College Football Playoff Picture: It’s About To Get Real

2019 College Football Playoff Picture

The first College Football Playoff rankings will be released this week. However, when they do, don’t read too much into them.

Last year was one of the chalkiest years in the past 25 seasons of college football, and a team ranked No. 7 in the first poll made the Playoff field.

In more turbulent seasons like 2014, only one of the top-four from the initial rankings actually made it into the field.

It’s November now which means the return of rivalry games, Alabama actually having to play someone with a pulse, and likely a boatload of upsets.

We entered this past weekend with nine unbeaten teams remaining in FBS. Five of them had the weekend off, and another (Clemson) played an FCS tomato can.

Of the three unbeatens who played FBS opponents, two lost and one (Baylor) had to kick a late field goal to escape against a lousy West Virginia team.

This weekend, two sets of unbeatens go head-to-head, so we’re guaranteed to go from nine to at most five in the span of two weeks.

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 that it normally takes to get one of those top four spots.

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 down to 10 percent of that number.

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

Unbeaten Power 5 Teams (7 remaining)

Clemson, Baylor, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, Alabama, LSU.

No changes here for now. Clemson beat Wofford, Baylor escaped against West Virginia, and everyone else had the week off. Alabama and LSU play this Saturday, as do Penn State and Minnesota. This group will be down to a maximum of five next week.

With OSU, PSU, and Minnesota potentially playing a round-robin (if Minnesota makes the B1G Championship Game) there is no way there will be more than four unbeaten FBS teams left by Selection Sunday.

One-loss Power 5 Teams (6 remaining)

Wake Forest, Utah, Oregon, Georgia, Oklahoma.

Florida suffered its second loss of the season and fell out of this group. Utah and Oregon survived what were expected to be stiff tests to stay alive. Wake crushed N.C. State.

Unbeaten Group of 5 Teams (0 remaining)

SMU and App State both lost over the weekend. SMU had been living on borrowed time for a while following a triple-OT win over Tulsa and a narrow escape against Houston.

App State is a much bigger surprise. The Mountaineers had been rolling through a weak Sun Belt schedule before getting upset at home by Georgia Southern. 

9 Responses

  1. I believe the 1 loss teams in contention are down to the 5 listed, not the 6 teams in parentheses , so down to 12 teams not 11……….and i totally agree with Longtime and Alexander regarding all the BS with espn and the SEC and how those teams barely drop..gets a little ridiculous and unfair to say the least…right now Ohio just needs to make sure there is loss to PSU (assuming we win the next 2 games) –that’s the game that could really screw us, although it shouldn’t ..first things first and beat maryland…

  2. To my way of thinking, there is nothing “real” about these in-season playoff rankings. They are really nothing more than a way for ESPN to make money broadcasting a weekly show revealing the current picks for the four spots, which rarely, if ever, correspond closely to the final poll. In fact, it seems the first few of these purposely contain controversial placements in rankings to spur controversy and generate interest in talking head shows. Although ESPN is not responsible for the content of the polls, at least directly, they most certainly influence things by the teams and conferences they choose to promote as the “best.”

    The bottom line is none of these polls are worth a hill of beans except for the last one of the year when the actual selections are made. So much can and will change over the next month, and it really matters little where your favorite team falls in the next few weeks. One could make an argument that the second to last one is someone important since the order is unlikely to change much if teams do not lose in the championship game, but even that is not set in stone. Even with factors that are considered somewhat impartial (such as strength of schedule) can change dramatically as teams that were thought to be good prove not to be, and others prove they are better than they were perceived.

    My advice is to not worry about what teams are where until the second to last of these standings are released. And don’t bother watching the ESPN money grab show that announces the results each week. Keep calm, keep on winning Buckeyes, and all will be well.

  3. Bucks win out in. Clemson wins out in. LSU in. Oregon and Oklahoma win out between those two. Alabummer is out!

  4. It sure is about to get real, Tom. Past practice shows us the “best” result for OSU would be for Ala to wipe the floor with LSU. If that game is close- especially if Ala loses close- it opens up the “eye test”/ “good loss” pretzel logic the media influencers love to employ while sucking up to the SEC. A close Ala/LSU game almost guarantees 2 SEC teams in the playoff. Ped St and MN have a monster game ( who predicted that 8 weeks ago?) Clemson ain’t losing ( I did that just for Clem fans who may read this). Keep winning Bucks!!

    1. While I agree with past ‘performance’ I still hold out hope that LSU can blow ‘Bama’s doors. The Tide D isn’t what it’s been the past few years and their offense would be enough to keep pace with a healthy Tagovailoa (LSU’s D not being anything close to final 4 quality), but with him gimping there’s a shot. Then add in Auburn getting it’s once-every-several-years’ luck vs. the Tide and, well, yeah. It’s a long shot but I’d rather ‘Bama get 2 losses and have Jeaux in the Playoff than what is probably more realistic – ‘Bama gets in and they try to shoehorn in the Tigers however they can.

      1. Hi Andrew- the thing that bothers me is the obvious attempt to stack the deck with SEC teams. Georgia has crept back to 6, and even the anemic Fla Gators are still in the Top 10! SMU lost a road game to a Top 25 and dropped TEN spots, but that doesn’t happen to our SEC friends… The point is that folks will move heaven and earth to minimize a “good” SEC loss; however, the losers of Ped/Minn and Ped/OSU will drop like the temperature . Any contending BIG team that loses will be penalized heavily, while any contending SEC team that loses will be mitigated to their advantage.

        1. Been that way for most of the past 20 years. The SEC is tough because the preseason raters say it is. And if that’s proven false during the year, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” the Great and Powerful ESPiN bellows to theatrical pyrotechnics. In the ’80s Miami pioneered the art of play 2 tough games per year but have the hype machine on overdrive that they’re such a great team. Free Shoes U took that over in the ’90s when the Almost Competitive Conference was FSU and a bunch of flatliners. When ESPiN bought what amounts to be a controlling interest in the Southeastern Conference they’ve continued the same – make sure there’s 1 or 2 difficult games per year, but hype the conference as ‘something special’, churn out ‘champions’ and perpetuate the myth. To be fair, they do have to win those games, but how much did ‘Bama REALLY get diminished for getting clocked by the Buckeyes in ’14 or Clemson more recently? Bad as Clemson’s schedule has been it’s still 1 team tougher than ‘Bama’s has been to date.

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