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Colorado’s Potential Path to the Playoff

The Buffs will need chaos to unfold, but it’s not impossible.

Capital One Orange Bowl - Clemson v Oklahoma Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

There are few things more surprising in 2016 than the polls, and it doesn’t matter which kind of poll. The College Football Playoff rankings have Colorado at No. 8 in the country with ten very impressive wins and two losses to highly ranked teams. Few saw this coming, but here we are in the Pac-12 Championship with a chance to rise even higher.

As it stands, Colorado’s dream season could, theoretically, continue on to the College Football Playoff. It likely won’t happen, but it could. Since it’s possible, we take the time to break down what exactly has to occur for the Buffs to reach the Playoff.

So what exactly has to occur for the Buffs to reach the Playoff?

Great question! Let’s break it down.

No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Ohio State are virtually guaranteed Playoff berths. Bama has dominated so thoroughly this season that could rest their starters against Florida, lose the SEC Championship and still make the Playoff. Ohio State, meanwhile, sit at 11-1 and just defeated then-No. 3 Michigan in the Big Game. But because Ohio State lost to Penn State, they lost the tiebreaker in the Big Ten East, so they’re not even playing for their conference championship. They’re firmly planted into the 2-spot and can’t lose this week, so they’re safe.

If those two spots are secured, the Buffs would just need one team in the top four to lose a game. Oh hey, that’s right, Colorado is playing one of those teams this week. That would be No. 4 Washington, a very good team if I do say so. A win over Washington would simultaneously give Colorado leverage to reach the Playoff and eliminate the Huskies from contention, thus opening up a spot for Colorado to sneak into. However, there is a however we have to address.

The Big Ten Championship will be played between No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 7 Penn State. If Colorado were to defeat Washington, then the Big Ten Championship will essentially be a playoff to to the Playoff. Whoever wins would jump No. 5 Michigan for that fourth-seed by virtue of them being Big Ten Champions.

So if the Big Ten Championship is a playoff to the Playoff, the Buffs would need another spot to clear out from the current top four. If Alabama and Ohio State are in and Washington is defeated by Colorado, that last team would be No. 3 Clemson. The 11-1 Clemson Tigers won the ACC Coastal division (otherwise known as the good division or the SEC West or Big Ten East or Mountain West Mountain of the ACC) and will face Atlantic division winner Virginia Tech. The Hokies aren’t particularly good this season, but they’re respectable. Even without a low-scoring masterpiece, Virginia Tech has a fair shot at upsetting Clemson (they won’t) and eliminating them from the Playoff. Should this happen (it won’t), the Big Ten winner and Colorado would both have fair claims to the last Playoff spot.

Because the updated Playoff rankings have Colorado ahead of Oklahoma, we don’t have to worry about leapfrogging the Sooners anymore, unless they beat No. 10 Oklahoma State by a preposterous blowout, haha, ha, ha.

If Colorado and Virginia Tech both win and Oklahoma doesn’t beat Oklahoma State 70-3, the only thing standing between Sefo Liufau and the Playoff is a familiar opponent: Michigan. The Wolverines beat the Buffs back in September, but because they lost at Iowa and at Ohio State, they’re essentially out of Playoff contention. All they would need is some chaos like Clemson, Washington and Oklahoma losing and be faced with a team they’ve already defeated — nope, nope, nope, there’s no way three Big Ten teams would make the Playoff, nope, nope, nope.

* * *

They probably won’t make the Playoff, but less likely things have happened in Boulder this season.