The Big Problem

The controlled burn that was week 11 of the 2016 college football season has left a thick pall of smoke over the playoff picture.  Three of the top four teams (Michigan, Clemson, and Washington) all suffered their first loses on Saturday. Things are getting awkward and bookies have stopped answering their phones.

The Big Ten East is now a mess and Penn State is poised to win the division, leaving both Michigan and Ohio State at home watching.  If OSU wins out against Michigan State (3-7, 1-6) on the road and Michigan (9-1,6-1) in Columbus, and Penn State wins out against Rutgers (2-8, 0-7) in New Jersey and Michigan State (3-7, 1-6) in Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions will play for the Big Ten title.

How the hell did that happen you may ask? Well, Ohio State will finish with one conference loss to Penn State, Penn State will finish with one conference loss to Michigan, and Michigan will finish with two conference losses. That gives Penn State the head-to-head tie breaker over Ohio State (both teams have one conference loss) and leaves Michigan out in the cold with conference two losses.

This scenario is not far-fetched and at the moment, is more likely than not to occur.  Rutgers and Michigan State have been awful this season, so Penn State should be able to handle both of those opponents and ditto for Ohio State’s chances against Michigan State.  Also, it now seems likely Ohio State will defeat Michigan after today’s news that starting quarterback Wilton Speight is lost for the season with a broken collarbone.  This is college football however, and every game can be engulfed by madness, so nothing is promised of course, especially in the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.  That being said, if I have to put my bread on the table, I’m rolling with the Buckeyes in week 13.

In the Big Ten West division, Wisconsin and Nebraska are both 5-2 in conference play.  Minnesota is hanging around, but after losing to Nebraska and dropping to 4-3 in the Big Ten, they need a lot of help.  The Badgers hold the pole position for the West crown, with a head-to-head win over Nebraska and two remaining games on the road against Purdue (3-7, 1-6) before closing out against Minnesota (6-4, 5-3) in Madison.  For Nebraska to win the West they need to win out at home against Maryland (5-5, 2-5) and on the road against Iowa (6-4, 4-3) and Wisconsin will have to drop a game.  For Minnesota to win the West, they need to defeat Northwestern (5-5, 4-3) at home, upset against Wisconsin on the road, and Nebraska has to drop at least one game.

The worst case scenario here for Louisville is Wisconsin beating Penn State in the Big Ten Championship.  The Playoff Selection Committee guidelines state that when evaluating comparable teams for playoff berths the following factors are most influential:

 Championships won

 Strength of schedule

 Head-to-head competition (if it occurred)

 Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incentivizing margin of victory)

A Wisconsin Big Ten champ is problematic.  While they’ve been saddled with two losses, they’ll get the all important conference champion distinction and claim the third ranked strength of schedule this season, including quality wins over ranked LSU and Nebraska.  Also, a one-loss Ohio State team will have a stronger resume over Louisville with quality wins over ranked Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and in this hypothetical scenario, Michigan.  Ohio State also boasts the second ranked strength of schedule.

If Penn State wins the Big Ten, they will hold the conference champion distinction as well as a quality win over Ohio State, but they only hold the 18th ranked strength of schedule.

Keep in mind that those strength of schedule rankings will fluctuate, but this late in the season they are a good indicator of how the final rankings will shake out.

What does all this mean for Louisville?

A one-loss Louisville resume will not match up with Ohio State’s.  The ‘Cards only quality win, as impressive as it was, comes against FSU in the third game of the season.  They desperately need Wake Forest to knock off Clemson this weekend, locking them into the ACC Championship Game.  While Clemson got stunned 43-42 last week by Pitt, it is highly improbable they lose at Wake Forest considering Clemson hasn’t lost back to back games since 2011.  All the smart money is on Clemson to win the ACC again this season for the second straight season.

Under this scenario, it seems likely that the final four playoff spots will belong to Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.  The only other shake up that could occur which I haven’t mentioned is if Washington wins the Pac12.  If Wisconsin and Washington win their respective conferences, the PSC will be put in an undesirable position of putting conference champions in the playoffs over better teams like Ohio State and Louisville.  The term “better” being my subjective opinion of course.

This weeks rankings may very well shake out something like

  1. Alabama
  2. Ohio State
  3. Clemson
  4. Louisville or Michigan
  5. Michigan or Louisville
  6. Washington
  7. Wisconsin
  8. Penn State
  9. Oklahoma

But none of that will mean anything once the smoke clears and conference kings are crowned.  If you are a Louisville fan it seems its time to hope for the best, expect the worst, and pray for chaos.

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Dave Lackford

Prosecutor at JCAO

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