New College Football Playoff Rankings clarify scenarios for CFP, big bowl games

The College Football Playoff Selection Committee released its penultimate rankings for the 2016 season on Tuesday night, and in doing so, confirmed a few things we already felt like we knew.

  1. Alabama and Ohio State are locks for the playoff.
  2. Clemson and Washington are in if they win.
  3. There is no scenario that gets a Big 12 team into the playoff.
  4. Auburn is the favorite to represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl if Alabama beats Florida.
  5. Florida State is the favorite to represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl if Clemson beats Virginia Tech.

The Sugar Bowl will be Florida (if it wins the SEC title game) or Auburn (if UF loses) against the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State winner in every scenario except one.

The Cotton Bowl will get Western Michigan (if it wins the MAC title game) or the winner of the AAC championship (Navy or Temple).

Now that we have that settled, let's take a look at what happens if some teams in the top four lose.

Clemson loses to Va. Tech, Washington beats Colorado

Wisconsin (if it, and not Penn State, wins the Big Ten) or Michigan advance to the playoff -- more on that in a bit.

The rest of the Big Ten teams would slot like this: Big Ten champion (if not in the playoff) or Michigan to the Rose Bowl; Big Ten championship loser to Orange Bowl, where it would face ACC representative Virginia Tech.

Colorado (most likely) or USC represents the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl.

If the Rose Bowl pairing is Michigan-Colorado, expect Michigan to switch with the Big Ten team in the Orange Bowl to avoid a rematch, although the Rose Bowl could also choose USC instead of Colorado to solve that problem.

The Cotton Bowl gets Clemson against the Group of Five representative.

Washington loses to Colorado, Clemson beats Va. Tech

Unless Colorado annihilates Washington, the Buffaloes are unlikely to reach the playoff. If CU happens to jump everyone and moves into the playoff, then Washington would go to the Rose Bowl. Otherwise, Colorado goes to Pasadena.

The Big Ten works as described above if Colorado is out of the playoff, except that if Michigan would be the Rose Bowl team, they would most likely switch with the Big Ten team in the Orange Bowl to avoid the rematch. The USC-Colorado switch is not an option because CU is the Pac-12 champ.

If Colorado is in the playoff, the Big Ten champion goes to the Rose Bowl, Michigan to the Orange Bowl and Big Ten championship loser to the Cotton Bowl.

Florida State is the ACC representative in the Orange Bowl.

Washington goes to the Cotton Bowl if it is not in the Rose Bowl, otherwise, Big Ten championship loser is there.

Clemson and Washington both lose

Again, unless Colorado destroys Washington, the Buffaloes won't make the playoff but will go to the Rose Bowl.

If Colorado is in the playoff ... Michigan or Big Ten champion Wisconsin (not Penn State, see below) gets into the playoff.

If the Big Ten champion (if not in the playoff) or Michigan heads to the Rose Bowl, the Big Ten championship loser goes to the Orange Bowl. Washington is in the Rose. Virginia Tech is in the Orange. Clemson is in the Cotton.

If Colorado is out of the playoff ... Both Michigan and the Big Ten champion make the playoff. Yes, three Big Ten teams and Alabama play for the CFP championship.

The Big Ten championship game loser plays Colorado in the Rose Bowl. Virginia Tech plays Auburn in the Orange Bowl. The Oklahoma/Oklahoma State winner plays Florida in the Sugar Bowl. The Cotton Bowl gets Clemson.

Who gets in: Big Ten champ Wisconsin or Michigan?

If Wisconsin wins the Big Ten, the committee has an interesting decision to make that could legitimately go either way, and as I described in some of those scenarios, the last playoff spot could be at stake.

The Badgers would have a better record than the Wolverines by one win. Wisconsin would have played as strong, if not stronger, of an overall schedule but would not have seen as much success as Michigan against teams at the top of the rankings. Both teams would have beaten Penn State and lost to Ohio State. Michigan would also have a victory against Colorado. Michigan has a loss at Iowa. Wisconsin's losses are better, but the Badgers' other loss is a 14-7 defeat at Michigan.

The committee has not dealt with this situation before, so there is no precedent to go on when trying to figure out what they will do. I believe they would give the nod to Wisconsin because of a slightly better record against as good of a schedule and a conference championship. That would outweigh a head-to-head result that was a very competitive game won by the home team.

What about Penn State?!

The above is why I don't truly include Penn State in this discussion outside of the one scenario above. The Nittany Lions' overall schedule isn't quite as good as Wisconsin's or Michigan's. Their losses are no better than Michigan's, and the Wolverines beat them by 39.

Michigan will have the better résumé, conference championship or not.

So, in the above scenarios, where I talk about a playoff spot going to Wisconsin as the Big Ten champion or Michigan, I am expecting it to be Wisconsin but accounting for the possibility that the committee sees it differently.

Crystal clear, right? Should be a fun weekend.

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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