Each week, this feature takes a look at which teams are still plausibly alive for a spot in the College Football Playoff. That means that below, you’re going to read about the implications of Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa’s injury.
But it seems appropriate to acknowledge up front that it is truly awful to see such a talented player go down like that.
If that is the end of Tagovailoa’s collegiate career – and it may well be – then he’s going to be remembered as not only one of the most memorable quarterbacks of the decade, but also one of the great “what if” players. He has been hampered by injuries throughout his career, but still been consistently excellent.
His performance in relief of Jalen Hurts in the 2017 National Championship Game is going to go down in college football history, and he is one of those players who is close to universally-regarded as a smart, good person as well as being an outstanding player.
With that all said, Tagovailoa’s injury also puts Alabama squarely on the outside of the Playoff field at this point. Rule No. 1 below hasn’t changed yet, but at this point it would be surprising to see the Tide get into the Playoff.
They still don’t have a win over a team ranked in the CFP top-25. Their last possible victim would be Auburn, which just lost again yesterday and which would be 8-4 if Bama beats them. At that point, even the most biased SEC homer would be hard-pressed to put them in the top-15.
The committee is also allowed to consider the impact of injuries in the same way that the NCAA Tournament committee knocked the No. 1 Cincinnati Bearcats down to a two-seed after Kenyon Martin broke his leg.
It’s impossible to argue that Tagovailoa’s injury doesn’t make the Tide significantly worse. With Alabama already something of a borderline case due to an utter lack of quality wins, losing a player of his caliber may be a death-blow to their chances at getting in.
There was other big news in the Playoff chase on Saturday, as a pair of unbeatens went down, including a spectacular implosion by Baylor.
A pair of Pac-12 hopefuls both won, pushing that league closer to what could be a functional play-in game in the conference championship.
There are only three unbeaten teams left in all of FBS. If any of those teams win out, they’re basically locked into the field. That means a whole lot of other teams could be racing for just one remaining spot.
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.
All that said, the Tide really hasn’t beaten anyone this season. Their best win of the year is against Texas A&M, which wasn’t ranked by the Playoff Committee last week.
They just lost at home to LSU, are likely out of the SEC title race, and just lost their starting quarterback as well. Their last chance for any kind of remotely meaningful win comes in the regular season finale against Auburn.
There is a legitimate chance that an Alabama team could be able to miss out on the Playoff because there is a consensus that their SEC West schedule was simply too weak.
What a time to be alive.
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 12.
So who is still alive for the 2019 College Football Playoff race?
Unbeaten Power 5 Teams (3 remaining)
Clemson, Ohio State, LSU.
In just two weeks, this group has gone from 7 to 3.
Minnesota couldn’t follow up its big win over Penn State with a win over Iowa, so they’re out.
Baylor managed to blow a 28-3 lead at home against Oklahoma. The Bears have been teetering on the verge of losing for several weeks. Now it happened.
Any of the teams left in this group are now basically guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff if they win the next three weeks.
One-loss Power 5 Teams (8 remaining)
Baylor, Minnesota, Utah, Oregon, Georgia, Oklahoma, Penn State, Alabama.
Baylor and Minnesota lost to fall into this group. Everyone else in here won. Baylor would likely need a crazy amount of help to get into the Playoff at this point. Minnesota could do it if the Gophers win out.
The winner of a Utah-Oregon Pac-12 title game seems like they’ll have a strong case for the fourth spot. The only potential hangup could come if Georgia wins out and beats LSU for the SEC title. In that case, the committee could decide both the Tigers and Bulldogs should be in.
Oklahoma came back from the dead on Saturday night to stay in the picture. If they win out, they will be in the conversation with the Pac-12 champion for that final spot.
Penn State needs to win out, starting next weekend in Columbus, to get in.
Unbeaten Group of 5 Teams (0 remaining)
Maybe next year.