Ohio State has very likely punched its ticket for the College Football Playoff already. Now the big questions are who they might play and where.
There are still a lot of moving parts, but heading into Championship Game week, we have a decent sense for the most likely scenarios.
The first variable is whether Ohio State beats Wisconsin, and by how much. A loss could send the Buckeyes tumbling down to No. 3 or 4, or possibly out of the picture altogether. A decisive win would likely keep them at No. 1, while a close win could leave them vulnerable to getting jumped by LSU.
The general consensus right now seems to be that LSU and Ohio State would still get in, even with a close loss this weekend.
But unlike in some previous years, the other four Power 5 championship games will also have a say in who might get into the Playoff field. That means there are a LOT of moving parts.
First, some ground rules based on history. There are enough unbeaten and one-loss teams that it’s very unlikely that anyone gets in as a two-loss team, conference champion or not.
Teams like Alabama, Oregon, Wisconsin, Penn State, Minnesota, Florida, and Notre Dame are basically not in the picture if history holds true.
In the SEC, the LSU Tigers will likely get into the Playoff unless they suffer a blowout loss. Georgia would get in with a win, but be out with a loss.
The Big 12’s title game pairs Oklahoma, who would likely be in if they win and LSU wins. Baylor might be able to get in with a win and an LSU win, but might also need Utah to lose.
In the Pac-12, Utah might be able to get in ahead of Oklahoma if the Utes win and LSU wins. But they would seemingly have a better chance to get in if Baylor wins the Big 12 game.
Clemson likely has to win against 29-point underdog Virginia to get in. They’re in with a win and quite possibly out with a loss.
Before we dive into some specific scenarios, please note: no matter what you’ve heard, the top seed does NOT specifically get to choose where it plays.
The College Football Playoff committee will work to ensure that the No. 1 team does not have to face an opponent in a location that could give the No. 4 seed a home-field advantage.
That means that if OSU is ranked 1 and Utah is 4, the Buckeyes will almost certainly play in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. If the Bucks are No. 1 and face a team like Georgia or Clemson, they would play in the Fiesta Bowl instead.
Assuming the committee doesn’t do anything too crazy this Tuesday, like jumping LSU over OSU, here’s a look at what might happen in a few different scenarios this weekend.
All favorites win
Ohio State, LSU, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Utah all win.
The Buckeyes likely remain No. 1, although a close Buckeye win and a blowout LSU win could give the Tigers the top seed.
If OSU stays atop the poll, they would face either No. 4 Oklahoma or Utah in the Peach Bowl. The Utes are currently one spot ahead of the Sooners, but OU will probably end up with a better resume.
Then it’s just a matter of whether the committee prioritizes resume (which favors Oklahoma) or the more complete team (which favors Utah, which has a defense).
Either way, a top-seeded Buckeye team would go to the Peach Bowl, leaving LSU and Clemson to play in the Fiesta Bowl.
If LSU jumped the Buckeyes, OSU would face Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.
Ohio State, LSU, Clemson, Baylor win
You can repeat the conversation about LSU and OSU being ranked No. 1 from above.
Clemson is a clear No. 3.
Baylor needs to win the Big 12 title game, and likely also needs Oregon to beat Utah in order to get the Bears in.
Utah was ranked three spots ahead of Baylor last week, meaning that the committee sees a big difference between the teams. If Utah wins, Baylor would have to do something pretty spectacular to make that leap.
In this, the No. 1 team would play Baylor in the Peach and No. 2 would face Clemson in the Fiesta.
Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia win
It sure seems like this would end with two SEC teams making the field. Georgia would clearly be in, likely as the No. 3 seed.
Clemson would be No. 2 and Ohio State No. 1.
That would leave the Buckeyes facing No. 4 LSU in the Fiesta Bowl and Clemson taking on Georgia in the Peach Bowl.
If Georgia blows LSU out, the Tigers might get left out. But given Georgia’s glacial offense, that’s not particularly likely.
Oklahoma, Baylor, and Utah should all be rooting very, very hard for LSU this week.
Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Utah win
This is the worst-case scenario for Ohio State, pairing a Buckeye loss with a lot of resume-building wins. But there’s a decent chance that the Buckeyes still get in the field if they lose close.
They would probably be No. 3 or 4, with Clemson at No. 1 and Georgia at No. 2. The committee might shuffle these numbers a little to ensure that Georgia and LSU aren’t playing a rematch in the semifinals.
If OSU is the No. 4 seed, they would almost certainly play whichever southern team in the Peach Bowl. If they’re No. 3, they’d likely head to the Fiesta.
All underdogs win
This is the kind of beautiful chaos that makes college football the best sport in the world. But it’s not likely to happen.
If it does, Oklahoma and Utah would definitely be out.
Georgia might be No. 1, with Ohio State and LSU at 2 and 3 in some order, and either Clemson or Baylor at 4.
Either way, in that case the Buckeyes and LSU would play in the Fiesta Bowl.