College football, where five top 10 teams can lose in mid-November and not affect the national championship picture. Well, not as much as you might think.
This past weekend did open the door for some new scenarios to entertain chaos fans, but are we really heading into a cataclysmic result that will lead to an instant expansion of the College Football Playoff in 2017? Not likely. Let’s review…
Did any of Week 11’s results really mean anything?
Five teams in the top 10 of the latest College Football Playoff rankings took a loss on Saturday, and that may not have any real impact on the final playoff picture other than seeding. The quick reaction is to suggest that Clemson, Michigan, and Washington all picked a good week to lose, and that is absolutely true. But to suggest what happened meant nothing is unfair because what may have just happened is the selection committee being forced to make some tough calls, the toughest they have had to make so far during this three-year run.
This much is crystal clear: Alabama is the No. 1 team in the country and it may not be very close. Alabama already has a trip to Atlanta officially booked after wrapping up the SEC West Division on Saturday with a win and Auburn being upset at Georgia. Count on Alabama winning their next three games to reserve their spot as the No. 1 seed in the Playoff, very likely meaning another trip to Atlanta for the Peach Bowl. But who joins Alabama in the Playoff? Well, I’ll get to that later on, but let’s talk about the ramifications of what just happened on Saturday.
Most notable is the new Big Ten East Division situation, which now sees Penn State as the emerging favorite to represent the East in the Big Ten championship game. Yep, you read that correctly.
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) November 13, 2016
But does it really matter? Ohio State moved up to No. 2 in the coaches and AP polls and is expected to rise to No. 2 Tuesday night in the latest Playoff rankings. So if Penn State wins out and the Buckeyes win their next two games, we could have a top two team in the Playoff ranking being locked out of even playing for its conference championship.
However, the Buckeyes still have to be in under this scenario, don’t they? And if you’re going to allow Ohio State with one loss to a top 10 team on the road in the Playoff, doesn’t Louisville then have a similar argument to be in? Assuming Clemson still gets into the playoff, and considering where Louisville is ranked in the coaches and AP poll, it would be fascinating to see just how devoted the selection committee is to preferring conference champions over non-conference champions that clearly look like the better options.
Here’s a possible chaos scenario. Even if Alabama loses to Auburn or in the SEC championship game (again, not likely, but bear with me), is the committee actually going to leave out a one-loss Alabama? No. A No. 1 Ohio State without a division title? Nope. A one-loss Louisville with the Heisman Trophy winner? Oh boy, this is getting juicy. One-loss ACC champion Clemson? Probably not. And that could leave out a two-loss Big Ten champion (Wisconsin or Penn State).
Chaos could be happening, folks. Let’s see how it plays out.
Welcome back to national relevance, USC
I am going to use this space to change my tune, officially, on USC. The Trojans have convinced me to stop expecting the worst possible scenario after controlling Washington on the road over the weekend. Maybe Washington was overhyped or overrated. I don’t think so. I still think Washington is pretty good, but USC is no longer the sloppy up-and-down Trojans they had been in recent years.
We won’t forget what happened to USC during September when the Trojans started the year with a dismal 1-3 record, lowlighted by a blowout loss to Alabama, a 17-point loss to Stanford and a road loss at Utah. It was rough for the Trojans, and I was among the many suggesting Clay Helton needed to be replaced. I suggested a bad end to the season should make a coaching change a realistic discussion at USC, but I no longer will say that. Helton has earned the right to stay in charge of the program. I’ll own that, because Helton has turned the season around and given reason for hope for the USC program moving forward, and I want to believe this will be the new USC.
The spark stems from a quarterback change to put freshman Sam Darnold under center. Darnold has thrown 22 touchdowns with just six interceptions this season and at least 230 passing yards in each of his starts since the road game at Utah. USC now still has a shot to play for the Pac-12 championship, and that should not be overlooked.
USC needs to beat UCLA this weekend and then hope Colorado and Utah lose once. That’s not inconceivable either, with Colorado or Utah guaranteed one loss (they play in the regular season finale) and Colorado playing Washington State this week. USC won’t make a run to the Playoff even as well as they are playing now, not with three losses on their schedule and so many teams to pass on the way up the rankings. But the hype for 2017 is already mounting in a big way. And this time, the Trojans may actually live up to the hype.
Boxscore of the Week: UNLV 69, Wyoming 66
Now that college basketball season has started, I had to do a double-take when checking the football scores on Saturday. I just assumed somebody slipped a basketball score in the wrong spot when I was watching the updates from this one, But sure enough, UNLV and Wyoming were going back-and-forth in the craziest game of the week in college football. UNLV quarterback Kurt Palandech passed for 252 yards and three touchdowns, and led all players with 158 rushing yards (with a rushing touchdown as well). The loss by Wyoming also played a key role in how the Group of Five outlook appears after this past weekend.
Speaking of which…
Group of Five Situation: Wyoming’s loss opens door back up to Boise State as GameDay heads to Western Michigan
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) November 13, 2016
Western Michigan is still sitting in a comfortable spot for now in the race to a New Years Six bowl bid, but the Broncos have some stiff competition creeping up from behind. All of a sudden, Boise State is back in the conversation this week after Wyoming lost the game mentioned above. That sets the stage for a huge Week 12 in the Mountain West Conference, which starts Friday night with Boise State hosting UNLV.
San Diego State already has a spot in the MWC championship game clinched and the Aztecs can take a giant step toward seizing home-field advantage in the game this week with a road win at Wyoming. This is the biggest MWC game of the year now, because a loss by Wyoming could put the division back into the hands of Boise State if the Broncos top UNLV Friday night. We could be heading to a massive MWC championship game between top 25 teams with one loss each. That should worry Western Michigan, who may be on its way to a clean 13-0 record. I still think Western Michigan gets in with a 13-0 record and MAC championship, but a 12-1 Boise State could have what it takes to convince the committee to go with them instead. Why? They would have, hypothetically, two wins against top 25 teams (Washington State and San Diego State). That’s something Western Michigan won’t even sniff.
This is a big week for the Broncos, though. Western Michigan is getting set to host ESPN’s College GameDay, which brings a tremendous opportunity to showcase the most dominant program in the MAC and head coach P.J. Fleck, who could very well be coaching elsewhere next season.
As I noted on College Football Talk, I give Western Michigan the slight edge to reach the New Years Six, followed closely by San Diego State and Boise State, in that order. The American Athletic Conference may be the best all-around conference, but it has picked itself apart just a little too much to make up enough ground.
Random Bowl Thought
If left out of the playoff, I’d sign up for a Michigan-Louisville Orange Bowl in the blink of an eye.
The upset of the weekend was not what you might think
Yes, Iowa taking down Michigan was a shocking development. So was Pitt winning at Clemson. The upset of the weekend, however, took place in the world of Division 3, where D3 giant Mount Union lost a regular season game for the first time since 2005. The last time the Purple Raiders lost a regular season game, we were playing PlayStation 2. The funny thing is, like in the FBS, Mount Union’s November loss probably does little to stand in the way of their national championship aspirations. They will be the at-large team nobody will want to face in the D3 playoffs.
My Top Four
If the College Football Playoff started today, here is who I would have in:
- Ohio State
The College Football Playoff doesn’t start today. Here is how I am currently projecting the top four to look at the end of the season:
- Ohio State
Next in line? Louisville, Wisconsin/Penn State, West Virginia.
I really want to see how the selection committee evaluates the field on Tuesday night, because we will get an idea of just how close a two-loss team like Wisconsin or Penn State may be. The Badgers are seeing their Big Ten title odds increase in a big way now that the East could be Penn State’s to win. That is reflected in the coaches and AP polls this week with Wisconsin passing one-loss Washington.
How high will the Badgers be this week? I suggested last week a two-loss Wisconsin has a chance to make a late Playoff push, but that was based largely on getting a second crack at a top four Ohio State or Michigan in the Big Ten championship. Even if the Wolverines and Buckeyes are locked out, Wisconsin will still get a chance to show why it belongs in the Playoff against what could be a top eight Penn State. Could that be enough? It just might be.
Mailbag: Is Colorado capable of making a Playoff run?
Our featured question this week comes from Gary from the 719 via Twitter:
— Gary (@garrettbehr) November 14, 2016
I am going to assume “CU” refers to Colorado and not Clemson, even though it would technically be “UC” for University of Colorado, but this is just a minor detail. As much as I love the Colorado story this season, I am not sure it will have the storybook ending Colorado fans are dreaming about. But let’s take a look at this and play “What If?”
Colorado was No. 12 in last week’s College Football Playoff ranking, and the Buffs could crack the top 10 this week following losses by Auburn and Texas A&M this weekend. Colorado hosts a top 25 Washington State this week and a top 15 Utah next week. If Colorado wins those two games (a big “if”), they could have a chance to play a top 10 Washington in the Pac-12 championship game. Win that and all of a sudden, Colorado’s profile as a two-loss team stacks up well against other two-loss teams at the end of the year, including potential two-loss Big Ten champion Wisconsin or Penn State and a two-loss Big 12 champion in Oklahoma. And I’d like Colorado’s resume the best.
But is it enough? As I have laid out earlier in this week’s column, I don’t think there is enough chaos to make it all happen for Colorado. Yet as I said last week in this column, a Colorado-Penn State Rose Bowl would be pretty intriguing for the comeback stories alone.
Submit your questions in the comment section below and I’ll attempt to satisfy you with my answer in next week’s column, or send you into a fit of rage. You can also tweet your questions to me on Twitter (@KevinOnCFB).