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Fourth & Long: After a Weekend Filled with Upsets, The Playoff Picture is More Murky than Ever

(1) Clemson Falls to Undefeated (4) Notre Dame

Whew! What a weekend in college football. (4) Notre Dame pulled the upset of the year in the game of the year by beating previously (1) Clemson, minus Trevor Lawrence. That wasn’t the only big game, (8) Florida used a dominant second half to pretty much crush (5) Georgia’s playoff hopes. (9) BYU absolutely crushed (21) Boise State, 51-17, in what was supposed to be their toughest game of the year. On top of the three big games, we learned (13) Indiana might be for real after beating Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines convincingly 38-21. Finally, (6) Cincinnati, (3) Ohio State, and (7) Texas A&M solidified their resumes for the College Football Playoff.

With all that happened this weekend, and with how crazy and surprising this season has been, the playoff picture is more muddy than ever. Some questions to ponder before we dive into all the different playoff scenarios:

  • How will the Playoff Committee treat Clemson’s loss to Notre Dame, considering Trevor Lawrence was on the sideline?
  • Is any Big 12 team worthy of some playoff consideration?
  • With Cincinnati and BYU staying unbeaten, is this the Group of Five’s best chance to land a team in the Playoff?
  • Ohio State and Justin Fields have dominated their opponents this season. However, the defense allowed 27 points to a bad Rutgers team. With that being said, are the Buckeyes on the same level as Clemson, Notre Dame, and Alabama?
  • With the Pac-12 starting play this past weekend, does any team have a shot to prove themselves in the playoff?
  • Finally, we know Jim Harbaugh is on the hot seat in Ann Arbor, but was Saturday’s loss to Indiana the final straw?

Playoff Scenarios

  1. Alabama and Ohio State Finish Unbeaten, and Clemson tops The Irish in the ACC Championship: In this scenario, which seems the most likely at this point, the playoff picture is pretty straightforward. After finishing unbeaten, Alabama and Ohio State take the top two spots. After that, if Notre Dame were to win out but lose to Clemson in the ACC Championship game, it’s very likely the top four seeds would be (1) Alabama, (2) Ohio State, (3) Clemson, and (4) Notre Dame. This scenario would give us a rematch of last year’s semi-final where the Tigers snuck by the Buckeyes 29-23
  2. Notre Dame sweeps Clemson, Alabama wins out, Ohio State wins out, and Cincinnati and BYU win out: This is also one of the more popular scenarios being floated around. Alabama would stay at the top spot and secure the (1) seed, Notre Dame beats Clemson for the second time this year to finish undefeated and hop Ohio State for the (2) seed. Ohio State cruises through the rest of their games to get the (3) seed. In this situation the fourth and final seed could come down to an unbeaten Pac-12 team, Oklahoma State, if they win out, and Cincinnati and BYU. It’s highly likely that Cincinnati and BYU will finish the season unbeaten. However the Cowboys still have to travel to (18) Oklahoma and win a Big-12 Championship. If this were to happen, the committee would surely give the four seed to the Cowboys. However if the Cowboys fall again in Big-12 play, we could see our first ever Group of Five team in the playoffs. The only thing that could keep Cincinnati out would be an unbeaten Pac-12 champion. Even then it would be a close call between Cincinnati and Oregon/USC.
  3. Alabama gets tripped up by Auburn in the Iron Bowl, but go on to beat Florida in the SEC Championship. Also, Clemson beats Notre Dame in a rematch in the ACC Championship: We’re finally starting to get wild in our playoff pictures. In this one, an unbeaten Ohio State team takes the (1) seed, followed by Alabama, most likely, and Clemson snags the three seed. The fourth spot would come down to a two-loss Florida Team, a one-loss Notre Dame, an unbeaten Oregon team, Cincinnati, and a one loss Oklahoma State team. With how the committee loves to play the “what have you done for me lately” game, the fourth and final seed would likely go to the one-loss Big-12 Champions, Oklahoma State. The committee has a bias towards conference champions, even though they shouldn’t. Cincinnati and Notre Dame would be the first two teams out in this scenario.
  4. Alabama wins the SEC unbeaten, Ohio State loses to Indiana and misses out on the B1G Championship game, Clemson beats Notre Dame in the rematch, and each conference other than the SEC (Alabama) has one loss: In this scenario Alabama would obviously get the number one seed, and Clemson and Notre Dame make the playoffs because of the one loss Buckeyes. This would leave the last seed to go to an unbeaten Indiana, an unbeaten Cincinnati, a one-loss Oklahoma State, and an unbeaten Oregon. Based on the committees track record, they would likely choose an unbeaten Oregon. Indiana, just won’t have the resume to make the playoffs. The first two out would be Cincinnati and Indiana.
  5. Alabama loses to Auburn, and in the SEC championship, Notre Dame Sweeps the Tigers of Clemson, Ohio State goes undefeated, Oklahoma State falls to Oklahoma, and no Pac-12 team remains unbeaten: Now we’re really getting into all the different scenarios. Notre Dame would get the first seed followed by another unbeaten team, Ohio State. Alabama would then lose to Florida in the SEC championship. With that outcome, Florida would stake their claim for the three seed. Finally Oregon runs the table in the Pac-12, Cincinnati and BYU stay unbeaten and Oklahoma State wins the Big 12 with one loss. The committee would then look at those three remaining teams, and likely take an unbeaten Oregon out of the Pac-12. The decision between Oregon and Cincinnati would be incredibly hard to predict, but the fact that Oregon would win the Pac-12, and Cincinnati would win the weaker AAC, it’s likely Oregon would make the playoffs. The first two teams out would be Cincinnati and Oklahoma State.
  6. Alabama finishes with two losses, Ohio State loses to Indiana, Oklahoma State loses at Oklahoma, and Clemson wins the rematch vs Notre Dame in the ACC Championship: In this crazy, yet possible scenario, Alabama and Ohio State would be out of the playoffs. Clemson would get the first seed, Notre Dame would be the second seed, Cincinnati would secure the three seed, and the fourth seed would come down to a one-loss Florida, BYU, and a one-loss Ohio State. In this scenario, the committee would most likely give Florida the four seed. The first two teams out would be Ohio State and BYU.
  7. Indiana beats Ohio State but loses the B1G championship to Purdue, Alabama stays unbeaten, Oklahoma State finishes with two losses, no Pac-12 team would go without a loss, Cincinnati and BYU Stay Unbeaten, and Notre Dame sweeps Clemson: In this scenario, Alabama would secure the one seed. Notre Dame would get the two seed. After those two, the scenario really comes down to the committee’s choice. With how they have chosen teams in previous years, it’s likely Cincinnati would snag the third seed, and Ohio State would sneak in as the fourth seed with one loss. The first two out would likely be BYU and Clemson.
  8. The Most Likely Scenario: Ohio State and Alabama remain unbeaten, Clemson beats Notre Dame in the ACC championship, Cincinnati stays unbeaten, along with BYU, Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma, Oregon goes undefeated in the Pac-12, and Texas A&M finishes with one loss: This one is the most likely, yet also the hardest to predict. The top two seeds would be etched in stone with Alabama taking the top spot followed by Ohio State. Then the committee has to do the hardest part: pick between a one-loss Clemson, a one-loss Notre Dame, an unbeaten Cincinnati and BYU, an unbeaten Oregon team, and a one-loss Texas A&M team. The Aggies could have the best chance here as their loss came to Alabama, which pretty much sidelines them from the SEC Championship. In this wild-yet-probable ending, the Clemson Tigers would secure the third seed, and Oregon would secure the fourth seed. The committee loves conference champions, so Oregon gets the edge in this scenario. The first two out would be Notre Dame and Cincinnati.

Today we only covered eight differenct scenarios, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of how the season might play out. Cincinnati and BYU fans won’t like their playoff chances, but playing in a weaker conference hurts those two. It’s possible Cincinnati can sneak in, but it doesn’t really seem to be a scenario that allows BYU in the playoffs. Those two deserve their gripes. They can’t control who they play, but between Cincinnati and BYU, the Bearcats have the stronger schedule. With that being said, it’s going to take a near miracle of scenarios for Cincinnati to sneak in. This season has been unlike any other considering the virus issues, the unlikely upsets, and Clemson finally lost an ACC game. College football is going to have a crazy final set of weeks to see if the playoff picture gets any more clear. I doubt it, and the committee will have a couple huge decisions to make come season’s end.

My Playoff Picture*: (If the season were to end today)

  1. Alabama
  2. Notre Dame
  3. Ohio State
  4. Cincinnati

First Two Out

  1. Clemson
  2. Oklahoma State

Follow Me on Twitter: @BrownlojCLE

Be sure to tune into The Fourth & Long podcast this week on Tuesday and Friday night. We will try our hands in sorting out the playoff picture, recap the week 10 games, including the game of the year in South Bend, and also get into a couple of our segments. Follow the Podcast on Twitter: @4thandlongpod

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