Starting 11: The Playoff Race Narrows

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Nov 7, 2015; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry (2) stiff-arms LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams (33) during the second quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports John David Mercer

Now that November’s arrived college football’s glorious wackiness comes into play.

So let’s dive into the Starting 11:

1. Four undefeated teams lost today: LSU, TCU, Michigan State and Memphis. 

That leaves us with the following undefeated teams: Baylor, Oklahoma State, Iowa, Ohio State, Clemson, and Houston. 

This means that the most big conference undefeated teams we could finish with this year is three. Given that Houston has no real shot of making the playoff, you can definitely pencil in at least one spot for a one loss team in the playoff this year.

So how many one loss teams have a realistic shot to make the playoff? Not that many. Here’s my tally from west to east: Utah, Stanford, Oklahoma, TCU, Alabama, LSU, Florida, Michigan State, and Notre Dame. 

North Carolina could also finish the year with one loss, but I don’t think a one loss ACC champ would make the playoff. 

This means that our playoff field of four is highly likely to come from this group of 14 schools: Baylor, Oklahoma State, TCU, Oklahoma, Clemson, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State, LSU, Florida, Alabama, Notre Dame, Utah and Stanford. 

2. Okay, so who is favored to make the playoff at this point?

Clemson has the easiest schedule remaining of any undefeated team. The Tigers are likely to be double digit favorites over everyone in their regular season schedule and then would be favored by a touchdown or so over North Carolina in the ACC title game. 

This means Clemson is the most likely playoff team in college football right now. 

Ohio State and Alabama will also be favored in each of their games for the rest of the season and the conference title game as well.

As for the fourth playoff selection, Stanford is the only other team that will be favored in every game for the rest of the year. Baylor has the best chance to be favored in every Big 12 team, but the Bears have to go on the road at TCU and Oklahoma State and it remains to be seen if they will be favored in both games.

If I had to forecast a four team playoff at this exact moment I’d go with Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama, and Stanford.

But the reason we love college football is because anything can happen.  

3. What’s the wackiest playoff we could end up with?

How about Utah, Oklahoma State, Iowa, and Florida. 

Hell, can you imagine if these four teams won their respective conferences and you’d predicted it before the season started? If you’d bet on these teams just to win their conferences and it actually ended up happening you’d be filthy rich. Hell, Florida was picked to finish 5th in the SEC East. 

4. Michigan State got hosed. 

Nebraska’s receiver wasn’t forced out of bounds so he shouldn’t have been eligible to catch that touchdown pass and score. 

Having said that, the practical impact isn’t likely to be substantial. If Michigan State wins out, they’d be in the playoff. If they don’t win out, they won’t be in the playoff. 

It’s also amazing how often improbable wins and losses even themselves out over time. Michigan State has been dancing on the razor’s edge all season, they finally slipped. 

5. Oklahoma State dominated TCU and gets Baylor and Oklahoma in Stillwater. 

How uneven is the State schedule that Baylor, Oklahoma and TCU all come to Stillwater in the same season?

After the win over TCU can you make Oklahoma State the new favorite to win the Big 12? Maybe. 

It’s amazing how quiet the TCU fans are in the wake of this defeat. After our Thursday night show when I said TCU would lose three times in November, my mentions exploded with indignation. Now? Nothing. I think the Horned Frogs lose to Oklahoma and Baylor and are barely in the top 25 by the end of the season. 

6. Arkansas won a miracle game at Ole Miss.

I still can’t believe how that game ended. Or the fact that neither team could stop the other team all day long. Ole Miss went for 590 yards and Arkansas posted 605 yards of offense.

Who was the idiot who said to take the under in this one? 

Please stop with the conspiracy theory Tweets and emails, Arkansas’s play on 4th and 25 was legal. That was a backwards pass, not a fumble. If you want to argue that backwards passes shouldn’t be legal, are you going to eliminate the hook and ladder?

It’s always tough to lose a game you think you have won — and given the 4th and 25 situation coupled with the sacked quarterback facemask on the two point conversion, Ole Miss definitely thought they had this game won — but the rule wasn’t misapplied here. 

7. After Auburn’s win on the road, Texas A&M has lost three of four.

This Aggie quarterback situation seems like a real mess that’s only going to resolve itself by someone transferring. Kyle Allen looked to have the job sealed up, but then he threw three interceptions returned for touchdowns against Alabama and didn’t recover from that game. 

Kyler Murray was flat out awful against Auburn. 

A&M should still finish 8-4 this year, but that means there will be quite a bit of pressure on Kevin Sumlin in 2016.

Meanwhile, can Auburn get hot enough to be competitive against Alabama by the end of the year? We’ll see.  

8. Alabama dominated LSU, but I’m still not convinced the Tide wins at both Mississippi State and Auburn. 

Especially at Mississippi State where I think Dak Prescott is the perfect challenge to Alabama’s defense. 

Will Derrick Henry bounce back fresh after a 38 carry game? We’ll see. I love Mississippi State in this spot. 

As for the Heisman race, it’s wide open in November. If Henry performs well down the stretch in several games in front of a primetime audience, he can win it. But I still wouldn’t count out Fournette. He could still bounce back and post some incredible showings down the stretch. 

9. Tennessee nearly gave away another double digit lead to South Carolina. 

A win’s a win, but this game shouldn’t have been close once the Vols got up 17-0 with five minutes left in the second quarter. 

Tennessee should out talent North Texas, Mizzou and Vanderbilt to finish 8-4, but if they lose one of these games everyone is going to start to question Butch Jones again. Especially if the Vols lose another big lead.

10. Florida with Treon Harris is awful offensively. 

It’s a shame we don’t get to see what this Gator offense might have become this season with Will Grier. Instead, Florida and Vandy played one of the worst offensive football games in recent SEC memory. 

Vandy’s Johnny McCrary was 3-14 for thirty yards — 21 of which came on the final play of the game. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a worse performance from a quarterback in an full SEC game. 

Take away the 74 yard run and Vandy ran the ball 47 times for 71 yards and passed it 14 times for thirty yards. So Vandy produced 101 yards of offense on 61 plays. 

It’s almost impossible to be that bad. 

11. SEC power ratings

Look, we’ve reached the point in the season where it’s impossible to put every team that won a head-to-head above the team they beat. So stop with those emails. In particular, we’ve got a pretty good jumble between 4 and 10. I think we’ve got a pretty clearly established top three and a pretty clearly established bottom four, but 4-10 is a fluctuating mess. 

1. Alabama

2. LSU

3. Florida

4. Ole Miss

5. Mississippi State

6. Arkansas

7. Tennessee

8. Georgia

9. Texas A&M 

10. Auburn

11. Kentucky

12. South Carolina

13. Vanderbilt

14. Missouri

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.