The second College Football Playoff rankings of 2017 came out Tuesday and to no one’s surprise, Wisconsin was ranked No. 8
The playoff committee, deeply unimpressed by Wisconsin’s less-than-stellar strength of schedule, placed four one-loss teams ahead of the undefeated Badgers.
While expected, Wisconsin’s ranking set off the typical handwringing amongst the fan base and national punditry about whether or not the Badgers would make the CFP if they run the table the rest of the way.
Bud Elliott over at our parent SB Nation site is pretty convinced that a 13–0 Wisconsin would make the College Football Playoff. America’s third least-favorite sports blowhard, Colin Cowherd, agrees.
Me? Man, I’m not so sure.
Elliott already made the case for Wisconsin, so let’s take a look at the teams ahead of (and immediately behind) the Badgers. For now, the discussion will just center on the how each of their schedules may play out and what that means for Wisconsin’s chances.
Note: All participation in title games is hypothetical; all rankings are CFP.
1. Georgia (9–0 overall, 6–0 SEC); Remaining games: at No. 10 Auburn, vs. Kentucky, at Georgia Tech, SEC title game
2. Alabama (9–0 overall, 6–0 SEC); Remaining games: at No. 16 Mississippi State, vs. Mercer, at No. 10 Auburn, SEC title game
3. Notre Dame (8–1 overall; Should be in the B1G); Remaining games: at No. 7 Miami, vs. Navy, at Stanford
4. Clemson (8–1 overall, 6–1 ACC); Remaining games: vs. Florida State, vs. Citadel, at South Carolina, ACC title game
5. Oklahoma (8–1 overall, 5–1 Big 12); Remaining games: vs. No. 6 TCU, at Kansas, vs. West Virginia, Big 12 title game
6. TCU (8–1 overall, 5–1 Big 12); Remaining games: at No. 5 Oklahoma, at Texas Tech, vs. Baylor, Big 12 title game
7. Miami (8–0 overall, 6–0 ACC); Remaining games: vs. No. 3 Notre Dame, vs. Virginia, at Pitt, ACC title game
9. Washington (8–1 overall, 5–1 Pac-12); Remaining games: at Stanford, vs. Utah, vs. No. 19 Washington State, Pac-12 title game
10. Auburn (7–2 overall, 5–1 SEC); Remaining games: vs. No. 1 Georgia, vs. UL-Monroe, vs. No. 2 Alabama, SEC title game
Now, let’s make some (fan-enraging) assumptions:
1. Any of the above teams that win out, with the exception of Washington, will finish ahead of an unbeaten Wisconsin in the final CFP rankings. Bank it.
Don’t believe me? Who from the following list is Wisconsin leap-frogging?
An undefeated SEC champion? Nope.
Ratings darling Notre Dame? C’mon.
A one-loss, reigning national champion Clemson looking to defend its title? No.
A one-loss Big 12 champion with multiple quality wins on its résumé? Seems very unlikely, particularly if that champion is blue-blooded Oklahoma.
An undefeated and resurgent Miami squad that dispatched both Notre Dame and Clemson? That team would be at least the No. 2 seed.
Wait, even a two-loss Auburn, you ask? Yep. A two-loss SEC champion Auburn, with two wins over Georgia and a win over Alabama, makes the playoff and probably jumps over the Badgers on the way there.
2. Eliminators—luckily for Wisconsin, the CFP top 10 is a circular firing squad of hellfire, brimstone, and mutually assured destruction.
Notre Dame-Clemson-Miami could all eliminate each other (with at least one guaranteed elimination among the three). At least one (or both) of Oklahoma-TCU will eliminate the other. Georgia-Alabama-Auburn are also theoretically eliminators, but unfortunately, the SEC could also grab two slots.
So what are the nightmarish doomsday scenarios that keep Wisconsin out of the playoff?
Georgia (or Alabama), Notre Dame, Clemson, and Oklahoma (or TCU) all win out
The simplest, most obvious scenario is for four of the teams currently ahead of the Badgers to all win out. In doing so, they would each grab at least one top-10 win (the SEC and Big 12 teams would likely grab two). The SEC, ACC, and Big 12 teams would be conference champions. As noted above, Wisconsin is not jumping any of them.
Remember, Miami does not fit this scenario. An undefeated Hurricane squad definitely makes the CFP, but if the ‘Canes win out, they knock out both Notre Dame and Clemson along the way. With the SEC and Big 12 also beating each other up, that would likely plow the way for a 13–0 Wisconsin squad to make the playoff.
The Alabama Scenario: Notre Dame, Clemson, and Oklahoma/TCU win out, Alabama loses a close SEC title game to Georgia or a close Iron Bowl to SEC champion Auburn
Assuming both teams win out to the SEC Championship Game, it is more likely than not that Georgia and Alabama will be Nos. 1 and 2 in the CFP rankings going into the game.
The playoff committee has so far avoided placing two teams from the same conference into the tournament, but with Georgia and ‘Bama atop the rankings, a close “instant classic” game might convince the committee to include the loser in the field.
The Tide may have another path as a second SEC squad in the CFP. If both teams win their next two games, the 2017 Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn becomes a de facto play-in game to serve as the West champion in the SEC title game.
So what if Auburn wins its other two regular-season games, ekes out a “W” over the Tide in the Iron Bowl and grabs a victory in the SEC championship? That leaves Alabama 11–1 with its only loss being to the eventual SEC champion.
Last year, the CFP set the precedent of a non-conference champion in the field when the committee selected Ohio State as a tribute for the semifinal game against Clemson. Expect to hear rumblings from down south if the Tide’s only loss is a close one to Georgia or Auburn.
So who should Wisconsin fans root for?
Wisconsin fans should be going full-tilt “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” over the next few weeks. Chaos, as they say, is a ladder, and Badgers fans should be rooting for as much chaos as the universe can muster.
- Miami over Notre Dame this weekend. 13–0 Wisconsin > 10–2 Notre Dame for a CFP spot. From there, the ACC becomes a bit of an afterthought; if they win out, only one of Miami or Clemson is getting a birth since they would have play each other in the ACC title game.
- Actually, anybody over Notre Dame. The Alabama scenario aside, only four of the Power Five conferences can be represented in the CFP. Inclusion of the Irish drops that down to three. The SEC will have a representative, period. That leaves two slots for the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-12. Taking Notre Dame out of the picture opens things up quite a bit for Wisconsin.
- Georgia over Auburn this weekend. A third loss eliminates the Tigers from consideration, regardless of how they do down the stretch.
- Any crap team for the upset. Any really terrible loss from here on out will sink the season for a contender. Go Mercer. Up the Citadel. Good luck, Virginia, Kansas, etc. But never Baylor. Screw Baylor, now and always.
- TCU and Oklahoma to beat each other this week and in the Big 12 championship.
What about Washington?
Let’s say one each of Alabama/Georgia, Notre Dame/Clemson/Miami, and Oklahoma/TCU grab three of the four playoff slots. If Wisconsin and Washington both win out, I suspect it comes down to style, but the Badgers (as the undefeated team) would have the leg up.
While this is all fun, none of it matters if Wisconsin doesn’t win out. With four (three-and-a-half?) tough games remaining on the slate, that’s no mean feat. All Wisconsin can do is win the games it plays.
And hope for a little chaos along the way.