What to Watch For: Michigan's road to the CFP
When the then-No. 3 Michigan football team lost to No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday in double overtime, its chances of making it to the College Football Playoff plummeted, but they weren’t completely put to rest.
The Wolverines no longer control their own destiny, but given that the CFP committee placed Michigan at No. 5 on Tuesday night, there’s still a chance the Wolverines will crawl into the top four after this weekend’s conference games.
With victories over No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 7 Penn State and No. 8 Colorado, Michigan has a rooting interest in multiple games this weekend. Don’t be surprised when players and fans cheer extra hard for Colorado and Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Assuming the winner of the Big 12 Championship won’t affect the CFP committee’s top four (No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 10 Oklahoma State look to be just out of reach), here’s a breakdown of how the conference championship games could affect the Wolverines’ ranking.
Big Ten Championship
No. 6 Wisconsin (7-2 Big Ten, 10-2 overall) vs. No. 7 Penn State (7-2, 10-2), 8 p.m. Saturday
This game is less clear-cut for Michigan fans. Because the Wolverines walloped Penn State 49-10 back in September and cut it close against Wisconsin the next week, winning 14-7, common intuition would lead Michigan fans to believe that a Nittany Lions win would hold both the Badgers and Penn State out of the CFP.
If you take a closer look at their records, though, it’s not too hard to make the case that the Nittany Lions have a better resume. They toppled Ohio State in overtime, 24-21, giving the Buckeyes their only loss of the season.
Wisconsin did lose to both Michigan and Ohio State, but held it close in both games and took the Buckeyes to overtime as well. Given the Badgers’ impressive schedule and tight losses, it seems that they’re more likely to make it to the CFP with a victory. If that’s the case, then a Penn State victory might give the Wolverines the push they need for a playoff berth if Washington or Clemson loses control.
No. 3 Clemson (11-1) vs. No. 23 Virginia Tech (9-3), 8 p.m. Saturday
The Tigers have looked convincing all season, but their strength of schedule has also been called into question. They have wins over No. 12 Florida State and No. 13 Louisville — which lost last week to unranked Kentucky — but also had questionable performances in some of their victories. N.C. State (6-6) battled Clemson in overtime, only to fall short, 24-17.
Clemson’s only loss was on Nov. 12 after Pittsburgh scored nine unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win, 43-42.
Despite the worries about the Tigers, they still finished the regular season 11-1. Virginia Tech will have to play its best game of the year if it wants to beat Clemson, and with losses to Tennessee, Syracuse and Georgia Tech, it seems unlikely that the Hokies will upset the Tigers.
If Clemson fell, then Michigan would most likely compete for its spot with the Big Ten Champion.
No. 4 Washington (11-1) vs. No. 8 Colorado (10-2), 9 p.m. Friday
The Wolverines are quite familiar with Colorado. The Buffaloes startled Michigan in September when they came out firing on all cylinders. After the first 15 minutes of play, Colorado was up, 21-7. The Wolverines calmed down and gained control in the second quarter to go into halftime with a 24-21 lead.
Michigan found its groove moving forward and won convincingly by 17 points, but for a few minutes, the Wolverine faithful were shaking in their boots. Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau was impressive, throwing 16-for-25 for 246 yards and three touchdowns before leaving the game in the third quarter due to injury.
The Buffaloes suffered their only other loss on the road at Southern California, where they fell, 21-17.
Washington will be challenged more by Colorado than it has been in a while. The Huskies also fell to USC, losing 26-13 after going scoreless in the fourth quarter.
The Trojans were the strongest team Washington faced this season. Utah (8-4) was arguably second-best, and the Huskies won, 31-24.
It’s hard to predict what will happen in this game, but if Colorado wins, it will probably knock Washington out of the playoffs and give Michigan an added boost.