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Evaluating the College Football Playoff Committee’s options with Alabama, Florida State, Texas and Georgia

The College Football Playoff committee was desperately hoping for a casual Saturday with no upsets and four clear teams emerging for the CFP Semifinal. Instead, the 2023 college football season delivered more chaos that will leave the CFP committee with a lot to consider leading up to Sunday.

It could’ve been a short night for the committee. A victory by the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game would’ve left just one playoff spot remaining. Based on the most recent College Football Playoff rankings, it would’ve left a debate over the Texas Longhorns and Florida State Seminoles. Instead, we got chaos on Saturday.

Now, before the final CFP rankings are released on Sunday afternoon, we’re going to visit some of the options the playoff committee has on Saturday night.

The College Football Playoff locks

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Championship-Michigan at Iowa
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This is the easiest part. After the Michigan Wolverines defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday night, the choice of No. 1 is obvious. It’s just as simple for the No. 2 seed, with the undefeated Washington Huskies earning the right to host a Rose Bowl matchup in the CFP Semifinal.

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No. 1 seed – Michigan Wolverines

Even before the decisive win over Iowa, Michigan ranked first in ESPN’s Football Power Index (27.4) and second in Strength of Resume. The Wolverines have the win over a top-five opponent (Ohio State), an undefeated record, numerous wins without coach Jim Harbaugh and the best defense in college football. At 13-0, it’s clear Michigan is the best team in college football right now and it should be the unanimous No. 1 seed.

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No. 2 seed – Washington Huskies

The Washington Huskies have one of the best resumes in the nation. After beating the Oregon Ducks for a second time this fall, they boast five wins over ranked teams. Just as important, after struggling in November, the Huskies’ offense erupted in the Pac-12 title game with Michael Penix Jr. proving why he should win the Heisman Trophy. Washington has arguably a better strength of victories than Michigan and it’s easily better than any one-loss team. So, the Huskies punched their ticket to the College Football Playoff.

Options facing the College Football Playoff committee

NCAA Football: Alabama at Texas
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Below, we’ll take a look at some of the CFP Semifinal matchups that the College Football Playoff committee will likely consider.

(1) Michigan Wolverines vs (4) Texas Longhorns, (2) Washington Huskies vs (3) Florida State Seminoles

This is the simplest option. Sending Michigan, Washington, Florida State and Texas to the College Football Playoff puts four-of-five conference champions and all three undefeated Power 5 teams into the CFP Semifinal. It’s a tough break for the Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs, but the defending champs lost their spot because of the head-to-head loss to Alabama. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide are pushed out because they lost in September to Texas. This option also puts the top four teams in strength of resume into the playoffs.

(1) Michigan vs (4) Alabama Crimson Tide, (2) Washington Huskies vs (3) Florida State Seminoles

The SEC has never been left out of the College Football Playoff. Like it or not, this is still viewed as the premier conference in college football and that’s something the CFP committee is weighing during the evaluation process. Alabama has arguably been the best team in college football since October, with a larger margin of victory over ranked opponents than Texas. While the Longhorns have the head-to-head advantage, the Crimson Tide’s victory over previous No.1. Georgia, which snapped a 29-game winning streak, could compel the committee to sneak Alabama in as the No. 4 seed.

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(1) Michigan Wolverines vs (4) Georgia Bulldogs, (2) Washington Huskies vs (3) Texas Longhorns

Typically, if a top-four ranked team loses to a top-10 opponent, the committee would drop them 2-3 spots in the rankings. Georgia was viewed as the best team in college football entering December and it lost by 3 points to Alabama with key starters playing through injuries that limited their effectiveness. The Bulldogs have the same number of losses as Texas and Alabama. While Georgia loses the head-to-head advantage over Alabama, its resume still puts them in the conversation for a top-four spot. Keeping Kirby Smart’s team out of the playoff would also mean dropping them from No. 1 to No. 6, an uncharacteristic magnitude of a drop from one loss.

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(1) Michigan Wolverines vs (4) Alabama Crimson Tide, (2) Washington Huskies vs (3) Texas Longhorns

Who are the best four teams in college football right now? That’s absolutely something the College Football Playoff committee needs to consider. While Florida State’s record warrants a spot in the CFP Semifinal, it lost quarterback Jordan Travis to a season-ending injury. As the ACC Championship Game showed, Florida State’s offense is nearly unwatchable without Travis.

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Let’s also remember that entertainment value and TV ratings matter. Playoff matchups between Michigan vs Alabama and Washington vs Texas would be two of the most-watched college football games in years. There’s also a strong argument to be made that Michigan, Washington, Alabama and Texas are the four best teams in college football. This wouldn’t be a popular pick, but there’s a compelling argument that these would be the most compelling CFP Semifinal matchups.

(1) Michigan vs (4) Texas Longhorns, (2) Washington Huskies vs (3) Georgia Bulldogs

As previously mentioned, an SEC team has never been kept out of the College Football Playoff and dropping the No. 1 team five spots because of a loss to a top-10 program hasn’t happened before. This top four keeps both the ACC and SEC champions out of the playoffs, but it does honor three conference champions and keeps the reigning back-to-back champs in the mix. Of course, this is the least likely to happen.

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(1) Michigan vs (4) Texas Longhorns, (2) Washington Huskies vs (3) Alabama Crimson Tide

Texas has been ranked ahead of Alabama all season because of their matchup in September. However, there are plenty of instances in the history of the CFP rankings where a team is ranked higher than a team it lost to. Plus, this option still keeps the Longhorns in the playoffs and the SEC champion gets an invite.

  • Prediction: (1) Michigan Wolverines vs (4) Texas Longhorns, (2) Washington Huskies vs. (3) Texas Longhorns

Why precedent shouldn’t matter to the College Football Playoff committee?

NCAA Football: ACC Football Championship-Louisville at Florida State
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

One of the ongoing debates right now centers on the precedent the committee would set if it keeps Florida State out of the playoffs. It would mean an undefeated Power 5 team with a conference title would be kept out of the playoffs simply because of the season-ending injury to Travis.

However, precedent doesn’t exist after this year. The College Football Playoff is expanding to 12 teams next season, meaning far less heated debates. If there’s an undefeated Power 5 conference champion at the end of the regular season, they are automatically guaranteed a playoff spot. Every Power 5 conference champion would essentially make it into the playoffs as long as they have two losses or fewer.

While there would still be some spirited debates about putting an undefeated Group of Five team in, it won’t be as contested as it is now. Beginning in 2204, all six conference champions ranked highest will get into the playoffs. This is the last year of the four-team playoff, meaning there’s no real precedent to worry about.