The college football playoff picture is straight forward. Alabama is a strong favorite to win the SEC. The same goes for Clemson (ACC), Michigan/Ohio State (B1G), and Washington (P12). It will be hard for a one-loss Baylor or West Virginia in the B12 to win the argument for a place, and that is the best-case scenario.
“Chaos” would be one of those five favorites being derailed, forcing the committee to decide between an underwhelming conference champion, an underwhelming B12 champion, and strong one-loss non-champions that are better than both.
The Wrong Team Wins a Conference Title Game: The committee is inclined to take Power 5 conference champions, but not ad absurdum. A 3-loss team from the SEC East could upset Alabama. A 2-loss or 3-loss Wisconsin or Nebraska could knock off Michigan/Ohio State. A 2-loss or 3-loss Virginia Tech, who lost to Syracuse, could beat Clemson. A 2-loss or 3-loss Utah/USC/Colorado could beat Washington. Any of those scenarios sets up a decision between an underwhelming champ, an underwhelming B12 champ, and a group of far better one-loss teams.
The Three-Way SEC West Tie: Surging Auburn wins out, upsetting Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Texas A&M wins its remaining games. The teams each finish 7-1 in conference and 1-1 in the round robin between them. An unsatisfactory tiebreaker, such as the combined record of SEC East opponents, decides the West. The committee probably takes Auburn at 11-2. But, Alabama could be sitting there looming at 11-1.
Penn State Wins The B1G East: This could happen. Penn State wins its four games remaining – Iowa, at Indiana, at Rutgers, MSU. Michigan drops a game it shouldn’t, most likely at Iowa. Ohio State beats Michigan. Penn State holds the East tiebreaker, with the head-to-head win over Ohio State. Wisconsin and Penn State play for the B1G title. Neither is a guarantee to lock down a playoff spot for the Big Ten. Ohio State is sitting there at 11-1, with a close road loss on a blocked field goal.
Washington State Wins the Apple Cup: Both Washington and Washington State are 5-0 in conference play. The Huskies need all three games – at Cal, USC, ASU – to be 11-0. The Cougars – Arizona, Cal, at Colorado – only need to win two of three to set up a situation where the Apple Cup is winner-take-all for the division. It’s hard to see Washington State, with non-conference losses to Boise State and an FCS team, being in the mix for a playoff spot, even winning the Pac 12.
LSU Runs The Table: Narrow losses to Auburn and Wisconsin look better in retrospect. LSU upsets Alabama, let’s say 24-21, and wins its remaining games to finish 7-1 and win the SEC West. Under that scenario, the Tigers would have beaten Alabama, Texas A&M, and Florida (twice, potentially) down the stretch. They probably get into the playoff. Alabama is still looming at 11-1.