Why hasn’t Ohio State been discussed in this column for the past few weeks? The Buckeyes were a huge question mark. Unquestionably talented, the team’s loss to Oklahoma showcased the same offensive ineptitude that was apparent in last season’s blowout loss to Clemson in the Playoff. Oddsmakers and advanced metrics did not bail too much on the Buckeyes, but from my perspective there was plenty else to talk about when looking at the Playoff picture. There was no reason to discuss Ohio State until either the offense improved or the Buckeyes returned to controlling their own Playoff destiny. Now, both of those things have happened.
Ohio State’s offensive improvement since the Oklahoma game is staggering. Yes, the Buckeyes faced some weaker competition. Wins over teams like UNLV and Army don’t prove much (though Army is surprisingly decent again this year). Maryland and Nebraska are not great teams, but they are not awful either, and the offensive performance in both of those games by Ohio State shows that the Buckeyes have moved past the predictable and poor playcalling that hurt them so much against Clemson and Oklahoma. Not only that, J.T. Barrett is finally throwing the ball downfield the same way he did early in his career, when he led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten Championship Game berth before succumbing to an ankle injury.
With the loss to Oklahoma, Ohio State also needed some help from the rest of the competition. It was bound to come, but was still nerve-wracking to Buckeye fans to wait for it to happen. Now, though, Ohio State is all but assured of being six wins away from a Playoff berth.
It is entirely possible that the Pac-12 is the most talented and deepest conference in the country this year. But unfortunately for the conference, the Playoff selection committee doesn’t care about that. The committee selects the four best teams. More often than not, a conference with many good teams but no superlative one will not produce a champion with a Playoff-worthy resume. That’s what we’re seeing in the Pac-12 right now.
Last week, it looked like the two Washington schools were on their ways to a de facto Playoff Sweet 16 in the Apple Cup. Instead, both teams lost in pretty embarrassing fashion (Washington State much more so than Washington), leaving the Pac-12 with zero undefeated teams. The Pac-12 is now looking at, at absolute best, having only three teams with two losses or fewer. There won’t be top-quality wins in conference, though there will be room for plenty of ranked wins.
It’s far too early to write the conference off (see below), but Ohio State can now confidently say that it will pass the Pac-12 champion if it wins out. A 12-1 USC team may have a better resume than a 12-1 Ohio State team (that will depend on too many things to possibly predict it now), but it’s pretty unlikely. Ohio State got everything it needed from the West Coast this past week. The Buckeyes, after a few short weeks of sweating, are back in the CFP driver’s seat if they can win out.
Week 7 CFP Implications: Teams Remaining in Playoff contention
We have finally reached that great point of the year where it is easier to list those teams still alive in the Playoff race than it is to list those eliminated. We eliminated 10 more teams this week, bringing our list of Playoff contenders down to 33. The Pac-12 saw three eliminations this week (Utah, Oregon, and UCLA), while we wave goodbye to the Mountain West Conference this season as San Diego State was eliminated with its loss to Boise. Two SEC teams (Florida and Tennessee) also bit the dust, as did two from the Big 12 (Kansas State and Texas). The Big Ten and ACC saw one elimination each, as we bid farewell to Minnesota and Duke.
AAC: Navy, UCF, USF
ACC: Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami (Fl), N.C. State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Big 12: Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech
Big Ten: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin
Independents: Notre Dame
Pac 12: Arizona, Stanford, USC, Washington, Washington State
SEC: Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, South Carolina
Sun Belt: None
The ACC is once again staking its claim as the deepest league, as it has the most teams alive (seven) of any conference. On top of that, two of the conference’s most talented teams (Florida State and Louisville) aren’t even on that list. This conference has a plethora of good teams. From Clemson to surprisingly competitive Wake Forest and Virginia, the ACC does not have a single really bad team. No other conference can say that. The competitiveness and quality of the league is shown by, among many other things, my inability to eliminate teams so far.
AAC firmly in control of Group of 5 bid
We all knew before the season started that the AAC would be the top Group of 5 conference. Having the best conference doesn’t guarantee having the best team, though. And having the best team doesn’t guarantee having the best conference champion.
Now that the season is taking shape, though, the AAC looks set on both of those fronts. Either UCF or USF is the best Group of 5 team, with Navy and Memphis not too far behind. Anything is possible, but it would take a major implosion for one of those four to not be the AAC champion. And unless Navy loses to both Notre Dame and Army but wins the AAC anyway, it’s hard to see a real scenario where the AAC champion doesn’t have the superior Group of 5 resume.
There are a few things to watch out for, though. If we get a Boise State vs San Diego State rematch in the Mountain West CCG, then the winner of that will have a strong resume. A 12-1 SDSU squad would have a pretty strong resume, and probably better than anything a two-loss AAC champion would have. Also, keep an eye on Toledo. The Rockets are the class of the MAC, and a 12-1 Toledo team would be hard to keep out, especially if Miami (Florida) keeps winning.
Lastly, the AAC does not want to see USF win the league unless it can go undefeated. The Bulls have a very weak schedule, including a very poor non-conference showing. In 2014, the committee refused to rank an undefeated Marshall team for a long time because of its weak schedule. We could see the same happen here. If the committee has to choose between 12-1 USF and 12-1 Toledo, that decision may very well go the MAC’s way.
Pac-12 far from out of it
Above, I pointed out that Ohio State is now above the Pac-12 in terms of Playoff pecking order. That is absolutely true. The Pac-12 champion, even if USC or Washington State wins out, will be very hard-pressed to have a better resume than the Big Ten champion. However, there are still plenty of chances for other conferences to let the Pac-12 back in. The Big 12 is still on the edge, as another loss by Oklahoma will force the conference to essentially be TCU or bust. Clemson’s loss gives the ACC a bit less leeway.
Also, I just have to point out Stanford’s schedule. The Cardinal plays both San Diego State and Notre Dame in non-conference play, and faced USC and Utah in cross-divisional play. The coming weeks will see Stanford face both Washington schools. Stanford, in 2015, ended the year at No. 6 with two losses. With just a little more chaos around the country, Stanford has the schedule to be the first-ever two-loss Playoff team if it can run the table. Don’t count the Cardinal out.
Clemson’s loss changes little
I could go 1,300 words about the Playoff picture without getting to discuss Clemson’s shocking loss on Friday night, which says a ton about what the Tigers did in the first six weeks of the season. Clemson, essentially, had a one-game lead on the entire Playoff field. The Tigers will be in the Playoff if they win out. They’ll probably still be a top two seed at 12-1. Losing to Syracuse was embarrassing, but this team still has a good collection of wins.
The human polls recognized this – – Clemson is no lower than No. 8 in either poll. The Tigers might no longer have much (if any) wiggle room, but they are still looking at three to five ranked wins on the season. The margin for error is gone, but the calculus stays the same as after Week 6. Clemson was six wins away from the Playoff then. Clemson is still just six wins away from the Playoff now.
Week 8 Implications
We have an elimination game in the Big 12 between Iowa State and Texas Tech. That’s right, both of those teams made it to Week 7 without being eliminated. One of them won’t leave the week, though, and neither has any real shot at the CFP. Still, it says a lot about both of these programs that one will be within the final 30 eliminations this season. That’s not something I (or anyone, probably) would have predicted before the season.
Louisville against Florida State is noteworthy in that it isn’t noteworthy. There’s no major implication coming out of this game. That is also something that no one would have predicted before the season. Also in the ACC, Syracuse will get a chance to knock off the ACC’s other undefeated team. Miami (Florida) staying unbeaten will be huge for the conference — but also for Notre Dame.
Speaking of Notre Dame, it’s time to really talk about the Irish. Their game against USC this week will be huge for both Notre Dame and the Pac-12. If the Irish win that game, we will have to take them very seriously as a Playoff contender. Notre Dame still has games against Miami, N.C. State, Stanford, Wake Forest, and Navy. In fact, Notre Dame’s six remaining opponents have a combined seven losses between them. No team has more than two. This is a brutal closing schedule. If the Irish can navigate it unscathed, they’re a Playoff lock. Even at 10-2, Notre Dame could still be alive. It’s time to pay some serious attention to the Fighting Irish.