The case for and against each College Football Playoff contender

Franklin thinks Penn State has great case for CFP (1:19)

James Franklin believes Penn State deserves strong consideration for the College Football Playoff, but he will appreciate whatever the committee decides. (1:19)

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- This is not as clear-cut as you might think.

The 12 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee moved from their TV viewing room into "Selection Central" on Saturday night after the games ended to debate and vote on their top 25 teams in the country.

What began as a ho-hum day turned into a wild night, as Penn State's win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game will force the committee to truly weigh the value of a conference title. It certainly opened the door for debate, so here's a look at the case for and against the teams vying for a spot in the top four -- no Alabama or Clemson herein; they should be safe -- heading into the final rankings Sunday at noon ET during the College Football Playoff Selection Show on ESPN:

Penn State

The case for: The No. 7 Nittany Lions now own two tiebreakers over No. 2 Ohio State -- the head-to-head win and the conference title. Also in Penn State's favor: the word "unequivocal." The committee's protocol states that in order for a team that didn't win a conference title to be in the top four, it has to unequivocally be one of the four best teams. How can there be no doubt that Ohio State is better than Penn State if the Buckeyes didn't win their game back in October?

The case against: Selection committee chair Kirby Hocutt has said in recent weeks that the gap between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 7 Penn State is significant. If their résumés are not comparable, the committee doesn't have to refer to the tiebreakers. Penn State also has two losses, including one to No. 25 Pitt and a 39-point defeat to No. 5 Michigan.


The case for: No. 4 Washington turned in a dominant performance during a 41-10 win over No. 8 Colorado in the Pac-12 title game, showcasing its strong running game and defense on a day when Huskies quarterback Jake Browning was stymied. Washington now has a top-10 win on its résumé, to go along with victories against ranked opponents in Stanford, Utah and then-No. 23 Washington State. Washington's only loss was to No. 11 USC.

The case against: A nonconference strength of schedule that ranks No. 127 out of 128, with wins over Rutgers, Idaho and FCS foe Portland State -- teams that have combined for a 12-22 record. The committee has hammered home the importance of scheduling, but including one-loss Washington -- while punishing Big 12 champ Oklahoma for scheduling aggressively but losing to Houston and Ohio State -- would send the opposite message.

Ohio State

The case for: With the exception of undefeated Alabama, nobody has a better résumé in the country than Ohio State, which has three wins against top-10 teams. It now has a road win against the Big 12 champ, No. 9 Oklahoma, and the Big Ten runner-up, No. 6 Wisconsin.

The case against: The Buckeyes lost the head-to-head game against Penn State, and they didn't even win their division, let alone the Big Ten title.


The case for: The Wolverines beat both teams that played for the Big Ten championship -- Penn State and Wisconsin -- along with Pac-12 runner-up Colorado, to tally three wins against top-10 teams. Hocutt said on Tuesday the separation between Michigan and Washington was so slim that the committee debated for about two hours over which team was better and some committee members really struggled with it.

The case against: Michigan played eight home games, and it lost the road game that mattered the most -- at Ohio State -- and a road game it should have won, at unranked Iowa.