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Starting 11: The Playoff Plot Thickens

Penn State head coach James Franklin celebrates with the crowd after a 24-21 win against Ohio State on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/TNS via Getty Images) Centre Daily Times Tribune News Service

You don’t win nine games in back-to-back seasons at Vanderbilt without being a great football coach. 

But in the past two years at Penn State, coming off consecutive 7-6 seasons, the whispers had arisen. Was James Franklin overrated? I heard it all the time from Tennessee fans who couldn’t handle Franklin beating their ass in consecutive seasons. He was lucky, they said, he won with Bobby Johnson’s players when Florida, and Georgia and Tennessee were all down, the teams he beat weren’t very good; never before have so many people spent so much time trying to discredit a former Vanderbilt football coach. 

Sometimes I felt like I was taking crazy pills. 

HE WON NINE GAMES AT VANDERBILT IN BACK-TO-BACK YEARS!

That’s all the evidence I needed that James Franklin was a good coach. 

Penn State was a mess and it was going to take time for his recruiting to manifest itself and for the program to turn around. This wasn’t a quick fix job. Penn State just this year got back to an 85 man scholarship roster. Even still, two years ago Penn State nearly beat Ohio State in Franklin’s first year, losing in overtime.

I’m kicking myself for not betting this game bigger than I did, it had all the perfect recipes for a big college football upset: night game off a bye week for the home team with a favored team playing on the road for the second straight week. It just set there perfectly, a 19 point underdog crying out for a money line bet.  

Well, last night, Penn State won the biggest game in Happy Valley in decades and they shook up the playoff picture in a pretty seismic fashion as well. 

So let’s start there. 

1. Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State could all end up tied at 8-1 in the Big Ten East. 

That would require Ohio State to beat Michigan and it would require Penn State to win out at Purdue, Iowa, at Indiana, at Rutgers and Michigan State. That’s not necessarily likely, but it certainly isn’t improbable.

If that all happened and Ohio State won out and Michigan only lost one game at Ohio State then we’d go to the fifth tiebreak before Penn State would be eliminated based on its loss at Pittsburgh. Then Ohio State would win the head-to-head tiebreak and represent the Big Ten East in the Big Ten title game.

You know what the most amazing thing about this is? 

Without that loss to Pittsburgh then the Big Ten East champion would have been chosen by random draw. 

A random draw!

Can you believe that?

2. So what does the playoff picture look like right now?

The SEC champ will be in, and that SEC champ is probably going to be Alabama, although I do think LSU and Auburn are going to be severe challenges for the Crimson Tide. Could the SEC get two teams in? Probably not. The easiest way I can see that happening is if Florida ran the table and upset undefeated Alabama in the SEC title game. Then 12-1 SEC champ Florida would be in and you can argue 12-1 Alabama would have a hell of a resume.  

Otherwise, I think it’s hard to argue that 11-2 Tennessee and 12-1 Alabama, for instance, would both deserve to go. As for 11-1 Texas A&M, they probably need Washington to lose two games. So root as hard as you can for Utah to upset Washington this weekend and then for Washington to lose another game down the stretch. The SEC, the Big Ten, and the ACC look to be in good shape for bids this year. That fourth spot is a bit wobbly since the champs from the Big 12 and the Pac 12 may not be deserving of a bid.  

The Big Ten champ will probably be in the playoff, even if that champ is 11-2 Wisconsin. Despite the loss to Penn State, nothing really changes for Ohio State; if the Buckeyes win out and finish 12-1 they’ll be in the playoff. Certainly, 13-0 Michigan would be in the playoff. The real challenge here would be if 12-1 Michigan lost an extremely close game to 11-2 Wisconsin. You’d have to probably take Wisconsin for the playoff, right? So 12-1 Michigan would get left out unless they were extremely fortunate with losses in the Pac 12, the ACC, and the Big 12.

The ACC champ is probably going to go, unless the ACC champ is a two loss coastal division team. Since every team in the ACC coastal division has already lost two games, those teams are probably all eliminated from playoff contention. Clemson is in the ACC driver’s seat, but I think the Tigers will lose to FSU this weekend, which will substantially muddy up the ACC waters.

What does Louisville, the only other playoff contender left in the ACC need to happen? See below in prong five.

The Pac 12 needs Washington to win out because its really the only playoff contender left in the conference. I guess, maybe, Utah could go, but the Utes would have to run the table and beat Washington twice, once next week and once in the Pac 12 title game to finish 12-1. (But this is just academic, Utah isn’t going 12-1.) So the Pac 12 really needs Washington to finish, at worst, 12-1. And even then would a 12-1 Washington’s resume really be that impressive when compared with an 11-1 Texas A&M, 11-1 Michigan or 11-1 Louisville?

As for the Big 12, West Virginia and Baylor are still undefeated. But both teams would have to finish undefeated to merit a playoff berth. If West Virginia can go on the road this coming weekend and beat Oklahoma State then you can start to talk about that possibility for the Mountaineers. Because then WVU would have games left against Kansas, at Texas, Oklahoma, at Iowa State, and Baylor. Those are all winnable games for sure.

As for the Baylor, the Bears still have games at Texas, at Oklahoma, at Texas Tech and at West Virginia. I’d say the chances of them winning all four of those games are slim.

But if they won all of them, then we could have an awesome ending to the Big 12 season — Baylor at West Virginia in a battle of 11-0 teams competing for a spot in the playoff. 

By far the most likely four playoff teams are these:

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State/Michigan winner

3. Clemson or Louisville if the Tigers lose two

4. Washington 

3. LSU and Auburn are top ten football teams in the country.

Here’s my national top ten with Auburn at nine and LSU at ten.

What LSU and Auburn both did to Ole Miss and Arkansas was extraordinarily impressive.

And while both teams have each lost two games, look at who those losses were to: Auburn lost to Clemson and Texas A&M, two of Outkick’s top six teams in the country and LSU lost in Green Bay to Wisconsin and at Auburn, also two of Outkick’s top ten.

LSU and Auburn would both be big favorites on neutral site fields against undefeated teams like West Virginia, Nebraska or Baylor.

Remember when it was popular to say the SEC was down, welp, here we are approaching November and I’ve got four top ten teams from the SEC. And if Tennessee gets healthy it’s a borderline top ten team too.

Florida may be top ten caliber as well.

But the SEC sucks! 

Pray for Ole Miss this weekend at Auburn, I think it gets ugly. As for LSU, the Tigers now have two weeks to get ready for an epic game against Alabama.

There’s no way Ed Orgeron beats Nick Saban, right?

Right?! 

4. Alabama is the best team in the country and there isn’t a close second.

Lots of attention was given to the fact that Alabama opened a 17 point favorite over Texas A&M, but what I haven’t heard many people talk about is this — Alabama would be a double digit favorite over every team in the country if the game was being played in Tuscaloosa. And at least a touchdown favorite over every other team in the country at a neutral site.

That’s a level of dominance we haven’t seen in a college football season in a very long time.

I think it’s fair to say that this is Nick Saban’s best team at Alabama so far. 

The Tide has two weeks to get ready for LSU and then three weeks to get ready for Auburn.

I don’t see Alabama losing either game and I think the Tide will roll into Atlanta at 12-0, but even if Alabama does lose either game, the Tide would still make the playoff so long as they don’t lose both.

What’s Alabama playing for right now in addition to a national title? The 15-0 Tide could argue they are the greatest team in college football history. I mean, think about it, no team has ever gone 15-0 before. And I don’t think many will ever go 15-0.  

5. Louisville is the best team in the ACC.  

I know, I know they lost at Clemson, but Ohio State just lost at Penn State too. Does that mean Penn State is better than Ohio State? Sometimes the best team doesn’t win. Especially when they go on the road for night games in college football. 

So what does Louisville need to happen to make the playoff?

They probably need for Clemson to lose to FSU this weekend — which I think will happen — and then lose in the ACC title game too. That’s the best way I see the Cardinals having a chance to make the playoff. Then the committee would probably select 11-1 Louisville over the 11-2, or worse, ACC champ.  

The Cardinals could also have an outside chance at the playoff if every team in the Pac 12 had two losses and the Big 12 didn’t finish with an undefeated champion, but that’s more difficult.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the ACC gets two teams and if a conference is getting two teams would you take 11-1 Louisville over 11-1 Michigan or 11-1 Texas A&M? 

6. Here’s Leonard Fournette burying an Ole Miss defensive back and here’s Bama’s Jonathan Allen supermanning Trevor Knight.

I can’t stop watching both of these plays.  

7. Bret Bielema’s SEC coaching record is now 8-20.

It’s fair to ask whether he’s ever going to have an upper echelon SEC West team. The Hogs are likely to finish, at best, 8-4 again this season. 

Remember last week when Hog fans were arguing that I was drastically underrating the Razorbacks?

Well, they’re awfully silent this morning. 

I’ve dropped them to number 8 in my SEC power rankings just because when you lose an SEC game 56-3 you can’t stay in the same place. You have to fall.

Also, I’m furious at the Razorbacks, they have cost me, and I’m not making this up, $20k this year in two six team parlays. I had the Razorbacks +14 against Alabama and I had them +11 against Auburn. I won the other five games both times. If I’d just bet against the Razorbacks I’d have an extra $20k to spend on strippers.

Just brutal.   

8. Ole Miss needs to announce its bowl ban.

The Rebels are  3-4 right now and likely to lose badly to Auburn this weekend and then lose at Texas A&M too. That would make Ole Miss 6-6. (And I’m not kidding about this, that would probably make Ole Miss the best 6-6 team in the history of college football. I’m not even kidding about this, I think Ole Miss would win the Big 12 this year. And maybe the Pac 12 too.)

Do you really need to travel to Shreveport, Louisiana or Memphis to thumb your nose at the NCAA? Why not go ahead and announce a bowl ban now and put this NCAA mess behind you? 

9. How much better does Dak Prescott look with each Dallas Cowboys win and each Mississippi State loss?

Dan Mullen’s squad went on the road and lost at Kentucky — thank you blood bank guarantee! — to fall to 2-5 on the season. 

State should finish 3-9 this year and Dan Mullen has to be wondering what in the world he was thinking not leaving Starkville when he could have.

Given how good he’s looked with the Cowboys, I think it’s fair to say we all underrated how much Dak meant for State.   

10. The Pac 12 is a bigger mess than the Big 12.

While we’ve spent lots of time focusing on the mess that is the Big 12 — West Virginia and Baylor both remain undefeated. Compare that with the Pac 12, where the football is just flat out awful and only two teams have remote chances at the playoff. And that’s being incredibly generous to Utah’s playoff chances. 

Next week Washington travels to Utah. If Utah upsets Washington then are we really certain that the Pac 12 would deserve a playoff spot? What has Washington done to impress the committee other than beat bad teams in the Pac 12?

If you had to choose between 12-1 Washington or 11-1 Texas A&M, 11-1 Louisville or 11-1 Michigan are you really telling me that Washington has a better resume than these three teams? All three of these teams would have better wins and a better loss than Washington does.

If Washington loses a game, look out, the fourth playoff spot could get interesting in a hurry.  

11. SEC power rankings:

1. Alabama

2. Texas A&M

3. Auburn

4. LSU

5. Tennessee

6. Florida

7. Ole Miss

8. Arkansas

9. Georgia

10. Kentucky

11. Vanderbilt 

12. Mississippi State

13. South Carolina

14. Missouri

 

1. Alabama
2. Texas A&M
3. Auburn
4. LSU
5. Tennessee
6. Florida
7. Ole Miss
8. Arkansas
9. Georgia
10. Kentucky
11. Vanderbilt 
12. Mississippi State
13. South Carolina
14. Missouri
1. Alabama
2. Texas A&M
3. Auburn
4. LSU
5. Tennessee
6. Florida
7. Ole Miss
8. Arkansas
9. Georgia
10. Kentucky
11. Vanderbilt 
12. Mississippi State
13. South Carolina
14. Missouri

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is an author, radio show host, lawyer, TV analyst, and the founder and lead writer of Outkick (formerly known as Outkick the Coverage).
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