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 10:19 AM ^

If you believe that defense wins championships, these two teams are very close statistically. It should be a very close game on a neutral field.

NCAA Team Stats:

                           Colorado  Washington
Tot Def                13th         17th
Sacks                  22nd        15th
3rd Down Conv   8th           11th 
Fum Rec             19th          3rd
INT's                   14th          10th
Red Zone D        4th            16th
T/O Margin          8th           1st


December 1st, 2016 at 10:17 AM ^

I don't understand how 538s model can give the current 5th place team a 1% chance of making the playoffs, especially on a playoff system that's only been in existance for 2 years and is not deterministic. Seems like their model is making some pretty questionable assumptions.

Not saying Michigan has a great chance, but Brian's 10% is a good deal closer than 538's number.


December 1st, 2016 at 10:29 AM ^

They use polls from previous years to determine how polls behave, so it's just not a great prediction system because this is a completely new way of determining who goes to the playoffs, and we have a very small sample size of final rankings. Therefore, the result is a model that is very skewed towards having more wins as the only factor. Therefore, PSU and Wisconsin have a better chance than we do in that model because they have the chance to get an 11th win.


December 1st, 2016 at 10:35 AM ^

538's prediction power is based on statistical models.  There have been eight participants over two years.  There is not enough data to identify the relative weights of a conference championship, head-to-head, strength of schedule, overall record, etc.  In 10 years, they may be better at predicting the chances of getting in, but today their models are not going to be very informative. 


December 1st, 2016 at 11:40 AM ^

Nate Silver was actually throwing warning signs all over the place the week before the election. He went on a 14-tweet tweetstorm directed against the NYT and other websites with election predictions showing a 90% probability of a Clinton win. Anyone who was following his model saw a virtual tossup the night before.

So, to summarize: no.

Laser Wolf

December 1st, 2016 at 11:44 AM ^

Actually 538 was one of the few poll analysts whose model said not to disregard Hillary's lagging polling numbers with certain demographics (mostly white women and white men without a college degree). That said, I think the failure to account for the fact that Michigan beat both teams in the B1G championship game is a blind spot.

Amaizing Blue

December 1st, 2016 at 10:18 AM ^

If Colorado beats Washington OR Virginia Tech beats Clemson, we are in.  Sure, I could go through a bunch of numbers and theories substantiating my viewpoint, but that's really unnecessary.  It's not completely crazy, I want it to be true, therefore it is true.  Besides, the committee members know that THIS will be coming for them if they leave us out...



December 1st, 2016 at 10:24 AM ^

Everyone seems to be ignoring the effect of time/experience on determining who are the best 4 teams now. PSU showed great improvement since their losses in the first 4 games of their season. I think more weight should be given to who's the best now than the "entire body of work" where there was one loss in the second game and a second loss to the number 5 team.

EDIT: I'm not saying they should be in, just that improvement over the year should mitigate an early loss.


December 1st, 2016 at 10:57 AM ^

Right. And they didn't look super impressive against Indiana and didn't have a snowstorm or backup QB to blame either. I remain thoroughly unimpressed with penn state. They pulled the osu game out of their asses and got pasted by us and I haven't seen anything else to make me think otherwise.

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December 1st, 2016 at 10:40 AM ^

Early season games don't matter? Then why play a tough OOC schedule. If Penn St gets in over Michigan it will kill college football. There will be no compelling OOC games any more. Nope the whole schedule counts. There is no way that PSU gets in. Michigan at 5 is essentially the runner up incase 3 or 4 lose.


December 1st, 2016 at 10:52 AM ^

I'm not saying early season games don't count, just that if you want the 4 best teams you need to look at how they're playing now. Maybe USC will make the point better for me. They were 1-2 when they switched QBs. They lost Darnold's first game (@Utah, 31-27) and are undefeated since, including wins over Colorado and Washington. In that case, I think you discount (but don't throw out) the early season results in detrmining who is best now.


December 1st, 2016 at 11:19 AM ^

ESPN is bleeding money right now.

The Michigan-Ohio State game just broke the ratings meter and was an extremely close game.

The playoffs are brought to you by ESPN.

Ratings bring in more money.

Who is going to bring in the most ratings? It would certainly behoove ESPN to nudge the committee in that direction given their current status.


December 1st, 2016 at 10:22 AM ^

I hope VT and Colorado win. Make the committee almost forced to put 3 big ten teams in the playoffs. That way they can change up the system to 8 teams.  5 conference winners + 3 at large teams. No more than 2 per conference rules. 


December 1st, 2016 at 11:22 AM ^

Dude, that plan sucks -- we'd still be left out!

How about:  8 team playoff -- with:  5 conference champs; 2 at large; and one team that has (pic one of the following):  the largest average home crowd / most famous helmets / most famous fight song / most wins in history / highest winning percentage in history / produced G.O.A.T.  NFL QB.  That's MY plan.


December 1st, 2016 at 11:01 AM ^

If Colorado wins the PAC 12 we cannot go to the Rose Bowl. They will not do a regular season rematch unless it is forced and Michigan would have another good option in the Orange Bowl. 


Only way Rose happens is if Clemson loses to VT, Washington beats Colorado and the Big Ten Champion passes us. We'd play USC. 


December 1st, 2016 at 10:28 AM ^

I would hope that the Committee learned its lesson last year by allowing an inferior B10 champ get into the playoffs.  OSU and Michigan are still the cream of the crop in the conference and in the country...not PSU or Wisconsin.  Good teams can get stung by a close loss during the season (or two in our case), but they're still one of the better teams in the country.  It would be a huge mistake to take the B10 champ over Michigan if Washington or Clemson falls.  Just my two cents.

Guy Fawkes

December 1st, 2016 at 11:57 AM ^

Exactly, at some point you also have to look at who's going to give Bama the better game? Last year State got smacked because they werent the best team in the conference. Viewers only can watch for so long especially when its a blow out at halftime. I mean put PSU or WIS in there against Bama, what do we KNOW is going to happen?? Michigan is the clear choice just based on competitiveness.


December 1st, 2016 at 12:32 PM ^

I'm not sure that 2015 MSU in the playoffs was a "mistake" so much as that they were the B1G champion with a win (even a fluky one) over the "eye test" best team in the conference (OSU). Very hard to justify leaving MSU out last year.

It's a bit different this year - OSU is probably still the best "eye test" team in the conference, with M a very close #2. PSU has a win over OSU, but a worse overall record and an uncompetitive loss to M. Wisconsin already lost to both OSU and M - hard to put them in over either team (but a little easier to put them in over 2 loss Michigan).


December 1st, 2016 at 10:34 AM ^

I don't think that this whole thing works the way that most people here seem to think it works.

We are sports guys, we like stats and numbers. I don't think the committee does it like this. They aren't sitting there going "well they beat them in this head to head and they beat them over here and that matchup, and because of transitive and numbers and blah blah blah blah"

Stats come after the fact, they are a nice way of measuring what happened to get a nerdy version of a story that isn't always very accurate.

I think the committee looks at these teams and says, "who is the best 4?". It's an eye test. If this wasnt an eye test thing then alabama would NOT be number 1, they havent, numerically, done anything like the  rest of 2-8 has done.

Sure, in reality, they compare head to heads. And I'm sure they do look at some numbers, which is why we are waiting to see if colorado beats washington. But I doubt they analyze it in a way that's very similar to how we do.


December 1st, 2016 at 11:09 AM ^

The Massey website has a handy composite matrix of all the objective ranking systems he's been made aware of. He's up to 120, ranging in quality from sources like Fremeau and Sagarin and Massey himself, down to some guy that used to be the radio voice of Indiana State basketball who's been hand-compiling power ratings since the 60s and has Michigan one notch behind WMU.

Of those 120 rankings, 113 have Alabama first. The other 7 have them second.

Alabama must have done something numerically that the rest of 2-8 hasn't done, because apparently it's very hard to come up with an objective system that doesn't put them at the top.


December 1st, 2016 at 10:32 AM ^

Ace, you said:  "Could it be the Cotton or Sugar?  Doubtful."  A slight correction:  the Cotton is doubtful, but the Sugar is literally impossible.

It can not be the Sugar--that bowl is like the Rose Bowl in that they have 2 conferences with a guaranteed matchup, the SEC and the Big 12.  Right now, there is no way a Big Ten team can ever go to the Sugar Bowl again unless the bowl is hosting a semifinal that year.

But yes, it is pretty doubtful that we end up in the Cotton.  I guess if Penn State wins the conference and the Orange Bowl picks Wisconsin over Michigan for some weird reason, Michigan ends up in the Cotton Bowl.  But the Orange Bowl wouldn't do that.