College Football Playoff committee wades through muddled regular season for Tuesday’s first rankings

Inevitably, the College Football Playoff selection committee will need to consider the case of Wisconsin.

Or Northwestern.

Or Oregon, Southern California, even Ohio State.

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Often messy under the best of circumstances, the current playoff debate will be complicated by mismatched schedules and the conflicting numbers of games played by the best teams from the Power Five conferences.

Beginning with the debut rankings, which will be released Tuesday, the selection committee will need to weigh the merits of specific teams across a wide spectrum of data points — from the eight games played by Clemson and Notre Dame to the three games played by Ohio State and the two played by Wisconsin, Oregon and USC.

a group of baseball players standing on top of a field: Wisconsin poses an interesting question for the College Football Playoff committee.

© Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY Sports
Wisconsin poses an interesting question for the College Football Playoff committee.

Fitting this knotty and muddled regular season, it’s impossible to predict how the process might unfold.

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“It’s never an easy task,” said former Central Michigan coach Herb Deromedi, a committee member from 2016-19. “But this really complicates the decision making.”

The playoff remains committed to posting the final rankings on Dec. 20, playing the national semifinals on Jan. 1 and crowning the national champion on Jan. 11, unless complications caused by COVID-19 force a scheduling change.

In the Big Ten and Pac-12, late entries into the regular season have been exacerbated by a predictable run of cancellations and postponements due to COVID-19, setting both leagues even further behind the ACC and SEC.

Several Big Ten teams, including unbeaten Northwestern, have played the full allotment of four games. But Wisconsin has played only twice, with a pair of cancellations sandwiched between wins against Illinois and Michigan. Ohio State played three games before this past weekend’s game against Maryland was canceled due to an elevated number of COVID-19 cases within the Terrapins’ program.

There is another dynamic to consider: Wisconsin and Ohio State could fall under the minimum number of games needed to be eligible for the Big Ten championship. Teams must play at least six games to remain in contention for the conference championship game, according to the current Big Ten guidelines.

While the Pac-12 season has been slowed by COVID-19 outbreaks since beginning Nov. 7, the five cancelled games have not

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