The face of the four teams going into the playoffs if the season ended now has changed following the results of week 12, as the College Football Playoff Committee kept Clemson and Alabama at number one and number two, only to be joined by one-loss Oklahoma (number three) and undefeated Iowa (number four) while the surging Michigan State and falling Notre Dame are left looking on the outside.
Ohio State also fell from the top 4 to number 8 following their 17-14 loss to Michigan State, but unlike Notre Dame, their drop makes sense, as they head into their rivalry game against Michigan (number 10) to finish the regular season. They need Michigan State to lose against Penn State and to beat Michigan themselves in order to make it into the Big Ten championship game against Iowa, who close the season on the road against Nebraska.
So what do all these changes mean? Maybe that the committee wants teams to go through a championship game in order to make the playoffs. Oklahoma beating Baylor and TCU makes it hard to ignore them despite their one loss to Texas, but we’ve seen these things change last season on the final week. Winning against Oklahoma State to win the Big 12 doesn’t clinch anything for the Sooners, and the same goes for Notre Dame, even if they pull off an impressive win against Stanford.
And what about Stanford? If they beat Notre Dame and win the Pac-12 against UCLA/USC, are they going to be in the playoffs despite their two losses? The CFP might be setting them up to get there by placing them at number 9, but with plenty of room for moving up. And what if Michigan beat Ohio State while Michigan State lose to Penn State? And if North Carolina somehow win the ACC? And if Florida, number 12 at the moment, beat Alabama in the SEC championship game?
Navy, at number 15, are still the highest ranking team from outside the Power 5 conferences, with Toledo and Temple closing the list at 24 and 25 after both Memphis and Houston have fallen out of the rankings. Teams like Baylor can also look forward to maybe having a happy ending this season, at least by winning the conference championship (sharing it). Oklahoma State at number 11 also have a shot at it if they win against Oklahoma in Bedlam, but the committee won’t push them towards a playoff, even with the Big 12 title, and the same can be said for Baylor.