The second edition of the 2016 college football playoffs were released on Tuesday as the rest of the nation was looking in on presidential election results.
With only four weeks of the season left, it is officially time to begin hypothesizing about each team and their chances of making the playoff. We know that the playoff participants will be teams from the College Football Playoff Top 25, but we also know that plenty of teams are already eliminated from consideration within that top 25.
Florida State is ranked No. 18, but the Seminoles already have three losses and are three games back of Clemson in the ACC Atlantic Division. They will not be selected for the playoff this season.
Western Michigan may very well run the table and go 12-0, but they are sitting at No. 21 in the rankings and have zero top 25 teams on their schedule, which ranks 103 out of 128 FBS teams in the nation.
Western Michigan will not be selected for the playoff due to a lack of good wins. Playing in the MAC hurt them greatly.
Boise State sits at No. 22 in the new rankings but will also not be selected for the playoff due to a lack of good competition and a head-scratching loss to Wyoming.
LSU, which dropped from No. 13 to No. 24 in this week’s rankings, will not be selected for the playoffs after the loss against Alabama guaranteed that LSU will not win the SEC West, let alone the conference title this season. With three losses, the only way the Tigers would be considered is if they won the conference and that simply isn’t happening.
Arkansas, which sits at No. 25 in the rankings, will also not be selected for the playoff since Alabama will win the SEC West division, meaning that Arkansas will not win the SEC conference this season.
The other 20 teams in the rankings all have a statistical chance to make the playoffs if they win out and things fall their way. Obviously, some teams have much greater odds than others. I will be examining each teams’ chance of making the playoffs as we move from power conference to power conference.
Let’s start with the Big Ten. The Big Ten has five playoff contenders at the moment. In the Big Ten East division, Michigan controls its destiny for both the Big Ten championship and the playoffs.
Michigan – currently No. 3 in the CFP rankings. Chance to make playoff: 50%
Analysis: Michigan has very good odds at making the playoff. If they can survive a sneaky tough road game at Iowa and win The Game in Columbus Ohio against the Buckeyes, then they will be extremely difficult to leave out of the playoff, even if they lose the Big Ten Championship game to Wisconsin, Nebraska, or Minnesota.
Ohio State also controls its destiny for the playoff, the Buckeyes need to win out, including wins over Michigan and whoever they would ultimately face in the Big Ten Championship game.
Ohio State – currently No. 5 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 40%
Penn State needs Ohio State to beat Michigan in The Game to win the Big Ten East by tiebreaker. Penn State would need the extra boost of winning the Big Ten to be a reasonable candidate for the playoff.
Penn State – currently No. 10 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 5%
In the Big Ten West, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Minnesota all control their own destiny inside the Big Ten West division, but only Wisconsin controls their destiny for the playoff. Wisconsin would need to win out and defeat whoever they face in the Big Ten Championship game to guarantee a playoff bid.
Wisconsin – currently No. 7 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 30%
Nebraska needs to win out convincingly and hope Wisconsin loses once more. In the hypothetical Big Ten championship game, Nebraska would need to win convincingly against whoever they faced. An unlikely scenario to say the least, but the Cornhuskers are not out just yet.
Nebraska – currently No.19 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: less than 1%
In the SEC, the Eastern division has already bowed out of the playoff race, but three SEC West teams remain. Alabama is the favorite to land a playoff spot, followed by Auburn and Texas A&M. Alabama and Auburn control their own destiny, while Texas A&M needs to win out and hope for chaos.
Alabama just needs to defeat Auburn and they will be in the playoffs, regardless of how they perform in the SEC championship game.
Alabama – currently No. 1 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoff: 80%
Auburn also controls its own destiny for the playoff. Auburn must win out, including wins over Georgia and Alabama, and must win the SEC championship game against whoever they would face. All in all, Auburn is in decent position for the playoffs.
Auburn – currently No. 9 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoff: 30%
Texas A&M must win out and root for chaos to ensue. Alabama going unbeaten would strengthen their argument, but losing to Mississippi State and losing QB Trevor Knight is bad news for the Aggies moving forward.
Texas A&M – currently No. 8 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoff: 5%
In the Pac-12, things get a little bit tricky. In the South division, Colorado, USC, and Utah all have an opportunity to reach the Pac-12 championship game. All three teams need to win out, win the Pac-12 championship game, and hope for chaos.
Colorado – currently No. 12 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 5%
USC needs to win out and do it convincingly, hope to face Washington for a second time in the Pac-12 title game, and defeat them again to make a statement to the selection committee. With three losses, USC is facing an uphill battle, as no three-loss team has ever made the playoff before. Their chances remain very slim
USC – currently No. 20 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: less than 1%
Utah needs to win out, do it convincingly, and win the Pac-12 championship in the process. Similar to Colorado but Utah didn’t face Michigan in non-conference play, which will help the Buffs.
Utah – currently No. 15 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 1%
In the North division, Washington and Washington State remain unbeaten in conference play. The Huskies are huge favorites to win the Pac-12 and make the playoffs now, but things could change if Luke Falk and Washington State upset the Huskies in a few weeks.
Washington – currently No. 4 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 50%
Washington State – currently No. 23 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: less than 1%
In the Big 12, Oklahoma rode a dominate finish to the 2015 season to the playoffs and is looking to do the same in 2016. Oklahoma and West Virginia have not been mathematically eliminated yet, but are long shots to reach the playoff. All three teams need to win out and do it convincingly. No Big 12 title game hurts the conferences chance at the playoff selection table.
Oklahoma – currently No. 11 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 10%
Oklahoma State – currently No. 13 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 1%
West Virginia – currently No. 16 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 1%
In the ACC, Clemson and Louisville are the favorites and playoff front-runners, but North Carolina and Virginia Tech have yet to be mathematically eliminated.
In the Atlantic Division, both teams need to win out, Louisville could benefit from style points and Clemson and Florida State to continue to look dominate, as Louisville needs their lone loss to Clemson to look as good as possible going into championship week.
Clemson – currently No. 2 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: 75%
Louisville – currently No. 6 in CFP rankings: Chance to make playoffs: 25%
In the Coastal division, North Carolina needs Virginia Tech to lose another game in addition to winning out in dominate fashion in the hopes of reaching the ACC title game, in which they would need to defeat Clemson to get the selection committee’s attention. Still a longshot. Virginia Tech needs to win out, defeat Clemson, and hope for chaos. Slightly better odds.
North Carolina – currently No. 17 in CFP rankings. Chance to make playoffs: less than 1%
Virginia Tech – currently No. 14 in CFP rankings: Chance to make playoffs: 1%
Based on these projections: the playoffs will consist of:
No 1. Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington
No 2. Clemson vs. No. 3 Michigan/Ohio State winner
Teams in Control of Their Own Destiny:
Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, Washington, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Auburn.
Teams Rooting for Chaos:
Louisville, Texas A&M, Penn State, Oklahoma, Colorado, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, Utah, West Virginia, North Carolina, Nebraska, USC, and Washington State.
Big Ten teams to distribute record $51 million to schools in 2018
Michigan earns record revenues, but also reveals Big Ten will rake in bigger-than-expected bucks from new TV deal.
Budgetary numbers are usually never fun to pour over, let alone report on. But, as the Michigan Wolverines gave us a look at what took place in the 2017 fiscal year and what could be in store, we all got a glimpse of what to expect with new television contracts coming on.
The increased revenue from the ESPN and Fox contracts were bound to give the Big Ten a boost, but Michigan let the cat out of the bag early and is projecting a conference distribution of $51.1 million for the 2018 fiscal year. Yes, I said $51.1 million folks.
It’s a massive increase of $14.8 million for the fiscal year and beyond.
Let’s compare that to known numbers across the rest of the Power 5 conferences (for FY 2016).
ACC — $22.1 million
Big 12 — $28 million
Pac-12 — $28
SEC — $40.4 million
The $51.1 million is well over the estimated thought of per-school revenue when the deals were signed just over a year ago. In fact, ESPN estimated the deal was likely to come in the neighborhood of $43.8 million. That means the first year of revenue was off by just under $8 million per school. Additionally, the same report indicated the deal could reach as high as $54 million by the end of it. If so, the Big Ten is front-loading the crap out of this deal…or they are getting screwed in the escalators in the final years of the deal as well.
As for the Wolverines, they are expected to have “just” $182.4 million of revenue for the coming fiscal year. That year will start on July 1, 2017. In addition to the television revenue boost, Michigan also has a $6 million payout for the neutral site game it will play against Florida, helping to offset just six home football games of revenue.
Even that amount is a huge bump, as Wisconsin and LSU received just around $3 million each for their games in Houston and at Lambeau Field in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
It’s safe to say that Michigan, and the Big Ten, are going to be just fine when it comes to revenue under this new television deal. Good luck to the rest of the conferences keeping up with that kind of money in your deals you are locked in to for now.
Michigan Wolverines Football Preview: 5 Impact Players for 2017
We continue our preview of the 2017 edition of the Michigan Wolverines, and it’s time to focus on five impact players for the upcoming season.
Jim Harbaugh will have to deal with molding a team that has the fewest returning starters (5) in all of FBS, so there will be no shortage of players looking to make a statement on the field — in many cases for the first time.
Surely there will be a player or two jump out of nowhere to elbow their way into a star in Ann Arbor, but for now, here are the five that we see as all-important to some positive tweets coming from the fingers of captain Khakis.
Wilton Speight, Jr., QB
Speight broke onto the scene last year and showed a tremendous amount of poise for a new starter. He has a big arm, and stood tall and confident in the pocket most of the year. But that was with a very seasoned team, and a dynamic defense helping pull the weight.
Things will be different this year. Speight has to be more than just a game manager. Michigan is replacing 10 starters on the defensive side of the ball, so gone is the security blanket of covering up any field-position mistakes on offense. Gone too are playmaking receivers like TE Jake Butt and wide-receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson.
That means the 6-6, 243 lb. Junior will need to put the team on his shoulders from time to time and win some games of those tight games in a difficult division. He’ll need to be more of a leader on the field and move the chains with the vertical passing game against the better teams for the Wolverines to take the next step in the Big Ten East.
Mason Cole, Jr., OL
Did we mention that Michigan is replacing a lot of skill on both sides of the ball? Count the offensive line as a reclamation project as well. Because of that, Harbaugh is counting on the lone returning starter to help move along a line that will need to show improvement quickly.
Cole slid from tackle to center last year to help get the best five lineman on the field, and despite a bit of a learning curve, picked things up rather quickly. He may be asked to move back to a tackle position again this year for the same reason, but time will tell. It just depends on whether the coaching staff wants to upset the rhythm between Cole and Speight, and whether abled bodies are there to round out the other positions along the front.
Either way, Cole will be the main reason this line gels and becomes a force — if it gets there.
Chris Evans, So., RB
De’Veon Smith is also lost to graduation, so the need is there for someone to step up in the backfield as a featured option. If last year was any indication, that man should be sophomore running back Chris Evans. In limited action last year, Evans carried the ball just 88 times, but averaged 7.0 yards per carry.
With a rebuilt line, that type of production with a bigger sample size will be unlikely, but it’ll still be interesting to see what he can do as the main threat out of the backfield.
With so many weapons lost on the outside, Evans and his backfield mates need to be productive to take some of the pressure of of quarterback Wilton Speight and the passing game. Time will tell if Evans has what it takes.
Rashan Gary, So., DE
If you follow recruiting circles, you know that Rashan Gary was the most coveted recruit in the 2016 class. Michigan did well to land the talented 6-5, 290 lb. edge rusher, and he got immediate playing time on one of the best defenses in the country.
The stats weren’t overwhelming with 27 total tackles, including five for a loss (1 sack), but he showed flashes of the potential that so many pegged around his neck.
He’ll be a full-time starter in 2017 and should be a force on a defensive front looking to pick up where it left off last year with a bunch of new faces. Games in the Big Ten are often won up front on both lines, and the Wolverines need Gary to be a beast this year.
Mike McCray, Sr., LB
The lone returning starter on defense for Michigan is starting middle linebacker Mike McCray. Needless to say, he’ll be the quarterback of a defense that will be green and hungry to prove itself with so many departures.
The 6-4, 240 lb. senior gained time as a full-time starter last year and totaled 76 tackles, with 12.5 of those going for a loss — 4.5 of those as sacks. That’s decent production, but McCray will need to be in on even more plays in 2017 if Michigan has any hopes of being anything close to the defensive juggernaut it was last year.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh always puts a premium on tough and gritty defense, and no position most represents that culture more than middle linebacker. McCray needs to have wide shoulders to carry a lot of the burden of a retooled defense. I’m banking on him being up to the task.
OSU vs. PSU, the Rematch: A Case Against Divisions
When Penn State and Wisconsin take the field in Indianapolis this Saturday, it will mark the end of the most interesting and top-heavy Big Ten football season in at least a decade. With four teams in the top 7 of the CFP rankings, the Big Ten has become a grinder where survival should likely be rewarded.
However, both of these teams will come into the game with two losses, guaranteeing a two-loss conference champion. Meanwhile, another two-loss Big Ten team (Michigan) defeated both of these squads in the regular season, and yet another (Ohio State) has a better record at 11-1! Both of those latter teams sit at home this weekend.
Sorting this mess out is indeed a difficult task.
Unfortunately, that sorting was largely predetermined by geography. While Wisconsin could afford to lose to both of the East Division powers it faced thanks to being able to sweep through the West Division, the other three competitors had to duke it out via tiebreakers after a 1-1 split for all three teams. The deciding factor for Penn State? Michigan’s November loss to Iowa, a team which Wisconsin and a few others took care of this season. Michigan vs. Iowa decided the East Division representative in Indianapolis.
Does that sound fair? Does it make sense to leave out Ohio State at 8-1 after beating both of the 7-2 teams Wisconsin and Michigan, just because geography puts them in the same division with the one team the Buckeyes lost to?
No, it does not.
Put simply, Ohio State and Penn State have earned the right to play for a conference title by being 8-1 and better than everyone else in the Big Ten this season. After that weird and somewhat fluky finish to their game in October, who wouldn’t want to see if a much-improved Penn State team could do the job again against the Buckeyes? The loser would take on a second loss and make it unquestioned who should be in the College Football Playoff.
It’s not just because this is Ohio State. If Michigan held that lead last weekend or won in overtime, then it would be better to see if Penn State at 8-1 could avenge that decisive September loss to the Wolverines (who would also be 8-1) to prove it belongs in the playoff. Yet had Michigan won, it would be UM against UW, and Penn State would be left out in the cold.
Instead, we will be treated to a battle between two teams who may not actually be competing for a playoff spot at all. And it’s all thanks to having divisions and splitting them based on geography.
Some years it works out, like in 2015 when Iowa was 8-0 and the two 7-1 teams (MSU and OSU) settled it on the field two week before the championship game with a Spartans win. Other years like 2016 are not as fortuitous.
The Big Ten is not alone in this conundrum. The College Football Playoff committee cherishes conference championships, but these are often decided between the best team in a league and the third, fourth, or fifth best team rather than the second best team thanks to uneven division splits.
Take a look at this upcoming weekend alone:
- ACC Championship is Clemson (7-1) against Virginia Tech (6-2), while Louisville and Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson (7-1) stays at home thanks to being in the same division as the Tigers. The best game of the ACC season cannot be repeated as a result.
- SEC Championship is Alabama (8-0) against Florida (6-2), and while the West Division has no other teams better than 5-3, it’s beyond doubt that the SEC East is terrible across the board and has boosted the Gators to this position while LSU or Auburn might actually be better. If the Florida-LSU game had gone the other way, LSU would still not have a chance to replay that 10-0 showdown despite having a better record than the Gators.
The two teams which played for the national championship in 2015 should receive the best tests possible to earn the conference titles and playoff berths, yet that will not happen this weekend. So the Big Ten is not alone, and the problem all comes back to divisions.
And while I like to see the committee tested with tough questions like 2016 presents, some of them would be avoided entirely if divisions were scrapped and the proper Big Ten Championship were played between PSU and OSU this weekend. How much easier would the committee’s job be if one of OSU or PSU eliminated itself this weekend?
The Big 12 has it (recently) figured out thanks to being defective enough to not be able to hold onto 12 good teams. The NCAA is allowing the Big 12 a conference championship without divisions! This arrangement guarantees there will be two data points between the best teams in the Big 12 conference to decide the title.
That setup without divisions also works better for these ever-growing mega conferences. Old school Big Ten fans have watched the games between the original 10 teams dwindle down as the league expands and divides half the league into a separate division. Nine conference games helps that problem, but it would be more fair to scrap divisions altogether and play everyone (outside protected rivals) on a full rotating basis.
Not only would teams not go five or six year stretches without playing, which is inconceivable when being in the same conference, but the conference race would end with the best two teams playing one another based on being compared with everyone else in the conference. If the conference championship games are to be valid final tests of playoff competitors, this alignment with no divisions would assure that the best matchup actually happens in each conference between top competitors for playoff spots.
The road to conference championships should be fair and equal for everyone. For now, with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State in one division, that is simply not the case. It is no fluke that Wisconsin will be making its fourth championship game appearance in six years. The Badgers are far and away the best program in the Big Ten West, and it’s unclear if that will change.
Which is great if you cheer for the Badgers and maybe if you are a West Division hopeful having a rare great season (Iowa, 2015), but not at all for the “blue bloods” all sitting together in the East Division.
PSU and Wisconsin will complete a round robin between these top four Big Ten teams, but here’s where the standings sit in that round robin:
- Ohio State is 2-1
- Michigan is 2-1
- Penn State is 1-1
- Wisconsin is 0-2
No offense to Wisconsin and the 2016 Big Ten Championship, but the Badgers had their chance already against the other top teams and lost. Even with a UW win, the round robin for the Big Ten season would end with OSU and Michigan better off than the teams playing in Lucas Oil Stadium. A Wisconsin loss simply sets us back to the original conclusion that the three Big Ten East teams are the best in the conference, and evenly matched.
It’s time for divisions to be scrapped. We can’t save the 2016 Big Ten Championship, but that event and college football at large would be much better off in the future if divisions and arbitrary groupings based on geography or the like are removed from the equation. Earn it on the field, not in the gerrymandering of a conference alignment room.
Only then will there be an unquestioned “one true champion” of each conference, which would further legitimize the current CFP rules strongly favoring such conference champions over all others.