The College Football Playoff committee released its first rankings on Tuesday. These can be instructive. They can be useful in conjuring what-if scenarios, which I’ll do in a second. As always, though, they’re subject to change. There is so much meaningful football left.
For most teams. Not so much so for Washington State. The Cougars check in at No. 8 in the initial rankings on the strength of a 7-1 record and victories over Oregonand Stanford. They control destiny in the Pac-12 and, to me, are the third-likeliest team to win out.
The big questions are: will enough teams ahead of them falter down the stretch to provide an opening and will Washington State’s body of work be impressive enough to land them in the Final Four?
Alabama and Clemson, at one and two, are juggernauts. The Tide have a trip to Baton Rouge and the SEC Championship on the horizon. They’re heavily favored against LSU and will be significantly favored in Atlanta. At this point, betting against Nick Saban’s side is pure folly. Clemson should also finish undefeated. That will mean half the playoff spots will be spoken for with familiar faces.
What about the final two?
No. 3 LSU gets the Tide, and likely a second loss. Notre Dame must survive Northwestern, Syracuse and USC in Los Angeles. No. 5 Michigan has a game Penn State team, a trip to Columbus against Ohio State and perhaps a rematch against Northwestern. Georgia must get by Kentucky to earn a date with Alabama. Oklahoma has road dates with texas tech and West Virginia, plus the Big 12 title game.
So where would that leave things if Washington State finishes clean and every team above them sustains a defeat? For instance:
- Alabama 13-0, SEC champ
- Clemson 13-0, ACC champ
- Notre Dame 11-1 with a loss to Northwestern
- LSU 10-2, with a loss to Alabama
- Michigan 10-2, with losses to Notre Dame and Ohio State
- Georgia 10-2, with losses to LSU and Alabama
- Oklahoma 10-2, Big 12 champ, with losses to Texas and West Virginia
- Washington State 12-1, Pac-12 champ, with loss to USC
- Ohio State 12-1, Big Ten champ, with loss to Purdue
- West Virginia 11-2 with losses to Iowa State and Oklahoma
That is a bottleneck, but the most likely scenario involves three teams (Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Washington State) competing for the final two spots. I think the Cougars’ one-loss record and conference crown would move them above two-loss sides, and that the committee will never consider putting UCF in the top four.
Even then, with all these pieces falling into place, the committee would go with Ohio State and Notre Dame. So it’s not enough for Washington State to win out. They must also hope for a two-loss Big Ten champion, or for the Big Ten West winner to prevail in Indianapolis.
But hey, strange things happen. The Cougars need to keep winning and keep their fingers crossed. This is one time when the tired old cliché of focusing on one’s business and letting the rest sort itself out is apropos.