There are just two weeks left in the college football season, and ten teams still have a chance at a College Football Playoff bid. Nine of those teams are reasonably in the hunt, and one needs a ton of help. What are they all looking to happen this week? Let’s track what each team needs in this week’s Rooting Interests:
Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama is in if it wins its final game. Honestly, the Tide can take this week off (doing that worked out pretty well for Alabama last year, too). Alabama wouldn’t mind seeing Ohio State beat Michigan, as the Wolverines are far more likely to jump the Tide if Alabama loses next week. The same is for Oklahoma losing, though that is less necessary. Also, a Georgia loss would help Alabama a lot. As things stand now, Georgia is likely to jump Alabama with a win next week. If Georgia comes into the SEC Championship Game at 10-2 instead of 11-1, the Bulldogs likely cannot jump Alabama, even with an upset. Alabama doesn’t need the better resume win of beating a top Georgia team, so there is no downside at all for Georgia losing.
Logic dictates that, like Alabama, Clemson can take this week off. However, there’s a slight complication there. Georgia beat South Carolina earlier in the year, so if the committee is deciding head-to-head between Georgia and Clemson (say, for example, Georgia loses to Alabama in a tight game on a last-second field goal), Clemson doesn’t want that “common opponent” working against them. Clemson would like to see Georgia lose, though. That would make the Tigers feel safe going into next week even with a loss this week.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Honestly, it’s hard to talk about Notre Dame’s rooting interests. The Irish play last on Saturday night (as far as Playoff contenders are concerned), and they’re in the Playoff with a win. A loss makes it very difficult, especially considering USC’s season. I guess Irish fans could hope for Oklahoma and Washington State to lose, as that would give Notre Dame some leeway even with a loss. UCF losing wouldn’t hurt either, though 11-1 Notre Dame might (but only might, because of how bad the loss is) stay ahead of the Knights. But, really, Notre Dame just wants to win.
Michigan has few real rooting interests. The Wolverines should feel pretty safe getting in with two wins, but they’re out with a loss. Some Michigan fans might be tempted to root against Notre Dame, but that would be a mistake. The Irish will likely (at worst for Notre Dame, it’s a 50-50 shot) stay ahead of Michigan due to head-to-head, and the Irish falling only opens the door for someone like Oklahoma or Washington State to jump both teams. Alabama or Georgia (or both) losing this week would make Michigan feel even safer, but Wolverines fans really only need to watch their own team’s games.
Georgia is probably in if they win out, though Alabama or Michigan losing this week will make the Bulldogs feel totally safe about that. Bulldogs fans should be rooting for chaos, though, because the Bulldogs might be able to back into the Playoff with a close loss to Alabama if all of the other contenders fall. That means Texas winning the Big 12, Northwestern winning the Big Ten (preferably over Ohio State), and Washington State losing a game. Georgia fans should also be rooting against UCF, because an undefeated UCF team will probably jump an 11-2 Georgia team.
Oklahoma fans have to root for some defense. Multiple national media outlets have taken the selection committee to task for treating the Sooners so much more favorably than Ohio State, when the teams have very similar flaws. (Then again, this year’s committee has shown an unwillingness to deviate from its previous rankings.) Oklahoma also needs Michigan to lose to have a real chance. Georgia, Alabama, and/or Notre Dame losing would also help. Additionally, the Sooners want Texas to beat Kansas this week. Getting revenge on Texas will be better for the final resume than beating an 8-4 West Virginia team (which would have closed the season with three straight losses) would be. If Texas loses, Oklahoma needs to root against Iowa State. Playing a three-loss West Virginia team in the Big 12 Championship Game is better than playing a four-loss Texas team.
Washington State Cougars
The schedule is holding Washington State back, though it’s less ugly now than a month ago. If Utah wins this week, that gives Washington State three likely ranked wins at the end of the year. If Stanford can win out as well, that number might actually go up to four. Even with that, though, Washington State needs spots to open up ahead of them. Notre Dame losing to USC by more than three points would help the Cougars with any comparison between those two teams. On top of that, they need Michigan to lose, and likely Oklahoma to lose as well. (Or, at the very least, for Oklahoma to give up over 50 points in a win.) There is no guarantee that Ohio State won’t jump the Cougars with a win over Michigan, though, so Washington State fans are likely rooting for Northwestern next week regardless. Also, Alabama losing this week would make the Cougars feel much safer next week. If Georgia upsets a 12-0 Alabama team, both are very likely ahead of Washington State. But if Alabama is 11-1 when that game happens, a 12-1 Washington State team would jump the Crimson Tide.
Man, whoever thought I’d be writing about UCF before Ohio State in one of these? I think the jump over the Buckeyes was a little false hope, though–Ohio State almost certainly jumps back over UCF if they can beat Michigan. The Knights would like to see Ohio State win this game, but they’re going to be rooting for Northwestern next week regardless of who wins this game. Similarly, UCF just needs Oklahoma to lose one more game this season. It doesn’t have to happen this week, but it has to happen for UCF to have a chance. The exact same is true for Washington State; UCF doesn’t need the Cougars to lose this week, but it needs them to lose. Notre Dame losing by a lot to USC would also really help. I think an 11-1 Notre Dame team stays ahead of 12-0 UCF regardless, but if the Irish look bad enough this week maybe that flips. Also, Alabama losing would remove any concerns about both Georgia and Alabama staying ahead of the Knights. (I doubt LSU stays ahead of UCF no matter what, but it wouldn’t hurt if the Tigers were upset by Texas A&M this week, either.)
Ohio State Buckeyes
It’s really hard to know what the Buckeyes need. They have a decent resume, and if they look really good in the last two weeks they could jump all the way to No. 4 without much help. On the other hand, there has been a lot of ugly over the last month to remove. The Buckeyes should root for just about everything UCF is rooting for (except for losing a game themselves, obviously), but it’s impossible to guess just how much of that is necessary. Like Oklahoma, though, the defense looking impressive would be a huge help.
West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia needs absolute chaos to have a real chance. What’s the scenario for the Mountaineers? Well, they need just about everything that UCF needs, but they also need UCF to lose. Yes, I’m saying that with certainty. 12-0 UCF would be ahead of 10-2 West Virginia this year. 10-2 West Virginia would almost certainly be ahead of 10-2 LSU, though the Tigers losing this week wouldn’t hurt. West Virginia also would like to see Texas lose this week–beating Oklahoma twice will do far more for the Mountaineers resume than beating Texas a second time would.
No, LSU is still eliminated. Like I said when I first eliminated LSU, if we get total chaos the Tigers are first in line to be “revived” from elimination. What does LSU need? The Tigers need Northwestern to win the Big Ten, Texas to win the Big 12, Washington State to lose a game, UCF to lose a game, and for Alabama to beat Georgia next week. That’s LSU’s path. LSU is eliminated because that path is entirely unrealistic, but LSU will likely get in if we see that much chaos. (Of course, Michigan would probably have to lose to Northwestern by a decent amount in that scenario, because 11-2 Michigan might stay ahead of 10-2 LSU anyway.)
Group of 5 Rooting Interests
UCF is the Group of 5 New Years’ Six representative with two more wins. That much is clear. Even if UCF makes the Playoff, that doesn’t let another Group of 5 team into an NY6 game. Utah State might be able to jump UCF if the Aggies blow out Boise State this week and UCF loses to USF, but the Knights probably keep their spot in that case. If UCF loses next week, though, the Mountain West champion is almost certain to get the bid. However, if UCF loses this week and Fresno State loses this week but wins next week, then the Group of 5 bid can go to any conference. I have no idea how the committee would decide between UAB, the Troy/Appalachian State winner, and Buffalo in that case. That would be fun to see, though.
I have also discussed the possibility of Utah State earning an at-large bid if they win out. It’s not impossible with a bit more chaos, but given the committee’s utter disrespect for Utah State, it doesn’t seem likely. The fact that the committee is putting four-loss teams ahead of the Aggies (an absolute absurdity if you’ve watched Utah State demolish its competition this year) means that LSU, Penn State, Florida, etc. are likely still ahead of Utah State even with another loss. Maybe if Utah State can blow out Boise State and Fresno State, though, the committee will realize just how wrong it has been about the Aggies. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that, Mountain West fans. Still, it’s worth rooting for.