College Football Playoff scenarios: Seven teams alive; Alabama, Ohio State are locks

With only 17 games left in the college football regular season, let's have a look at the various what-if scenarios for the College Football Playoff and major bowl games.

The race for the College Football Playoff

1. Alabama: A lock for the playoff. A lock for the overall No. 1 seed.

2. Clemson: If the Tigers win the ACC Championship Game, I believe the CFP Selection Committee will jump them over Ohio State in a battle for uniform color in the semifinal.

3. Ohio State: A lock for the playoff. Will be one spot higher if Clemson loses -- and maybe even if Clemson wins.

4. Washington: The Huskies have to beat Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship Game to make the playoff. I don't think the committee will leave them out for a team with a worse record. They have not ranked Washington behind a two-loss team so far. No reason to think they will start now.

But what if Clemson or Washington loses?

5/6. Michigan/Big Ten champion: It will be interesting to see what the committee does with Michigan, which lost at Ohio State in double overtime Saturday, especially in comparison with other Big Ten teams. I think you could reasonably argue that Michigan should be no worse than fifth overall and higher rated than the eventual Big Ten champion, Penn State or Wisconsin. The Wolverines will have one less win and the same number of losses as that team, will have played and beaten both teams, plus Colorado, which may be the Pac-12 champion in this scenario.

I think Michigan will have the better playoff résumé. Because the records of the teams are pretty similar, though, the committee may opt for the Big Ten champion instead. If the committee puts Michigan behind Wisconsin and Penn State this week, it is done as a playoff contender.

What about Colorado?

There isn't much of a chance for the Buffaloes to be ranked ahead of Michigan, which will have played a better schedule than Colorado and beat it head-to-head, even if the Buffaloes win the Pac-12 title.

What about the Big 12?

Oklahoma has a better résumé than Oklahoma State as the conference champion. It's possible the Big 12 champion will finish ahead of Colorado if the Buffaloes win the Pac-12, but not definite. It's hard to imagine that the committee would put either ahead of Michigan or the Big Ten champion. The Big 12 wasn't good enough this season to lift either of those teams higher.


New Year's Six scenarios

Rose Bowl: The Big Ten champion (Penn State, Wisconsin), unless it makes the playoff, will advance, otherwise Michigan vs. Colorado, win or lose in the conference title game.

Sugar Bowl: The winner of Oklahoma State-Oklahoma vs. Florida, if it beats Alabama, or the highest-rated SEC team after the Crimson Tide, most likely Auburn.

Orange Bowl: The higher rated of Florida State and Louisville vs. Michigan, if it isn't in the Rose Bowl, or the Big Ten Championship Game loser (Penn State, Wisconsin).

Cotton Bowl: The highest-rated conference champion from the Group of Five will face the highest-rated team that is not already in a New Year's Six game, which will be the Big Ten Championship Game loser (Penn State, Wisconsin), Washington or Southern California.

That highest-rated Group of Five champion should be Western Michigan if it beats Ohio on Friday to win the MAC title. If the Broncos lose, then things get interesting.

If Navy wins the American Conference championship, the committee will have a decision to make. They can decide that Navy is their choice for the Group of Five representative, regardless of the result of the Army game the following week, or they can decide to put off the decision a week. Last year, when it looked like Navy could be in contention for the Group of Five spot in the New Year's Six bowl game, the committee announced that they would delay the bowl announcements a week to be able to accommodate the result of the Army-Navy game.

My guess is that if Western Michigan loses, the committee will choose to take the Navy-Temple winner, even with the possibility of a Navy loss to Army.

Note that if no champion of a Group of Five conference appears in the final CFP Rankings, the committee will separately choose the team that represents the Group of Five in this game from among those conference champions.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jerry Palm started writing about sports on the Internet right after Al Gore invented it. He was the first to bring RPI out in the open and is one of the pioneers of predicting the March Madness bracket.... Full Bio

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