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2016 Wild Card Recap

For 1 week we were geared up for an all 11-1 Wild Card Game. Alabama, Clemson, and Washington would all win their conference with 1 or fewer losses and Ohio State and Louisville would play-off in Columbus for that coveted 4th playoff spot.

But then Louisville lost. They were beat by the Houston Cougars, coming off their 3rd straight victory over a top 10 opponent.

Entering the final week of the regular season, the door opened for a few more teams to climb into the Wild Card Game and, hopefully, into the playoff.

  • Ohio State is playing in December no matter what, with only a 0.76% chance of losing to Michigan and then failing to qualify for the WCG.
  • Penn State is their most likely opponent. If they beat Michigan State on rivalry weekend but do not go to the Big Ten Championship, they’d get a rematch against the 10-2 Buckeyes at the home of the higher ranked team.
  • Louisville… is not out of it. At 9-2, and a victory over a strong Florida State team, the Cardinals are still leading contenders for a WCG spot and an outside playoff appearance.
  • Michigan, 10-1, is in the Big Ten Championship with a win. With a loss and a likely Penn State victory, they sit behind Ohio State among at-larges. Because of a rule forbidding WCG rematches where the lower ranked team lost, Michigan would be ineligible for the WCG. If they can’t beat the Buckeyes they’d need losses by both Penn State and Louisville
  • Oklahoma, 9-2, is in a similar position as Michigan. Without a Big 12 CCG to play in, a win over OK State would put the Sooners in prime position for the WCG, but an early-season loss to Ohio State would cause them to be passed over, leaving them to hope Ohio State makes the Big Ten title game
  • OK State 9-2, had no such early-season loss. But that also means they are ranked lower with a worse strength of schedule and are in danger even of being passed over by 3-loss teams should they manage a victory over Oklahoma.
  • USC has slightly longer odds though. If Michigan or Penn State (but not both) lose AND if Louisville and OK State both lose, then the Trojans, 9-3 after a victory over rival Notre Dame, would be in the driver’s seat.
  • Florida State, Auburn, and Nebraska have the longest odds, in that order.
  • Boise State, 10-1, was actually given the highest odds of any non-Ohio State team in our computer model. They are listed last though because the committee is biased against G5 teams. Their only loss was to Wyoming who would take the division with a win in their final game, leaving BSU and OSU as the sole 11-1 teams not playing in December.

What happened?

Ohio State won but did not make the Big Ten Championship, effectively eliminating any team they beat (Michigan, Oklahoma) from WCG consideration. Louisville, OK State, and Nebraska, the remaining 2-loss teams, also lost. Boise State lost and so did Auburn, narrowing the above list of contenders to play AT Ohio State to just Florida State and USC.

The polls, the committee, and this computer (barely) all agreed upon USC as the best 3-loss team not playing in a CCG. With winning a “Championship”, including a Wild Card Championship, necessary for playoff placement, it is clear that Ohio State would be playing to win. Would USC?

A Rose Bowl bid would certainly hang in the balance, as it would if Colorado had fallen to Utah in their final game sending USC to play Washington for the Pac-12 Championship. Just as Ohio State could not rest on its laurels December 3rd awaiting its ascension into the playoff, so also USC would need to play this weekend to advance to the Rose Bowl.

Dark Horse USC Trojan National Champions?

If chaos reigned and both Clemson and Alabama lost in their CCGs, the playoff would include:

  • 12-1 Washington or 11-2 Colorado, Pac-12 Champion
  • 10-2 Oklahoma or OK State, Big 12 Champion
  • 11-2 Penn State or Wisconsin, Big Ten Champion

And one of the following teams:

  • 9-3 Florida, SEC Champion
  • 10-3 Virginia Tech, ACC Champion
  • 10-3 USC, Wild Card Champion
  • 13-0 Western Michigan, MAC Champion

Just looking at those teams, USC is obviously the best team, especially after defeating Ohio State in Columbus. But this might be just the scenario which calls for placing an undefeated mid-major in with the “big boys”, and our Computer agrees.

What about 12-1 Alabama?

The WCG Rules eliminate a team from playoff consideration if they lose their Conference Championship Game. What if that team is universally lauded as the #1 team going into that game. How could eliminating them be fair?

It would be just as fair as if they had lost a playoff quarterfinal. Going into championship week, the final pairings looked like this (rankings exclude playoff-ineligible teams):

#1 Alabama vs. #11 Florida
#2 Ohio State vs. #10 USC
#3 Clemson vs. #12 Va Tech
#4 Washington vs. #7 Colorado
#5 Wisconsin vs. #6 Penn State
#8 Oklahoma
#9 Western Michigan vs. MAC East Champ

“Quarterfinals” is not the best term, given there are 5, not 4, marquee games, but the concept is the same: In order to advance you must win!

Penn State, despite defeating Ohio State and winning their conference was the first team ‘out’ this year. But if bowl performances are any indication, they would have been ‘in’ after the Trojans felled the Buckeyes in Columbus.

Revised Playoff System:
#1 Alabama (SEC) vs. #4 Penn State (BT) (Sugar, SEC Contract Bowl)
#2 Clemson (ACC) vs. #3 Washington (P12) (Orange, ACC Contract Bowl)
USC (WC) vs. Michigan (AtL) (Rose Bowl)
Oklahoma (B12) vs. Western Michigan (AtL/G5) (Fiesta Bowl)

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