resumes than those directly in front of them and are rightfully on the outside looking in.

Josh: Love Scott Frost and UCF have done this season, but strength of schedule matters, and the Knights had a very weak schedule this season. In terms of the other three, their resumes are just weaker than the teams in front of them. It is what it is.

These teams are considered to have almost zero chance of making the CFP if they lose on Saturday despite the fact they would end up with two losses or fewer. Do you think any deserve consideration? Why or why not?
Wisconsin, Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, Miami

Joe: Wisconsin does not deserve to get in if they lose to Ohio State. Their schedule was dreadful. Clemson has an argument to still make the playoffs. I believe they have five quality wins (Auburn, Louisville, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State and South Carolina) and if Auburn wins the SEC championship, that could boost their resume even more. Oklahoma has a worse shot of getting in than Clemson. They have only three really quality wins, but an Ohio State Big Ten championship win would help their cause. Georgia and Miami simply do not have a good enough resume, in my opinion, to be mentioned as a two-loss candidate for the playoffs.

Bode: Let’s start with the easy ones. Eliminate Georgia and Miami if they should lose due to having the good fortune of navigating an easy division into the championship game. Any attempt at claiming the Badgers belong over the Buckeyes would be difficult if the committee wants to state that tougher schedules and conference championships will be rewarded.

Oklahoma and Clemson are more difficult. The Tigers have a fantastic case as their Sagarin ranking No. 11 strength of schedule is far better than anyone else in consideration other than Auburn (who will either get an automatic slot with a win or be eliminated with three losses). Not having an ACC championship could hurt them a bit, but the Buckeyes (No. 42 SOS) would have no other argument to use. Oklahoma has a similar profile to the Buckeyes (No. 36 SOS), but they also have the back pocket victory in Columbus. We’ll get to the scenarios in a moment, but they deserve discussion.

Gage: Of the would be two loss teams, the resumes all vary a bit. Clemson would be the primary candidate should they lose in their conference title game, given their lone loss was a game in which their star quarterback Kelly Bryant was knocked out of the game by halftime. Oklahoma would have a fringe chance given their road win in Columbus, but it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the committee takes two multi-loss Big 12 teams. TCU would obviously get the nod with the conference championship trophy in tow. As far as Wisconsin, Georgia, and Miami’s hopes are concerned, they are undoubtedly out of consideration with a loss. Each of them played in the weaker division of their respective Power Five conference and each lacks the major wins necessary to vault them into the discussion.

Jake: Wisconsin’s overall resume is lacking a big win, if they lose to Ohio State they would have one loss and a poor resume attached and while perhaps unfair, the body of work is important. The same for Georgia and Miami who rode those weak divisions to their conference championship games. The conference championships have to mean something, and if they are beat in their respective title games, it will make their resumes worse than those considered above them. The two I struggle with, and will cause actual mayhem is Oklahoma and Clemson. Oklahoma, even if they lose to TCU, has every bit the right to argue in favor over Ohio State – and for obvious reasons. The same for Clemson who has some really big wins and lost a road game where they lost their starting quarterback for most of it.

Josh: Much like UCF’s weak schedule, Wisconsin’s strength of schedule isn’t good either. They avoided both Ohio State and Penn State this year and got to play Michigan at home. You could argue that Oklahoma could make the Playoff even if they lose. Their resume is good. In terms of Georgia and Miami, although their schedules weren’t as easy as Wisconsin’s and UCF’s, either of them losing would give them two losses and that just won’t cut it.

If Oklahoma and Wisconsin win this weekend, then the supposition is that the CFP will consist of the SEC champion, ACC champion, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. Do you agree? Is there any chance it doesn’t end that way?

Joe: I would agree with that. I think Oklahoma and Wisconsin would be automatic ins if they both win their conference championship. I just don’t see anybody passing those two and I don’t think the loser of either the SEC or ACC championship getting a slot before those two teams.

Bode: The CFP Committee verified this thinking, and I don’t think there is any real debate on it.

Gage: There is no doubt that this is how the scenario would play out, given Sooner and Badger victories. It would be impossible to justify keeping the Georgia/Auburn or Clemson/Miami winners out and Oklahoma/Wisconsin positions in the latest college football playoff rankings leave little debate.

Jake: I am with everyone on this question. This would be the most reasonable outcome and there is no arguing it.

Josh: Absolutely. You can’t leave out an undefeated Wisconsin team, no matter how bad their schedule might have been.

If Oklahoma and Ohio State win this weekend, then the supposition is that the CFP last remaining position will be decided between Alabama and Ohio State. Do you agree? Who should have the edge there and why?

Joe: Oklahoma is in with a win. If Clemson and Georgia win, then the final battle would be between Ohio State and Alabama. But if Clemson loses, I can see Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson battling it out for the final spot. In terms of who should get in between Ohio State and Alabama, I would side with Alabama. Personally, I think the Crimson Tide is just better than Ohio State, but also Alabama only has one loss to Ohio State’s two losses. The thing that makes that battle closer than it should is the strength of schedule. Alabama has a really weak resume with LSU and Mississippi State being their best wins. Ohio has the edge in strength of schedule as they have wins against the quality teams of Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and then Wisconsin. In the end, I would give the spot to Alabama. If Clemson loses, I would probably give it to Clemson because they have a better resume then Alabama and the second loss would be coming in the championship game where Alabama did not have chance to play in, giving them the advantage of not losing another game. But, these are tough choices.

Bode: I agree with Joe that Clemson has a great case even with a loss. That schedule is fantastic, and they have played well against the good teams on it as their No. 1 ranking in the FEI indicates (play-by-play database that adjusts for opponents). Buckeye fans have to hope for a detailed schedule analysis to have the committee jump them over the Crimson Tide in the final rankings, but the same type of analysis leaves them short against the Tigers. I think the committee ends up going with the Tide though in this scenario due to a close call and a preference for two SEC teams over two ACC teams.

If Clemson wins, then the spot is purely between Ohio State and Alabama. Gauging how the room will weigh having only one loss versus having much better wins is difficult. However, given that the B1G would have four of the top 16 teams in the rankings, I think it will serve as a tiebreaker and push the Buckeyes into the playoffs rather than give the SEC two spots.

Gage: As mentioned above, Clemson could be considered with a loss, but I still think it’s a battle between Ohio State and Alabama. Most recent loss should not be a consideration, but recency bias is almost expected. As for the Alabama and Ohio State conversation, it is very convoluted. Yes, Alabama only has one loss, but Massey Ratings show their strength of schedule as 29th most difficult, compared to Ohio State’s 11th. Additionally, Ohio State will have two victories over teams in the Top Ten of the most recent playoff rankings, with zero offered by Alabama. A Georgia victory over Auburn would help tilt the scales in Ohio State’s direction as well, as it would weaken the resume of Alabama. Though Illinois may be considered FCS caliber, Alabama actively scheduling an FCS opponent in November should impair their resume, too. I think the slight edge goes to Ohio State, as recency bias will creep into play, especially if the Buckeyes were to dial up a somewhat diluted rendition of the 2014 massacre of Wisconsin in Indianapolis.

Jake: I agree with the sentiments about Clemson and the fact that they should still be considered, but with the lack of a conference championship and the recency bias that will be present, they will most likely be on the outside looking in. The most likely scenario is that Clemson wins and we are headed toward a full on battle between Ohio State and Alabama for that final spot. Ohio State has the edge in my book as the sheer volume of quality B1G teams and the resume of quality wins drives them past Alabama’s weak schedule this year.

Josh: If Ohio State beats Wisconsin by a wide margin, it’s hard t see them not making the Playoff. Yeah, they have two losses and Alabama only has one, but the Buckeyes have a much better resume and won their conference. That’s hard to top. Then again, the Crimson Tide’s reputation could be the lone reason why they make the Final Four. Who knows what the committee is thinking, honestly.

If TCU and Ohio State win this weekend, then the supposition is that the last two CFP remaining positions will go to Ohio State and Alabama. Do you agree? Is there any other team that should have a voice here?

Joe: I think Oklahoma should get the nod over Ohio State because both teams would have two losses, but the Sooners have the head-to-head victory. The battle would be between Alabama and Ohio State and as I stated earlier, I would go with Alabama.

Bode: I agree with Joe that the Sooners should have the spot before the Buckeyes. If the games on the field don’t matter despite everything else being so equal, then why play them? The other issue would be if Clemson loses, then they could still have an argument too. The craziest scenario to consider is if TCU barely beats Oklahoma after having lost in a blowout to them just a few weeks ago. The Sooners would still have the better overall resume, and they would have split the season series against the Horned Frogs. I don’t think the committee would actually do it, but I think the most deserving teams could include two that lose on Saturday. It would serve everyone’s sanity if Oklahoma and Clemson both win.

Gage: The general consensus will be that Oklahoma should go in this scenario, and I mostly agree. The question turns into how much weight the head-to-head win carries. Ohio State team would have a marginally stronger strength of schedule, more big wins, and a conference title in their pocket. Does Oklahoma’s head-to-head victory in Columbus carry enough weight to overcome those other resume deficiencies? I agree that Oklahoma would likely have the better resume, but factors other than head-to-head remain important in examining resumes.

Jake: I’m with the consensus here, Oklahoma should still be in barring being blown out by TCU. Then it boils down to Alabama and Ohio State and it will hinge on their opinion of Ohio State’s losses against Alabama’s schedule. I will say this: it will be tough for the committee to include a two loss team.

Josh: Yes. TCU doesn’t have enough to top Ohio State or Alabama and although the argument can be made that Oklahoma should make the Playoff, the Buckeyes would no matter what be in given that scenario, so it would be between Bama and the Sooners. That’s a tough one too, just like it would be to have to decide between Ohio State and Alabama.

Everything above revolves around the current system of four teams selected by committee. What would be your ideal college football playoff?

Joe: My ideal college football playoff would be eight teams. I think the champion of the Big 5 championships should get an automatic bid, while the committee picks the three other at-large teams. I could also work with six teams with the top two teams getting opening round byes. But, that would probably give those two teams too much of an advantage. Four teams just does not seem like enough.

Bode: I am not a proponent of expanding the playoffs. The political structure of the conferences will start to get automatic invites to be included, and we will lose even more of the importance of the regular season. The other extreme would be to have the entire college football season be grafted into a playoff with several “consolation” brackets developing out of the teams that lose. That’d be great fun.

Gage: My ideal playoff structure is six teams, with the top two teams getting a bye. This allows for a little more leniency in valuing conference champions. Despite the animosity towards the old BCS rankings, I also believe that these six teams should be decided by a computer ranking formula. Eliminating subjectivity and highlighting objective goalposts is important, as the committee offers very little foundation for the selection of the teams. In a large bracket like college basketball, this subjectivity is less intrusive, but with the general neck-and-neck nature of college football playoff discussions, objectivity is needed.

Jake: I’m with Gage. I love the idea of having six total teams in the playoffs with a bye for the top two seeds in the first round. This allows a wildcard for a Group of Five team like UCF this year, or the ability to add one team who didn’t win their conference championship. While you lose the importance on plenty of key games throughout the year, you still keep the chase for a conference championship and the strength of your overall resume. No matter how many teams you include in the system, there will always be those close to the cut off who can complain. That rhetoric will never go away. I just think four teams leaves out a few teams who have an equal or similar resume and quality of team.

Josh: I’ve seen the scenario where they should expand to an eight-game Playoff where the champion of each of the Power 5 conferences get an automatic bid and then there are three other teams that are selected by the committee, but I feel like no matter what, there’s going to be questions why a team did or didn’t make it. Then again, an eight-team Playoff means more college football, so I’d love that.