Starting 11: The Playoff Looks Set

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Nov 28, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles is picked up by his players after defeating the Texas A&M Aggies 19-7 at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports Crystal LoGiudice

There are now eight teams alive for the college football playoff game. 

Here are the opening lines for the title games this week:

Alabama -17.5 vs. Florida

Michigan State -4 vs. Iowa

Clemson -5.5 vs. North Carolina

Stanford -4 vs. USC

Let’s discuss. 

1. Alabama, Clemson, North Carolina, Iowa, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Stanford and Ohio State are still alive for the playoff as we enter the final week of the season. 

There are two playoff spots remaining since we know the winner of Iowa-Michigan State and Oklahoma are in the playoff. 

If Alabama and Clemson win then the playoff committee has an easy job, they don’t even need to meet in person to seed this playoff. 

But what if both Alabama and Clemson lose? Let’s discuss. 

2. If Clemson loses to UNC then there are three teams with cases to make that they deserve in the playoff. 

12-1 Clemson, 12-1 ACC champ North Carolina, and 11-1 Ohio State.

I think we could eliminate Ohio State because the Buckeyes have one good win all season, this past week against Michigan. Ohio State beat three teams with winning records — Northern Illinois, Penn State, and Michigan — all season. The Buckeyes would be in discussion because they have a good loss — although that loss would diminish in quality quite a bit if Iowa wins — and are the defending national champs. But I think an objective review of their resume, even with the impressive win over Michigan, eliminates them from legit selection here. 

So that leaves us with Clemson vs. North Carolina. And I honestly think that’s a really tough call.


Clemson has very good wins against top ten caliber teams in Notre Dame and Florida State, and beat Louisville, Miami, and N.C. State, three additional teams with winning records. Put together that is two top wins and five teams with winning records. Clemson’s schedule is demonstrably tougher and better than North Carolina’s and Ohio State’s.  

UNC lost to 3-9 South Carolina on the opening Thursday night of the college football season. Since that time they have won 12 games in a row, including three teams that finished with winning records — N.C. State, Miami and Pitt. The best Tar Heel win by far would be over Clemson, but that game would win the ACC title for the Tar Heels.   

So here’s the question, is the ACC title game a play-in for the playoff or not? Should UNC, with a substantially weaker resume than Clemson even with a head-to-head win, get in over Clemson if the Tar Heels pull off the upset?

I honestly don’t know. The question is a complex one — do you value head-to-head and a conference title over the better overall resume and more challenging schedule?

Last night I argued during our mock Fox playoff committee — which will air on big Fox this afternoon — that Clemson’s overall resume would still be better than UNC’s, but the counter point is why even play the ACC title game then? If Clemson’s already in, what’s the point? This morning I think I’m trending towards saying whichever team wins the ACC title should be in, even if that’s North Carolina.

But the margin of this game could also sway me. If, for instance, UNC wins by double digits, I’d be more inclined to put them in the playoff then if they win by a field goal on the final play of the game. 


3. What if Clemson and Alabama lose?

Full disclosure, I just made my largest bet of the year on Alabama to cover -17.5 against the Gators because I don’t believe Florida can score. It’s almost impossible for me to even come up with a scenario where the Tide loses this game. But if Alabama did lose then the SEC gets left out of the playoff.  

I think ACC champ UNC definitely gets in then and I think, wait for it, Clemson would get in too. 

The other two teams you’d have to consider would be Ohio State and Stanford, assuming the Cardinal win the Pac 12 title. The cynic in me says Ohio State would help a great deal with television ratings, but the Buckeye resume just isn’t there compared to 12-1 Clemson, 12-1 North Carolina, or even 11-2 Stanford. I actually think 11-2 Alabama has a better resume than 11-1 Ohio State too. 

So I think if Clemson and Bama both lose that the ACC would end up with two teams, or the committee would take 11-2 Stanford to reward a conference title team. But I think 12-1 Clemson here would be impossible not to pick, they would have the best resume of a non-championship team and more wins than any team not in the playoff. (Just to eliminate the consideration, 12-1 Clemson would have a much better resume than 12-1 Iowa too.) 

4. How thankful should the committee be for Arkansas’s insane lateral on 4th down in overtime against Ole Miss? And for the two point conversion fail?

If Arkansas loses to Ole Miss then the 11-2 Rebels are playing Florida in Atlanta and Alabama is left on the sideline as the SEC west loser.

Would the Tide still get into the playoff? I think so. But can you imagine the screaming from Ohio State fans?  

5. Derrick Henry won the Heisman trophy with 46 carries for 271 yards against Auburn.

46 carries in the Iron Bowl!

That’s insane.  

Lane Kiffin is not going to make the mistake that he made against Ohio State last year when Derrick Henry ran just 13 times for 95 yards. Henry averaged 7.3 yards a carry against Ohio State and the Tide failed to utilize him very much. This year Kiffin is riding Henry for all he’s worth. He’s getting over 30 carries against Florida and then Henry will have nearly a month to get ready for the playoff.  

Spectacular cover, by the way. God bless Derrick Henry. 

6. Florida is a bad football team right now. 

This offense under Treon Harris has no chance to score against anyone. Decent teams are throttling Florida right now. That’s unfortunate because the defense is stellar and anyone who watched Florida demolish Ole Miss knows that the Gators with Will Grier at the helm had a chance to be really, really good. Given that Grier is suspended for the first six games of next year, a Treon Harris led Gator team isn’t going to be very good early next year.

This year’s Gators team reminds me an awful lot of Gus Malzahn’s Auburn team his first year. That Auburn team went 12-2, but could have easily been 8-4 or 7-5 on the year. And unlike this year’s Florida team, by the end of the year Auburn was really good. Yes, the Gators are 10-2 this year, but you could change four plays and they would be 6-6 with losses to Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. I think there’s a really good chance that next year the breaks don’t go Florida’s way and they fall back to a 7-5 type team in 2015.

In other words, I’m not ready to annoint Jim McElwain as the Gator savior just yet. They could have a very Auburn like fall over the next couple of years.

7. Tennessee is the best team in the SEC East.

Even with Butch Jones’s mismanagement of the end of the Gator game the Vols came within a foot of winning that game on a field goal and, as a result, finishing 6-2 and winning the SEC east over Florida. 

Want a crazy fact, if Aaron Medley makes his field goals against Florida, Oklahoma, and Alabama then the Vols are 11-1 and playing Ole Miss for a chance to advance to the college football playoff this year. What’s more, the Vols would have eliminated Oklahoma and Alabama from the playoff this year, freeing up two more spots for the playoff.


Yes, it didn’t happen, but that shows you how close the Vols were to a special season. I’m still not sure whether Butch Jones will ever win an SEC title at Tennessee — because I question his on-field management — but the Vols were achingly close to a top five year on Rocky Top. Hell, they led Oklahoma, who may well win the national title this year, by two touchdowns with seven minutes to play.


Next year the Vols return virtually their entire team and, with a decent bowl performance, should be ranked in the preseason top 10 for 2016.

(Don’t forget, by the way, that Tennessee obliterated Iowa last January too. So it’s possible the Vols will have played three of the four playoff teams in 2015). 

8. David Shaw nearly blew the game against Notre Dame.

What the hell was he thinking not ever taking a timeout as Notre Dame drove against them at the end of this game? If the potentially errant touchdown call with thirty seconds to go was overturned on review then Shaw was prepared to let Notre Dame run the clock all the way down and never give his team a chance to get the ball back.

How do you not take any of your timeouts on this drive? It’s unfathomable to me. I was in our Fox green room screaming at him to call timeout. 

And for those of you who Tweeted me — “He showed you! when Stanford made the field goal, do you really not understand game management? You can win by making the wrong decisions. For instance, I can hit on 18 playing blackjack and draw a three, giving me 21. That would be the “right” decision based on the result, but it would be an awful decision from a process perspective. Coaches can still win despite their stupidity when it comes to probability.

What’s more, that wasn’t even Shaw’s dumbest decision.  

How about the decision to run the ball for two yards on your final play — which helped the odds of making a field goal not at all — and the decision to take a timeout with six seconds left? Somehow the clock ran out on this field goal, but there should have been a second or two left requiring Stanford to kick off to Notre Dame. I don’t understand why every field goal to end a half or a game isn’t attempted with three seconds left. Why force yourself to kickoff if you make the field goal? It makes zero sense.  

I just don’t understand how a coach is this bad at clock management, particularly the guy who is in charge of the smartest university in the country.

Yes, Stanford won, but not thanks to David Shaw at all. 

9. How about Les Miles with the most Les Miles ending possible to three weeks of drama in Baton Rouge?

He’s coming back next year!

I would encourage all people in positions of power to think about the way this went down. In particular, message boards and social media ARE OFTEN NOT REFLECTIVE of actual public opinion. Here the boosters and power brokers trying to oust Les misread public sentiment based on a cursory overview of message boards and private conversation. They tried to foment a coup by selectively leaking to the media that Les was done.  

The media’s partially to blame here too. Because the leakers tried to use the media to do their work for them. In fact, I’m going to do an entire column on the Les Miles mess tomorrow, but the media has the power to make stories seems more significant than they actually are. These boosters tried to use the media to do their dirty work. 

Anyway, the LSU administration buckled when they saw that, lo and behold, most LSU players and fans love Les and thought it was incredibly stupid to replace him. 

So we ended up with Les getting an amazing victory over his bosses and being carried off the field after a live interview of him singing the alma mater. I have no idea how LSU athletic director Joe Alleva keeps his job now. He tried to stage a coup and ended up getting his head chopped off instead.  

10. Here’s Outkick’s national top ten. It went up very late Saturday night because we were taping our Fox playoff committee show and I suspect many of you haven’t seen it:

1. Alabama

2. Clemson

3. Oklahoma

4. Iowa

5. Michigan State

6. Ohio State

7. UNC

8. Stanford

9. Baylor

10. Notre Dame 

11. SEC power rankings:

I’m going to be honest with y’all, Florida makes this really hard right now. Because the Gator resume is entirely different without Will Grier than it is with him. But we rank teams based on the totality of the season in the Outkick power rankings. So here are our final regular season season power rankings:

1. Alabama 11-1 (7-1)

2. Ole Miss 9-3 (6-2)

3. LSU 8-3 (5-3)

4. Florida 10-2 (7-1)

5. Tennessee 8-4 (5-3)

6. Georgia 9-3 (5-3)

7. Arkansas 7-5 (5-3)

8. Texas A&M 8-4 (4-4)

9. Mississippi State 8-4 (4-4)

10. Auburn 6-6 (2-6)

11. Vanderbilt 4-8 (2-6)

12. Kentucky 5-7 (2-6)

13. Missouri 5-7 (1-7)

14. South Carolina 3-9 (1-7)

If I were ranking teams based on what I think of them right now at this exact moment, the bottom five stay the same, but I’d drop Florida quite a bit, all the way down to number nine. I’d then bump up Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Mississippi State all one spot. 

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.