[AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is all predicated on Iowa running the table. At this point, the only team with any leeway to take an L and still be in the Playoff discussion without major help is Clemson.]
Last week, I wrote that despite Iowa's No. 9 ranking, all the Hawkeyes had to do was win out and they'd be in the College Football Playoff. Now with Iowa sitting at No. 5 just one week later (and seemingly controlling its destiny, with Ohio State sitting at No. 3), that seems like a much safer bet.
That is still the case. A 13-0 Iowa is in the College Football Playoff. Period.
Buuuut... that doesn't mean Iowa's a lock to stay in the Top 5 between now and the end of the regular season. In fact, Iowa might not crack the Top 4 at all unless and until it gets to 13-0. But that's okay.
The CFB Playoff Committee says it redoes its rankings from scratch every week, which leads to far more volatility than the normal polls' win-go-up-lose-go-down routine. That means resumes are revisited constantly, and what might be a quality win one week, might not be the next. The converse may also be true; look no further than the bump Iowa got when Wisconsin snuck into the Top 25.
And speaking of the Badgers, they'll be facing No. 18 Northwestern soon. It's wholly possible that whoever loses that game is out of the rankings, and that'll hurt Iowa—and it's not as if a final trio of Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska will give Iowa another ranked win in the regular season to make up for it.
Other teams have an opportunity to pick up those ranked wins, though. Baylor's schedule is comically backloaded, with games against No. 12 Oklahoma, No. 8 Oklahoma State and No. 15 TCU finishing things out; those other three teams have similarly heavy slates to finish the year. Indeed, of the six games in those four teams' round robin, only one (Oklahoma State over TCU) has taken place yet. So while there's still a minimum of five more losses to be parceled out between those four teams, if any of them run the table they'll be likely be ahead of 2-0 Iowa. So if Baylor takes out OU this weekend, don't be surprised if the Bears take Iowa's spot at No. 5.
There's also The Stanford Problem, as the Cardinal get a home tilt with Oregon this week and finish with Notre Dame, then (probably) Utah. Those are potential quality wins coming for a team that, like Baylor, could use some more. Likewise, Notre Dame's next two weeks are even easier than Iowa's, and we should expect whoever wins the Notre Dame-Stanford tilt, even with one loss, to be ranked ahead of 12-0 Iowa after Week 13.
But it's not Iowa's resume after 12 games that matters. It's where the Hawkeyes are after the Big Ten Championship, and at 13-0 Iowa would hold enough trump cards that this wouldn't be an issue.
Let's go back to the Playoff Committee's own adopted protocol:
When circumstances at the margins indicate that teams are comparable, then the following criteria must be considered:
- Championships won
- Strength of schedule
- Head-to-head competition (if it occurred)
- Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)
We believe that a committee of experts properly instructed (based on beliefs that the regular season is unique and must be preserved; and that championships won on the field and strength of schedule are important values that must be incorporated into the selection process) has very strong support throughout the college football community.
If Stanford and Iowa win out, the Hawkeyes have the better record, (probably) a better conference championship victory and, ahem, a better result when visiting Evanston. Comparative margin of victory evidently doesn't factor into that part of the equation, but even if it does Iowa's in better shape for it.
As for the "Iowa or Notre Dame" question, look. The Playoff Committee can't hand a playoff spot to an 11-1 non-champion over a 13-0 conference champion. Not without admitting that their stated criteria are a pile of hot garbage, and nothing from last season's final playoff rankings gives us any reason to believe that such a snub is coming. There will be, at most, three undefeated Power 5 conference champions this season (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten). It's generally accepted that the SEC champion will be in the mix too, but it would be outright lunacy to leave a 13-0 Power 5 champion out in order to include an 11-1 independent whose second-best win would be your choice of Temple or Navy.
Again: if Iowa wins, Iowa's in. It is as simple as that—even if the next few weeks make us a little nervous in the process.