The College Football Playoff is heading toward its most chaotic finish yet and there is nothing the committee can do to stop it

The latest College Football Playoff ranking is out and the biggest thing we learned is that college football is heading towards a major controversy and there is nothing the playoff committee can do about it.

In the latest ranking, Alabama is still the clear No. 1 team as the lone undefeated team from a Power-5 conference. After that things get messy as the next nine teams include four one-loss teams with a legit shot to win their conference, one one-loss team with an awesome resume and almost no chance to win their conference, and four two-loss teams that all still have a good shot to be champions of a power conference.

That’s nine teams that will all have a strong claim to one of the four playoff spots if they win their remaining games.

Before we get to the scenarios, here is the top ten for reference and where each team stands:

  1. Alabama (10-0; SEC champs if they win out)
  2. Ohio State (9-1)
  3. Michigan (9-1; Big Ten champs if they win out)
  4. Clemson (9-1; ACC champs if they win out)
  5. Louisville (9-1)
  6. Washington (9-1; Pac-12 champs if they win out)
  7. Wisconsin (8-2; Big Ten champs if they win out)
  8. Penn State (8-2; Big Ten champs if they win out and Ohio State beats Michigan)
  9. Oklahoma (8-2; Big 12 champs if they win out)
  10. Colorado (8-2; Pac-12 champs if they win out)

Now here is how the playoff would play out based on a few of the most likely scenarios. In each case we are assuming no more major upsets in the final two weeks of the regular season, which is a huge “if” based on what we saw this past weekend:

If Ohio State beats Michigan.

The Ohio State-Michigan game is the biggest wild-card game of the remaining regular-season contests. If Ohio State beats Michigan, the committee could be forced to take two teams from the Big Ten conference, which in turn would mean that at least two conference champions would be left out of the playoff.

If Ohio State beats Michigan and Penn State wins their final two games (at Rutgers, vs Michigan State), Penn State is in the Big Ten Championship game.

If Ohio State finishes the regular season with a win over Michigan and ranked No. 2, it is hard to imagine a scenario where they are not in the playoff. Likewise, if Penn State has just one loss, has a win over Ohio State, and is Big Ten champs, it will be hard to keep them out.

But at the same time, will the committee take two Big Ten teams and leave out Louisville and Washington? That final spot is going to be a controversy no matter which team the committee picks and it would look like this (assuming these teams win remaining games and conference championships, if applicable):

  1. Alabama (SEC champ)
  2. Ohio State
  3. Clemson (ACC champ)
  4. Penn State (Big Ten champ), Washington (Pac-12 champ), or Louisville

If Michigan beats Ohio State.

This scenario is a little cleaner, in that it makes it less likely that the committee would take two Big Ten teams. However, it does increase the possibility of two ACC teams.

If Michigan beats Ohio State, the Wolverines would go to the Big Ten Championship game. Assuming they win that, they are in along with Alabama and Clemson.

But once again, the final spot is a mess. Based on the latest rankings, it would seem that Louisville would jump up. But would the committee take the Cardinals over the Pac-12 champ (Washington) or the Big 12 champ (Oklahoma)?

Under this scenario, the playoff looks like this:

  1. Alabama (SEC champ)
  2. Michigan (Big Ten champ)
  3. Clemson (ACC champ)
  4. Washington (one-loss Pac-12 champ), Oklahoma (two-loss Big 12 champ), or Louisville (one loss)

If Wisconsin wins the Big Ten championship.

If the Badgers win the Big Ten West and then beat Michigan, Ohio State, or Penn State in their conference championship game, arguments will ensue even before we get to the final spot.

If Wisconsin wins out, they will be the champs of arguably the best conference this year. They will also have two losses, but both of those losses were by one touchdown to two top teams in Ohio State and Michigan. The Badgers may have also avenged one of those losses in the Big Ten championship game.

Does that get the Badgers in? Maybe, but it is not a lock. It also means that both Ohio State and Michigan are probably out. Now we have a situation where a one-loss Washington team is probably in as the Pac-12 champ and the final spot comes down to two-loss Wisconsin, two-loss Oklahoma, or one-loss Louisville and that scenario would look like this:

  1. Alabama (SEC champ)
  2. Clemson (ACC champ)
  3. Washington (Pac-12 champ)
  4. Wisconsin (two-loss Big Ten champ), Oklahoma (two-loss Big 12 champ), or Louisville (one loss)

If Clemson loses the ACC Championship game.

If Clemson loses one of their remaining regular-season games (@Wake Forest, vs South Carolina) things are easy as Louisville would then go on to the ACC title game and would have the inside track to a spot in the playoff. But if Clemson loses the ACC Championship game, presumably against North Carolina, things get a little messy.

A Clemson loss likely guarantees playoff spots for the Big Ten champ, regardless of who it is, and the Pac-12 champ, assuming Washington wins out.

That would leave the final spot up for grabs among Louisville — who could be viewed as the de facto ACC champ — the second Big Ten team, and Oklahoma, if they win out. That scenario would look like this:

  1. Alabama (SEC champ)
  2. The Big Ten Champ (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, or Wisconsin)
  3. Washington (Pac-12 champ)
  4. Louisville (one loss), Oklahoma (two-loss Big 12 champ), or a second Big Ten team (Michigan or Ohio State)

There are other scenarios that could actually clear up the picture a bit, such as a second loss for Washington (although then a two-loss Colorado could become a player in the playoff hunt) or a third loss for Oklahoma (in which case Oklahoma State could start to have a case as a two-loss Big 12 champ).

But under most of the likely ways in which the season plays out, every scenario ends with 3-4 teams having a strong claim for either the final spot or one of the final two spots.

Of course, this would all be solved by an eight-team playoff: Give five spots to the champs of the Power-5 conferences and then name three at-large teams. Boom. Simple. But this is the NCAA we are talking about and simple is never preferred over chaos.

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