At this point, it appears that there will be very little drama heading into the the final week of the college football season. The winner of the Big Ten Championship will make the playoff, Oklahoma has essentially already secured a spot, and Alabama is pretty much a shoe-in given that its SEC Championship opponent, Florida, mustered just two points in a 27-2 home loss to Florida State this past weekend.
So yeah, that doesn’t leave much of an opportunity for chaos – unless No. 10 North Carolina (11-1) beats No. 1 Clemson (12-0). If that happens, oh boy.
Could the Tar Heels vault into the top four?
“Well, first of all, they (would) have to win big,” CBS Sports college football analyst Jerry Palm said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “They can’t just barely win. They have to win big. Margin of victory is definitely an important factor to this committee. They’ll never say it out loud, but it’s pretty obvious by the rankings that they are. North Carolina’s schedule is awful, their loss to South Carolina is awful, and the committee is holding both of those things against them. If they just beat Clemson in a reasonably close game, they may not even put Clemson below North Carolina because Clemson still would have had a much better year in spite of the fact that they would have lost the head-to-head. The committee does a pretty good job of respecting head-to-head, but they don’t in all cases – and usually when they don’t, it has to do with strength of schedule. And in this particular case, strength of schedule, even after this game, is going to be remarkably different.
“So North Carolina’s best chance – really, only chance – is to win big and hope for the best,” Palm continued. “But even if they win big, getting all the way to 4, I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I don’t know if they’re going to jump Stanford. They might need Stanford to lose, too. I don’t know if they’re going to jump Ohio State. But if they don’t win big, there’s no starting point really for them.”
While conventional wisdom says a Clemson loss would open the door for No. 6 Ohio State (11-1) or No. 7 Stanford (10-2), others feel it should simply ensure that both Iowa and Michigan State make the playoff, especially if Michigan State loses.
“I think it’ll be interesting to see what the committee does with the loser of the Big Ten game,” Palm said. “If Iowa wins, could they really drop Michigan State below Ohio State? Would that be fair? I don’t think it would be fair. There’s some truth to (margin of victory). If Iowa runs them off the field, then maybe (you could leave Michigan State out). But if it’s a close game, would they be right in dropping Michigan State below Ohio State just because they had to play a 13th game and didn’t win? Iowa’s situation is different because they don’t have the head-to-head result with Ohio State and their strength of schedule isn’t quite as good as Michigan State’s. But the committee last year did not punish conference championship game losers much at all. I think it’s interesting, but there’s a possibility that if you get an upset with Clemson or Alabama that you could end up with two Big Ten teams in the Final Four.
“But it really just depends on what else happens,” Palm continued. “Stanford is sitting there at No. 7. If they go out there and win big, could they jump Ohio State? That’s a possibility. They’ll be a conference champion, but they’ll have two losses, one of which is to a Big Ten team, Northwestern – a team that Iowa beat by 30 in Evanston. So there’s a lot of interesting scenarios if one or both of Clemson and Alabama lose, and there’s not very precedent where we can say, ‘Well, this is what the committee has done before’ because they haven’t had these situations before. This is only their second year doing it.”