In 2022, Michigan and Ohio State made the College Football Playoff, the first time in four-team playoff history that two Big Ten teams made the postseason in the same year.
Other teams from the same conference have made the playoffs multiple times, including non-SEC Alabama and Georgia in 2017 and 2021 and Clemson and Notre Dame (participating as a member of the ACC) in 2020 .
With No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan entering “The Game” undefeated — as they have in 2022 — it’s possible that Saturday’s loser between the Wolverines and Buckeyes could still qualify for the playoffs with just one loss. team. But what other results need to be achieved for this to become a reality?
Here’s a look at how multiple teams from the same conference have qualified for the playoffs in the past, and what needs to happen for Michigan and Ohio State to repeat that feat a second year in a row:
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Ohio State in 2022
In 2022, a one-loss Ohio State team reached the CFP. The other conference champions in 2022 were…
- Big Ten champion Michigan (13-0)
- Georgia, SEC champion (13-0)
- Big 12 champion, Kansas State (10-3)
- ACC champion Clemson (11-2)
The Wolverines and Bulldogs were the only two conference champions to make the postseason, as TCU — which had just one loss this season, in the Big 12 title game — also made it.
Had USC (11-2) not lost the Pac-12 title game to Utah, Ohio State likely would have been left out. Whether a similar scenario is possible with multiple conference champions suffering two losses will become clear after rivalry week.
As it stands, the Power Five conference championship games will go like this:
- ACC: Florida State vs. Louisville
- Big 12: To be determined
- Big Ten: Michigan/Ohio State vs. Iowa
- Pac-12: Washington vs. Oregon/Arizona
- SECOND: Georgia vs. Alabama
From this group, Oregon (10-1), Alabama (10-1) and Louisville (10-1) can be eliminated with a loss; no two-loss team has ever reached the CFP in the four-team era. Likewise, Iowa (9-2) is already almost eliminated following its defeats against Penn State and Minnesota.
The Big 12 has yet to determine its champions, but only Texas (10-1) can legitimately contend for the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma (9-2), Oklahoma State (8-3) and Kansas State (8-3) are all eliminated from the competition.
If any of Washington (11-0), Georgia (11-0) and Florida State (11-0) won their respective conference champions, they would. likely make the playoffs against the loser of “The Game”, even if they suffer a loss during rivalry week, thanks to winning their respective conference titles.
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Georgia in 2021
Georgia suffered its only loss of the season against Alabama in the 2021 SEC Championship Game. At the time, there were five teams undefeated or with a loss on the field, including Georgia and Alabama (12 -1), Michigan (12-1), Cincinnati (13-0) and Notre Dame (11-1). Notre Dame had a head-to-head loss to Cincinnati and no conference championship, which left them behind.
For the loser of “The Game” to participate, it would benefit them if there were five or fewer teams undefeated or with just one loss.
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Notre Dame in 2020
Notre Dame (10-1) suffered a loss to Clemson (10-1) in the ACC championship game in 2020, but had beaten the Tigers earlier in the year in a regular season game. It’s unlikely this scenario won’t apply to the loser of “The Game,” who won’t get the opportunity to play for the conference title. The team that could help him is Washington, which will likely face Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.
The 2020 season was confusing due to an inconsistent number of games played between teams and conferences. But Texas A&M and Indiana were both shut out of the playoffs as non-conference champions whose only loss came head-to-head against the conference champion — the scenario the loser of The Game would find themselves in.
Alabama in 2017
Alabama, as the loser of “The Game” will be, was a one-loss team that did not play in the conference title game and lost its only game in the final week of the season regular.
Alabama beat a two-loss Big Ten champion, Ohio State, and a one-loss Big Ten championship loser Wisconsin team. Ohio State in 2023 has a similar pedigree to Alabama’s team, and the committee has shown it respects the Buckeyes’ resume, ranking them first in the first two rounds of the CFP rankings (as did they did it for this Alabama team).
But, just like the other scenarios, this relied on having multiple conference champions with two losses.
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Can the Michigan-Ohio State loser advance to the CFP?
The easiest path for Michigan and Ohio State is for multiple two-loss teams to win conference title games.
No team with two losses has ever made the College Football Playoff. A conference champion with one loss likely make the playoffs before the loser of “The Game”. The loser of “The Game” also has to worry about a possible conference championship loser, Georgia or Washington, both of whom would have a case.
This scenario, of course, would result in a bit of chaos over the final two weeks, with several teams in the top eight in the CFP rankings losing one or more games during rivalry week and conference championship weekend .
If that happens though, it would open the door for one of the Wolverines or Buckeyes to advance to the CFP after losing in Rivalry Week. Ohio State’s tough schedule in non-conference games could help it beat other teams to one loss, while Michigan would struggle more due to its weaker schedule.