Until the Big Ten saved the day, that was a mostly non-competitive Saturday of championship games for the Power 5 conferences. Now, Ohio State’s 27-21 win against Wisconsin will set off the greatest debate in this country since everyone had an opinion about whether that dress was black-and-blue or white-and-gold, only if people really hated one of the dress colors.
Do you take Ohio State for the fourth playoff spot or Alabama? (USC probably doesn’t have the wins to get in the conversation and the committee has made it known what it thinks of UCF by putting it 14th last week, so there’s no need to even bring the Knights into the conversation.)
To me, the debate doesn’t seem that complicated, at least if the committee does what it has in the past. Ohio State is a conference champion with three wins (Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State) better than or at least even with Alabama’s best (LSU) this year. Yes, the Buckeyes have an ugly 31-point loss to Iowa, and the committee has never had to deal with a loss quite like that before, so who knows how that will be treated. But in the previous three years, the committee has repeatedly reinforced that who you beat is more important than who you’ve lost to. That might not be how you rank your teams, but it is how the committee has.
Alabama did not even get to its conference title game. And while many will point out that Ohio State didn’t last year and still got in, those aren’t exactly similar cases. The Crimson Tide doesn’t really have the résumé this year. Its best wins are LSU, Mississippi State and, at least in the eyes of the committee, Fresno State, and the Bulldogs will probably drop out of the top 25 after losing to Boise State in the Mountain West championship game. Ohio State last year had top-10 wins against Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Michigan, with only a 3-point loss to a top-10 Penn State.
So if I had to predict (and with the usual caveat that I’m not really sure how this is going to play out this year), I’d say the top four will be 1. Clemson, 2. Oklahoma, 3. Georgia and 4. Ohio State. If two teams are really as close as Alabama and Ohio State are, my gut is the committee will go with the one that won a conference championship.
ANYWAY, what does this mean for the Hokies? The Ohio State/Alabama debate could have an effect on Virginia Tech’s standing in the postseason. Here’s what to watch when the committee releases its playoff teams and New Year’s Six matchups Sunday afternoon with regards to the Hokies’ bowl destination:
1. Who is the top-ranked, non-playoff, non-champion from the SEC or Big Ten?
The top-ranked, non-playoff, non-league champion from the Big Ten or SEC will be the ACC’s opponent in the Orange Bowl. When that’s a Big Ten team, it opens up the Citrus Bowl for the ACC. But as a league champion, that Orange Bowl pick cannot be the Buckeyes this year, even if they miss the playoff.
So if Ohio State gets into the playoff over Alabama, the Crimson Tide is at No. 5. That means Alabama would play in the Orange Bowl and keep the ACC out of the Citrus Bowl.
If Alabama gets in the playoff and Ohio State’s fifth, as a league champion the Buckeyes can’t go to the Orange Bowl. So you’d have to check to see if Auburn or Wisconsin is the next highest-ranked team. If it’s Auburn, that closes off the Citrus Bowl. If it’s Wisconsin, that opens it up for the ACC, which affects things further down the totem poll.
2. Where is Notre Dame ranked?
As you may know, the Irish become part of the ACC’s bowl lineup if they don’t make a New Year’s Six game. This year, Notre Dame has to get into the top 12 to be in consideration for an at-large berth (or top 11 if UCF is ranked lower than 12th, since the top-ranked Group of 5 team is guaranteed a NY6 slot).
Notre Dame was 15th last week one spot behind UCF. Having not played a game, it would be hard for the Irish to move up. Will the committee drop TCU or Stanford a lot for losing in their championship games? And will it rethink its ranking of Washington (13th) and Notre Dame (15th) given the Irish’s 49-14 beatdown of what’s now a Pac-12 champion USC?
My guess is it would be hard to justify moving up an idle team that many spots, but the committee does what it does.
This is important because Notre Dame is a near-certainty to be picked first by whatever ACC-affiliated bowl gets the first crack at it.
3. How will the dominoes fall?
If Notre Dame makes a New Year’s Six game, then the Hokies are the likely pick for the Citrus Bowl if it comes open or the Camping World Bowl if it doesn’t. Both are in Orlando.
If Notre Dame doesn’t make a New Year’s Six game and the Citrus Bowl is open, the Irish will go there and the Hokies will end up in the Camping World Bowl.
If Notre Dame doesn’t make a New Year’s Six game and the Citrus Bowl is not open, the Irish will go to the Camping World Bowl, with Tech dropping down to the Tier I bowls. There, the TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville) seems like the most-likely destination, even though the Pinstripe (New York) remains a possibility, with the Sun (El Paso) and Belk (Charlotte) bowls unlikely given the Hokies’ recent appearances in those games.
The final College Football Playoff rankings show starts at noon on ESPN, which is when everything will start to fall into place.