Entering Week 11, the College Football Playoff looked pretty straight forward. But then chaos happened.
No. 2 Clemson lost 43-42 to Pittsburgh.
No. 3 Michigan lost 14-13 to Iowa.
No. 4 Washington lost 26-13 to USC.
No. 8 Texas A&M lost 29-28 to Mississippi.
No. 9 Auburn lost 13-7 to Georgia.
All of a sudden, a clear four-team playoff of undefeated teams is gone and three of the four spots are seemingly up in the air.
With only two weeks to go in the regular season, here is where the college football season stands now and which teams have the inside track to the College Football Playoff.
Entering this weekend, we had four undefeated Power-5 conference teams. Now we have one undefeated team and five one-loss teams. Here is a look at who’s in, who controls their own destiny, and who still needs help, while at the same time acknowledging that 8-9 teams have a legitimate claim to one of the four playoff spots (ranking entering the weekend in parentheses).
Teams that are in the playoff:
Alabama (10-0, No. 1) — The Tide are the lone unbeaten team and if they win their remaining games against Chattanooga, Auburn, and presumably Florida in the SEC title game, they are in. In fact, even if Alabama lost their regular-season finale against Auburn or lost to Florida in the SEC championship game, Alabama will still be in the playoff with one loss.
Teams that control their own destiny:
Michigan (9-1, No. 3) — Despite the last-second loss to Iowa, Michigan will still be in the playoff if they win their remaining games. That includes a game at home against Indiana, the all-important game on the road against Ohio State, and the Big Ten Championship game, against presumably Wisconsin.
Ohio State (9-1, No. 5) — Ohio State is sitting pretty as they will presumably jump up to No. 2 in the playoff ranking this week. But things are also tricky moving forward. Even if Ohio State beats Michigan State on the road and Michigan at home, they will likely not play in the Big Ten championship game as Penn State would get the tie-breaker in the East division based on their win over the Buckeyes. What Ohio State has going for them is that the Big Ten is seemingly the conference that is most likely to get two bids.
Louisville (9-1, No. 6) — Entering the weekend, many thought Louisville was the second-best team in the country and many of those same people thought the Cardinals had no chance to get into the playoff without a miracle. Well, that miracle happened on Saturday. Even though Clemson is still going to play in the ACC championship game based on the tie-breaker over Louisville, it is Louisville’s resume that looks so much better. Clemson did beat Louisville head-to-head. But Clemson has also had a number of close calls this season, and an ugly loss at home to an unranked team. Meanwhile, Louisville’s one loss was a nail-biter on the road against a top-5 team and they have a number of impressive wins, including 63-20 over Florida State.
Wisconsin (8-2, No. 7) — Despite two losses, Wisconsin will almost certainly leap-frog other one-loss teams if they win their remaining games. They finish the regular season on the road against Purdue and at home against Minnesota. But the key is winning the Big Ten Championship game against Michigan, Ohio State, or Penn State. The Badgers do have two losses, but both were tough, one-touchdown losses to Michigan and Ohio State. If Wisconsin wins out, they will also be the all-valuable champions of arguably one of the two best conferences, something the committee values highly.
Teams that need help:
Clemson (9-1, No. 2) — The final spot at this point would appear to be between Clemson and Louisville. Despite the loss to Pitt, Clemson will still play in the ACC championship game, presumably against Virginia Tech. But Clemson not only has the ugly loss at home, they also have had close calls against Auburn, Troy, and North Carolina State. In fact, Clemson has five wins this season by seven points or fewer. It is also hard to imagine the committee will put two ACC teams in the playoff. If Louisville is in, Clemson is going to need some other one-loss teams to lose along the way to make the two-ACC-team scenario unavoidable. But at the same time, it is still possible the committee picks Clemson over Louisville.
Washington (9-1, No. 4) — Most agreed before the blood bath this weekend that Washington was only going to be in the playoff if they finished the season undefeated. Well, they lost and they are still alive, barely. Right now it looks like the four spots will go to Alabama, two Big Ten teams, and either Louisville or Clemson. The problem is the Pac-12 conference, which as a whole is now 4-30 against teams currently in the AP top 25 and one of those wins was USC’s over Washington. The Huskies’ best hope is that they get in as champions of a lesser conference over a non-champion from the better Big Ten. That is certainly possible and something that will be debated heavily by the committee.
Penn State (8-2, No. 10) — Penn State is the most interesting team on this list. They need help, but of the teams in this category, they may need the least amount. If Penn State beats Rutgers and Michigan State (at home) to finish the regular season and if Ohio State beats Michigan, the Nittany Lions will go to the Big Ten championship game to most likely face Wisconsin. If Penn State wins the Big Ten championship game, the committee will almost certainly put them in the playoff. This would also almost guarantee two spots for the Big Ten as Ohio State would be in also.
Oklahoma (8-2, No. 11) — It looked like Big 12 was going to be shut out of the playoff since the conference does not have a championship game and it was without any undefeated or one-loss teams. But the Sooners’ can now make a strong case that their resume is as good as several of the one-loss teams. Their loss to Houston looks even worse now that Houston has since lost to Navy and SMU. But the other loss was to Ohio State and Oklahoma has now rattled off seven wins in a row, are undefeated in the conference, and have games remaining against two top-20 teams (No. 13 Oklahoma State and No. 16 West Virginia). If the Sooners win out, that Big 12 title will start to carry more weight. But the Sooners may still need Washington and Clemson to lose and for the committee to vote against two Big Ten teams in the playoff. So we’re sayin’ they have got a chance! (just not a good one.)
Teams that are on life support:
There are several teams that are seemingly still alive for the playoff but they not only need a lot of help, they also need the playoff committee to start looking at them in a more favourable light. This list includes No. 13 Oklahoma State (8-2, can tie for the Big 12 championship with a win over Oklahoma), No. 16 West Virginia (8-1, can tie for the Big 12 championship with a win over Oklahoma), and No. 19 Nebraska (8-2, can play in the Big Ten championship game if Wisconsin loses one of their final two regular-season games). There are also other teams that still have shots at winning the Pac-12 or the ACC (e.g. No. 12 Colorado, No. 14 Virginia Tech, No. 17 North Carolina), but the committee is more likely to leave those conferences out of the playoff than to give a spot to one of those teams.
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