College football is the gift that keeps on giving. Just when you think you’ve got the sport figured out — just when you think you know what’s coming next, just when you think “I’m betting my kid’s college fund on Louisville” — the Cardinals go out and get stunned at Houston, eliminating them from playoff contention (and ensuring you’ll need to take out another loan to get little Johnny through four years at State U as well).
It also raises a very interesting question: What would be the best loss (by another team) for every playoff contender? One that would help move them closer to the playoff?
Here are the picks.
West Virginia (TCU beating Oklahoma State Nov. 19)
As things stand, West Virginia is 8-1. But even if they win out and finish 11-1, they’ll still need a lot of help from a lot of different teams across the country to get into the playoff. But here's one WVU scenario no one has considered: What if Oklahoma State wins out? The Pokes are the only team that has beaten the Mountaineers this year. If both teams win their remaining games, they would finish with identical 8-1 records in league play. Based on their head-to-head win, it’s the Cowboys — not West Virginia — who would be Big 12 champs.
So this weekend is monumental for the Mountaineers. For starters, they have to beat Oklahoma. That’s a given. But they also need Oklahoma State to lose somewhere to ensure they’d be Big 12 champs. West Virginia would still need some outside help from there, but a loss from the Pokes would certainly keep the hope alive.
Getty ImagesJustin K. Aller
Oklahoma (Michigan State beating Penn State Nov. 26)
Like their Big 12 counterparts West Virginia, Oklahoma still needs a lot of carnage to happen around them. But all the cards fall their way, the Sooners would make a very compelling case for the Playoff as a 10-2 Big 12 champion which went 9-0 in league play.
Still, it’s hard to imagine the Sooners jumping a few teams for a playoff berth. That includes Ohio State (which beat Oklahoma head-to-head), Washington if they win out, or even two-loss Big Ten champ Penn State, which has a head-to-head win over the Buckeyes.
So how about Michigan State doing Oklahoma’s dirty work for them and beating Penn State? It would knock Penn State out of the playoff conversation and put Ohio State into the Big Ten title game. And if Ohio State wins the title game, that would virtually eliminate the possibility of two Big Ten teams in the playoff, while also boosting Oklahoma’s resume (making the Sooners' loss to Ohio State look better) as well.
The Sooners would probably still need Washington to lose, but this would be a major, major help.
Getty ImagesAndy Lyons
Penn State (Indiana beating Michigan Nov. 19th)
The likelihood of Indiana actually beating Michigan this weekend is about the same as Jim Harbaugh chugging Mountain Dew with his next meal instead of milk. But if it could happen, it would be a huge boon for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State needs Michigan to lose at some point to get into the Big Ten title game. Most assume it will happen against Ohio State on Nov. 26. But if it happened against Indiana this week, all the Nittany Lions would need to do is win out to make the Big Ten title game. Win there, and they have a very compelling case for the playoff.
Want a “best, best” case for Penn State? How about Indiana beating Michigan, and then Michigan beating Ohio State the following week? If that happens, it would make the Nittany Lions by far the best possible Big Ten representative for the playoff if they win the conference title.
Wisconsin (Washington State beating Washington, Nov. 25)
Unlike the Nittany Lions, the Badgers need no help in the Big Ten standings. If they win out, they’re the Big Ten West champs and winners of the Big Ten as well. Assuming Wisconsin beats Penn State in the Big Ten title game, it would set up a scenario where the final two spots for the playoff come down to three teams: Wisconsin as the Big Ten champ, Ohio State as a Big Ten at-large, and a one-loss Pac-12 champ Washington.
Wisconsin simply isn’t going to jump Ohio State (on the virtue of the Buckeyes’ head-to-head win) which is why it’s so important for Washington to lose somewhere else along the way. The most likely scenario comes when they play Washington State in the Apple Cup next Friday on FS1.
If that happens, it sets up a situation where we’re almost certainly guaranteed to see two Big Ten teams in the playoff: Ohio State as an at-large, and Wisconsin as the conference champ. All of Wisconsin will be rooting for Wazzu next week.
Washington (Michigan beating Ohio State, Nov. 26)
Like Oklahoma, Washington’s clearest path to the playoff is to make sure that the Big Ten only gets one bid to the Final Four. But in the case of the Huskies, the best-case scenario is for Michigan to win out. First off, it would give Ohio State another loss. Secondly it would be a death-knell in both Wisconsin and Penn State’s playoff hopes.
In that scenario, if Washington were to win out, the only team that could even have an argument to jump the Huskies would be Ohio State. Even then, the Buckeyes would be a two-loss team without a conference title, while Washington would be a one-loss conference champ. Remember, too, that by that point Washington would have a couple more impressive wins on their resume after beating Washington State next week, and either Colorado or Utah in the Pac-12 title game.
Getty ImagesThearon W. Henderson
Clemson (NC State beating North Carolina, Nov. 25)
At this point, Clemson already has their winning lottery ticket in hand. Win out, and they’re in the playoff. And considering their next two games are against Wake Forest and South Carolina, Dabo Swinney has to be feeling pretty good.
It also means that, in any scenario, the Tigers’ most likely loss would come in the ACC title game. As things stand, Clemson is projected to play Virginia Tech, who will get into the championship game if they beat Virginia next week. If the Hokies lose, North Carolina would get in.
Simply put, the Tigers want no part of North Carolina. It’s not that Clemson can’t beat them, but we know that North Carolina will not fear them. Especially after the Tar Heels played the Tigers tough well into the fourth quarter of last year’s ACC title game.
So the best-case scenario for Clemson is not seeing North Carolina at all. A loss by the Tar Heels to NC State would make it impossible for North Carolina to win the division and advance to the ACC title game.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY SportsJoshua S. Kelly
Michigan (Minnesota beating Wisconsin, Nov. 26)
Like Clemson, if Michigan wins out, they’re in. But while everyone’s focus is on Ohio State next week for the Wolverines, let’s take it a step further. What if they beat Ohio State, and are forced to face Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game? Considering that those two teams played in Ann Arbor, and Michigan won by a narrow score of 14-7 (even if they completely dominated the game), you mean to tell me on a neutral field, Wisconsin couldn’t pull off the upset?
So what better way for Michigan to avoid worrying about Wisconsin than by not playing them at all? It could happen if the Badgers lose next week, and Nebraska wins out. In that scenario, the Cornhuskers would be Big Ten West champs.
While Wisconsin at least has a puncher’s chance against Michigan, Nebraska has none. Michigan would crush them on their way to a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff berth.
Getty ImagesGregory Shamus
Ohio State (Michigan State beating Penn State, Nov. 26)
This would obviously be contingent on not only Michigan State beating Penn State, but Ohio State beating Michigan next week as well. But if the Buckeyes won and the Nittany Lions lost, it would mean that Ohio State is your Big Ten East champ.
From there, Ohio State would control its own destiny in the Big Ten title game. Win, and they’re going to the playoff.
Alabama (Ohio State beating Michigan Nov. 26)
I can’t lie, I’m really grasping at straws here, but follow me on this one: If we’re to assume that Ohio State is Alabama’s toughest challenger on the way to a title, then Alabama would want to avoid them alltogether. The problem is that even if Ohio State loses to Michigan, they may still get into the playoff as an at-large. Even worse, the Buckeyes would almost certainly be the No. 4 seed and face Alabama in their semifinal game.
Therefore, the best case scenario for Alabama — assuming nothing catastrophic happens, like Ohio State losing to Michigan State and Michigan the next two weeks — is that the Buckeyes beat Michigan. It would almost certainly clinch the Buckeyes a spot in the playoff, and at 11-1 (even if they weren’t the Big Ten champ), they’d probably end up on the other side of the bracket. It would leave Alabama with a matchup against either Washington or the Big Ten champ (Penn State/Wisconsin) in a very winnable semifinal. It would also add another layer for Ohio State (with the possibility that they get upset) before they would face Alabama in a potential title game.
Got all that? Good. By the way, the fact that I had to grasp at so many straws to come up with ANY scenario where Alabama is in trouble, shows you just how dominant they really are. Regardless of who they play, it seems like Alabama might just roll over everyone.