CFB: Playoff Scenarios for One-Loss Teams

We’re now over halfway through the college football season, and playoff conversations are starting to heat up. Four Power 5 teams—Alabama, Clemson, and one Independent—Notre Dame—remain undefeated. Let’s not forget about UCF and USF as schools in smaller conferences that are undefeated, but they’ll face off soon in their conference.

Here are some one-loss teams and what needs to happen for them to have a chance at making the College Football Playoff (CFP):

Tier 1: Win Out

The way I see it, there are five one-loss teams that are locks for the CFP if they win out: LSU, Michigan, Georgia, Kentucky, and Florida. LSU and Michigan have huge wins over conference rivals Georgia and Wisconsin. That’s Georgia’s only loss thus far, though, so they can still land a spot in the SEC Championship game and dethrone Alabama—or whoever else represents the West in the title—and get into the playoff as a one-loss SEC champ. The same can be said for the Wildcats and Gators. If anyone goes 12-1 and beats Bama in the SEC championship, there’s no way the committee can keep them out.

Michigan, at 7-1, find themselves in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten. They control their destiny and if the season ended today they would face Northwestern in the conference championship game. Still they have to beat Ohio State which won’t be easy. There is still a lot to be decided in the SEC and Big Ten so let’s not get ahead of ourselves too much.

Tier 2: Win Out with Some Help

A few teams could win out and have a good shot at the playoff but would not be a guarantee without some help from the rest of the country. Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Iowa have decent shots if they win out and win their conferences. The problem is the fact that there is already an undefeated SEC, ACC, and Independent in the top four with a one-loss LSU team.

Winning your conference is not enough if you’re a one-loss Big 12 team, as it is unlikely that the committee would let a 12-1 Big 12 champ jump an undefeated or even 12-1 team from the other conferences since they’re already at the top. In other words, they would likely need a loss Notre Dame to get their conference in the mix. Furthermore, Oklahoma needs Texas to beat WVU because the Sooners are currently behind those two teams in their conference.

A 12-1 Iowa team, if it won the Big Ten Championship, would have a pretty good shot at the CFP as well. However, let’s say Bama, Clemson, ND, and Texas all win out. It’s unlikely they’ll outrank those teams. Are you going to put them ahead of a 12-1 Texas team that beat TCU, Oklahoma, and WVU (at least once)? I wouldn’t and I don’t think the committee would, either.

Tier 3: So You’re Saying There’s a Chance…

I would not completely write off UCF or any Pac-12 team, although it’s not looking good. UCF went undefeated last year and missed the playoff. I don’t see any reason why the same wouldn’t happen this year, despite their statement win against Auburn in the Peach Bowl in January. It’s hard to trust a team from the American Conference.

Oregon and Washington have looked solid, but the Pac-12 seems like its’ top teams would face an uphill battle against the likes of other Power 5 programs. Both teams have two losses, but something strange could happen, right?  If three of the current top four don’t win their conference (or in Notre Dame’s cases, lose one game), Pac-12 team could sneak in. Washington State is the highest ranked team at the moment at 14th with one-loss so we can’t rule the Pac-12 out just yet.

However, I see the Pac-12 champion playing in the Rose Bowl rather than making the CFP.

College football’s unpredictability is what makes it so great, so it will be fun to watch everything play out in the remaining weeks to come.

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