The talk of the initial College Football Playoff rankings last week was Texas A&M at No. 4, and Washington behind it at No. 5. While there were plenty of other important takeaways, in general, college football fans are much more cognizant of the goings-on at the top of the rankings than at the bottom. The good news for Washington this week is that Texas A&M lost. There is no way that the Aggies will be ahead of the Huskies this week. The bad news for Washington is that another one-loss team very well might.
Ohio State walloped Nebraska this week, finally getting its offense back on track after three disappointing showings. Depending on where the committee places Nebraska this week, Ohio State could now have Top 15-20 wins over Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. Wisconsin is guaranteed to be in the Top 10; Oklahoma might sneak in there as well. Ohio State’s loss is to Penn State, who will very likely be in the Top 10 as well this week. To compare to Ohio State’s three ranked wins, Washington only has three wins over teams with winning records–and one of those three is Idaho. Do not at all be surprised if the Buckeyes jump the Huskies this week. In fact, I would be surprised if they didn’t.
None of that matters, though. The expectation and dream in college football is always an undefeated season. It always has been and it always will be. Unless the unprecedented (and infinitely unlikely) scenario of five Power 5 teams running the table occurs, an undefeated Power 5 team will always be a lock for the Playoff. No matter what. Keeping an undefeated P5 team out destroys the notion of “every game matters.” It shatters the idea that every team starts with a chance. (Yes, this requires some doublethink in regards to Group of 5 teams, but we’ll leave that aside for now.) If Washington runs the table, it is guaranteed a spot in the Playoff, no matter how weak the resume.
Where that weak resume could really come into play, though, is if the Huskies pick up a loss. Washington has three games left in the regular season, all against likely bowl teams. A loss in any of these would be devastating. Not only is Washington’s non-conference schedule one of the worst in the country, but it also had some bad luck in cross-divisional scheduling, avoiding Pac-12 South leader Colorado. There are only six likely bowl teams, total, on Washington’s schedule — and, again, one of those is Idaho. If Washington drops one of its last three games, even if the Huskies win the Pac-12 Championship Game, you are still looking at a team that is 6-1 against bowl teams and, at absolute best, 2-1 against ranked opponents. Washington is helped by the fact that the Big 12 champion won’t be a threat for that fourth Playoff spot. But would a 12-1 Washington team really have a better resume than an 11-1 Alabama or Michigan that doesn’t win its division — or a 12-1 Alabama or Michigan that gets upset in the SEC or Big Ten championship game? I really don’t think it would. And that could lead to big trouble down the line for the Pac 12 if Washington can’t run the table.
Week 10 CFP Implications: Teams Remaining in College Football Playoff Contention
Last week, there were 17 teams remaining in Playoff contention. With three eliminations this week (Baylor, Nebraska, and LSU), we are down to just 14 teams remaining with Playoff hopes. As I’ve mentioned the past three weeks, the remaining contenders are significantly ahead of the rest of the country. In fact, some of these contenders are so far ahead that a loss would keep them alive, even without a conference title. Also, a few of the teams I still have remaining don’t have a reasonable chance. It’s just that if there were only nine teams remaining with up to four games left, chaos scenarios eliminating too many teams would be feasible. So congratulations to West Virginia, Florida, and Louisville; you’re not yet eliminated, but you are officially members of #TeamChaos.
ACC: Clemson, Louisville
Big 12: Oklahoma, West Virginia
Big Ten: Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota
Conference USA: None
MAC: Western Michigan
Mountain West: None
SEC: Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn
Sun Belt: None
I actually received a question or two in the past few weeks why Minnesota was not yet eliminated. The Golden Gophers have two losses and no good wins. They also don’t get any real name-recognition benefit of the doubt. So what makes them still alive? It’s the remaining schedule. The Gophers still control their own destiny in the Big Ten East, including two games against ranked opponents in Nebraska and Wisconsin. Give them a Top 2 Michigan team in the Big Ten Championship Game on top of that, and it’s hard to say that they are out. Minnesota needs a lot of help to get in even if it can run the table, but the amount of help it needs is pretty negligible.
Speaking of Minnesota, I almost eliminated the Gophers this week anyway. They need good wins, and Nebraska’s blowout loss might mean that the Cornhuskers are no longer really a good win. In fact, if Minnesota beats Nebraska next week, it’s unlikely that the Cornhuskers will be ranked again this year. With two losses and only two ranked wins, even if those wins are over Wisconsin and an undefeated Michigan, it’s hard to see Minnesota getting in the Playoff. In fact, it’s almost impossible to see Minnesota jumping the Wolverines — who would have wins over Colorado, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State — in that scenario.
Similarly, I almost eliminated West Virginia because of Baylor’s loss. The Mountaineers are now looking at a maximum one ranked win if it runs the table. Even if BYU ends up looking like a good win at 8-4, I can’t see this Mountaineers team making the Playoff. The only reason that they are still alive is because with only 13 other contenders for four spots, chaos scenarios are not so ridiculous. But unless we see some real chaos this week, including a Washington loss, I will be eliminating West Virginia.
Where does Oklahoma sit?
There are no two ways about it. The Big 12, as a conference, is on the brink of Playoff elimination right now. It has been for most of the season. Now, though, the issue has become compounded. The Big 12’s back-loaded scheduling means that the contenders don’t get to pick up quality wins until the end of the season. With Baylor’s collapse this week, though, those quality wins just aren’t there. If Oklahoma wins out, it will, at absolute best, have two ranked wins — and that’s assuming that a 9-3 Oklahoma State can stay ranked. Baylor is out of the rankings for good with one more loss. A 10-2 West Virginia squad (assuming it can beat Texas, Iowa State, and Baylor) might squeak into the Top 15, but that’s the best-quality win that Oklahoma can hope for. I haven’t eliminated the Sooners as a show of respect for the non-conference schedule. But Oklahoma might be in Western Michigan’s boat right now — a team that I can’t in good conscience eliminate but one that also has no realistic shot at making the Playoff.
Can any team “clinch” early
Because we have so few contenders — and especially because the Big 12 is practically eliminated — the teams at the top do seem to have some wiggle room. What happens if that wiggle room stays until the end of the season?
Right now, Alabama has a tremendous cushion over the rest of the country, at least in terms of perception. Between wins over Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee (even in free-fall right now), LSU, and USC, Alabama could have up to five ranked wins heading into the Iron Bowl — especially if USC upsets Washington this week, but more on that later. Even if they’re not all ranked, that’s five quality wins that few teams in the country have, not to mention also beating Conference USA favorite Western Kentucky. If Auburn wins out, it will have one loss more than Alabama, as well as far fewer ranked wins (at best, Auburn would have beaten LSU, Arkansas, Alabama, and Florida or Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game). It’s hard to see how Auburn would be ahead of Alabama in that case.
A similar case could play out in the Big Ten. If Michigan enters the Big Ten Championship Game undefeated, it’s hard to see how an upset in that game bumps the Wolverines out of the Playoff. Even if it’s against Wisconsin, the Badgers would have two losses, in contrast to quality wins over LSU, Nebraska or Minnesota (one, but not both, of those could end up ranked), and Michigan. Michigan, on the other hand, would have wins over Colorado, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, with only one loss against them. If the Big 12 (or Washington) is officially out of the picture before December 3rd, there is a good chance that Michigan will essentially be a lock regardless of the outcome of that game.
What to look for in Week 11
The Week 11 lineup is actually pretty boring at first glance, but there are some hidden gems with serious Playoff implications. I’ll start with one of the last games of the weekend — the Gameday game between Washington and USC. A USC win would be huge here for a lot of reasons. First of all, it would put Washington on the ropes, as mentioned to start this article. More importantly, though, it would make the USC win a quality one for Alabama, increasing Alabama’s chances of getting in as a second SEC team if it loses to Auburn. Remember, if the Big 12 is out of the picture and the choice is between 11-1 Alabama (who beat USC) and 12-1 Pac 12 champion Washington (who lost to USC and has an atrocious non-conference schedule), Alabama may well get the nod for that fourth spot.
Baylor meets Oklahoma in a Big 12 battle that once seemed meaningful but now really isn’t. An Oklahoma loss would essentially eliminate the conference, though, because Baylor won’t be gaining much respect again this year even if it wins this game.
In the SEC, Florida can actually clinch the East if it beats South Carolina and Kentucky beats Tennessee. Honestly, though, the SEC might be hoping that Florida doesn’t come through there. While you usually want a strong opponent in the conference championship game, at this point the SEC East champion doesn’t look like a Playoff contender anyway, so now the goal might be to avoid an upset in the conference championship game. Also, Alabama can clinch the SEC West if it beats Mississippi State and Georgia upsets Auburn.
Meanwhile, there is a big matchup between Troy and Appalachian State in the Sun Belt. A Troy win could put the Trojans in position to be considered for an NY6 Bowl if Western Michigan slips up. LSU vs Arkansas is a battle that Wisconsin really needs to see LSU win. And Minnesota will face Nebraska in an important Big Ten West battle. Wisconsin wants to see Nebraska win that one, because wins over a 10-2 Nebraska team and 8-4 Minnesota will look better to the committee than if both end up 9-3.