As we enter the final two weeks of the college football season, there are now 11 teams alive for a playoff spot. (With a couple of two loss teams also remaining on the periphery.)
So let’s dive right into the playoff committee’s decision and contemplate what needs to happen for your favorite or least favorite teams to make the playoff.
1. There are 11 undefeated or one loss teams with a chance to make the playoff.
Those teams are: Clemson, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, Baylor, and Oklahoma State.
Just on the outside of the one loss teams are two loss teams lurking out there and hoping that if chaos takes over, they might be in play as well. Those teams are Stanford and Michigan.
So what needs to happen for each of these teams to get in? Let’s break it down.
2. If Alabama or Florida is 12-1, each of these SEC champs would make the playoff.
Alabama will be a two touchdown favorite over both Auburn and Florida so a 12-1 Tide has the easiest path of any team in college football to the playoff.
But if Florida beats Florida State — a game the Gators figure to be a small favorite in — and then upsets Alabama, the Gators would definitely make the playoff.
What’s the worst case scenario for the SEC that could leave it out of the playoff? Florida loses to Florida State and then upsets Alabama in the SEC title game. It’s hard to see how an 11-2 Gator team or an 11-2 Bama team that loses the SEC title game would be in the playoff.
2. What about the Big Ten?
If Iowa wins out the 13-0 Hawkeyes are in the playoff. But what if Iowa loses to Nebraska and then comes back to win the Big Ten title game — is 12-1 Iowa in the playoff too? I think so.
If Michigan State beats Penn State and then beats Iowa, the 12-1 Spartans are definitely in the playoff with a very strong resume.
If Michigan State loses to Penn State and Ohio State beats Michigan, could the 12-1 Buckeyes still make the playoff with a win over Iowa in the Big Ten title game? I think so as well. As much fun as sad Urban Meyer eating pizza is, don’t throw dirt on the Buckeye playoff grave just yet.
Finally, if Michigan beats Ohio State, Michigan State loses to Penn State, and then the Wolverines go on to beat Iowa in the Big Ten title game, could 11-2 Michigan find itself in the playoff? It’s possible, but it isn’t very likely. Michigan would need total chaos to erupt above them.
The only way I see the Big Ten not having a playoff team is if 11-2 Michigan is the champ.
3. Clemson’s clearly in if the Tigers finish undefeated, but what if North Carolina beats Clemson in the ACC title game?
This is the scenario that would turn the committee’s rationale into a logic puzzle. 12-1 Clemson would have a better overall resume than 12-1 North Carolina, but UNC would have just pulled off the upset to win the ACC title. So does the championship matter more or does the overall resume matter more?
On top of that, how could you take 11-1 Notre Dame, which lost the head-to-head game with Clemson, over the Tigers? 12-1 Clemson would have to rank above 11-1 Notre Dame, right? But how do you take into account ACC champion North Carolina given that UNC still doesn’t have a single top 25 win in the regular season and lost to likely 3-9 South Carolina? But you can’t have two ACC teams, right? This is a huge logic puzzle. If UNC beats Clemson, look out.
The ACC could lose out and this could open the door for, wait for it, two Big 12 teams or an 11-1 Ohio State that didn’t win its own division. The worst case scenario for the committee is UNC upsetting Clemson.
So this probably means it will happen.
4. What about the Big 12?
Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State are all still alive to win the Big 12 title with 11-1 records.
Either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State will finish 11-1 this coming weekend and then wait to see what Baylor does against TCU and Texas.
So does the 11-1 Big 12 champ get in over 11-1 Notre Dame? I think so. Oklahoma’s an easy call since the 11-1 Sooners would have four high quality wins: Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma State, two of those games on the road, and a road win at likely 8-4 Tennessee. One loss Baylor and one loss Oklahoma State would be tougher calls, but Baylor would have road wins over Oklahoma State and TCU and a home loss in a tight game against Oklahoma. As for Oklahoma State, if they now win the Big 12 that would mean that they would be the lone team in the Big 12 to finish 11-1. (Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU would all have two losses). Doesn’t an 11-1 record as the sole champion of a conference as good as the Big 12 look pretty impressive?
I understand it will be a major debate, but I think the committee will reward the eventual Big 12 champ with a tiebreaker over an 11-1 Notre Dame team.
5. So what about Notre Dame then?
If the Irish beat Stanford and finish 11-1, Notre Dame’s resume will rest on a close lose to undefeated Clemson — Notre Dame desperately needs Clemson to finish undefeated because I don’t see how 12-1 Clemson gets left out if Notre Dame is 11-1 and lost to them head-to-head — and wins over decent teams like Navy, Temple, Stanford, Pittsburgh and USC.
Notre Dame fans will also argue that their win over Texas is better than Oklahoma’s loss, but I don’t see that as dispositive. 11-1 Oklahoma’s overall body of work is better than Notre Dame’s overall body of work. You can argue that 11-1 Oklahoma would have four wins as good as any single win that Notre Dame has.
In order to make the playoff, I think Notre Dame needs the SEC champ to have two losses or the Big Ten champ to have two losses.
Of course, Stanford could make this situation much easier by beating Notre Dame on Saturday.
6. What about a two loss Stanford or Michigan, are they still alive for the playoff?
It’s possible both teams could end up in serious discussion, but there’s so much chaos that would need to happen it isn’t even worth discussing yet. I think the chances of any two loss team making the playoff at this point are very slim.
7. So what’s the most likely outcome in your opinion, Clay?
Alabama, Clemson, Michigan State or Iowa, and the 11-1 Big 12 champ is your four team playoff.
Notre Dame would finish in fifth place, which would lead many to argue we need an eight team playoff. (I would agree with all of those people.) It would also raise a big question — does Notre Dame need to be in a conference? Imagine if, for instance, Notre Dame got to play Clemson in the ACC title game. Then the winner of that game would clearly be in the playoff. If conference championships are truly tiebreakers, then I think the Big 12 conference championship will matter.
Notre Dame’s in a difficult spot, it has to win and then sit out the final week of the season while other teams get an opportunity to make the case they deserve playoff bids.
8. The Heisman race is now between Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey.
So now the big question is, who will finish the season better? Will Henry post big numbers in primetime games against Auburn and Florida? If he does, the Heisman’s his. But if he doesn’t the door is open for a dark horse contender. And assuming he has a good game against Notre Dame, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey could snag the Heisman.
I think he’s the best player in college football this year.
Late Saturday night as Stu Mandel and I were watching Stanford beat Cal in our hotel bar, talk turned to the difficulties McCaffrey faces as a late night TV fixture. I spend the college football season in Los Angeles so I’m able to see McCaffrey play. But I know lots of you aren’t because you’ve already gone to bed.
If McCaffrey played in the SEC or the Big Ten, he’d be a cult hero — a white guy who is on pace to eclipse Barry Sanders to post the most yards in the history of FBS football. He’d be a legend if he played in the east coast time zone. Instead, lots of huge college football fans haven’t gotten to see him play.
Do yourself a favor and pay more attention to him, he deserves it.
I ‘d put Deshaun Watson as my number three if both Henry and McCaffrey fail to impress.
And Navy’s Keenan Reynolds deserves a trip to New York City as a reward for his career. Having been fortunate enough to spend time at West Point, I have nothing but respect for the guys playing football while also going to school at the nation’s toughest universities. These guys truly are the best our country has to offer.
9. Is LSU really going to fire Les Miles?
Even if Miles bounces back and beats Texas A&M this coming weekend? Really, this is happening? After all the wild ass swings since 2005 the Miles era is going to come to a close this rapidly? It seems so anti-climactic.
Welcome to life in the SEC, where you can go from number two in the playoff committee’s standings to fired in less than a month.
All this proves is that many LSU power brokers have wanted Les gone for a long time and have been looking for any reason possible to fire him. Thanks to three straight losses they finally have their rationale.
I’d be curious to see where Les ends up. Wouldn’t he be a pretty desirable head coach for tons of teams? Here’s a wild one for you, is there any way that if Jimbo Fisher left for LSU that Florida State could hire Les to replace Jimbo?
Or, even wilder, what if Charlie Strong leaves for Miami. Could Texas end up hiring Les? Les on the Longhorn Network?! I might actually watch.
10. Has Urban Meyer lost the Ohio State locker room?
Remember that Meyer lost the Gator locker room after Dan Mullen left for Mississippi State. Could we be seeing a repeat performance in Columbus now that Tom Herman has left for Houston? The offense falls apart, the “discipline” in the locker room unravels, and we all see why the team has been playing poorly all year — there’s internal division and strife.
Urban Meyer is obsessed with winning and sometimes that obsession leads to cracks in his program’s foundation. Cracks that aren’t visible when the wins are piling up, but cracks that lead to an eventual program implosion. Meyer fled Gainesville and left behind a cess pool in his wake.
Everything that Ezekiel Elliott said was true, but the fact that he made those comments before the season even ended is startling. Something is rotten in Denmark/Columbus. I think Michigan wins on Saturday and Ohio State limps into the bowl season at 10-2 with major early departures coming. Can Urban recapture his locker room? We’ll see. The advantage he has is that the Big Ten isn’t as competitive as the SEC so he’ll still win even with a mess in the locker room, but now that Ohio State finally played a decent team I think we can all see that this year’s Buckeyes are a pale approximation of last year’s team.
11. Here are my SEC power rankings.
Remember, I am ranking teams based on the entirety of the season. So even though, for instance, LSU has lost three straight games, they still beat Florida and Mississippi State earlier this year. Head-to-head can no longer dictate the standings either. So we’ve got Alabama above Ole Miss, Florida above LSU, Tennessee, LSU and Ole Miss above Arkansas, Mississippi State above Texas A&M, A&M above Auburn, and Vandy above South Carolina
Arkansas’s probably he toughest team to rank because they have good road wins over Ole Miss, LSU, and Tennessee, but they also have five losses — including to Toledo and 6-5 Texas Tech — and just lost at home to Mississippi State.
Some may quibble with where I have Tennessee, but the Vols lost by one to Florida and five to Alabama, both on the road, lost in double overtime to Oklahoma, my fourth best team in the country, and lost a close game to Arkansas. What’s more, they had leads on all four of these teams by 13 or more points.
So here we go:
3. Ole Miss
6. Mississippi State
7. Texas A&M
14. South Carolina