College Football Playoff Picture: The Potential Field Shrinks

2019 College Football Playoff Picture

Ohio State is now halfway through its regular season schedule with a perfect 6-0 record and bowl eligibility already in the bag.

In fact, the Buckeyes are one of just three FBS programs (SMU and Florida are the others) with the six wins necessary to qualify for a bowl game already.

But of course, the goals in Columbus this fall go beyond merely qualifying to play in the Holiday Bowl or Outback Bowl.

The Buckeyes and their fans have their sights set on either the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl, the two host sites for this year’s College Football Playoff semifinal games.

Every week, we take a look at which of the 130 FBS teams are still contenders for those four spots, using the criteria set forth by the Playoff Committee in previous years.

It’s all subject to change, of course. The committees of the past have not seemed particularly beholden to precedent, but this is the best guess based on what they’ve done before.

So below we’ll take a look at which teams still have a realistic shot to get in to the College Football Playoff, based on the criteria the committee has used before. Basically, we’ll assume a team is still alive until they cross a threshold which has definitively eliminated teams in the past.

As a quick reminder, here are the criteria we’re working with.

Your program is named Alabama

The Crimson Tide have made the Playoff in each of the five seasons. They did it in 2017 despite not winning their division, not winning their conference, having zero wins over top-15 teams, and entering the postseason off of a two-score loss in their regular season finale.

The normal rules don’t apply.

Until you see the Tide on the outside of the Playoff looking in, just assume they have an auto-bid every year.

You are an undefeated Power 5 conference champ

No unbeaten Power 5 champion has ever been left out of the field.

Major independents like Notre Dame or BYU would either possibly or likely qualify as well.

You are a one-loss Power 5 conference champ

Oklahoma got in this way in 2018 and 2017, Georgia did it in 2017, Clemson and Washington did in 2016, Alabama, Michigan State, and Oklahoma in 2015, and Ohio State, Alabama, and Oregon did in 2014.

TCU and Baylor didn’t in 2014, but they were co-champs and didn’t play a conference title game.

Last year, Ohio State was the first team to finish 12-1 with a Power 5 Conference Championship Game win to be left out. And that required three unbeaten teams, plus another 12-1 major conference champion.

It’s worth noting that the 2018 Buckeyes were also ranked behind an 11-2 Georgia team that didn’t win its conference. So if you’re a team in this category hoping to get in, try not to lose to Purdue by 29 points.

You are a one-loss non-champion Power 5 team

If your regular season resume is strong enough and your loss is early enough in the year, you can overcome not winning your conference.

Ohio State got in this way in 2016, thanks to road wins over top-10 Oklahoma and Wisconsin and a home win over top-5 Michigan.

Wisconsin missed out after losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game in 2017.

Alabama got in this way in 2017, despite losing its last game and having zero wins over top-15 teams. (See “Your Program Is Alabama” above)

You are a two-loss Power 5 conference champ

No two-loss team has ever made the College Football Playoff, but they have gotten close. Penn State was an 11-2 Big Ten champ in 2016 and finished No. 5 in the rankings. Ohio State did the same thing in 2016.

Once you lose your second game, you are all but eliminated from the Playoff discussion. Again, we’ll mention that a two-loss Georgia was ranked No. 5 last season without even winning the conference. But as far as the Playoff field is concerned, No. 5 and No. 25 in the final rankings are functionally the same thing.

In a 2007 scenario, where the season devolves into a Thunderdome of massive upsets and everyone has two losses, you’d probably have a decent shot. But that doesn’t happen often.

Right now, two-loss teams aren’t listed below. If things start to get crazy later this year, that category could get added.

You are an undefeated Group of 5 conference champ

UCF went 12-0 and was ranked No. 12 in 2017. They were behind a three-loss Auburn team, and one spot ahead of 9-4 Stanford.

Houston went 12-1 in 2015 and was ranked No. 18.

This is ridiculous and unfair to basically half of FBS.

But theoretically, an unbeaten Group of 5 champ could get one of the top four spots.

The season started with all 130 FBS teams having at least some shot at making the final four. Now, that list is already down to 27.

So who is still alive for the 2019 College Football Playoff race?

Unbeaten Power 5 Teams (12 remaining)

Clemson, Wake Forest, Baylor, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, LSU.

Auburn drops out after losing to Florida, Iowa drops out after losing to Michigan.

A number of these teams have head-to-head games left. It starts this weekend when Florida plays LSU on October 12. The Gators face Georgia on November 2.

Wisconsin plays Ohio State on October 26 and Minnesota on November 30. LSU faces Alabama on November 9.

Penn State plays Minnesota on November 9 and Ohio State on November 23. Baylor and Oklahoma play on November 16, as do Clemson and Wake Forest. 

And that doesn’t even touch on the potential matchups in conference championship games. So no, this is not the year five or more Power 5 teams will finish unbeaten.

One-loss Power 5 Teams (11 remaining)

Auburn, Virginia, Texas, Michigan, Iowa, Notre Dame, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Oregon, Missouri.

This group stood at 18 teams a week ago, and was nearly cut in half on Saturday. Auburn and Iowa joined it, and nine teams left.

Michigan State, Duke, TCU, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Cal, Colorado, and Washington all suffered their second losses of the season and fell out of this group. 

Unbeaten Group of 5 Teams (4 remaining)

Memphis, Southern Methodist, Boise State, Appalachian State

This group holds steady at four teams for another week. These teams at least have a theoretical shot to make the field, but they have to run the table, get a lot of help, and then have the committee decide to do something it has shown zero inclination to do at any point in history.