The College Football Playoff selection committee is hours away from unveiling its latest rankings, which will offer more clarity ahead of Friday and Saturday’s conference championship games.
Depending on how those games play out, this week could be straightforward, with little to no drama—or it could devolve into complete anarchy.
The Alabama Crimson Tide, Clemson Tigers and Washington Huskies should all be in the playoff with victories, likely joining the Ohio State Buckeyes as the four semifinalists. Should one of the three teams falter, the selection committee’s job becomes harder.
Looking at the remaining playoff contenders, the two schools below would be the biggest threats for the overwhelmingly favored Crimson Tide.
AP Top 25
|Date||Bowl Game||Projected Matchup||Winner|
|Dec. 31||Peach Bowl||No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington||Alabama|
|Dec. 31||Fiesta Bowl||No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson||Clemson|
|Jan. 9||College Football Playoff National Championship||No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Clemson||Alabama|
Schedule via ESPN.com
Most Dangerous Teams
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
With each passing week, Clemson’s resume looks weaker and weaker. Louisville lost to Houston and Kentucky to wrap up the regular season, and Florida State’s best win was against a Florida team that’s likely headed for its fourth loss of the year in the SEC title game.
This year’s Tigers team hasn’t generated the kind of buzz last year’s national championship runner-up did, either. Deshaun Watson’s Heisman Trophy campaign has fallen behind that of Lamar Jackson, and the Seminoles and Cardinals’ struggles have left Clemson without a worthy rival in the ACC.
As a result, some fans might be sleeping on the Tigers.
Statistically, there’s little difference between 2015 Clemson and 2016 Clemson:
|Strength of Schedule||21st||47th|
|Scoring Offense||38.5 PPG (16th)||40 PPG (17th)|
|Scoring Defense||20.2 PPG (18th)||17 PPG (T8th)|
|Total Offense||515 YPG (11th)||509 YPG (12th)|
|Pass Offense||291.5 YPG (23rd)||336.3 YPG (5th)|
|Rush Offense||223 YPG (21st)||172.3 YPG (71st)|
|Total Defense||296 YPG (7th)||308 YPG (8th)|
|Pass Defense||166.9 YPG (5th)||180.2 YPG (12th)|
|Rush Defense||128.8 YPG (23rd)||127.8 YPG (T24th)|
Sources: ESPN.com and USA Today
SEC Network’s Anthony McFarland firmly believes the Tigers are a genuine threat for the reigning national champions:
Clemson- win the ACC title game 7 they are in,Watson playing best ball right now, Williams is a monster,1 of only 2 teams that can beat Bama
— Booger (@SECbooger) November 27, 2016
Despite having four players selected in the first two rounds of the 2016 NFL draft, Clemson’s defense hasn’t taken a big step backward. Dexter Lawrence has made an immediate impact, picking up 4.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Jadar Johnson has compensated for the losses of Mackensie Alexander and T.J. Green by intercepting five passes.
On offense, Watson remains one of the country’s best quarterbacks and has the devastating wideout tandem of Mike Williams and Deon Cain at his disposal. Wayne Gallman has only 943 rushing yards a year after gaining 1,514 on the ground. His yards-per-carry mark is nearly identical (5.4 in 2015, 5.3 in 2016), though, so he hasn’t been much less effective.
There’s no disputing Alabama as the unquestioned No. 1 team in the country, but the selection committee might not be giving the Tigers the credit they deserve if they’re behind Ohio State in the next playoff rankings.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
In 2014, Ohio State benefited from the Big 12’s failure to anoint “one true champion” and claimed the final playoff spot. The Buckeyes went on to beat Alabama and Oregon en route to winning the national title.
Michigan could be sitting in a similar position this year.
Should Colorado beat Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Wolverines would have a strong argument for inclusion in the playoff despite the fact that they have two losses and finished third in their own division.
It would be tough to overlook Michigan when the team owns head-to-head wins over the Buffaloes as well as the eventual Big Ten champion—whether it be Penn State or Wisconsin.
Whether they’re in the semifinals or not, the Wolverines are one of the top teams in college football. They sit second in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rating, boasting the No. 28 offense and No. 1 defense in the nation. Michigan can go toe-to-toe against anybody.
In keeping with head coach Jim Harbaugh’s style, defense is Michigan’s hallmark.
The Wolverines are allowing the second-fewest yards (253) and points (12.5) per game in college football. In Jabrill Peppers and Taco Charlton, they have two players who can alter the course of a game.
Peppers is one of the most versatile defenders in the FBS, and Pro Football Focus showed how he wreaked havoc on Ohio State signal-caller J.T. Barrett:
Michigan DE Taco Charlton produced 8 QB pressures (2 sacks, 6 hurries) in loss to Ohio State pic.twitter.com/aBXNfjMixg
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 26, 2016
Perhaps most importantly, with over a month before the playoff, quarterback Wilton Speight would be healthier than he was when he took the field in Columbus, Ohio, over the weekend. Former Wolverines signal-caller Devin Gardner praised Speight’s toughness:
I'm so proud of the intestinal fortitude of my brotha @WiltonSpeight! Broken collar bone, 2vs3, 1st start, & still performs in "THE GAME"… pic.twitter.com/FsQ8qVOye8
— Devin Gardner (@devingardnerXCI) November 26, 2016
Speight isn’t a prolific passer, throwing for 2,375 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions. However, he offers enough of an alternative to keep opposing defenses from stacking the box to stop De’Veon Smith and Chris Evans, and as great as Michigan’s defense is, the Wolverines still need to move the ball.
If the stars align for Harbaugh, his team has all of the pieces to capture the school’s first national championship since 1997.
Note: Strength of schedule is courtesy of USA Today‘s Sagarin rankings.