It's not No. 1 vs. No. 2 like it was 10 years ago, but this is pretty close.
When Michigan faces Ohio State on Saturday at Ohio Stadium (3:30 p.m., ABC), it'll be a battle between top four teams as the Buckeyes remained at No. 2 and Michigan landed at No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings announced tonight.
A week ago in the rankings, the Wolverines (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) had remained at No. 3 last week despite their loss at Iowa. But when Indiana played U-M tough, holding a halftime lead before succumbing, 20-10, it showed the Iowa loss created some doubt.
That loss and playing without quarterback Wilton Speight in the Indiana game didn’t bother the committee much, showing their faith in the Wolverines’ resume and production.
“They played their first game with their backup quarterback, we talked about that,” CFP selection committee chair Kirby Hocutt said on a conference call. “The committee continues to be impressed with the Michigan team, who’s the only team in the current rankings to have three wins against current CFP Top 10 teams (and) continues to be very impressed with Michigan’s defense.
“So we discussed the quarterback situation, we’re aware of it but obviously that did not change our opinions, our decisions that Michigan is the No. 3 ranked team in college football this week.”
Michigan has beaten No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 7 Penn State and No. 9 Colorado. No other team, including No. 1 Alabama, has anything similar.
The Buckeyes (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) ascended to the No. 2 spot last week following the carnage of Clemson, Michigan and Washington all losing. Though Ohio State had to survive Michigan State,17-16, in East Lansing, it was enough to hold the spot.
“We did discuss it this week, it did not change our positioning in the rankings or in within the selection committee room about Ohio State,” Hocutt said. “They’re extremely talented football team. The committee continues to be impressed with their three wins over current CFP top-25 teams. We were obviously aware of the conditions in which that game (at MSU) was played in. Continue to be very impressed with Ohio State.”
Michigan and Ohio State's spots are relevant because they indicate how the CFP selection committee may view them in the final rankings on Dec. 4, following the conference championship games.
The top four teams in the CFP rankings that day will play in the CFP semifinals on Dec. 31 in Atlanta and Glendale, Ariz.
Michigan has home wins over No. 9 Colorado, No. 7 Penn State and No. 6 Wisconsin.
Western Michigan (11-0, 7-0 Mid-American Conference) remained at No. 21, with Boise State still ahead at No. 19. WMU hosts Toledo (9-2, 6-1 MAC) on Friday evening with the winner advancing to the MAC championship game at Ford Field in Detroit on Dec. 2. But the highest ranked Group of Five champion will get the Cotton Bowl berth.
There’s some speculation that the Big Ten’s strength — four teams in the top seven with OSU, U-M, Wisconsin and Penn State — means two teams could qualify. U-M and OSU have one loss so the winner of the game has the inside track to a CFP spot.
If it’s Michigan, the Wolverines would advance to the Big Ten title game and likely face Wisconsin. With a win in Indianapolis, U-M would be in the CFP. Even with a loss in Indy, there would be a chance given results of other one-loss contenders (Clemson, Washington) and the top two-loss teams (Oklahoma, Penn State, Colorado.)
If it’s Ohio State, and Penn State wins its game against MSU, then the Nittany Lions will go to the Big Ten title game and likely battle Wisconsin with the winner going to the CFP. The Buckeyes would likely join them as a one-loss team.
“The committee looked at teams 2-5 with very small separation between those teams,” Hocutt said.
When asked directly if the separation between Ohio State and Penn State was small, given that the Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes, Hocutt directly said “it was not.”
Which give credence to the idea that even without a conference title appearance, OSU could get in.
Hocutt also said the conference championship is one of four metrics used when there is “little to no separation” and each committee member can value it their own way.
Full College Football Playoff Rankings
2. Ohio State
7. Penn State
10. Oklahoma State
14. Florida State
18. West Virginia
19. Boise State
21. Western Michigan
23. Washington State