Starting 11: The Playoff Drama Explodes Edition

I love college football.

And I especially love college football when the playoff nears and anything can happen. Just like we saw yesterday. Remember those idiots who said a playoff would make the college football regular season matter loss? Boy were they ever wrong.

Far from these losses making the college football playoff picture more complicated, the upsets we saw on Saturday actually clarified the playoff picture a great deal and left us with only seven teams who can make the playoff.

I’ll explain why in the ensuing several thousand words, but first here’s a word from Starting 11 sponsor Krystal.

The Outkick Starting 11 is brought to you by Krystal – where you can always get 79 cent Krystals everyday, text OUTKICK to 37793 for two free Krystals and a Coke right now.

Okay, here we go with the Starting 11.

1. Here’s my playoff top four if the season ended today and the next three teams up for playoff spots:

1. Alabama

2. Miami

3. Oklahoma

4. Clemson

5. Georgia

6. Wisconsin

7. Auburn

I believe these seven teams are the only ones that can make the playoff.

Now let’s unpack why I have the teams ranked this way and make sense of where we’re headed in the final three weeks of games.

2. The SEC will get one team in the playoff for sure and still may get two teams in even with Georgia’s loss. 

Alabama, Georgia, and Auburn, yes, Auburn, are all still alive for college football playoff bids. If the Tigers beat Alabama and then Georgia again in the SEC title game then 11-2 Auburn would go to the playoff.

Georgia, which took a real beating on the Plains, now has no mulligan left and must finish 12-1 and win the SEC title to make the playoff.

Alabama’s clearly in the playoff if the Tide finish 13-0 and there’s a very good chance that 12-1 Alabama, which lost the SEC title game to 12-1 Georgia, would still make the playoff too.

Why do I believe that? 12-1 Alabama would have a better resume than any other one loss team in college football. The Tide would have road wins over two top 15 teams — Auburn’s win over Georgia actually strengthened the Tide’s resume if they can beat them on the road — and would have the best loss of any team with one loss.

That’s especially the case if Wisconsin loses in the Big Ten title game to Ohio State. Then you’d have the SEC champ, the ACC champ, the Big 12 champ and you’d have 12-1 Wisconsin lined up against 12-1 Alabama. Can anyone argue 12-1 Wisconsin deserves to be in over Alabama?

No way. Similarly, could anyone argue 11-2 Ohio State, 10-2 Notre Dame or 11-2 USC/Washington deserved to be in the playoff over Alabama?

I don’t think so.

Here’s another wrinkle for you — would 11-1 Alabama with a close lose to Auburn still have a good shot to make the playoff? I think so too.

So this idea that the SEC lost a chance to put two teams in the playoff is just wrong. The SEC still remains very much in the mix to put two teams in the playoff.

3. The Big 10’s playoff hopes rest on Wisconsin going 13-0. 

Yes, there’s a very slim possibility that 11-2 Big Ten champ Ohio State could make the playoff, but that relies on total chaos arising.

What would that chaos look like?

The SEC and the ACC are close to assured of bids to the playoff regardless of what happens in those conferences. That leaves two bids remaining. Even if Oklahoma finishes 11-2 at this point, it’s hard to see how Ohio State gets in over Oklahoma given the head-to-head loss and same amount of losses. So that leaves one spot. And the problem for the Buckeyes is this, wouldn’t 12-1 Alabama or 11-1 Alabama have a better resume and a better single loss than Ohio State’s two losses? To say nothing of the potential that 11-1 Miami’s only loss could come to 12-1 Clemson.

So I just don’t see the committee favoring Ohio State.

Which is why I believe there are only seven teams alive for four spots to the playoff at this point.

If Wisconsin doesn’t finish 13-0, or at least 12-1 and as Big Ten champs, I just don’t see the Big Ten getting a playoff team this year.

The most interesting question to me is this, would 13-0 Wisconsin’s resume really be better than 12-1 Alabama’s resume?

I don’t think so.

I suspect the committee would take 13-0 Wisconsin, but the resume isn’t better.

4. The ACC is in great shape to make the playoff.

In fact, missing the playoff would probably require Miami losing to both Virginia and Pittsburgh to finish the season and Clemson losing to South Carolina in the final week of the season.

And even then I still think a two loss ACC champ would get into the playoff.

So it’s virtually impossible to conceive of how the ACC could miss the playoff this year.

The most likely outcome in the ACC is 11-1 Clemson plays 11-0 Miami for the ACC title and a playoff bid.

Is it possible that the ACC could get two playoff teams in? That would require Clemson to finish 12-1 and Miami to finish 11-1, but the problem with this scenario is a second place SEC team would also be 11-1 or 12-1.

Which brings me to this scenario: it would require some chaos, but it’s still possible that two SEC and two ACC teams could end up in the playoff. What would need to happen there? Ohio State wins the Big Ten at 11-2, a team other than Oklahoma wins the Big 12 at 11-2, and, as we already know will happen, a two loss Pac 12 champ emerges.

Then isn’t it possible that 12-1 SEC champ Georgia, 12-1 Alabama, 12-1 ACC champ Clemson and 11-1 Miami are all the four best teams in college football? I think so.

5. The Big 12’s playoff hopes rely on 12-1 Oklahoma running the table.

Oklahoma plays Kansas this coming Saturday — the spread on this game might be 45 — and then finishes with West Virginia at home in Norman.

Win those two games and Oklahoma would be 11-1 and the undisputed Big 12 champ.

Only, you guessed it, the Big 12 has instituted a totally unnecessary Big 12 title game where Oklahoma will have to play an additional game and can only lose the title there despite the fact that OU won the title in the regular season.

This is my primary issue with title games in general — the vast majority of the time they are unnecessary. We play the entire college football season to figure out the best team and then arbitrarily play an additional game to crown a champion.

Why do this?

So who will Oklahoma play in the totally unnecessary Big 12 title game that can only cost the Big 12 a spot in the playoff this year?

Provided TCU can win at Texas Tech and at home against Baylor it would be a rematch with TCU, the team Oklahoma just beat by 18 points.

By playing that game Oklahoma would risk everything — the Big 12 title and a playoff spot — to gain nothing.

6. The Pac 12 is effectively eliminated from the playoff.

I can’t even conceive of how the Pac 12 could end up in the playoff, honestly.

That’s why I said there are only seven teams remaining alive for the playoff.

7. How does the college football hot seat look?

Regardless of how this year finishes Gus Malzahn will be back at Auburn with a very good team in 2018. So it looks like we will have five SEC jobs open up: Florida, Texas A&M — assuming they don’t win their last two –, Tennessee, Arkansas and Ole Miss.

It’s also hard for me to see how Nebraska and UCLA don’t open as well. (Although UCLA getting to 6-6 could be enough to save Mora’s job. I don’t see any way Nebraska, who just got blown out by Minnesota, can keep Mike Riley. Upon reflection I think it’s actually likely that Larry Fedora survives at North Carolina even if the Tar Heels finish 3-9, which they will do.)

I would rank these jobs as follows and I’m going to give you the top two candidates as I see it at each job:

1. Florida: Scott Frost and Chip Kelly

2. Texas A&M: Chip Kelly and Chad Morris (Although why not call Gary Patterson?)

3. Tennessee: Jon Gruden and Dan Mullen

4. Arkansas: Mike Norvell and Charlie Strong

5. UCLA: Chip Kelly and Mike Leach

6. Nebraska: Scott Frost and Matt Campbell

7. Ole Miss: Charlie Strong and Mike Leach

8. Don’t overlook the job that Barry Odom has done in year two at Missouri. 

After starting 1-5 the Tigers have now run off four straight wins and appear poised to beat Vanderbilt and Arkansas to finish 7-5 on the season.

I think the Tigers are going to win both games by huge margins over Vandy and Arkansas too.

Drew Lock is the real deal and this offense is absolutely rolling.

9. Tennessee and Vanderbilt are likely to play the saddest game in SEC history on November 25th, as both 0-7 teams seek to avoid going 0-8 in the SEC. 

I’m not sure how many 0-7 vs. 0-7 in the SEC games there have ever been — maybe Mississippi State and Ole Miss have done it before? — but it has to be very rare to have this level of futility.

Leaving Butch Jones in charge at Tennessee at this point is just brutal. Are you really telling me there isn’t a single person on the staff who could be the interim coach?

At this point in time I would also like to rescind my apology to Derek Mason and the Vanderbilt Commodores. After week three of the season I wrote this:

“When he was named head coach at Vandy three years ago, I said Mason wasn’t ready for the job at the end of his first year and I stand by my opinion then. But I was wrong that he wasn’t ever going to win at Vanderbilt.

Every year they have gotten better and every year he has gotten better as a head coach. Kyle Shurmur is the real deal at quarterback and I legitimately believe Vandy will go to a bowl game this year and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it wouldn’t shock me if they were in the mix to win the division come November.”


Derek Mason’s in over his head and will never win at a high level at Vanderbilt. I let the 3-0 start to the season go to my head. Vandy has been awful in the SEC this year, allowing at least 34 points against every opponent. Mizzou is going to score 50 on them this coming weekend and Vandy and Tennessee will both be 0-7 come the final week of the season.

The only thing Tennessee fans have left to root for on the field is for the Vols to beat Vandy so they and Ohio State can remain the only two teams to never lose eight games in a college football season.

Well, that and Jon Gruden.

10. Baker Mayfield is winning the Heisman trophy. 

I’m not sure we even need to invite anyone else to New York City because this is a foregone conclusion.

11. Here are the SEC power rankings brought to you by Krystal:

And remember.

All season long, the Starting 11 and SEC rankings are sponsored by Krystal.  Krystal burgers are only 79 cents each – only 79 cents! – all day, every day.

Krystal is hooking up the Outkick family again this season – text OUTKICK to ‘37793’ right now for some free Krystals and a soda.  Enjoy!

1. Alabama

2. Auburn

3. Georgia

4. Mississippi State

5. LSU

6. Texas A&M

7. Kentucky

8. South Carolina

9. Missouri

10. Ole Miss

11. Arkansas

12. Florida

13. Vanderbilt

14. Tennessee

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.