So the Playoff Committee put Michigan 5th, where the top four get a chance at a national championship and the top(-ish) 12 play in more prestigious bowls in and around New Year’s. Getting into the playoffs requires some help and sympathy. It’s good that two teams above us have a chance to lose, potentially dropping them back. It’s good that we beat teams 6, 7, and 8. It’s bad that two of those could be conference champions, including our own conference.
So where are we going? Probably the Orange, but if you’d like more detail here’s everything I could divine about Michigan’s potential destinations.
What are the Rules?
- The Playoff Committee will decide on 4 teams to compete in the playoff. This year’s playoff games are the Fiesta and Peach Bowls.
- New Years Six obligations are filled in. Unless they’re in the above the B1G and Pac12 Championship Game winners play in the Rose Bowl, the SEC and Big XII winners play in the Sugar, the ACC winner plays in the Orange, and one “Group of Five” (Western Michigan most likely) team gets a spot somewhere between the Rose, Orange, Cotton and Sugar Bowls.
- [UPDATED, h/t user Alton] Bowl contracts are filled in, specifically the Rose Bowl gets a Big Ten and Pac Ten team, and the Sugar Bowl gets an SEC and Big XII team, assigned by the committee.
- At-large teams are filled in, with contracts, rematches, distance, and “most compelling matchups” in mind. For example the Orange Bowl gets first crack at a Big Ten or SEC #2. Unofficially, conference affiliations matter somewhat, e.g. the Rose Bowl would take a Pac#2/B1G#2 matchup and FSU or Louisville would be projected to the Orange.
- Old bowl process takes hold once the New Year’s Six are figured out.
Where’s Michigan in the Playoff Race?
Behind: Alabama regardless, Ohio State, Washington if they win, Clemson if they win.
Worried about getting passed by: Wisconsin or Penn State if they win, Colorado if they win.
Probably not getting passed by: Oklahoma or Oklahoma State as Big XII champ. Florida as SEC Champ. VT as ACC Champ. Washington or Clemson if they lose. Loser of the Big Ten Championship Game. USC, FSU, Louisville, Auburn, Western Michigan, Navy.
— FiveThirtyEight (@FiveThirtyEight) November 30, 2016
With Michigan the 5th team right now however this seems incorrect, particularly in light of Kirby Hocutt saying the committee needed two hours to decide to put Washington over Michigan for the 4th spot. The actual distinction matters little since a conference championship win for Washington would overcome whatever slim margin Michigan is ahead by at the moment.
That appears to put Michigan’s chances entirely dependent on one or two schools above them losing a conference championship game, then riding a head-to-head victory over a conference champ into the top four.
Even a loss to Florida probably doesn’t drop Alabama out of the Top 4, and Ohio State is obviously in before we are. The best, but hardly only shot of Michigan moving up is Colorado beating Washington (a 45% shot according to Bill C.) and Michigan (over the B1G CG winner) taking the Pac 12’s spot. If Virginia Tech upsets Clemson (20%), this also opens the door for Michigan. If both happen, Michigan still needs a head-to-head win to matter more than a B1G or P12 championship.
How the committee rates winning your conference championship game versus head-to-head is a mystery. They said they don’t consider margin of victory, so blowing out Penn State is probably seen the same as a one-score victory over Wisconsin, let alone two last-play losses on the road.
My guess is they’ll let the de jure Big Ten Champion jump definitely-not-Big Ten Champion Michigan, but not Ohio State. Michigan could end up above Colorado if both Washington and Clemson lose, but that’s a scenario with three Big Ten teams in the playoffs. That may be correct, but the committee created to avoid another LSU-Alabama rematch that everybody hates would probably take the B1G and Pac champs and leave Michigan out.
Likelihood of it: 10 percent.
[After THE JUMP: some NY6 destinations and worst case scenario]
Can Michigan Get to the Rose Bowl?
This one is tricky but doable. Because the Rose Bowl is obligated to take the B1G CG winner if they’re not in the four, Michigan’s path to Pasadena requires the B1G CG winner to make the playoffs. I’m not worried about the B1G CG loser since 2-loss Michigan > 3-loss team they already beat.
Getting one of them into the playoffs is the hard part. Leaping us is likely but I don’t think Penn State or Wisconsin are strong enough to pass any of the Top 4 without help (if they scoot PSU ahead of OSU that just puts the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl) so again we’re rooting for Colorado to beat Washington or Clemson to lose to Virginia Tech.
A VT upset over Clemson would open a spot in the Top 4 for the B1G Champion without affecting the Pac 12—if Colorado wins too and takes Washington’s spot in the playoff, that would leave both Rose Bowl seats open and Michigan likely to grab one.
Colorado beating Washington could create its own problems. One: Colorado could swap spots with Washington, leaving the B1G champ in the Rose Bowl. Two: since one of the committee’s stated goals is to avoid regular season rematches, Colorado winning an auto-bid to the Rose Bowl could push Michigan out of it, though in that case it’ll likely be into the playoffs.
There’s another outside scenario where Washington wins but gets passed by the B1G CG winner. That would almost certainly put Michigan and Washington in the Rose Bowl, with a CFP field of OSU-Clemson-Bama-B1G Champ. But I doubt the 1-loss Huskies would drop behind a 2-loss Big Ten champ when 1-loss Ohio State is in the playoffs. And Ohio State getting left behind doesn’t help us.
Likelihood of Rose Bowl: 20 percent.
So Michigan is Going to the Orange Bowl?
Here’s the most likely landing spot. If the Rose Bowl can’t (B1GCG winner doesn’t make the playoffs) or won’t (they pass us up, or Ohio State gets bumped from the playoff by the B1G and Pac Champs) take Michigan, the committee will then place the remaining conference champs in New Year’s Six slots, and fill in the last spots in the New Year’s Six behind them. The Orange Bowl, which also needs to fill a small number of Big Ten appearances, would be the more likely destination for Michigan in most scenarios. That Orange Bowl contract with the Big Ten supersedes the Cotton Bowl
Likelihood of Orange Bowl: 70 percent.
Could It Be the Cotton?
Doubtful given the above. This scenario involves Ohio State and the Big Ten champ getting locked out of the Playoff 4, putting Ohio State in the Orange.
No, We’re Not Going to the Outback
The Outback is in technically in play, but it’s highly unlikely. It happens if conference championships suddenly become THE thing for the playoff selection committee, and some conference champions would have to pass Michigan to shove the Wolverines out of the 12 spots for New Year’s Six or Playoff bids.
There’s a slim chance it happens. Figure Bama and OSU are ahead of Michigan no matter what. WMU or Navy (as the group of five participant), and the winners of all the conference championship games get auto-bids. So there’s at least 7/12, possibly 8/12 (if Florida beats Bama) slots already taken in the NY6.
[UPDATED] Then the Orange, Sugar and Rose Bowls need to take ACC, SEC, B12, B1G, and Pac teams. This is where trouble happens. If Florida loses to Alabama the Sugar has to take an SEC team, so we’re back to 8/12. The Rose Bowl would also need to take a Pac Ten team if Washington or Colorado is in the playoffs. Figure that draws in either Washington (if they lose the Pac CG) or 3-loss USC. 9/12. And another ACC team to the Orange Bowl.
You still have to find two teams among the following who’d be ranked ahead of Michigan to fill an at-large position:
- 2-loss Clemson after loss in ACC CG
- 3-loss Colorado after losing the Pac 12 CG
- 2-loss Navy or WMU as a 2nd group of five bid
- 3-loss Wisconsin or Penn State after loss in B1G CG
- 3-loss Oklahoma or Oklahoma State after loss in B12 CG
- 3-loss FSU, Louisville, Auburn, and Stanford
The disaster scenario is one where the committee decides conference championships are the THING:
- Oklahoma State destroys Oklahoma 100-0, so impressing the committee (and so undermining Ohio State’s win over the Sooners) that Okie State joins Bama, Clemson, and Washington in the playoff four. (8 spots left)
- Navy earns the Group of Five bid over Western Michigan (7 spots left).
- The Big Ten champ goes to the Rose Bowl. (6 spots left)
- Ohio State gets pushed down to the Orange Bowl. (5 spots left)
- FSU, Auburn, West Virginia and USC draw into NY6 bowls to fill in for conference champs in those bowls. (1 spot left)
- Committee decides undefeated Western Michigan should pass Michigan for the last at-large spot.
It would be extraordinarily cruel to have all of these teams pass Michigan. On the off chance that something like that happened, Michigan wouldn’t go to the Citrus because we just went, meaning the Outback Bowl would be it.