The first official rankings of the 2016 College Football Playoff bracket are due out soon and week 10, as it usually seems to, offered some clarity in what appeared to be a very crowded field. It seems every season fans wonder what will happen in 4 or more major conference teams go undefeated, although that simply never happens. It also won’t matter when it does. Absent compelling evidence otherwise there exists a hierarchy in the Power 5 conferences, and the Big 12 is at the bottom of it. There are still a number of teams that have a shot, and several top 10 matchups left to be played before Championship weekend. Looking at the field it appears that there are still about two dozen teams with a legitimate shot, but only about half of them control their own destiny.
Frontrunners: Alabama, Michigan, Clemson, Washington
The top 4 teams in the country are the only remaining undefeated teams which means that if any of them win out they will be in the playoffs. Should one or two of them lose either the team that beats them, or one of the next tier of programs will take their place.
Controls Their Own Destiny: Florida, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Auburn* ^
You’ll notice that this list is populated by exclusively teams from the SEC and the Big Ten, with both 1 and 2 loss teams in each Conference. Ohio State plays Nebraska next week and the loser will be eliminated from playoff contention. Should Ohio State win that game, and remain unbeaten, they will finish the season with Michigan, and most likely Wisconsin, all but guaranteeing them a playoff spot in lieu of Michigan. The same is largely true of Wisconsin, despite having two losses. Florida winning out would involve season ending victories against FSU and a top 10 SEC West opponent and allow the Gators to replace Alabama. Should Auburn win out they will beat both Florida and Alabama, giving them a stronger resume than any of the non Champion 1 loss teams, a ten game winning streak, and most importantly, an SEC Championship.
*Auburn controls their own destiny if you assume that a victory over Alabama will vault them past both Alabama and Texas A&M in the polls, thus securing them a spot in the SEC Championship game; That assumption seems more likely than not.
^ After publishing this article I learned that the initial 3 way tiebreaker for the SEC is the conference record of SEC East opponents, which Alabama would win. Therefore Auburn needs Texas A&M to lose, or Vanderbilt to finish with a better record that Tennessee, and should be moved into the next tier down.
Need Some Help: Louisville, Texas A&M*, Nebraska, LSU*
Louisville’s loss to Clemson likely doomed their chances unless a 3 loss team emerges from the SEC or Big Ten as Champions. The Cardinals simply don’t have the resume to overcome a 2 loss team like Auburn, Wisconsin, or Ohio State. Texas A&M needs Alabama to lose twice, or once in a big way, but if Auburn beats Alabama soundly they will almost certainly leap the Aggies. Nebraska will need to win out and have Wisconsin lose to someone in order to have a chance at the playoffs. LSU would need to beat Alabama this weekend, Texas A&M to end the season, and a top 10 Florida team. They would also need Auburn to lose to Vanderbilt or Georgia, and beat Alabama unless LSU beats Alabama so handily they pass Auburn in the polls.
*Texas A&M and LSU’s chances at the playoffs are largely dependent on Auburn beating Alabama. Auburn’s chances are not dependent on LSU and Texas A&M. Hence, their ranking reflects that fact.
Unrealistically Alive: Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia
The Big 12 teams would need at least 2 of the major conferences to have a 2 or 3 loss team upset an undefeated team, soundly. They would also need some of the 1 loss teams to lose. Anything can happen but these teams are only alive in theory at this point.