Tonight, the College Football Playoff Committee will release the initial playoff rankings, providing insight into the national title race.
And with the rankings, come the scenarios. Beat this team or that team on this day or that day, and you’re in. Can an undefeated UCF get in? Or Notre Dame?
What about West Virginia?
The Mountaineers’ path to the playoff is not as obstructed as others’ but it’s also not as simple as it appears.
Winning out does not guarantee West Virginia a berth into the playoff even though running the table is an absolute must. The Mountaineers need a little help. Oklahoma State did very little to help the cause last week when it upset Texas in Stillwater. If the Longhorns could have avoided the Cowboys’ upset bid, this week’s contest would have afforded West Virginia an opportunity to take down a top-ten opponent on the road. Walking away from Austin with a victory is still wildly important, however. Beat Texas and the Mountaineers will slingshot to the top of the Big 12 standings and hopefully inside the top-ten. A loss (at any point) all but eliminates West Virginia.
Assume West Virginia wins in Austin and handles TCU and Oklahoma State, accordingly. That leaves Oklahoma. As of now, the Sooners are the Big 12’s flag-bearer towards the playoff. If Oklahoma wins out, including a win in Morgantown on November 23rd, the Sooners will represent the conference in its third playoff appearance. The alternative may also be true if West Virginia is 9-1 heading into its match-up with Oklahoma. Again, winning is a must and losing is a death sentence.
Yet this is also where West Virginia needs some help.
Oklahoma also has to win. The Sooners need to climb as high in the rankings as it possibly can before November 23rd and for that matter, so does Texas. Realistically, Texas can lose three games and still be a top-15 team come season’s end. And if Oklahoma’s only loss before playing the Mountaineers is to a ranked Texas team, its resume looks all the better. That’s what this is all about. Who have you beat and who did they beat.
Even if West Virginia wins out and takes home the Big 12 conference crown and gets all the help it needs, it still might not be enough.
For teams like Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame, their destiny rests solely in its own hands. Keep winning and the committee will be forced to place them in the playoff. West Virginia’s only hope is the fourth and final spot.
Wildcards like LSU and Michigan could also crash the party. The Tigers get Alabama at home this week and could dethrone the Tide as the team to beat in the SEC. Or worse, Alabama could lose in Baton Rouge, finish the season 11-1 and join LSU in the playoff. Michigan’s only loss came against an undefeated Notre Dame team way back at the beginning of the season. The Wolverines could also run the table and would ultimately push West Virginia out of the conversation.
If only what happened in Ames didn’t actually happen. This would be a lot easier to decipher.