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Big Ten in strong position for two playoff teams after latest CFP rankings

Thoughts on the fourth set of CFP rankings, including the Big Ten being in position for two playoff teams, Oklahoma's chances and the Pac-12's path to the playoff.
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The College Football Playoff selection committee released its latest set of rankings Tuesday night. Here are three thoughts from the playoff committee's fourth top 25:

1. There is a real chance the Big Ten could get two teams in the playoff

Michigan and Ohio State each scraped by with wins last week to set up the ultimate showdown of this year's college football season on Saturday. The No. 2 Buckeyes will play host to the No. 3 Wolverines in a game that will go far in determining one playoff spot. Wisconsin and Penn State both stayed on track with top-seven rankings, keeping the dream of two Big Ten teams in the playoff alive. It's important to remember that Penn State wins the Big Ten East with a victory this week and a Michigan loss, while Wisconsin wins the Big Ten West with a victory. Let's take a look at the reasonable scenarios that could land the Big Ten two playoff teams.

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The easiest way this happens is if Ohio State beats Michigan and Penn State beats Michigan State. This would send PSU to the conference title game to face Wisconsin. Ohio State would probably be in at 11–1 with four wins over ranked teams (including three top-10 wins), leaving the committee to decide whether the title game winner is more deserving than two of the following three teams: the Pac-12 winner (Washington, Washington State, Colorado or USC), Clemson and the Big 12 winner (Oklahoma or Oklahoma State). If Washington loses another game, whether to Washington State or the Pac-12 South champion, which will be either Colorado or USC, it makes the decision easy: The Big Ten champ should get in. 

If Michigan beats Ohio State and wins the Big Ten, then the Wolverines are the only Big Ten team that will make the playoff. If they lose to Wisconsin in the title game, however, it would create a scenario where the committee would compare two-loss Michigan (with four top-10 wins) against the same above group of teams. Michigan, at 11–2 with those wins over Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Colorado, would likely be selected over Oklahoma and a two-loss Pac 12 champion. The Wolverines would essentially become the nation's top two-loss team after Wisconsin, which would put Michigan in if either Washington or Clemson lose a game. 

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A Michigan win this week will eliminate Penn State from playoff contention. A loss by Wisconsin either this week or in the Big Ten title game will eliminate the Badgers.

2. Oklahoma rises, but can it actually make the playoff?

Oklahoma rose to No. 8 this week thanks to Louisville losing last Thursday, but the question remains as to whether the Sooners have a realistic chance to make the playoff. There is a path for them to make it, but a lot of chaos would have to take place within the top seven. 

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The simple answer is that it's not realistic to think Oklahoma will make the final top four. First things first, the Sooners need to beat No. 10 Oklahoma State next week. Next, Alabama and Michigan need to win out and take the top two spots in the rankings. This would eliminate Wisconsin and Penn State and make the committee decide between two-loss Ohio State, which beat Oklahoma, and the Sooners, who at this point would be Big 12 champions.

That alone still wouldn't be enough for Oklahoma. If Colorado wins out, winning the Pac 12, the Buffaloes would probably jump the Sooners. If Washington wins out, it would definitely take a playoff spot ahead of Oklahoma. So, the best thing for Oklahoma would be to have Colorado or Washington lose this week and for neither to win the Pac-12. The other option for the Sooners would see Clemson fall to South Carolina or lose in the ACC title game. Oklahoma should jump a two-loss Clemson.

The Sooners need to win big over the Cowboys and get a lot of help in these final two weeks to have a shot at the playoff.

3. The Pac-12 has two ways to jump into the playoff

The Pac-12 now has six teams ranked in the CFP top 25. Two of those teams have a legitimate chance to make the playoff: No. 5 Washington and No. 9 Colorado. By virtue of having three losses, No. 12 USC has zero chance to make the playoff (barring unprecedented chaos).

The path for Washington is simple: beat No. 23 Washington State on Friday and beat either USC or Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game. This should put the Huskies in the playoff. The only scenario in which that is not guaranteed is if Ohio State beats Michigan and Penn State beats Michigan State to advance to the Big Ten title game, which means the Big Ten champion (either Wisconsin or Penn State) would have two losses. This would put the committee in a very, very difficult spot. If that were to happen, don't assume that Clemson would automatically be in. The Tigers' next two games are against unranked teams.

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The path for Colorado is a little bit trickier but also very possible. Colorado must first beat No. 22 Utah to advance to the Pac-12 championship game. There it must beat either Washington or Washington State. The Buffaloes should hope that game is against Washington, as that would make for a more impressive win and would help the team's already solid strength of schedule.

If Colorado beats the Utes and the Huskies, it would still need a little help. The Buffaloes must root for Michigan to beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten. It helps Colorado's strength of schedule, as the Buffaloes lost to Michigan, and it eliminates Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State, as both the Badgers and Nittany Lions need conference championships to make it into the mix. If Clemson and Alabama also win out, it puts Alabama, Michigan and Clemson in as the first three seeds, leaving the committee to pick between Pac-12 champion Colorado and Big 12 champion Oklahoma for the final slot.

Colorado would have an advantage in wins over ranked teams, boasting victories over Washington, Utah, Stanford and Washington State, and it would most likely have a slight advantage in strength of schedule. Oklahoma would have wins over West Virginia and Oklahoma State. Each team has two "quality" losses: Colorado to Michigan and USC on the road, versus Oklahoma's home loss to Ohio State and neutral-site loss to Houston. 

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Full College Football Playoff rankings

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State

3. Michigan

4. Clemson

5. Washington

6. Wisconsin

7. Penn State

8. Oklahoma

9. Colorado

10. Oklahoma State

11. Louisville

12. USC

13. Auburn

14. Florida State

15. Florida 

16. Nebraska

17. Tennessee

18. West Virginia

19. Boise State

20. Houston

21. Western Michigan

22. Utah

23. Washington State

24. Stanford

25. Navy