With the conference championship games ahead, the 2016 college football season could provide one more twist ahead of bowl season.
Three teams, the Alabama Crimson Tide, Ohio State Buckeyes and Clemson Tigers, already have one foot in the semifinals. Alabama and Clemson still need to win their respective conference title clashes, but they both control their own destinies.
The final playoff spot remains up in the air, and the results from this week’s matchups could make things even murkier.
Below are the AP Top 25 and Amway Coaches polls, followed by a breakdown of the playoff picture ahead of the Week 14 College Football Playoff rankings reveal.
AP Top 25 Poll
Amway Coaches Poll
Week 14 Predictions
The Playoff Will Have Its First Nonconference Champion—and Potentially Two
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Sooner or later, the playoff was bound to include one team that failed to win its conference. Most, however, assumed that scenario would transpire because one conference had two semifinalists.
Ohio State, on the other hand, almost certainly booked its place in the playoff with Saturday’s win over Michigan. By virtue of their loss to Penn State, though, the Buckeyes are shut out of the Big Ten title game.
Winning the Big Ten isn’t necessarily a meaningless distinction in 2016, but it doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight with regard to the playoff. Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde is already prepared to put the Wolverines into the semifinal ahead of Penn State or Wisconsin:
The discussion of whether the Big Ten could get two teams into the playoff has centered almost completely on the winner of this game and either Wisconsin or Penn State, who play each other in the league championship game next week in Indianapolis. But then Michigan-Ohio State was played, and it would seem quite wrong to take either the Badgers or Nittany Lions ahead of Michigan – no matter which one wins the league title.
For starters, Michigan beat both of those teams – it blasted the Nittany Lions by 39 and took down the Badgers by seven. The Wolverines are 10-2 with a total margin of defeat in the losses of four points – both on the road, both on the final play.
In other years, the Big Ten likely would’ve been shut out of the playoff altogether with a two-loss conference champion. The Big 12’s best team, Oklahoma, lost to Ohio State at home, though, and the ACC, SEC and Pac-12 are collectively having down years as well, opening the door for the Big Ten.
Narrowly missing out on a semifinal berth in 2015 after finishing second to Michigan State in the Big Ten East, the Buckeyes will almost certainly avoid a similar fate this season.
The biggest playoff question surrounding the Big Ten is whether Wisconsin, Penn State or Michigan will be joining Ohio State.
Playoff Door Isn’t Closed for Michigan
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As ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg wrote, the Pac-12 title game is like hopping back in time to a bygone era of college football:
Washington and Colorado are going to play in the Pac-12 championship and I'm convinced it's 1991 again.
— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) November 27, 2016
Few would take issue with a 12-1 Washington reaching the semifinals. An 11-2 Colorado would be a tougher sell for some fans, despite the fact the Huskies’ and Buffaloes’ resumes are largely the same heading into Week 14.
The quality wins for the two schools overlap. They each collected victories over Stanford, Utah and Washington State, and neither beat any nonconference opponents of note.
Both Washington and Colorado’s lone Pac-12 losses came to USC. Whereas the Huskies fell to the Trojans at home, though, the Buffaloes lost in Los Angeles—and by a smaller margin.
The biggest difference between Washington and Colorado in terms of schedule is the Buffaloes’ 45-28 defeat to Michigan in September. Huskies fans can’t exactly lord that over Colorado given Washington’s three nonconference games were against Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State.
ESPNU’s Matt Schick tweeted that only one problem would remain for Colorado should it win the Pac-12:
If PSU/Wisc wins the B1G, and Colorado wins the Pac-12, Michigan might have an argument for CFP inclusion.#beatallthree
— Matt Schick (@ESPN_Schick) November 26, 2016
There’s a future in which the Wolverines have beaten the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions in head-to-head matchups. Should that happen, excluding Michigan from the playoff would be nearly impossible, even if the team finished third in its own division.
A Washington win would make the selection committee’s job easier, but with the way this year has unfolded, complete anarchy in championship week could very well happen.