Last week, the title of this feature was ‘It’s About To Get Real.’
Saturday, it definitely did.
Down goes Bama. Down goes Penn State. Two of the top-4 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings fell in the span of about four hours.
Both of the Big 12’s remaining Playoff contenders narrowly escaped major scares. Iowa State nearly completed a massive comeback against Oklahoma and TCU took Baylor to triple-overtime.
Last week in this space, you were advised not to read too much into the initial College Football Playoff rankings because a lot was undoubtedly going to change before those rankings actually meant something. One week later, half of the Playoff field is going to turn over.
There’s still a lot of football to be played between now and when those rankings actually matter. And for the first time ever, it seems like there’s a general drumbeat that Alabama should be left out of the final field. That’s a direct conflict with the first assumption we’re making below, and it’s probably not safe to assume the Tide is really out until you see the graphic on Selection Sunday and Alabama isn’t on it.
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. 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 (5 remaining)
Clemson, Baylor, Minnesota, Ohio State, LSU.
Down goes Bama. Down goes Penn State. Five unbeatens remain. If Ohio State and Minnesota both run the table, they will play in the Big Ten Championship Game, so a maximum of four teams will enter Selection Sunday with perfect records. Baylor has gotten major scares two weeks in a row from so-so opponents, so it seems like their days in this group may be numbered.
One-loss Power 5 Teams (7 remaining)
Utah, Oregon, Georgia, Oklahoma, Penn State, Alabama.
Wake Forest got blown out at Virginia Tech, knocking them out of this group and the Playoff picture on the whole.
Unbeaten Group of 5 Teams (0 remaining)
Maybe next year.