Michigan lost to Ohio State. But, that did not eliminate them from the playoff discussion. The Wolverines need either Clemson or Washington to lose their conference title game. If one or both loses, Michigan could present a compelling argument to backdoor their way into the playoff.
Strength of Schedule: Michigan had eight home games. We can get into the math of the broader schedule strength. But, the committee won’t. If there’s one consistent factor in the playoff committee era, it has been the committee looking at the number of games against teams in their ranking and how you fared against them.
Presuming the more likely outcome where this is a debate, Colorado beating Washington, Michigan would have four games against the committee’s Top 10. Three were wins (two by large margins). The fourth came down to the narrowest of margins, on the road, in overtime.
Iowa closing out to finish 8-4 by beating a ranked team by 30 also helps their case that was not such a bad loss.
Wisconsin would have one Top 10 win over Penn State. Colorado would have one Top 10 win over Washington. Penn State would have two, over Wisconsin and Ohio State. Oklahoma will have played one Top 10 team and have lost by three touchdowns at home.
Head to Head: Michigan’s wins were not just Top 10 wins. They were in direct head to head competition over the teams in the discussion.
The Wolverines edged a close win over Wisconsin at home, which would have been by more if they could kick field goals. Michigan beat Penn State by 39. It was a beatdown to the point James Franklin was kicking face-saving field goals. The Wolverines scored 45 on a good Colorado defense and beat them by 17.
Oklahoma could slip in there, you say? Compare what happened against their one common opponent.
The Conference Champion Argument is Flimsy: “Conference Champion” delineates one-loss teams pretty well. What does that mean once we are in two-loss territory? Wisconsin got to the title game losing to Ohio State and Michigan. Penn State won the division on a special teams play and having the good fortune to do its losing outside the conference.
The committee has an undoubted preference for conference champions. But, the committee will already abrogate that by taking Ohio State. Does “conference champion” hold up when it is the one argument against a team with the same record, that beat better teams, and beat the conference champion head to head?
TCU didn’t miss out in 2014 because it wasn’t a conference champion. TCU missed out because the committee could not pick between TCU and Baylor and it was much easier to take Ohio State. The easier decision may be to pick Michigan.
The Playoff Is a Business: The College Football Playoff is an entertainment product, intended to make money for all partners. The selection process is subjective. It only pretends to be a fair competition. If it were fair, Western Michigan would be playing in it.
Playoff ratings plummeted last season. The Sports TV climate looks far shakier than it did a year ago. Entertainment should not factor into the decision-making process. But, Michigan, with the Harbaugh vs. Saban angle, would be a much bigger draw to play Alabama than Wisconsin or Penn State. That could be the difference between a successful playoff and most of the casual audience flitting off on New Year’s Eve again.