We have arrived at the final week of the season before we know the final four teams and with that, the College Football Playoff is officially down to seven teams. Only seven Power 5 teams have 1-loss or less and all of them have a chance to be a conference champion, that means there is no chance a 2-loss team can make it in, even if they are conference champs, and teams like Alabama are 100% out.
So who will get in after this weekend? Here are the various scenarios broken down.
Let me first say that I think the top three teams right now are locked in regardless. Ohio State and LSU have been super strong from the beginning and it will be tough to pass them if their only loss is to a top ranked team at the end of the season (and they already have multiple top wins).
Clemson is the one that may have a bit of a struggle if they lose because it will be a bad loss to an average Virginia team. They also struggled early in the season including a near loss to North Carolina that was won on a failed two-point conversion and a less impressive win against Texas A&M compared to other contenders like LSU, Georgia and even Alabama. Still, Clemson has looked phenomenal lately and it would be tough to leap frog them if you’re Utah, Oklahoma or Baylor.
The final spot comes down to this – if Georgia wins over LSU, they are in with the big three. No way Utah/Oklahoma/Baylor jump them. If Georgia loses, then it’s between Utah and Oklahoma. The only way Baylor gets in is with a win over Oklahoma plus a Georgia and Utah loss. The only debate really is Utah vs. Oklahoma. I think Oklahoma is the better team, but the committee thinks otherwise. So it seems like we are heading toward one of two scenarios:
1. Ohio State
1. Ohio State
So with Alabama and Minnesota losing, that actually made things simpler with only a couple of teams being a part of any potential debate.
But I still believe that an 8-team playoff is the best possible scenario. We haven’t had it happen yet, but I say it every year and I do believe it will happen soon, where all five Power 5 champions end up undefeated. Imagine if Oklahoma and Utah hadn’t lost their one games, both games they each should have won. Would the rankings really be any different right now? The only difference is Georgia would probably be behind them, but in this scenario we are assuming LSU knocks them out anyway.
You could realistically have:
1. Ohio State (13-0)
2. LSU (13-0)
3. Clemson (13-0)
4. Utah (13-0)
5. Oklahoma (13-0)
That’s no different than it would be if you gave Utah and Oklahoma their losses back and they both win this weekend. Does anyone believe they would be ahead of Ohio State, LSU or Clemson if they were undefeated? However, imagine the reaction from that fifth place team when they run the table, win a Power 5 conference and are still left out.
If you had an 8-team playoff this year, here is what it would most likely look like (given chalk holds this weekend):
1. Ohio State
Georgia (11-2), Baylor (11-2), Wisconsin (10-3), Florida (10-2), Penn State (10-2), Alabama (10-2), Auburn (9-3), Notre Dame (10-2), Memphis (12-1), Boise State (12-1), Appalachian State (12-1)
It depends on how they want to design the playoff – to include Group of 5 or not. I would imagine they wouldn’t ever give an automatic bid to the smaller conferences, but it would obviously make it much easier for a school like UCF last year and make it more of a possibility.
However, I do think that you have to give automatic bids to the Power 5 conferences. This year, if chalk holds then that will be the top five teams. The teams who could backdoor their way in would be (current CFP ranking/record) – #4 Georgia (11-1), #7 Baylor (11-1), #8 Wisconsin (10-2), #13 Oregon (10-2), #23 Virginia (9-3)
Two of those could get in with a win anyway, Wisconsin and Oregon aren’t far off. Virginia is the only one that would truly backdoor their way in.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a chance for a bad team to potentially work their way in, but they will have to earn it because almost always there is going to be one team that is playoff worthy in each conference.
This year, if the top five remain, the at-large teams would realistically be between Georgia, Baylor, Florida, Penn State, Alabama. Maybe Auburn with the win over Alabama since they are ranked ahead, but I do believe the rankings (for all teams) would be very different if they were ranking for 8 teams. I would assume it would actually be Georgia, Florida, Penn State if I had to guess.
If you add a Group of 5 team to that mix, then it would be Memphis most likely, maybe Cincinnati or Boise State (I don’t think App State would get in over those). I think Florida would get the boot then to keep three SEC teams out.
The argument people always gave me on air was this – “It was an argument over #2, then it was an argument over #4, now it will just be an argument over #8 and it will never stop.”
While I do agree that this will continue no matter what (see the NCAA tournament arguing for #68), I feel like there is less of a gripe if every Power 5 team has a legitimate mathematical chance to make the playoff. What that means is that every single Power 5 team starts the season out with a legitimate chance to make the playoff by simply winning their conference. Every team can’t say that now because you can go undefeated and win your conference and have four other undefeated conference champs who get selected over you.
The argument will most likely be between Utah and Oklahoma this year, but it would be the same argument if they were undefeated vs. them having a loss. But of both earn their way in by winning their conference, then every team behind them who is fighting for an at-large spot had a chance to make it legitimately and now are having to fight for an at-large spot. If Georgia is trying to make their pitch, they will know in the back of their mind that they had a chance to legitimately get in by beating LSU but failed there, so it’s up to fate at that point.
This gets to be like the NCAA tournament in basketball – teams fall in a conference tournament championship game then know they blew their automatic chance and just have to hope. I feel like there is a lot less fight out of teams that blew their automatic bid compared to teams that do win their conference and then get left out.
I hear people say “people that want expanded playoff – the conference championship games are a playoff for teams like Utah and Georgia” but it’s not for teams like Oregon and Wisconsin, so don’t preach about them being playoff games when they only are for one team, not both that are on the field.
I will always defend eight teams being the best number of teams in a playoff – I said it should be eight teams when we were still in the BCS era. I honestly wouldn’t have a problem with 16, but that would only be to let the Group of 5 conferences have an equal shot but we all know that won’t happen.
Of course, we can just break down and completely re-do the entirety of college football and make the Power 5 conferences their own division and Group of 5 their own division (each with their own playoff) and each division would have only four conferences of 16 teams to make things easier…but that’s another idea for another day.