How Michigan would survive the 3 spookiest College Football Playoff scenarios

Wolverines ranked No. 5 in season's first CFP poll

These spooky situations could leave Jim Harbaugh screaming. (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2018 season were revealed Tuesday night, and Michigan checked in at No. 5.

It's the appropriate ranking for a Michigan team that has one of the best resumes in the country outside the three undefeated teams: Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame. LSU is also ranked ahead of the Wolverines due to an impressive six wins against teams with winning records.

What does the No. 5 ranking mean for Michigan? It means Jim Harbaugh's team is one of the few that controls its own destiny.

But after the rankings were released, experts and fans alike were speculating best- and worst-case scenarios for their teams.

While I don't believe there's any way a 12-1 Michigan team would get left out of the College Football Playoff, especially as Big Ten champions that haven't lost since Sept. 1, there are a handful of possible, yet unlikely, scenarios that could make the first week of December a little uncomfortable.

In honor of Halloween, here are the three spookiest possible scenarios for Michigan, even if it finds a way to win the rest of its games.

Alabama loses SEC championship game

The most dangerous situation for Michigan would be if Alabama runs the table in the regular season and falls in the SEC championship game to a one-loss Georgia or Kentucky.

In this situation, either Georgia or Kentucky would be a lock for the playoff, and if Clemson and Notre Dame are still undefeated, it would leave Michigan and Alabama fighting for the final spot.

It would be extremely difficult for the committee to keep out an Alabama team that, through eight weeks, looks like the clear best team in the country. Starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is running away with the Heisman Trophy, and he hasn't even thrown a pass in the fourth quarter this year.

Yes, I think Alabama is easily one of the four best teams in the country. But in this exact scenario, the Crimson Tide would probably be left out.

Michigan would be on a 12-game winning streak, and a loss in September to one of the two undefeated teams in the country is easier to justify than a loss in December.

More importantly, Michigan will have more quality wins. Currently, the Wolverines have five wins over teams with a winning record, while Alabama has two. If Michigan goes undefeated, it will finish with eight wins over teams with winning records. In this situation, Alabama would only have four or five, depending on how Auburn fares against Texas A&M.

Keep in mind: For this scenario to play out, Michigan, Clemson, Notre Dame and the winner of Georgia and Kentucky all have to win out, and that isn't likely if recent history is any indication.

Alabama loses to LSU

Here's a scenario that could be put to rest this weekend when Alabama travels to Baton Rouge.

It's probably the question I've seen most often from Michigan fans: What if Alabama loses at LSU and then wins out, and LSU, Georgia or Kentucky finish as a 12-1 SEC champ?

Again, the one-loss SEC champion would get in, and if Clemson and Notre Dame are undefeated, it would leave Michigan and Alabama fighting for one spot.

These first two scenarios pit Michigan against Alabama because the Crimson Tide is the one outlier that can survive an average resume due to sheer dominance and the recent history of its dynasty.

In this situation, Alabama finishes the year on a three-game winning streak and dominates Mississippi State, The Citadel and Auburn. That would put the Crimson Tide at 11-1 without an appearance in the SEC title game.

Sound familiar? That's exactly what happened to Alabama last season after a loss to Auburn. The CFP committee selected Alabama over the Big Ten champion in that scenario, but this year would be much different.

Last year, Ohio State won the Big Ten with two losses, including a blowout loss to a mediocre Iowa team. If Michigan somehow finishes 12-1, it will have one seven-point loss to the No. 2 team in the country, and its resume would be much stronger than Ohio State's from a year ago.

If Alabama doesn't even win its division and Michigan finishes as the Big Ten champion, the Wolverines aren't getting left out.

Oklahoma wins out

The only other team that has some of the Alabama mystique is Oklahoma, which debuted at No. 7 in this year's CFP rankings ahead of a couple of teams with stronger resumes.

Both Washington State and Kentucky have three wins over teams with winning records and have beat teams ranked in the top 15. Oklahoma's best win came against 4-3 Iowa State, which is ranked No. 24, and the Sooners only have two wins over teams with winning records.

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What that suggests is that the committee likes Oklahoma more than the resume should indicate, whether because its offense has been so dominant or simply because Kyler Murray is one of the top three quarterbacks in the country.

If the Sooners win the Big 12 at 12-1 and get a chance to avenge their only loss against Texas in the conference title game, the committee is going to do its best to get them into the top four.

A 12-1 Michigan team would only have to worry if it struggled badly against Indiana or Rutgers. Indiana is a pesky team, but the game is in Ann Arbor and the Hoosiers are 1-5 in Big Ten play. Rutgers is just a horrible football team.

I still think Michigan would get the nod over Oklahoma in this scenario, or both teams would get in if Notre Dame or Clemson suffered an unlikely setback, but the Wolverines need to beat Indiana and Rutgers handily to be safe.

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