With the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings, it was no surprise that the Michigan Wolverines were the highest ranked Big Ten team. The Wolverines are ranked fifth, just on the outside looking in at the top four, consisting of Alabama, Clemson, LSU, and Notre Dame. If one of those teams slip, it is likely Michigan takes their spot.
While Wolverines fans can be excited about their team’s performance thus far, the scenario going forward is simple. Michigan must win their remaining games in order to be put into the College Football Playoff. With this in mind, the Michigan Wolverines control their college football playoff destiny.
College Football Playoff Committee Values Michigan
The Wolverines have emerged as the Big Ten’s most prolific team. Their lone loss came at the start of the season to Notre Dame 24-17. Since then, the Wolverines have won seven straight, which include victories over rivals Wisconsin and Michigan State. They even captured their largest comeback in school history, scoring 17 unanswered points to defeat Northwestern.
“Michigan has a very strong resume. Their only loss is to the No. 4 ranked team on the road in the first game of the year. They have five wins against teams with a winning record. This is a very good team,” stated Rob Mullens, College Football Playoff Selection Committee Chair.
The CFP Committee is justifiable in putting Michigan at number five. Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame are undefeated, validating their place in the top four. Notre Dame is ahead of Michigan because they beat them in the first game of the year. LSU, which, like Michigan, also has one loss, validates its spot at number three by winning six games this season against teams with a winning record. So it is not surprising why Mullens put LSU and Notre Dame ahead of Michigan.
“Notre Dame is a quality team (8-0) with an impressive opening season win over Michigan,” said Mullens. “When you look at them against LSU, though, LSU is the only team in the country with six wins against teams above .500. That includes wins over number six Georgia, a ranked Mississippi State team, and their only loss is a road loss, a close road loss at Florida.”
College Football Playoff in Michigan’s Grasp
What needs to be kept in mind is that a lot of football still needs to be played. The college football playoff rankings are a snapshot of a week’s worth of results. The selection committee makes their decisions with a clean slate, judging a team’s performance against the opponent of the week.
With Michigan ranked number five, this is a favorable spot for them. The rankings are going to be shifted after this week, as Alabama and LSU, currently ranked numbers one and three respectively, will take the field this week. Notre Dame has a tough matchup against Northwestern and against USC to end the season. The Fighting Irish have demonstrated a history of being in the driver’s seat to play for a championship, but lose a critical game down the stretch to eliminate them from contention.
But the Wolverines have to focus on continuing to play at a high level. They are number one in total defense (1760 yards), only allowing 983 yards against the pass (1st) and 777 yards against the run (12th). Giving up an average of 14.4 points per game has allowed Michigan to dominate opposing offenses, bringing pressure and controlling field position. The Wolverines offense has improved over the weeks too, particularly in the performance of quarterback Shea Patterson. After a rocky start, Patterson has 1523 yards, with 12 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Michigan. They play Penn State this weekend, led by their talented quarterback Trace McSorley. In three weeks, they travel to take on their archrival Ohio State Buckeyes. They also have only one loss on the season. Despite Jim Harbaugh‘s dismal record against these schools, this is the best team he has fielded for Michigan. With the defense playing at a high level and the offense improving by the week, this is the Wolverines best chance to make the College Football Playoff.
“We need to continue to approach it the way we have been, which is one game at a time,” said Harbaugh. “It’s fun to be in this position.”