MR. CFB/Tony Barnhart: The CFP's Nightmare Scenario

How the SEC could get two teams in while Big Ten. Big 12, and Pac-12 get left out.

The second set of CFP rankings were released Tuesday night and one of two things are going to happen in the last four Saturdays of the regular season.

1—Each of the top five—Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Michigan, and Georgia—controls their playoff future. Win out and they are in the playoffs, period. Alabama and Georgia play on Dec. 1 for the SEC championship. If those teams take care of their business over the next three weeks, that game will be for a spot in the playoffs.

2–All hell is going to break loose and the selection committee will have to burn the midnight oil to come up with four teams on Dec. 2. Also, the world is going to demand that the playoff be expanded to eight teams. (Actually, that’s going to happen no matter who gets in).

So today I’m going to give you two scenarios:

The Chalk Scenario assumes that the top four teams in Tuesday night’s rankings win out. Simple. Uncluttered. No drama.

The Chaos Scenario would create, as my friend Tim Brando would say,  a tsunami of “angst, anger and bitterness.” Lots and lots of drama.

Here we go:


1—Alabama (9-0) beats Mississippi State, The Citadel, Auburn (all at home), and Georgia (SEC championship game) to go 13-0 and remain as the No. 1 seed.

2—Clemson (9-0) survives a tough trip to Boston College this Saturday, then handles Duke, South Carolina and TBD in the ACC championship game. The Tigers remain the second seed, setting up a potential Alabama-Clemson 4 for the national championship on Jan. 7.

3—Notre Dame (9-0) beats Florida State, Syracuse (at Yankee Stadium) and USC (on the road)  to finish 12-0. The Irish finish No. 3 based on their season-opening win over Michigan. The committee could drop Notre Dame a slot because it does not play a conference championship game. I don’t think the committee will do that.

4—Michigan (8-1) hammers Rutgers, Indiana, and Ohio State (on the road) to win the Big Ten’s Eastern division. The Wolverines easily win the Big Ten championship game against TBD. Michigan’s only loss would be to No. 3 Notre Dame, which means the Wolverines get in the playoff ahead of:

**–12-1 Oklahoma or 11-1 West Virginia, the Big 12 champion.

**–12-1 Washington State, the Pac-12 champion

**–11-2 Georgia, the SEC runner-up, whose losses were to LSU (on the road) and Alabama.

In that scenario Oklahoma and West Virginia will have the biggest argument against being excluded. The Sooners’ only loss would have been to Texas (48-45 in Dallas) and they will have beaten No. 9 West Virginia twice in the span of eight days, once on the road on Nov. 23 and once in the Big 12 championship game.  At 11-1 West Virginia will have beaten Oklahoma twice in the span of eight days. But remember that West Virginia lost a 13th data point when its game at N.C. State on Sept. 15 was cancelled due to a storm.

Washington State doesn’t get there because of a less-than-stellar non-conference schedule and the overall weakness of the Pac-12.

So if all goes true to form your national semifinals on Dec. 29 would be:

Cotton Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Michigan

Orange Bowl: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame


Now, may I introduce you to what is really the Nightmare scenario for the CFP Selection committee?

There are a lot of different things that could throw the CFP final rankings into chaos. But this one, IMHO, would give us the most entertainment value. And it goes like this:

Alabama beats Mississippi State, The Citadel, and Auburn BUT then loses in the SEC championship game to Georgia by a field goal at the buzzer. How far does Alabama drop in the final rankings?

Everybody else wins out. The first three slots of the CFP would be easy to choose.

1—Clemson (13-0)…ACC Champion

2—Georgia (12-1)….SEC Champion

3—Notre Dame (12-0)….Win over Michigan

Then the committee would then have to choose among the following teams for the No. 4 spot:

12-1 Alabama… Winners of five of the last nine national championships.

12-1 Michigan…Big Ten champ whose only loss is to Notre Dame

12-1 Oklahoma or 11-1 West Virginia…Big 12 champ

12-1 Washington State…Pac -12 champ

Alabama would argue that its only loss was to No. 2 Georgia in a close game after being ranked No. 1 all season. It won the national championship as the No. 4 seed and non-conference winner last season. Are you going to tell Nick Saban he’s out of the playoff?

Michigan would argue that it deserves to be in ahead of Alabama because it is a conference champion and that it’s only loss was to No. 3 Notre Dame.

Oklahoma or West Virginia would argue that it is a conference champion.

Washington State wouldn’t have much of an argument because, to put it gently, the Pac-12 isn’t very good.

It would be a great argument in the room because, I’m telling you, the former coaches on that committee (Frank Beamer, Jeff Bower, Herb Deromedi, Ken Hatfield, Bobby Johnson) look at this stuff differently than the public or other committee members. They look at it in the frame of “which one of these teams would I NOT want to play.”

The charge of the committee is to pick the “four best teams” not the four “most deserving teams.” The coaches can’t make the decision with only five of 13 votes, but what they think carries a lot of weight in that room.

In this scenario the committee would, in my opinion, pick Alabama.

Let the howling commence. For the second straight year the SEC gets two teams in the playoff and for the second straight year the Big Ten champion gets left out. And with Notre Dame in that means three Power Five conferences (Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12) do not make the playoffs.

Now THAT’S entertainment.

Under this scenario, your playoff pairings would be:

Orange Bowl: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Alabama (they met in last season’s semifinals).

Cotton: No. 2 Georgia vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (the two teams play in Athens next season).

Now a lot of other things could happen. Ohio State, still at No. 10 after an ugly win over Nebraska, could win the Big Ten and force the committee to choose between the Buckeyes at 12-1 and Oklahoma at 12-1. Ohio State has played a lot of bad football this season.

So buckle up, folks. For the next four Saturdays the ride is going to be smooth or very, very bumpy.

Bumpy is more fun.