It's Monday, the Monday after the Saturday that shook up the college football rankings again. In The Game, #2 Ohio State beat #3 Michigan in thrilling (if not entirely satisfying) fashion. In the AP Poll released on Sunday, Michigan fell, but not far, from 3rd to 5th. That allowed both Clemson and Washington to move up to #3 and #4, respectively. It stands to reason that the rankings from the College Football Playoff Committee would follow suit.
Which is all well and good... until next weekend. On Saturday, Penn State will take on Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship game. Yes, even though Ohio State sits at 11-1, the lone blemish on their schedule came at the hands of 10-2 Penn State. So while the Nittany Lions have a lesser overall record, both teams have the same 8-1 conference record. Penn State wins the tie-breaker by virtue of having beaten the Buckeyes.
So let's play this out a little further. Penn State wins the Big 10 Championship and has 11 wins against 2 losses. Per the committee guidelines, they "place an emphasis on winning conference
championships, strength of schedule and head-to-head competition when comparing
teams with similar records and pedigree". Ohio State, though probably the better team, has the same number of wins but lacks a conference championship and lost head-to-head. Could that mean Penn State squeezes into the playoffs? If so, who would they squeeze out?
It's hard to make an argument to keep out Clemson. Assuming they beat Virginia Tech for the ACC Championship, a 12-1 Tigers team that had been ranked #2 earlier in the season by the CFP has a very strong case. What about Washington? The Huskies have been hanging around the peripheries of the playoffs since the first rankings placed them 5th. But a win against Colorado in the PAC-12 Championship gives them a 12th win and that coveted conference championship. Their lone loss was to a resurgent USC team that now ranks #10 in the AP Poll.
So it would appear to come down to PSU vs OSU. In spite of their records, it would be hard for Ohio State to make the case that they are more deserving considering their loss to Penn State. The opposite is true for Penn State: how can the team that they beat be going to the playoffs instead of them?
Of course, this is all speculation. If this college season has taught us anything, it's to expect the unexpected. Well, except an Alabama loss.