No, the title of this post is not just referring to Alabama. Most analysts and pundits right now think that Alabama is head and shoulders above everyone else in college football right now. And, that very well may be true. But, the top spot usually finds ways to work itself out. Even if Alabama runs away with the No. 1 seed, there are still three more teams that will make the Playoff, two of whom will have a chance to beat Alabama for the national championship. No, the separation that I am talking about is far more extreme than that.
There are currently 11 undefeated teams in FBS. Let’s leave Boise State and Western Michigan out of it for now. That leaves us nine of 65 Power 5 teams that are undefeated. On top of that, only three Power 5 teams have one loss. That’s right. 51 of the 65 P5 teams have at least two losses. I never assume that two-loss teams are out of the Playoff race this early, and this season shows why. There is plenty of time for an upset or two to knock almost all of our remaining contenders into the two-loss range. Not to mention the fact that for teams with awful non-conference schedules like Baylor and Washington, the Selection Committee might prefer not to take them in favor of a two-loss team with a better non-conference schedule.
The extreme number of two-loss teams at this point also increases the chances that we can see a team that doesn’t win its conference in the Playoff. With the Big 12’s current problems, all we would need to see is the ACC Coastal or SEC East champion pulling off an upset in the conference championship game. If we have an 11-2 Florida team (at best) upset Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, we could very well see Alabama get in the Playoff anyway. Or the loser of the Michigan/Ohio State game could get in instead of Clemson if the ACC Coastal champ wins the conference. We have never yet really had a situation in the CFP era where a team that didn’t win its conference deserved serious consideration for a Playoff spot; with the accumulation of losses by so many P5 teams, we may very well see it this year.
Week 7 CFP Implications: Teams Remaining in College Football Playoff Contention
Last week, there were 33 teams remaining in Playoff contention. As mentioned before, there are now only 11 undefeated teams and three one-loss teams from Power conferences. There are six other one-loss teams in the country, but all are from Group of 5 conferences. Unless the alternative is a three-loss team, we won’t be seeing one-loss G5’s in the Playoff. So, for the time being, we will have a fair amount of two-loss teams still alive. That will dwindle as the current list of top contenders avoid upsets, but for now a bunch are still alive.
ACC: Clemson, Louisville, Florida State, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh
Big 12: Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia
Big Ten: Michigan, Ohio State, Maryland, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota
Conference USA: None
MAC: Western Michigan
Mountain West: Boise State
Pac-12: Washington, Utah
SEC: Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Auburn
Sun Belt: None
With nine eliminations this week, we are down to just 24 teams who have a chance at the Playoff. If you notice, contenders in the Pac-12 and Big 12 are running thin. We could conceivably have a situation in a few weeks where there are only three conferences that have a reasonable chance at making the Playoff. We’ll discuss that more later. For now, though, even though we have 24 contenders, there are really only 12 main contenders. (Those contenders are Clemson, Louisville, Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Washington, Alabama, and Texas A&M.) The other 12 are still alive because of either miracle scenarios (Maryland isn’t winning out) or just in case too many of the others drop bad games in the second half of the season.
We had four eliminations in the ACC this week, including most of the Coastal Division. I had to think for a while about eliminating Miami, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina. In the end, I chose to eliminate them all because there is not much opportunity for good wins. The Coastal will cannibalize itself and add more losses all around, which means there is almost definitely a maximum one ranked win within the division. On top of that, none of those three have cross-divisional games against either Clemson or Louisville. Also, they all have an embarrassing loss. Adding those together means that unless we see the most chaotic season in college football history, there is no way any of those teams can break into the Top 4 by the year’s end.
Where the Group of 5 Stands
Houston is still in good position to make it into a New Years’ 6 game, whether or not the Cougars win their conference. Houston, with the win over Oklahoma and just one loss, will debut in the committee’s rankings somewhere in the 10-15 range. If the Cougars win out, including a November win over Louisville, they will be a solid Top 10 team and will be in excellent position to be an NY6 at-large. Remember, there are only 12 undefeated or 1-loss P5 teams. Houston won’t get into the Playoff, but it will get an NY6 shot before the vast majority of 2-loss P5 teams.
The real question, though, is what chance the G5 teams have at the Playoff. The answer, shockingly, is not none. As mentioned before, a few more upsets in the Big 12 and Pac-12 and we could see both of those conferences eliminated. That opens up a Playoff spot for either a G5 team or for a second team from a P5 conference. There are two undefeated G5 teams remaining, both of which actually have good credentials this year.
Boise State has two wins over Pac-12 teams and an upcoming game against BYU. BSU has a win over Washington State that looks better every week. If San Diego State hadn’t lost to South Alabama (and Air Force didn’t drop two straight conference games), the Mountain West could actually have had some blockbuster late-season games for Boise. Unfortunately, that won’t be working out. The Western Michigan Broncos have similar issues. They are beating down MAC teams like an elite team should and have two wins over Big Ten teams, but it won’t be enough. Neither Bronco team really passes the eye test in a way for the committee to consider putting them up against a team like Alabama. Still, in this season it would be impossible to deny an undefeated team an NY6 shot. And maybe, just maybe, if we see enough chaos, there won’t be any choice but one of these two in the Playoff (probably Boise, solely on the better non-conference schedule and name recognition–and probably more the latter than the former).
Can one conference get two teams in?
Yes, this is the same subject I discussed last week, but not much happened this week to change the talking points. The front-runners didn’t falter. There are still a decent number of teams behind them that can step up if necessary. But as the number of contenders in the Pac 12 dwindles — in addition to the season-long troubles in the Big 12 — that final slot has to come from somewhere. It’s honestly too soon to really identify who can have a resume strong enough to get in as a runner-up. Michigan has the eye test, but the Wolverines are looking at a maximum two ranked wins if they lose to Ohio State. The same is true of Louisville if Clemson wins the ACC. The Buckeyes could have three ranked wins with a loss to Michigan, so that’s one potential runner-up to keep an eye on. And, of course, regardless of resume, if Alabama is the runner-up to an undefeated Texas A&M in the SEC West, it would be hard to imagine seeing Alabama behind any other 1-loss team. Like I said, though, it’s still too early to work out all of those scenarios and resumes.
What is wrong with the Pac-12?
Honestly, this would probably require its own full post to really discuss. There is nothing particularly wrong with the conference. What the Pac-12 does have, though, that we haven’t really seen in other P5 conferences, is some serious parity. USC is the most talented team in the conference but hasn’t performed. The South is pretty even all the way across the board, leading to a lot of losses for all of the teams.
In the North, there is the opposite problem. There isn’t quite parity, but the expected top teams aren’t the ones who turned out on top — with the exception of Washington. The Huskies are dominating the conference. If they win out, they’re getting in the Playoff. If not, though, there’s no one else who has the respect nationally to really replace them. Washington State looks very good, but starting off the season with losses to Eastern Washington and Boise State means that the Cougars aren’t a Playoff contender this year. It is an unfortunate situation for the conference, but because of the parity and the lack of ranked wins in conference, the Pac-12 is basically looking at Washington or bust as far as the Playoff is concerned.
What to look for in week 8
Boise State hosts BYU on a short week in a Thursday night game that will tell us about the Broncos’ outside Playoff hopes. Western Michigan will be watching closely, obviously, as a BYU win puts the MAC Broncos in prime position to get the G5 NY6 bid. Also, keep an eye on Friday’s AAC game between South Florida and Temple. Getting another ranked opponent (USF in the AAC Championship Game) would be great for Houston’s NY6 hopes. A USF loss doesn’t hurt Houston much, but a win would be very beneficial. In a second meaningful AAC game, Navy hosts Memphis. Both of these teams could be in play for the G5 NY6 slot, and a Memphis win would help Houston get back into the conference race.
There are actually no true elimination games in the P5 conferences, but there are many games that can have far-reaching consequences. In the SEC, Arkansas/Auburn and Ole Miss/LSU will help determine the pecking order and what quality cross-divisional wins there could be. And, obviously, Texas A&M/Alabama will determine the inside track for the division title. In the Big 12, TCU/West Virginia will tell us just how real West Virginia is this year (or how much worse TCU is than expected).
There are other P5 games that can really affect the Playoff picture. The most notable ones are Wisconsin/Iowa, N.C. State/Louisville, and Stanford/Colorado. Yes, Stanford/Colorado is on the list, even though both teams are eliminated. But if the Pac-12 wants Washington to be able to get in with one loss, it needs a ranked win somewhere. Stanford cannot afford another loss if the conference wants to retain any respect at all. Also, Colorado is a potential ranked win for Michigan if the Wolverines need a resume-boost to sneak into the Playoff.
It’s little ripples like that why so many P5 conference games really can affect the Playoff picture in a lot of ways. Keep an eye on them while you enjoy the football this coming weekend.