College football went to form in Week 11, producing a four-loss Big Ten West winner (congrats, Northwestern), a sloppy game in East Lansing (congrats, Ohio State?) and wins by every single top-10 team.
The only upset on Saturday was that there wasn’t one, which means it’s unlikely there will be any major movement on Tuesday in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s third official ranking of the season.
There are still three weeks remaining before Selection Day, though — two regular-season weeks plus conference championship week — and there is still the potential for chaos.
No, really …
Here’s a look at five realistic scenarios that can still flip the script and cause a heated debate for the 13 committee members, ranked in order of most to least likely:
1. Notre Dame finishes 11-1
The Irish had it easy on Saturday, cruising to 32 points in the first half against Florida State, but it will get much trickier on Saturday against No. 13 Syracuse in Yankee Stadium. Should the Irish lose, either to the Orange or at USC in the regular-season finale, their playoff hopes would then hinge on what happens in the Power 5 conference championship games. What if Ohio State wins the Big Ten, and both the Irish and Buckeyes are one-loss teams with wins over Michigan and Northwestern? What if the Big 12 and Pac-12 both produce two-loss conference champions? The top four could be Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and … Notre Dame. There could also be a debate if Washington State and Notre Dame both finish with one loss. The Irish might lose to Syracuse but win at USC — which Wazzu couldn’t do. The Irish could also have a win over the Big Ten champ, Michigan. While there certainly wouldn’t be any guarantees for Notre Dame, there are also too many possibilities remaining to discount a one-loss Irish team.
2. The Big 12 produces a two-loss champion
The good news for the Big 12 this week was that it still has two one-loss playoff contenders in West Virginia and Oklahoma. The bad news? They’re on a collision course to play each other twice in two weeks. Somebody is going to have to lose on Friday night, Nov. 23 in Morgantown, when WVU hosts the Sooners in the regular-season finale. If they are both still leading the league with one loss at that point, they will play each other again in the Big 12 championship — where the Friday night loser could very well win the rematch, producing a two-loss conference champion. While this would essentially eliminate the Big 12 from the playoff, it could open the door for (a) a one-loss Ohio State as Big Ten champ or (b) a one-loss Notre Dame.
3. Ohio State wins the Big Ten
If the No. 10 Buckeyes win out, there’s no guarantee they would get in ahead of a one-loss Big 12 champ, especially considering they are the committee’s lowest-ranked one-loss team right now and looking up at both No. 9 West Virginia and No. 6 Oklahoma. The selection committee has noticed that Ohio State has struggled recently, losing in convincing fashion to Purdue and escaping Nebraska by just 5 points. On Saturday against Michigan State, the Buckeyes were helped in large part by the Spartans’ three turnovers and other miscues. Ohio State’s résumé would get a much-needed boost by beating Michigan in the regular-season finale to win the East Division, but would beating Northwestern to win the Big Ten title be more impressive than, say, Oklahoma beating WVU twice to win the Big 12?
4. Alabama loses a close one to Georgia
This one could give the committee the biggest headache, especially if Michigan wins the Big Ten. If Notre Dame and Clemson both finish undefeated, they are in. If Georgia wins the SEC, it’s in. The committee would then have to decide between a one-loss Alabama that had been ranked No. 1 all season and didn’t win its conference and a one-loss Michigan that did win its conference. Notre Dame’s head-to-head win would also still be a factor. Alabama finished in the top four last year without winning its division, but Big Ten champ Ohio State had two losses. Would the committee really leave the Big Ten champion out for a third straight year?
5. Clemson loses to South Carolina but wins the ACC
Anything can happen in rivalry games, although Clemson has a 94.5 percent chance to beat South Carolina, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. That’s why this scenario is last on the list. Assuming Alabama, Notre Dame and Michigan all win out, one-loss Clemson could drop to No. 4. Where it might get interesting (again) is if Alabama loses to Georgia in the SEC championship. Then the top four could potentially be Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Michigan.