After a season chock-full of upsets, weird results and tremendous twists, the final (and official) College Football Playoff bracket is almost set.
Here’s what we know: Georgia and Michigan are likely locks, regardless of what happens in their conference championship games. TCU, barring a blowout loss in the Big 12 Championship Game, is likely in as well. (Granted, this last part is up for debate.)
The No. 4 spot, however, is very much up for debate depending on what happens next.
We have a clear favorite for that spot, and that favorite will be addressed and celebrated momentarily. We also have a slew of teams lingering, hoping for enough chaos to take shape.
To help us fill this final CFP vacancy, we asked B/R readers to provide us with their No. 4 team. Though the answers were limited, the passion was robust. And the possibilities, while finite, might surprise.
Let us explore.
Fight On...to the Postseason
Response: Why is this even a debate? If SC wins the conference, then they will have wins against four teams ranked in the Top 25 and one loss by one point on the road against a top-15 team. They will have finished the season beating three teams in a row ranked No. 16 or higher [at the time of the game]. No other team in the Top 10 will have that résumé. Unless the opposition is undefeated then this really shouldn’t be a conversation.
We begin in the rightful, obvious place. Also, thanks to @konscious7 for doing a lot of the work when it comes to the assessment.
Here’s what we know: USC is in the playoff if it wins the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday night. No drama. No debate. This team with this résumé is getting in with a conference championship. The Trojans can end this debate quickly with a win.
USC’s strength of schedule is playoff-worthy, and it’s only gotten better. While the Trojans are the only projected playoff team to have a loss (at least right now), a conference championship would put them over the top.
A win would also allow USC to avenge its only loss of the year, which isn’t completely necessary, but it doesn’t hurt. USC doesn’t need any help to make the playoff. It needs to beat an extremely talented Utah squad that gave it fits.
It won’t be easy, and a win shouldn’t be assumed.
On that note...
Response: I would say Ohio State if USC loses to Utah
Timing is everything, and Ohio State picked the absolute worst time to lose a football game to an excellent football team by a lot of points.
The Buckeyes’ dud against Michigan was sizable on a few fronts. For starters, any loss, regardless of magnitude, would have bumped Ohio State from the Big Ten Championship Game and taken away a guarantee to make the playoff.
Because the loss was so lopsided, however, Ryan Day’s team also really didn’t help itself on the résumé front.
A close defeat to Michigan, even at home, would have been more understood. It’s harder to stomach a 22-point defeat that got out of hand. Still, despite the performance, Ohio State is in a reasonable position.
In fact, the Buckeyes are in a more favorable spot than many believe.
A USC loss to Utah would give the Trojans their second loss. It would also derail the conference champion argument, which is a huge piece of the puzzle. We need to see how the Pac-12 Championship Game unfolds, but Ohio State would be in an incredibly favorable spot to still make the playoff if this transpires.
Ohio State fans, I know it hasn’t been a fun week. But all hope is not lost. In fact, if USC loses, the Buckeyes are probably back in business.
No Elephants in the Room
Response: Not Alabama
This sentiment was also an extremely popular reply, and we should talk through this as a group.
To be clear, Alabama has significantly more playoff life than it did weeks ago. Losses from Clemson, Tennessee, Oregon, LSU and others have paved a potential miracle path for the Tide that didn’t seem possible in early November.
Heck, Alabama even got a blowout in the Ohio State-Michigan game. TCU and USC have continued to win, though that’s about the only thing that hasn’t gone Alabama’s way of late.
With all that said, I still don’t believe Alabama will find a way in. Even if USC loses to provide an avenue for another team, it would be shocking if the selection committee went with Alabama over Ohio State.
We will know Tuesday night just how badly that loss hurt Ohio State. If Alabama is ahead of the Buckeyes entering the weekend, however, look out. If not, we’re probably done here.
The argument for Alabama is a mixed bag. The Crimson Tide lost two games against good teams (Tennessee and LSU) by a combined four points. The argument against this team is that its best wins, Texas and Ole Miss, aren’t exactly dazzling.
Do I believe Nick Saban’s team is going to make the playoff?
Would I want to see it simply to see how mad the entire college football world might be?
Rocky Top (Four)
So, this won’t happen.
I appreciate the thought, @MicahAult, but this is not going to transpire. You probably already know this, but I want to be clear on where things stand heading into the final weekend.
In terms of résumé, however, this is worth looking over one last time. And if we’re going to talk about Alabama’s remote chance of crashing the playoff, we should at least discuss Tennessee’s unique position.
Specifically, we should question whether the Vols (No. 10 last week) should be ahead of Alabama (No. 7 last week).
The answer is complicated, though it starts with a single outcome. Tennessee beat Alabama, and the two ended the regular season with 10 wins apiece. That cannot be the only discussion point, but it’s a meaningful piece of data.
Another piece involves LSU. Alabama lost to the Tigers in Baton Rouge; Tennessee clobbered LSU 40-13 in that same venue.
The issue for Tennessee is the same issue Ohio State is facing: The Vols’ second loss against South Carolina was a nightmare.
Tennessee lost 63-38, and it put a massive dent in their résumé. South Carolina isn’t a bad team, but this outcome stings.
Ultimately, this one depends on what results you value most throughout the year. Tennessee has a compelling case, even with two losses. But the committee will have a hard time seeing beyond that second defeat, and a playoff appearance simply isn’t possible.