College Football Playoff committee made it clear: Michigan has to win Big Ten to return to playoff

Wolverines ranked No. 5 in year’s first poll

D.J. Turner #5 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts after making a play during the second half of a college football game against the Michigan State Spartans at Michigan Stadium on October 29, 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Michigan Wolverines won the game 29-7 over the Michigan State Spartans. (Aaron J. Thornton, 2022 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings don’t officially matter when it comes to determining the final four teams, but reading between the lines, the committee made it clear Michigan won’t return to the playoff this season without winning the Big Ten.

Fresh off their first trip to the playoff last year, the Wolverines were thought by many to be in strong position again if they could win their first 11 games before heading to Columbus. In the past, several one-loss teams have made the top four without winning a conference title.

READ: Michigan football has won most recent game against all 13 Big Ten opponents

But as the playoff picture starts to come into much clearer focus, the path for Michigan to qualify without beating Ohio State and winning the Big Ten looks unlikely.

One of the most surprising rankings of the night was the decision to put Clemson ahead of Michigan at No. 4. Again, that doesn’t matter yet, but it shows that the committee intends to punish the Wolverines for a weak non-conference schedule.

So even if Clemson were to lose a game along the way, the committee isn’t going to rank an 11-1 Michigan team over 12-1 Clemson. There’s nothing wrong with that -- it’s just the type of thing we didn’t know for sure until the first CFP poll was released. Now we’ve learned that if the resumes are similar, this particular committee prefers Clemson over Michigan.

Kris Jenkins #94 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts against the Michigan State Spartans during the fourth quarter at Michigan Stadium on October 29, 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (2022 Getty Images)

Then there’s the SEC. Don’t be surprised if the loser of this weekend’s game between No. 1 Tennessee and No. 3 Georgia remains in the top four, either. The committee ranked Alabama ahead of undefeated TCU, even though the Horned Frogs have a stronger resume (no losses, two ranked wins as opposed to one, four road wins compared to four, etc.).

SEC bias is nothing new to the CFP conversation, and it reared its ugly head again Tuesday, with LSU and Ole Miss checking in at Nos. 10 and 11 despite stronger resumes from teams like Kansas State, Utah, and UCLA.

Why does that matter? It will only buoy the profiles of Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama in the coming weeks. It’s a near guarantee that the SEC gets two teams into the final four, and if those three finish with one loss apiece, they’ll all be ranked ahead of the Michigan-Ohio State loser.

Then there’s the Pac-12. Oregon and USC earned spots inside the top 10, and the committee showed the middle of that conference respect with four teams in the top 15 and five ranked overall. Translation: If either Oregon or USC finish 12-1, they will have priority over an 11-1 Big Ten team that sat at home during conference championship week (as it should be).

So the loser of the Michigan-Ohio State game will almost certainly rank behind at least two SEC teams, Clemson, and the winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game. Then, there’s also a potential one-loss Pac-12 and/or Big 12 champ to contend with.

At best, a second Big Ten team is seventh on the totem pole.

If Michigan and Ohio State had both been ranked among the top four on Tuesday night, it would have showed that the committee values the Big Ten over the ACC, but that’s clearly not the case. Ohio State got the benefit of the doubt because, well, it’s Ohio State. But there was so much chatter about Michigan’s early season schedule, and obviously, the committee listened.

Maybe you’re shouting at your screen, “Just win your games and it’ll all take care of itself!” OK, yes, you’re right. But then why pay attention to the CFP rankings at all?

This was our first glimpse into the minds of the people who have complete control over which teams play for a national championship. That’s valuable intel. Unfortunately for Michigan, the committee members aren’t as impressed as the rest of the nation.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.