Forde's Fab Four: Making a case for Michigan to still make the College Football Playoff

Each week of the season, I will be a one-man College Football Playoff selection committee, picking the four teams that should be in the bracket if Selection Sunday were today. Call it Forde’s Fab Four, and call it an invitation to debate and discuss. Feel free to disagree.

This is the final dress rehearsal – next Sunday is the real thing. As of now, there are only 10 teams with any chance of making the field: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, Washington, Colorado, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

At this point Alabama and Ohio State are virtual locks, while the other two spots are most likely to be taken by some combination of Clemson, the Pac-12 champion or a second team from the Big Ten. If the Tigers are beaten by Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game, that could streamline the proceedings. If either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State should dominate the other in a de facto Big 12 title game, they could mount an argument for inclusion, unconvincing though it may be.

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Keeping in mind former SEC commissioner Mike Slive’s original playoff vision – select the four best teams – here’s how I see it:

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh wasn’t too happy with the officiating in the Wolverines’ loss to Ohio State. (Getty)
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh wasn’t too happy with the officiating in the Wolverines’ loss to Ohio State. (Getty)

PEACH BOWL: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Michigan
The Crimson Tide (12-0) strengthened its grip on a playoff spot by beating archrival Auburn, 30-12. Alabama has now won 11 of 12 games by double digits, including its past nine straight, and has trailed in the second half for a grand total of nine minutes and 34 seconds all season. All told, this has been Nick Saban’s most dominant team – or else it’s a sign of the gap between the Tide and the rest of the weakest SEC in many years. Either way, ‘Bama could rest its starters, tank the SEC title game and almost assuredly still make the playoff field. Next up for Alabama: Florida (9-3) in the SEC championship game in Atlanta, in a rematch of last year’s game. The Gators have scored one offensive touchdown in their past 10 quarters, and that was a one-play lightning-strike pass.

The No. 4 spot is where the debate rages, and for me that spot belongs to Michigan (10-2). If the Wolverines were a top-four team last week – and they were according to the committee, myself and just about every other sentient being – then a three-point loss in double overtime on the road against the No. 2 team shouldn’t be enough to fall out of the bracket. As noted in my Saturday column, Michigan led for 39 minutes and 33 seconds of regulation and trailed for just 3:57. And as Bitterman Jim Harbaugh noted, there were some crucial calls and non-calls that did not go the Wolverines’ way.

The idea that Michigan should be excluded for not winning its division or conference flies in the face of the four-best-teams mandate. It also would exclude Ohio State, which nobody seems to think is the right thing to do. This is not name-brand bias – Michigan beat both teams playing in the Big Ten title game, Wisconsin and Penn State, the latter by a mere 39 points. (The records of the Big Ten’s big four against each other: Ohio State 2-1, Michigan 2-1, Penn State 1-1, Wisconsin 0-2. Combined scores: Michigan 90-47, Ohio State 81-74, Penn State 34-70, Wisconsin 30-44.) Michigan also beat Colorado, which will be playing for the Pac-12 title. Its two losses are by a total of four points, both coming on the final play of the game. Overemphasizing conference championships – ironically an idea originally championed by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, now perhaps to his detriment – sacrifices common sense. Next up for Michigan: Nothing. Just awaiting its Selection Sunday fate.

J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes’ next game will likely be in the College Football Playoff. (Getty)
J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes’ next game will likely be in the College Football Playoff. (Getty)

FIESTA BOWL: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson
The Buckeyes (11-1) have the best of all worlds, provided the committee doesn’t penalize them for not winning their division outright. They have established a quality résumé without having to take on the risk of a conference championship game that would only serve to hurt them, not help. They hung tough in a series of dire situations against Michigan, capitalizing on a trio of huge Wilton Speight turnovers and overcoming a pair of short field-goal misses by Tyler Durbin. They did just enough to win – as was the case the week before against Michigan State, and in October against Wisconsin. The separation between Michigan and Ohio State Saturday was maybe a few inches – the margin by which J.T. Barrett converted the most important fourth down of the season – but it went the Buckeyes’ way. And in a game of inches, that was all that matters. Next up for Ohio State: Nothing. Just awaiting Selection Sunday.

Clemson (11-1) wrapped up its regular season in dominant fashion, blowing out rival South Carolina 56-7. Since their shocking loss to Pittsburgh, the wide-awake Tigers have outscored two opponents by a combined 91-20. The noteworthy absence from Clemson’s résumé is a victory over a top-10 team, thanks to the late-season Louisville swoon. The Tigers’ top wins are over teams ranked 12th (Florida State), 16th (Louisville) and 18th (Auburn) by a combined margin of 15 points. Next up for Clemson: Coastal Division champion Virginia Tech (9-3) in the ACC championship game.

Dropped out: None.

Also considered: Washington, Wisconsin, Penn State, Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State.

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