The job of the College Football Playoff selection committee just got a lot harder. After a Week 11 full of upsets, finding consensus among the committee members won't be so easy before the third edition of playoff rankings are released Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. But we're here to help sort through all the noise.
With Alabama the only undefeated Power 5 team remaining, the Crimson Tide will be an obvious choice for No. 1 spot. However, the real question is who takes the Nos. 2-4 spots among a number of one-loss teams.
Before the rankings are released (and remember, this week's rankings are coming out later than normal because of college basketball games on ESPN), here’s a look at the cases for and against eight teams in playoff contention, ordered by their likelihood of appearing in the top four this week. (We're using this week's AP poll for rankings of opponents, since last week's playoff rankings are now outdated.)
Strength of schedule (via Sagarin ratings): 6
Last week: Won 51–3 vs. Mississippi State
This week: vs. Chattanooga
Best wins: vs. No. 15 USC, No. 16 LSU, No. 23 Texas A&M
Case for: Alabama has been dominant is almost every game this season. This past week, it stomped Mississippi State, doing what none of the other teams that were ranked in the top four could do—win. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has gotten better and better as the season has gone on, and the defense is outstanding.
Case against: None. You can criticize the SEC as a whole for having a down year, but Alabama doesn't seem to have much in the way of flaws.
Consensus: In. Doesn't get any easier for the committee.
Ohio State (9–1)
Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 31
Last week: Won 62–3 at Maryland
This week: at Michigan State
Best wins: at No. 6 Wisconsin, at No. 8 Oklahoma, vs. No. 19 Nebraska
Losses: at No. 9 Penn State
Case for: The Buckeyes are the big winners from this past weekend. With three teams ahead of them losing, they should move up to the No. 2 spot in the rankings. After two straight weeks with 62–3 victories, Urban Meyer's team is playing much better football than it was earlier in the year. Ohio State has the best wins compared to the other one-loss teams vying for a spot in the playoff. That both of their two best wins came on the road is what puts the Buckeyes over the top compared to Michigan, Clemson, Louisville and Washington.
Case against: After playing better football of late, there's not a lot to pick at with Ohio State. The biggest problem for the Buckeyes lies ahead. Even if they win out, including a victory over Michigan, Penn State could advance to the Big Ten title game by winning its final two games. This would leave an 11–1 Ohio State team without a conference championship. Whether that would prevent the Buckeyes from making the playoff is unclear. The idea of leaving out a one-loss Ohio State seems doubtful, but it's a slim possibility.
Consensus: In. For now, Ohio State's resume is solid.
Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 49
Last week: Lost 14–13 at Iowa
This week: vs. Indiana
Best wins: vs. No. 6 Wisconsin, vs. No. 9 Penn State, vs. No. 12 Colorado
Losses: at Iowa
Case for: Michigan is going to benefit from having three top-12 wins. No other team in the country can make that claim. The Wolverines get the nod over Clemson for two reasons: They have better wins and their loss was "better" than the Tigers'. Both Iowa and Pittsburgh are roughly equal, but Michigan lost on the road, while Clemson fell at home. The Tigers' tougher strength of schedule isn't strong enough to make up for Michigan's better wins, not to mention that the Big Ten is superior to the ACC. Michigan is also on top of Louisville mostly due its much better wins. The Cardinals don't have a single victory over a top-15 opponent and have a worse strength of schedule than the Wolverines, Clemson and Washington. Despite the loss to Iowa, Michigan is still in control of its own destiny: Win out and it will make the playoff.
Case against: Michigan blew multiple chances to put Iowa away on Saturday. The offense was incredibly sloppy and was unable to score more than three points in the second half. It was the first true road test the Wolverines had faced all season, and they flopped. The biggest case against Michigan is its lack of a good road win. To make matters worse, quarterback Wilton Speight is reportedly out for the rest of the regular season with a broken collarbone. John O'Korn, a transfer from Houston, will assume the starting job.
Consensus: In. Michigan lucks out with Clemson and Washington also losing this weekend. It's certainly possible Clemson stays ahead of Michigan, but expect Wolverines to be No. 3 when the rankings are released.
Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 30
Last week: Lost 43–42 vs. Pittsburgh
This week: at Wake Forest
Best wins: vs. No. 3 Louisville, at No. 17 Florida State, at No. 18 Auburn
Losses: vs. Pittsburgh
Case for: The biggest case for Clemson to stay in the top four is that it beat Louisville. That game keeps the Tigers in control of their own destiny. If they win the ACC, they will be in the playoff. For now, Clemson has a much better strength of schedule than Louisville thanks to its nonconference matchup with Auburn, and better wins too—not to mention the head-to-head advantage. The fact that the Tigers' wins over Florida State and Auburn came on the road helps keep those victories important despite Florida State's lack of wins over good teams and Auburn's letdown at Georgia. The next two weeks won't do much to help Clemson, so its goal should simply be to not let one loss turn into two.
Case against: Clemson is behind both Ohio State and Michigan due to fewer top-tier wins and because the Tigers have the worst loss out of the three teams. It may have been a close last-second defeat, but so were both Michigan's and Ohio State's and each of those were on the road while Clemson's came at home. The Tigers don't have a top-25 strength of schedule, let alone top 10, so that doesn't bump them over either Big Ten school.
Consensus: In. Like Michigan, Clemson benefits from other top teams losing, namely Washington.
Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 64
Last week: Won 44–12 vs. Wake Forest
This week: at Houston
Best wins: vs. No. 17 Florida State
Losses: at No. 5 Clemson
Case for: Losses by three teams ahead of Louisville put the Cardinals back into consideration for a playoff spot. However, it will likely take one more Clemson defeat for Louisville to make it in. The case for the Cardinals is that they have taken care of business against a weak schedule outside of Clemson and they have the likely Heisman Trophy winner in Lamar Jackson. Advanced statistics prefer Louisville to Washington, as the Cardinals rank No. 4 in the S&P+ ratings compared to Washington at No. 7 (Alabama, Michigan and Ohio State are ranked 1–3).
Case against: The challenges for Louisville from a playoff standpoint have been evident since the first rankings were released. The committee doesn't value the Cardinals' schedule in the slightest, and with Clemson losing, even the one loss can't be looked at the same way the committee viewed Texas A&M's defeat to Alabama in the initial rankings. Florida State hasn't done anything to prove it is an elite team, and that's Louisville's best win. The Cardinals' strength of schedule is so bad that it's even worse than Washington's. The committee will put Louisville ahead of the Huskies, but if you look closely, the two aren't separated by much. The biggest difference is losing to Clemson on the road is better than losing to USC at home.
Consensus: Out. It will take a little more luck for Louisville to make the national semifinals. The inability to win a conference title unless Clemson loses another game could loom large. It wouldn't be a huge shock if two-loss Wisconsin jumps Louisville this week either.
Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 11
Last week: Won 48–3 vs. Illinois
This week: at Purdue
Best wins: vs. No. 16 LSU, No. 19 Nebraska
Losses: vs. No. 2 Ohio State, at No. 4 Michigan
Case for: Wisconsin has been impressive all season and have something that neither Louisville nor Washington have—two wins against top-20 teams. The reason the Badgers make the jump ahead of Washington is strength of schedule. Wisconsin's SOS is 53 spots better than Louisville's and 52 better than Washington's. The two losses the Badgers suffered both came at the hands of team's currently in the playoff field, and Wisconsin will likely have an opportunity to defeat one of them (or Penn State) in the Big Ten title game.
Case against: Louisville, Wisconsin and Washington are all in the same tier right now. I don't think one is significantly better than another. It could just as easily go Washington, Louisville, then Wisconsin when the rankings are released. The biggest knock on the Badgers is their lack of a top-10 win and the fact that they have two losses, despite whom those losses were against.
Consensus: Out. Wisconsin needs to win the Big Ten championship to make the playoff.
Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 63
Last week: Lost 26–13 vs. No. 15 USC
This week: vs. Arizona State
Best wins: at No. 11 Utah
Losses: vs. No. 15 USC
Case for: The Huskies have one road victory over a top-15 team and are still in the driver's seat to win the Pac-12. A loss to a ranked USC team isn't the worst thing ever, but it was a game the Huskies really could've used.
Case against: Washington had a chance to establish itself with a ranked team coming to its stadium, but the Huskies fell flat. The only reason they aren't eliminated from playoff contention is all the other losses in the top 10. Washington's strength of schedule is now one spot better than Louisville's, and a visit to No. 20 Washington State in a couple weeks will help that even more. But it doesn't change the fact that the schedule is still pretty bad relative to other contenders. Falling to USC a massive blown opportunity, and because the Huskies don't have multiple top notch wins, they are going to need help.
Consensus: Out. Washington could still be as high as No. 5, but it's more likely it will be No. 6 or No. 7 this week.
Penn State (8–2)
Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 29
Last week: Won 45–31 at Indiana
This week: at Rutgers
Best wins: vs. No. 2 Ohio State
Losses: at Pittsburgh, at No. 4 Michigan
Case for: Penn State narrowly edges out Oklahoma for the No. 8 spot. The reason is simple: Penn State has a win over the No. 2 team in the country while Oklahoma doesn't have a single win over a ranked opponent. The Sooners also got blown out by the same Ohio State team the Nittany Lions beat. Penn State escaped the chaos of the weekend with a comeback victory in Indiana to stay on track with Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten East. The Nittany Lions' strength of schedule is solid, and they should win their final two contests of the regular season.
Case against: Penn State didn't look overly impressive against Indiana and won't have an opportunity for a big win in the next two weeks. Oklahoma, however, has games against two ranked foes. Should the Sooners win both games, they will likely pass the Nittany Lions. The only real shot James Franklin's squad has to make the playoff is if Ohio State beats Michigan to send Penn State to the Big Ten title game. A win over Wisconsin in Indianapolis would certainly make the committee consider the Nittany Lions for the playoff.
Consensus: Out. Penn State has to win the Big Ten to have a shot.