Late in the college football season, the Playoff picture seems to be shaping up with the week-to-week consistency of the ranking committee. Arguments can be made for or against many of the teams that sit on the fringe today. When all is said and done, undoubtedly, teams will feel like they got the short end of the stick. Given the importance of every game down the stretch here, I think it is worth analyzing how the cookie seems to be crumbling.
Breakdown of the College Football Playoff picture as it stands entering Week 13:
LSU seems to have a spot in the playoff locked down barring two large upset losses down the home stretch. Additionally, Clemson, also barring a massive upset loss, has a spot locked up. Then, in the Big Ten, Ohio State is the odds-on favorite to win the conference, but a marquee matchup with Penn State this weekend could throw a wrench into their chances. The winner of this matchup will effectively lock up a berth in the Big Ten Championship game, where the winner of the conference will almost certainly go to the playoff. This leaves just one final spot in the playoff up for grabs between the PAC 12, the Big 12, and then another potential SEC team. The committee seems to think quite highly of the PAC 12 this season (perhaps too highly?) as Oregon and Utah are both vying for a spot in the top-four, and if both teams run the table through the rest of the regular season, the winner of the PAC 12 Championship Game is likely in the driver's seat for the final spot in the playoff. They will, however, have to compete with a potential one-loss Oklahoma team that rates much higher than either PAC 12 front-runner by most advanced metrics. Oklahoma's one loss is likely worse than either Oregon (early loss to Auburn) or Utah (loss to USC, who has now snuck into the rankings at number-23,) which seems to be in the forefront of the committee's mind when setting the rankings each week. Barring an extremely impressive close to the season, the Sooners are likely behind the eight-ball here and not in control of their own destiny. Lastly, the SEC may throw the committee for a loop down the stretch. If a one-loss Georgia team makes the SEC Championship, presumably against the undefeated LSU Tigers, and wins, they're surely in the playoff, right? Things get extremely messy here, as I already said a one-loss LSU team should be a lock for the playoff this season. Now, in this hypothetical scenario, with two SEC teams certainly deserving a berth, a committee that seems to think very highly of the PAC 12, and an Oklahoma team that many believe should be ranked much higher than they currently are, there is no telling what the committee will ultimately decide to do.
Fear not, however, because after laboring over this issue for countless hours and toying with countless models I believe I have solved this highly-complicated problem of leaving out multiple very deserving teams from the College Football Playoff. It's tough to follow along, though, as it involves many moving parts and contingencies: (spoiler alert: it's actually very simple and, in my humble opinion, logical) an eight-team playoff. The committee could avoid all of these potential issues with an eight-team playoff featuring: the conference champions of all power-five conferences, the highest-ranked group-of-five team (if one is ranked within the top-25), and two at-large bids. At this point, it's all just a pipe dream because, under the guise of caring too much about the players to subject them to the additional risk of a 16th game, the NCAA seems reluctant to tack one more game onto the schedule for the teams that ultimately end up in the National Championship Game.
Best of luck to everyone, and as always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns about this article, feel free to reach out to me on twitter @ThaGreatZambino!
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