ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It’s going to take a minor miracle for Michigan or Michigan State to get past Ohio State and make the College Football Playoff this season. But there’s an even crazier scenario that would put both teams in the top four.
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, Michigan (9-1) is the No. 6 team in the CFP poll, while Michigan State (9-1) is No. 7. Their individual paths to the playoff are crystal clear.
Michigan State will be in if it beats Ohio State, Penn State and the Big Ten West leader in the conference championship game. It’s as simple as that.
Michigan needs a little more help. Since they lost the head-to-head meeting, the Wolverines need the Spartans to lose one of their remaining two games to even have a shot at the Big Ten East Division. Then, Michigan must beat Maryland, Ohio State and the Big Ten West leader.
There’s no doubt that a 12-1 Big Ten champion -- whether that’s Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State -- would get into the playoff.
Now, here’s the scenario that nobody is talking about. What if both Michigan and Michigan State win out?
Obviously, in that scenario, Michigan State would be safely in the playoff as the conference champ. The question is whether Michigan could get in at 11-1 without playing in the Big Ten Championship Game.
I think two of the following three things would need to happen:
- Alabama loses to Auburn in the Iron Bowl or Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
- Oregon loses at Utah or in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
- Cincinnati loses a game or looks unimpressive down the stretch.
If Alabama beats Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, both of those teams will be in the playoff and this scenario would be eliminated. If Oregon wins out, it would get in over Michigan as a 12-1 Power Five conference champ with a victory at Ohio State.
So in that scenario, Georgia, Alabama, Michigan State and Oregon would be the top four.
But if Alabama and Oregon suffer second losses, Michigan would almost certainly jump them after beating what would still be a top-12 three-loss Ohio State team.
That would likely make the top four Georgia, Michigan State, Cincinnati and Michigan, in some order.
If Oregon and Cincinnati win out, but Georgia beats Alabama, there’s a nonzero chance that Michigan could jump Cincinnati for the fourth spot, even though it would cause some outrage.
The only other teams to worry about would be Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. If one of the two wins the Big 12 with a 12-1 record, that team would also have a strong claim to the final playoff spot. But remember, in this scenario, Michigan’s only loss would be to fellow playoff team Michigan State, while Oklahoma lost to Baylor (a very strong team) and Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State (not so much).
I don’t believe Notre Dame or Wake Forest have enough impressive wins to jump an 11-1 Michigan team, even if they win out.
We all realize there’s almost no chance Michigan State and Michigan both beat Ohio State. The Buckeyes hardly lose at all, so them doing so in two straight weeks seems highly unlikely. But hey, it’s still technically possible, and it would create some incredible chaos.