Last week in this space, I detailed how every major conference college football team could end up with one loss, throwing the College Football Playoff situation into turmoil, which I would love to see.
Let me remind you that I LOVE the CFP. My interest in the manifestations of outcomes and future schedules across not only the Power 5 Conferences but the lower Group of 5 has me more involved in college football than I have been in years.
The CFP committee came out with its first list of teams it is looking at in regards to the upcoming four-game playoff. The first four teams on that list had two surprises – unbeaten but not dominant Ohio State, and one-loss Alabama. They joined unbeaten Clemson and Louisiana State in the top four.
So now let’s figure out the so-called Doomsday Scenarios that could keep any of the Power 5 conferences out of being represented in the four-team playoff at the end of December.
Southeastern Conference – This is the hardest sell, since the SEC has three of the top six teams in the first CFP ranking (with Florida at No. 6). But the key is the University of Mississippi. If Alabama beats LSU Nov. 7, then Ole Miss beats LSU also, Ole Miss would represent the SEC West in the title game. If it then beats Florida in the title game, Ole Miss would be SEC champion with two losses (to Memphis and Florida in the regular season), and the committee is not likely to let a two-loss team into the title game if there are enough unbeaten conference champions elsewhere.
Big Ten Conference – The Big Ten has three unbeatens – the Buckeyes, Michigan State and Iowa. If the Buckeyes beat MSU and lose to Michigan, tiebreakers would go into effect, but the Big Ten East champ would have one loss. If whoever that team is beats the Hawkeyes in the title game, the league would be represented by a one-loss team. If Michigan gets the tiebreaker, represents the East and wins the Big Ten title game, it would be a two-loss championship team. See above.
Atlantic Coast Conference – If Clemson loses to Florida State or loses the ACC title game, the ACC likely will not be represented in the CFP. If Clemson beats FSU but loses the ACC title game, its fate would be determined by other outcomes. The committee is looking for a reason to keep the Tigers out of the CFP, in part so that it does not once again keep the Big 12 out.
Big 12 Conference – The Big 12 currently has three unbeaten – Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State - and it has to hope one of those teams remains unbeaten. It should also probably hope that team is not Baylor, which is harshly criticized for its toothless non-conference schedule. Baylor ranks sixth, TCU eighth and OSU 14th in the first CFP ranking. If the round-robin of three teams beats each other, the CFP will have every reason to once again punt the Big 12.
Pac-12 Conference – Stanford and Utah each have one loss but stand just 11th and 12th in the current CFP standings. The Cardinal still has Notre Dame on the schedule. If Stanford loses to ND but wins the conference title, they are a two-loss champion and the CFP won’t like that.
Notre Dame – The Irish sit fifth in the first CFP ranking and believe themselves in the catbird seat. That Stanford game, not to mention this week’s game against Pittsburgh, could push the one-loss Irish into being a two-loss team and out of the CFP.
If all of the current favorites find a way to lose, and every conference champion has at least one loss, that gives a chance for the greatest outcome of all to this year’s CFP – the inclusion of the unbeaten Memphis Tigers. Currently ranked 16th overall by the CFP, they are in the same position Ohio State was last year at this time, and the Buckeyes ended up winning the national title.
The Tigers already have a win over Ole Miss (our desired SEC champion) and play unbeaten Houston and once-beaten Temple down the stretch. If the Tigers finish unblemished and most other teams have a zit (a loss), the Tigers might just crash the CFP party.