Starting 11: The Playoff Drama Builds Edition

Oct 25, 2014; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles claps for his team during pre game warm ups on the field prior to kickoff against the Mississippi Rebels at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Mississippi 10-7. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports Getty Images North America

Of all the dumb excuses that were made to argue against a college football playoff the dumbest of all was this — a playoff would detract from the regular season. I always wrote that was a stupid excuse, but now that we’re over 11 weeks into the first regular season with a college football playoff it’s clear that nothing could be further from the truth. Ratings for college football games are surging. Chances are you’re paying more attention to games that dont’ involve involve your favorite team or conferences. The playoff has been great for the sport. 

While the BCS was undoubtedly an improvement over the existing bowl structure, the four team playoff is a seismic leap forward. When we eventually end up with an eight game playoff, most of us won’t even be able to remember how we endured for so long without a playoff. For those of us with young children, think about how hard it’s going to be to explain the BCS era to them. “Well, there were these computers and they were mixed with the man made polls into a formula that…” 

As we prepare for week 12, what’s the playoff landscape look like? 

1. Here’s Outkick’s most likely playoff projection if the top teams keep winning:

Alabama, Oregon, FSU, Mississippi State

I think both 12-1 Alabama and 12-1 Oregon would pass FSU in the seeding lines. This would mean that Alabama and Mississippi State would play a rematch in the Sugar Bowl and that Oregon and FSU would play in the Rose Bowl.  

Your fifth team left out would be Baylor, TCU would be sixth and Ohio State would be seventh. Ultimately the debate would come down to Mississippi State vs. Baylor and State would have better wins, a better loss and a more challenging schedule. If Arizona State wins out and beats Oregon in the Pac 12 title game then the Sun Devils would replace Oregon in the playoff.  

I feel pretty confident this is what the committee would do if there aren’t any big upsets in the final weeks of the season. If any of your top four teams lose then I’d slide up the fifth, sixth or seventh teams to replace them. (With the caveat that a two-loss SEC champ Auburn, Alabama, or Georgia would get in over a 12-1 Ohio State.)

But let’s break down some of the messes that could ensue in the conference games to come. 

2. With Auburn’s loss, what’s the best and worst case scenario in the SEC when it comes to a playoff?

The best case scenario for the SEC is the one that’s most likely, Alabama beats Mississippi State and the Bulldogs go on to win every other game. In this situation then two SEC teams would make the playoff.

The worst case scenario would require that Auburn beat Georgia and Missouri win the SEC East. Then a two-loss SEC West champ — see below — would need to lose to Missouri. That’s the only situation I can see where an SEC team isn’t in the playoff. Yes, as I said above, I think a two-loss SEC champ Georgia, Auburn or Alabama would still make the playoff.  

Remember, we could still end up with a four-way SEC West tie at 6-2. If Bama beats Mississippi State but loses to Auburn and State loses to both Bama and Ole Miss while Ole Miss and Auburn win out then we have a four way tie at 10-2. 

The tiebreak — which I initially misapplied — comes down to head-to-head record among the four tied teams. Auburn and Ole Miss would be 3-1 and Auburn wins that tiebreak.  

So as tough of a loss as it was, if Auburn wins out they’d just need Ole Miss to win out too and they’d win the division.

3. The Pac 12 title game is setting up as a quarterfinal playoff game.

While we all want an eight team playoff, effectively we’ll have a five-team playoff if Oregon and Arizona State both win the rest of their regular season games. If that happens then both Oregon and Arizona State will be 11-1 and the Pac 12 title game, Friday night December 5th on Fox, will be for a guaranteed spot in the playoff. So that makes it a playoff game as well.

Oregon’s unlikely to lose — the 9-1 Ducks only have regular season games left against Colorado and Oregon State —  but Arizona State’s final regular season game, at Arizona on the day after Thanksgiving, is a terribly dangerous game for the Sun Devils. Lose that game and the Pac 12 South could be thrown into a mess. UCLA, USC, Arizona or Arizona State could all be playing spoiler in the Pac 12 title game against Oregon.

The Pac 12 really needs Arizona State to win out and go head-to-head with Oregon for a spot in the playoff. 

4. What about the Big 12?

TCU beat Kansas State and Baylor crushed Oklahoma, setting up a rough scenario for the Big 12, two 11-1 co-champs that both steal support from each other. While TCU is likely to be ranked above Baylor right now, if the Bears keep winning — they finish with Oklahoma State, at Texas Tech, and Kansas State — and TCU keeps wining — the Horned Frogs finish with at Kansas, at Texas and Iowa State — then it’s hard to believe that Baylor, who won head-to-head 61-58, could end up ranked beneath TCU by the playoff committee. So even though TCU would have an out of conference win over Minnesota, Baylor would be your top ranked Big 12 team.

(The irony of a conference that sells itself as creating “one true champion” arguing that Baylor and TCU are co-champs is mind-boggling.)

Then the question becomes, do either of these teams get into the playoff? And the bigger question becomes, is it possible that both teams could get in? Certainly. Hell if FSU lost to Miami and the Pac 12 champ had two losses, we could even end up with a playoff that features two SEC teams and two Big 12 teams.

5. Ohio State has a very small chance of making the playoff.

Buckeye fans are all swollen up with pride over Urban Meyer’s first top 15 win in three years as head coach of Ohio State, but there’s still only a small chance the Buckeyes make the playoff.

Let me explain why. 

I laid out the committee’s top seven teams above if no major upsets happen down the stretch. In addition to the Buckeyes being seventh, I’m not even sure that Ohio State will be ranked above either Auburn or Ole Miss in the new committee rankings on Tuesday. Both Auburn and Ole Miss have better wins than Ohio State and neither has as bad of a loss.

Ohio State would need some combination of the following to make the playoff — FSU needs to lose, the Pac 12 champ needs to have two losses, at least one of the Big 12’s presumptive 11-1 teams needs to lose, and every SEC team needs to have two losses to ensure that only one SEC team gets in.

Oh, and Ohio State needs to win out. 

That’s a pretty low percentage chance of happening.

6. Told y’all Notre Dame was a fraud.

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Notre Dame being overrated in college football. 

Arizona State took the Fighting Irish to the woodshed, managing to blow them out twice in the same game. Fighting Irish fans, who have been lambasting me for not putting the Irish in Outkick’s top ten, are mercifully quiet. 

By the way, I love the Sun Devil fan reaction shots because Arizona State is the only college fan base in the country that for every fan they show in the crowd you could play: porn star or college football fan. 

I’m just glad that Todd Graham scored on a naked boot leg with under a minute to play to hang fifty on the Fighting Irish. Otherwise the comeback against the Sun Devils and the close loss to FSU would have pretty much guaranteed Notre Dame a spot in the playoff. 

7. Let’s all take a break and enjoy this play from Alabama at LSU.

8. Florida State’s play has been weak all season.

I actually think the off-field distractions have helped to camouflage how weak FSU has been on the field this year. Every other team in playoff contention has pretty impressive offenses, defenses, or is sterling on both sides of the ball. FSU is ranked 50th in total defense and just 37th in total offense. To put those numbers into perspective, Miami, FSU’s opponent this coming weekend, is ranked 11th in total defense and 43rd in total offense. Statistically, Miami is the better team. That’s why this line has opened so low. (I don’t buy entirely into the statsitics game, which is why I’m taking FSU -2.5).  

The best win on FSU’s schedule is Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish just got exposed by Arizona State. FSU could easily have two or three losses this season. Put simply, if you keep flirting with disaster, eventually you lose.

Ask Auburn.  

9. Auburn’s luck finally ran out.

You knew it was going to happen sooner or later — no team can keep snatching victory from the jaws of defeat over and over again. Ultimately everything in life is about probability — the more times you put yourself into a position to win or lose, the more even the outcome will generally be over time. In the short term Auburn won a series of unbelievable victories, but I suspect that over the next decade or so Auburn will be on the losing end of several incredible finishes. And Saturday was one of them.

Auburn fumbled twice in the final 2:30 — both its own unforced errors — to allow Texas A&M to escape with a win. What a huge win for Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies, in the midst of three straight double digit SEC losses, suddenly find themselves poised to beat Missouri and LSU in College Station to cap off a nine-win season. I’m guessing this would make the Aggies the first nine win team in college football history to have lost a game by 59 points.  

10. Can we talk about how tough of a gambling loss LSU +6.5 was?

The Tigers were inside the number for the entire game until overtime. What’s more, the coin flip screwed all gamblers. If LSU takes possession first then instead of going for it on fourth down, the Tigers attempt a field goal. Make it or miss it, Alabama would have taken possession knowing they needed a touchdown to win the game. Only, and this is key, if you score a touchdown in overtime to win the game you don’t kick the extra point.

So once LSU kicked a field goal to go up 13-10 with under a minute to play, if you had the Tide -6.5 the only way you could win that bet was with this scenario, Alabama drives the length of the field to kick a field goal sending the game into overtime, Tide wins the toss and takes possession, scores a touchdown and then LSU gets stopped on fourth down. (Of course LSU came out and threw the ball four times in overtime despite having 76 yards of passing offense all game. Of course they did).

LSU will now be underdogs on the road at Arkansas and at Texas A&M to finish the season. This could make LSU the best five loss team in the history of college football.  

11. SEC power rankings 1-14:

1. Mississippi State

2. Alabama

3. Auburn

4. Ole Miss

5. Georgia

6. LSU

7. Texas A&M

8. Mizzou

9. Florida

10. Tennessee

11. South Carolina

12. Kentucky

13. Arkansas

14. Vandy 

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.