Michigan was ranked fourth in the Week 12 College Football Playoff Rankings last year. The Wolverines were 10-1 and needed a win over Ohio State to earn a bid in the Big Ten Championship, where they'd face Northwestern with a playoff bid on the line.
The Big Ten's playoff picture was clear: Michigan wins out and the conference avoids a second straight whiff. Instead, Michigan was pummeled by the 10th-ranked Buckeyes and no Big Ten team finished higher than sixth in the final rankings. That was their nightmare scenario.
Entering Week 10 this year, what is the nightmare playoff scenario for each Power Five conference?
Because Clemson is the ACC's only team anywhere near the playoff picture, the nightmare is simple: Clemson loses one regular-season game (most likely vs. Wake Forest in Week 12 or at South Carolina in Week 14) and/or the ACC Championship. In doing so, they move from, arguably, the biggest playoff lock, into a group of one-loss teams, of which the Tigers would have one of the weakest résumés.
While, similar to a 12-1 Clemson, a 12-1 Baylor or Oklahoma has a strong playoff argument, it's just that: an argument, not a lock.
The great news for the Big Ten: Two undefeated playoff contenders in Ohio State and Penn State, both of whom could be undefeated until their Week 13 game in Columbus. The bad news: One will finish, at best, as an 11-1 non-divisional champion.
The nightmare: The winner of the Week 13 game loses in regular season (most likely Penn State at Minnesota or Ohio State at Michigan), and enters the Big Ten Championship with one loss. The East champion loses to the West champion and suddenly the Big Ten is left with, at best, an 11-2 conference champion and 11-1 non-divisional champion.
Losses by Georgia and Oklahoma in the last three weeks have cracked the door for the Pac-12, which was previously slammed shut after a nightmarish September.
The door can slam again this weekend if Oregon is upset by USC in Los Angeles and Utah loses to Washington in Seattle. The conference isn't guaranteed anything with a one-loss conference champ, and they're guaranteed another whiff with a two-loss conference champ.
Like the Big Ten East, the SEC West has two undefeated contenders in Alabama and LSU. Unlike the Big Ten, the SEC East has two one-loss contenders in Florida and Georgia, though that will shrink to one one-loss contender after this weekend's World's Largest Cocktail Party.
The nightmare: A two-loss SEC East champion wins the SEC Championship. That could leave the conference with a two-loss champion and, at minimum, a one-loss divisional champ (e.g. Alabama) and a one-loss non-divisional champ (e.g. LSU).