Jake Browning led Washington to a 66-27 win over California and the No. 4 spot in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.
It took a week longer than expected, but the four undefeated teams from the Power Five conferences are now in the Top Four of the latest College Football Playoff rankings. After Texas A&M’s loss to Mississippi State, Washington ascended to No. 4 in the eyes of the selection committee, joining No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Michigan with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
But just as soon as we think we’ve figured out their methodology, they throw a few more wrenches into the system.
For instance, why did LSU drop from No. 13 to No. 24 for a 10-point loss to No. 1 Alabama when Texas A&M only dropped from No. 4 to No. 8 for losing to unranked Mississippi State? Meanwhile, Florida went from No. 11 to completely unranked for losing at now No. 25 Arkansas? It just doesn’t add up.
The Pac-12 isn’t complaining, though. Not only is Washington up to No. 4, but Colorado jumped three spots to No. 12, Utah moved up one spot to No. 15, USC soared into the rankings at No. 20 and Washington State climbed two rungs to No. 23. As a result, the nation’s westernmost conference has five Top 23 teams, while the SEC only has three.
Once again, the Big Ten is the biggest winner. Ohio State didn’t quite make it into the Top Four, but the conference does have the No. 3 (Michigan), No. 5 (Ohio State), No. 7 (Wisconsin) and No. 10 (Penn State) teams. Even Nebraska (No. 19) didn’t fall that far for losing by 59 points to Ohio State.
Where will everyone finish the season, though?
Let’s take one more look into the not-so-crystal ball to forecast every bowl game pairing.
|Peach Bowl||Dec. 31||No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State|
|Fiesta Bowl||Dec. 31||No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Michigan|
No surprises in the top three, as No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Michigan won their Week 10 games by a combined margin of 123-3. And, thankfully, we don’t need to argue about Texas A&M anymore after its loss to Mississippi State.
But, per usual, there will be much wringing of hands about the No. 4 team in the CFP standings.
|Win Rank||Ohio State Buckeyes||Washington Huskies|
|No. 1||at Wisconsin (30-23)||at Utah (31-24)|
|No. 2||at Oklahoma (45-24)||vs. Stanford (44-6)|
|No. 3||vs. Nebraska (62-3)||vs. Idaho (59-14)|
|No. 4||vs. Tulsa (48-3)||at California (66-27)|
|No. 5||vs. Indiana (38-17)||at Oregon (70-21)|
|No. 6||vs. Northwestern (24-20)||at Arizona (35-28)|
As things currently stand, though, there’s a fairly open-and-shut case to be made in favor of Ohio State over Washington.
The Huskies have a beautiful road win over Utah and a home win over Stanford that—though it doesn’t look anywhere near as good now as it once did—holds a good amount of water. Aside from that, however, their only win over a team currently projected for a bowl game came against Idaho.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have two road wins over teams projected for New Year’s Six games, a pair of wins over seven-win Nebraska and Tulsa by a combined margin of 110-6 and two other wins over teams projected for bowl games.
Compared side-by-side, there’s no question Ohio State’s six best wins are better than Washington’s six best wins. The only question is how much the Buckeyes need to be penalized for losing on the road against what is now a Top 10 Penn State team because of a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown.
Were it not for that fluky 10-point swing, the argument right now would be whether Alabama or Ohio State deserves the No. 1 spot; so is that play going to keep the Buckeyes out of the College Football Playoff altogether?
If Washington keeps winning, it will get in. Michigan has some quality wins, but if it loses to Ohio State on the 26th, it’s highly unlikely the Wolverines would get in ahead of a 13-0 Washington. Likewise, a second loss for the Buckeyes would make it all but impossible for them to finish with a better CFP ranking than an unbeaten Washington.
But that’s assuming Washington can win out against a remaining schedule of: vs. 6-3 USC, vs. 5-4 Arizona State, at 7-2 Washington State and the Pac-12 Championship Game likely against 7-2 Colorado or 7-2 Utah. Even if we generously give the Huskies a 90 percent chance of winning each of the first two games and a 65 percent chance in each of the latter two, there’s only about a 1-3 chance of them going undefeated. Until that number is closer to 50 percent, the one-loss team with the drastically stronger schedule makes more sense for that final spot.
What will be interesting is if Ohio State loses to Michigan and Washington loses one of its remaining games, leading to a wild debate between one-loss Washington, one-loss Louisville and two-loss Ohio State. It’s close, but the Buckeyes would probably be the top team at that point. That’s another reason they’re No. 4 in this projection.
|Orange Bowl||Dec. 30||Louisville (8-1) vs. Texas A&M (7-2)|
|Rose Bowl||Jan. 2||Washington (9-0) vs. Wisconsin (7-2)|
|Sugar Bowl||Jan. 2||Auburn (7-2) vs. Oklahoma (7-2)|
|Cotton Bowl||Jan. 2||Western Michigan (9-0) vs. Penn State (7-2)|
Three cheers for the Big Ten, which has a total of four teams projected for New Year’s Six games.
With Michigan and Ohio State in the College Football Playoff, Wisconsin slides into the Rose Bowl to face Washington. And the final at-large spot in the Cotton Bowl boils down to Penn State, West Virginia, Colorado, Utah or North Carolina. Each of those teams has seven wins, but the Nittany Lions clearly have the best wins of the bunch. Moreover, WVU, Colorado and Utah are likely to lose at least one more game, leaving North Carolina as the only team that seems like a threat to break up the Big Ten’s party.
Elsewhere, Texas A&M remains projected for a NY6 game, but that’s looking mighty shaky after losing starting quarterback Trevor Knight for the rest of the regular season. The Aggies still face a brutal schedule of Ole Miss, UTSA and LSU—albeit all at home—and likely cannot afford another loss if they want to play in the Orange Bowl.
(Considering the thought process from moments ago, booting A&M, moving Penn State to the Orange Bowl and sliding North Carolina into the Cotton Bowl would be a reasonable shuffling of the deck—if you’re ready to live in a world where both the ACC and Big Ten get more New Year’s Six games than the SEC.)
And, at long last, Oklahoma’s schedule is about to get real again. The Sooners close with games against Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State. If they win out while both Michigan and Washington fall out of the CFP picture, there’s still a chance that a Big 12 team could make the playoff.
|Camellia Bowl||Dec. 17||Akron (5-5) vs. Idaho (5-4)|
|Cure Bowl||Dec. 17||Army (5-4) vs. Appalachian State (7-2)|
|Las Vegas Bowl||Dec. 17||Boise State (8-1) vs. USC (6-3)|
|New Mexico Bowl||Dec. 17||New Mexico (6-3) vs. Middle Tennessee (6-3)|
|New Orleans Bowl||Dec. 17||Hawaii (4-6) vs. Arkansas State (4-4)|
|Miami Beach Bowl||Dec. 19||Temple (7-3) vs. Louisiana Tech (7-3)|
|Boca Raton Bowl||Dec. 20||Memphis (6-3) vs. Ohio (7-3)|
|Poinsettia Bowl||Dec. 21||BYU (5-4) vs. San Diego State (8-1)|
|Famous Idaho Potato Bowl||Dec. 22||Wyoming (7-2) vs. Eastern Michigan (5-4)|
|Armed Forces Bowl||Dec. 23||Navy (6-2) vs. Texas (5-4)|
|Bahamas Bowl||Dec. 23||Central Florida (5-4) vs. Miami of Ohio (4-6)|
|Dollar General Bowl||Dec. 23||Toledo (7-2) vs. Troy (7-1)|
|Hawaii Bowl||Dec. 24||Air Force (6-3) vs. Southern Miss (5-4)|
|Independence Bowl||Dec. 26||Georgia Tech (5-4) vs. Old Dominion (6-3)|
|Quick Lane Bowl||Dec. 26||Pittsburgh (5-4) vs. Colorado State (5-4)|
|St. Petersburg Bowl||Dec. 26||Houston (7-2) vs. Western Kentucky (7-3)|
|Cactus Bowl||Dec. 27||TCU (5-4) vs. Arizona State (5-4)|
|Heart of Dallas Bowl||Dec. 27||Texas Tech (4-5) vs. Central Michigan (5-5)|
|Holiday Bowl||Dec. 27||Iowa (5-4) vs. Colorado (7-2)|
|Military Bowl||Dec. 27||Boston College (4-5) vs. Tulsa (7-2)|
|Foster Farms Bowl||Dec. 28||Northwestern (4-5) vs. Wash. State (7-2)|
|Pinstripe Bowl||Dec. 28||Miami (5-4) vs. Indiana (5-4)|
|Russell Athletic Bowl||Dec. 28||Virginia Tech (7-2) vs. Oklahoma State (7-2)|
|Texas Bowl||Dec. 28||Baylor (7-2) vs. Arkansas (6-3)|
|Alamo Bowl||Dec. 29||West Virginia (7-1) vs. Utah (7-2)|
|Belk Bowl||Dec. 29||Wake Forest (6-3) vs. Georgia (5-4)|
|Birmingham Bowl||Dec. 29||Ole Miss (4-5) vs. South Florida (7-2)|
|Arizona Bowl||Dec. 30||South Alabama (4-5) vs. UTSA (5-4)|
|Liberty Bowl||Dec. 30||Kansas State (5-4) vs. Kentucky (5-4)|
|Music City Bowl||Dec. 30||Maryland (5-4) vs. South Carolina (5-4)|
|Sun Bowl||Dec. 30||Florida State (6-3) vs. Stanford (6-3)|
|Citrus Bowl||Dec. 31||Nebraska (7-2) vs. Florida (6-2)|
|TaxSlayer Bowl||Dec. 31||North Carolina (7-2) vs. Tennessee (6-3)|
|Outback Bowl||Jan. 2||Minnesota (7-2) vs. LSU (5-3)|
Normally, this space is reserved for highlighting intriguing pairings. Instead, let’s use it to discuss the bowl bubble.
With 40 bowl games, we need 80 bowl-eligible teams. There are already 48 that have hit the six-win threshold and 43* others knocking on the door with either four or five wins. But with just three games remaining for the majority of those teams, who is actually going to get in?
Based on difficulty of remaining schedule, the four- and five-win teams were broken down into the following five confidence buckets.
*There are 18 more two- or three-win teams still mathematically alive, but let’s see how they fare this week before throwing them into this discussion.
All But Guaranteed To Reach Six Wins (9): Akron, Army, BYU, Eastern Michigan, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas State, Kentucky and South Carolina
Each of these teams is already at five wins and has a painfully easy home game remaining. If anyone in the group is going to shock us in a bad way, it might be 5-5 Akron. The Zips are favored by nine points against Bowling Green on Wednesday night, per Odds Shark, but they only have two games remaining, and the other is at 7-3 Ohio. Get upset by the Falcons and Akron’s bowl chances plummet from strong to slim.
Should Get the Job Done (11): Arkansas State, Central Florida, Georgia Tech, Iowa, LSU, Maryland, Miami (FL), Pittsburgh, South Alabama, TCU and Texas
These are mostly five-win teams with at least one remaining game in which they should be favored but aren’t quite a slam dunk to win. There are also a few four-win squads.
One other team worth noting is LSU. The Tigers are 5-3 with games remaining at Arkansas, vs. Florida and at Texas A&M. The Tigers should win at least one of those difficult games, but they’ll miss that canceled home game against South Alabama if they end up going winless in November.
Could Go Either Way (6): Arizona State, Boston College, Indiana, Miami (OH), Southern Miss and Texas-San Antonio
Arizona State has five wins, but the Sun Devils face Utah and Washington in the next two weeks before closing with a road rivalry game against Arizona. Similarly, Indiana has likely losses to Penn State and Michigan in the next two weeks before a do-or-die game against Purdue.
Miami (OH) is the most intriguing of the bunch, as the RedHawks started 0-6 before getting their QB back from a torn ACL and winning their last four games. They finish the season against 2-7 Buffalo and 4-5 Ball State.
Stranger Things Have Happened (12): Central Michigan, Charlotte, Colorado State, Georgia Southern, Hawaii, North Carolina State, Northwestern, Ole Miss, SMU, Syracuse, Texas Tech, Vanderbilt
Save for the Pac-12, each conference is represented in this bucket by at least one middling team that needs to show some life down the stretch.
If you’ve been counting, there are already 48 six-win teams, nine almost certain to get there (57 total), 11 that should be able to (68 total) and six others that are coin flips (74 total). That means to get to 80 teams, even if every team in the first three buckets gets in, there still need to be six other teams—most likely from this group—that find a way to get a sixth victory.
There will be friendly fire, too, as NC State and Syracuse square off this weekend before Ole Miss and Vanderbilt play in Week 12.
On Life Support (5): Ball State, California, Cincinnati, North Texas and Mississippi State
Even with last week’s shocking upset of Texas A&M, 4-5 Mississippi State is still in deep trouble, as the Bulldogs have a remaining schedule of: at Alabama, vs. Arkansas and at Ole Miss. California once felt like a fairly safe bet, but the Golden Bears need to win two of their remaining games at Washington State, vs. Stanford and vs. UCLA. Of this group, they’re probably the most likely to pull it off, but it’s unlikely, at best.