Michigan State is one win away from clinching the Big Ten East, a division some felt was deserving of preseason hype as the best division in college football. As it turns out, that may be true, at least in the top three spots. The Spartans are two wins away from winning a Big Ten championship, which would certainly make Michigan State a worthy candidate in the one-loss team list of candidates for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Consider the resume a one-loss Michigan State could potentially have at the end of the season. The Spartans would have road wins at Michigan and Ohio State, a home victory against Oregon and a neutral field victory over a potentially unbeaten Iowa. At the end of the season, that would likely be four wins against teams that finish in the top 15 of the College Football Playoff ranking (Oregon continues to rise, keep in mind). That would be quite a body of work the selection committee would have to take into serious consideration.
As things stand right now, Michigan State already owns wins against two teams in the top 15 of the playoff rankings and three against the top 25 with a win against Oregon. Oklahoma owns two wins over top 18 teams (Baylor, TCU). Alabama has two, although Wisconsin will fall out this week and LSU risks doing the same. Mississippi State creeping in would give the Crimson Tide one win against a top 25 team if LSU stumbles out. Notre Dame has two wins against top 25 teams (USC and Navy), although the Trojans will be falling out after losing to Oregon (which is good for Michigan State). Baylor’s win against Oklahoma State gave the Bears a top 25 win (and a top 10 win), but it came the same week Michigan State topped a higher-ranked OSU, so Baylor will not be expected to pass Michigan State. The memory of Michigan State’s victory over Baylor may still be fresh in the minds of some in the meeting room as well, although that should carry no weight in the latest debates and conversations regarding the playoff field. North Carolina continues to loom in the distance as well, having won 10 straight games since opening the season with a loss to South Carolina. UNC was ranked No. 17 last week in the playoff rankings but lacks the quality wins Michigan State has according to the playoff rankings.
What about Ohio State? The Buckeyes could still play for the Big Ten championship if Penn State upsets Michigan State, and that would reenter the Buckeyes into the playoff discussion as conference championship week commences. But it looks as though the defending national champions will have to settle for being considered for an at-large berth in the New Years Six this season.
Of the current one-loss teams thought to be contenders, Alabama appears to be in the most favorable spot with Auburn and Florida left to deal with to wrap up the SEC championship. Notre Dame continues to be in a decent position, but the Irish first must get by Stanford on the road and hope the lack of a conference championship game does not come back to hurt them. Notre Dame may be on shaky ground but could have two wins over conference champions from the Pac-12 (Stanford or USC, if Trojans beat UCLA) and the American Athletic Conference (if Navy and/or Temple win the AAC). The only loss for the Irish was on the road against top-ranked Clemson, which is clearly a better loss than Michigan State’s loss at Nebraska. Oklahoma remains a viable threat as well with wins over Baylor and TCU in back-to-back weeks and Oklahoma State on deck. The Sooners were two spots ahead of the Spartans as well in the latest playoff rankings, so pay attention to where each falls in this week’s updated ranking.
Michigan State will likely have the upper hand on Baylor, as the committee hates Baylor’s non-conference scheduling. Michigan State is also clearly ahead of the Florida Gators, and Florida must get by Alabama to have a shot. Advantage, Michigan State?