Crazy Confusing Michigan Postseason Guide

Submitted by Seth on December 1st, 2016 at 10:04 AM


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?

  1. The Playoff Committee will decide on 4 teams to compete in the playoff. This year’s playoff games are the Fiesta and Peach Bowls.
  2. 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.
  3. [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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

CFP-LogoThey’re saying there’s a chance:

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.



December 1st, 2016 at 12:57 PM ^

This committee has made it known that they place a value on the on-field product.  It's been a month since they've beaten anyone with a pulse.  They have only one Top 25 win and that was the first week of the season.  Also, with Hornibrook a 50/50 proposition to play at best, it's not likely that they're going to win Saturday night with any style points.  

Considering the multiple hours of debate was between Michigan and a 1-loss Washington, I doubt that 2-loss Wisconsin (a team we beat) is going to jump us because they beat a team we also beat.

If they valued a conference championship that much, Michigan should've been slotted behind all the teams in the Top 10 that's currently playing for a conference title this weekend.


December 1st, 2016 at 1:17 PM ^

I don't understand why it's difficult for people to realize this ranking is of the current picture not predictive. If the season ended today the committee is saying Michigan has a better resume, that is why we are ranked higher. But the season doesn't end today and by Sunday one of psu or Wisconsin will have an additional top 10 win, a better record at 11-2 and most importantly a conference championship. With those three things they could easily jump us despite our resume being better currently. Tcu dropped from 3rd to 6th with a win in the last rankings because other resumes got better than theirs did. We most likely finish this season ranked 5tj


December 1st, 2016 at 2:52 PM ^

is reaching the conference championship game not a consideration here?  Either Wisconsin or Penn State is going to have a chance for an 11th win, because they won their division. That is something, that is a triggering event that could raise them above Michigan.  Michigan is not going to have an opportunity for an 11th win, the committee already knows that. 

Yes, current rankings reflect current picture but the committee is not unaware that there are, in fact, games this weekend.  Also, nobody from the Big 12 passed TCU, nor were they passed by teams them beat, so it is not an apples to apples scenario.


December 1st, 2016 at 2:55 PM ^

TCU played a cupcake their last game.  #6 Baylor beat top 10 Kansas St, #5 OSU bombed Top 15 Wisconsin and #4 FSU (defending national champ) beat Top 10 Georgia Tech.  That's why they were jumped.  If OSU squeaks by Wisconsin or loses, Baylor, would've been in the CFP.

For Wisconsin to jump us (considering Kirby Holcutt didn't mention the margin between us and Wisky) they would probably need to blow out PSU and look good doing it to jump us.

Also, Baylor beat TCU.  Baylor lost to unranked West Virginia, which is a worse loss than TCU losing to Baylor (similar to our loss to Iowa).  If anything, they have set a precedence of using H2H as a tiebreaker when teams are evenly matched.  That can help us against Wisconsin or PSU.   

Like I said, if just winning a conference title was going to be the tiebreaker, they could've placed the teams playing for a title ahead of us.  Since that did not happen, I take it that those teams have to do more than just win. 


December 1st, 2016 at 11:38 AM ^

??? Two spots would be available for us to move up, instead of just one. That increases our chances of making it in, since we'd no longer have to worry about the possiblity of another team passing us, no matter how unlikely that may be.


December 1st, 2016 at 12:01 PM ^

I guess I get that theoretically having another open spot helps, generally, but if you assume that one of the spots would be used for the BIG championship winner and that they are not going to take 3 BIG teams, I don't know how that really helps us.  In fact, I think it hurts us because it would be crazy for them not to take the winner of PSU/Wisky, when they are #6 and #7, and that would be the second BIG team.  In a way, I think both Washington and Clemson losing ensures that we are going to be kept out, and the last spot would go to Colorado or Oklahoma if they decisively win Bedlam.

I see one way to surely get into the Playoff - UW or Clemson loses and Penn State wins close and ugly.  I think a Wisconsin close and ugly win keeps the door open for us but I don't like it is as much because I think the committee would rather have Wisconsin than Penn State by a lot.


December 1st, 2016 at 12:16 PM ^

So strange... having so many B1G teams in the top 7 helps boost our resume but could ultimately hurt our chances of getting into the playoffs. I miss the BCS days... 


Moonlight Graham

December 1st, 2016 at 12:05 PM ^

That eliminates the champ from OSU and UM's division from the equation. Then Wisconsin is just the champ of the weaker division that would have probably finished fourth in the East, and lost to BOTH UM and OSU, and should be perfectly happy with the Rose Bowl as the prize for beating Penn State, but a close margin whereas our comparable win was 49-10. 



December 1st, 2016 at 10:23 AM ^

the rankings the past few weeks have been a nice exercise, but ultimately they don't matter.

This Sunday's rankings matter immensely, of course.

In advance of this, Kirby Holcutt no doubt has been hearing the "why the Big XII Champ should be in" talking points from the Big XII Commissioner.  Ditto Rob Mullens (Oregon AD) from the Pac-12 Commissioner.  Et cetera .......  Each conference has their vested interests.

I'll believe that the B1G gets 2 teams in when I see it.  Even if Washington & Clemson both lose, I'd seriously bet $ they take Alabama, OSU, Colorado (explaining the head-to-head loss vs U-M with the Liufau injury) and the Big XII Champion.  

Maybe I'm being too cynical.  But all those committee memebrs are political creatures of sorts.  I think there are a number of non-B1G folk who still have grudges about OSU being selected in 2014.  That works against U-M/PSU/Wisconsin.

Moonlight Graham

December 1st, 2016 at 12:08 PM ^

If I was on the committee I'd have that in the back of my mind as an unspoken strike against them. Wouldn't they still be on post-season probation right now if the NCAA hadn't relaxed their sanctions a couple years back?


December 1st, 2016 at 12:21 PM ^

And if Penn State is selected into the CFP, cue the 60 Minutes and Dateline episodes that re-live the whole scandal, including the early lifting of sanctions and Penn State's nice little "tribute" to Paterno early this year.  I bet you that the Penn State athletic department is kicking themselves for that little stunt right now.


December 1st, 2016 at 11:07 AM ^

I don't get the Liufau injury angle, either.  I've been listening to the talk shows on Sirius radio (God help me) and they keep bringing that up saying that if he wouldn't have been injured, CU probably wins that game.  No caller can get through to tell them that the score was 21-7 after 1, and 24-21 at the half.  That game turned at the end of the 1st qtr, and CU was done.  They were outscored 38-7 after the first qtr, including an uninjured Liufau for ~22 of those 45 minutes.  Save for a throw off a bad foot while getting hit, Liufau did nothing in the entire 2nd, or the first half of the 3rd before he left.

I hate that they don't actually look at the whole game.


December 1st, 2016 at 10:52 AM ^

are not going to take 3 BIG teams man.  They aren't going to do it.  It alienates too much of the country and too many conferences and they can talk all they want about getting "the 4 best teams" into the playoff but the Playoff is deeply connected to ABC/ESPN and this is a business.  Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin/Penn State are not going to occupy 3/4 of the playoff teams.  No way.  Colorado would go before this took place.  Oklahoma would go before this took place.  Clemson or Washington need to lose for this to get interesting, I personally don't think them both losing changes our dynamic significantly.


December 1st, 2016 at 10:58 AM ^

And I guess I can elaborate on my full thought. If Clemson and UW lose, I believe that the CFP would take Colorado at 4. They would have quite the resume, and if UW and UM are "razor thin" close, then I have to imagine that a Colorado win over essentially a team on par with UM (who they lost to) would jump them to the top 4. Hard to argue they'd be worse than UW and PSU looking at the SOS, H2H, etc. This whole thing makes my head spin because we're all just guessing.


December 1st, 2016 at 11:10 AM ^

I'm with you on this one.  I can't see a situation where any team behind Michigan jumps them.  The committee really labored the point that conference champions don't matter as much as they have in the past.  They look at strength of schedule and head to head.  If Colorado beats Washington we would have wins against every team who might jump us...and I can't see the committee doing that based on their comments this week.


December 1st, 2016 at 11:22 AM ^

but i've seen this movie before. people have short term memories and everyone will only be thinking about the teams that played this week come sunday morning (ala Florida in 2006). I think having Michigan there to get jumped (by Wisco and less likely Colorado) creats more intrigue and drama.  we have to hope that no one blows anyone out unless its virginia tech destroying clemson.

watch the officiating this weekend. all three conferences have alot to gain from washington, clemson and oklahoma winning both from a money, exposure standpoint  (for each conference individually) as well as a "National" audience win for college football as a whole with teams from across the map. 

There is NO chance three big ten teams end up in the final four.


December 1st, 2016 at 11:45 AM ^

I think the committee dynamic is different from the poll dynamic. Committees tend toward an inherent conservatism; "talk of the town" doesn't matter quite as much when you've got a small group of people that's been meeting together for a couple of months. Somebody in the room is going to quote something that was said in prior weeks and say "did what we saw this weekend really change that?"

It might, if it's truly impressive. But it won't be like 2006.


December 1st, 2016 at 11:21 AM ^

Yeah man, I am with you. Everyone is trying to make it too complicated by thinking that the CFP wants this and that but they can't do this and that at the same time.


People are repeating it but it doesn't seem like anyone understands. They said the margin between Michigan and Washington is razor thin... the only logical conclusion is that if Washington loses then we are in the playoffs.


The committee is going for the 4 best teams. I truly believe that this year. I don't think they care who the hell is a conference champion. So if Wisconsin wins and Washington loses then Michigan will be in because they believe we are 1 of the 4 best. Who cares that Wisconsin has the title? To the committee we are 1 of the 4 best.. not a team who lost to Michigan and Ohio State already. Same with Penn State it just doesn't seem like they hold them very highly. Maybe that will change if Penn State blows out Wisconsin, but I think if they win by a little it won't matter that much. Same goes for Colorado.


December 1st, 2016 at 11:55 AM ^

I agree with you wholeheartedly.   People are looking at all of these factors but missing your obvious point, that the comittee wants the 4 best teams, and they want the best matchup.  With a Washington loss, the obvious choice is us for a number of factors.  Ratings and money is the number one factor, this is a business after all.  I think the comittee is looking for a reason to put us in, rather than the other way around.


December 1st, 2016 at 12:25 PM ^

I find it interesting the 538 provides all of these quantitative predicitions of who is getting into the playoffs when 1) we only have 2 instances of real data to use and 2) we have no hard, solid standards about what they will give more weighting and emphasis (espcially considering their "eye test", which is a beautifully vague term that means they can do whatever they like).

While I would prefer an outcome that allows UM to get back in the top 4, I am more interested to see what happens it PSU beats Wisc by a good margin on a neutral field (if Clemson and UW win their respective conferences).


December 1st, 2016 at 1:26 PM ^

Also never forget that at the end of the day, these games are a TV show. If Clemson or Washington loses, they'll be choosing among teams with the same amount of losses, and one of them would bring SIGNIFICANTLY higher ratings against Bama and would be also be favored by 5+ points against any other (hypothetical) 2 loss team on a neutral field. And this isn't like last year when OSU was clearly better than MSU overall, but you had MSU's fluky head to head win in Columbus that you couldn't get around.

The ratings also sucked last year and need to rebound. Add in Hocutt's comments the other night and the committee knowing full well how badly Wisconsin or PSU would get boatraced by Alabama and I think we're in if either Washington or Clemson drop one.


December 1st, 2016 at 1:26 PM ^

All that and ratings! Last year's CFP ratings were awful but they kept the games on NYE; if viewership doesn't go up a lot of people look bad.

When I think about what motivates the people in the room I have a hard time seeing Wisconsin/PSU/Colorado coming out on top of M in that conversation.


December 1st, 2016 at 2:14 PM ^

but I think the committee will factor in TV ratings and revenue. They placed UM at #5 on purpose. Should CU beat Washinton, they have created the protocol path to choose the best match-up for Alabama. I don't think they believe PSU or UW is that team. Why? They have stated that OSU is ahead of these two by a "wide margin" ... UM just demonstrated they are much closer to OSU than they are to PSU or UW. Also, UM dominated each team in H2H competition. So the committee has created the situation where they can factor in the business side of the CFP ... what matchup maximizes the TV viewership and revenue.

So bottom line, I think a Saban vs. Harbaugh matchup maximizes ratings and revenue for the CFP / bowl ventures. If CU beats Washington, the business reasons to slide UM into the #4 slot is much more compelling than PSU or UW. Enough so, to take some heat for leaving the B1G champ out of the playoffs.


December 1st, 2016 at 3:47 PM ^

I agree that based on the not inconsiderable tea leaves that have been strewn about by Kirbie Hocutt, if Washington (or Clemson) loses, Michigan is almost certainly in.  Why?  Because he has made it crystal clear that the Committee is only interested in getting the best four teams into the playoff.  If there are four teams that separate themselves from the rest, the Committee is not really even looking at the ancillary factors -- conference championship, SOS, head to head, or common opponents.  Those factors are not relevant to the committee's deliberation.

If, however, Hocutt had said that the committee sees very little difference between Michigan and Wisconsin or PSU, that would be cause for concern for Michigan fans.