It was right around this time two years ago that Oregon (October 2nd) and Alabama (October 4th) suffered their first losses of the year, but still bounced back to play on make the final four, and eventual champion Ohio State lost in Week 2 of that season as well. Last year’s champ ‘Bama also had a loss.
So with a lot of football left to be played, who are the one-loss teams most likely to find themselves in the playoff? Here are our best bets, ranging from “insanely unlikely” (the first few on the list) to “completely control their own destiny.”
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY SportsRandy Sartin
Despite falling to rival Florida State last weekend, the Hurricanes proved that they can play with just about anyone. But with a game against North Carolina this weekend, a visit to No. 17 Virginia Tech next weekend and four of their next six games on the road, it seems unlikely that the Canes emerge from that stretch with one loss, let alone zero. Even if they did, there’d still be match-up with Clemson or Louisville in the ACC title game.
Mark Richt undoubtedly has the Hurricanes going in the right direction but this program feels like it’s at least one year away from competing for an ACC title, let alone on the national stage.
Virginia Tech Hokies
The Hokies just picked up the signature win of the brief Justin Fuente era, dominating North Carolina 34-3 in Chapel Hill. And they also have the benefit of not having to face Clemson, Louisville or Florida State this regular season, a gift from the ACC scheduling gods.
But even if they run the table in the regular season -- which is possible, though unlikely with games against Miami, Pitt and Notre Dame remaining -- this team isn’t ready to compete yet with the Clemsons and Louisvilles of the world in the ACC title game. In a lot of ways, Virginia Tech feels like UNC last year; a team that is good relative to their Coastal counterparts, but far from competing with the big boys in the league.
The $64,000 question that remains with the Gators, is whether or not their game with LSU gets played. If it does, the Gators probably aren’t staying at one-loss beyond those 60 minutes. If it isn’t played, that probability goes way up; Florida’s toughest remaining games are at Arkansas and against Georgia in the Cocktail Party.
But for those fans still upset with the way the Gators handled last weekend, to quote Aaron Rodgers, “Relax!” Even if Florida gets to the SEC title game, they would get clobbered there by Alabama, Texas A&M, or conceivably LSU. Sorry Gators fans, Florida ain’t making the College Football Playoff.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
With one of the top defenses in college football (ranked 11th nationally), Wisconsin can hang with anyone and they proved it by limiting Michigan to just 14 points two weeks ago (Michigan scored 78 points the following week).
Ultimately, the Badgers’ entire season will likely come down to this week: Beat Ohio State and they will likely be favored in every game the rest of the regular season heading into a potential Big Ten title game rematch with either Michigan or the Buckeyes. Lose, and Wisconsin is still a good team, but basically out of the playoff picture altogether.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY SportsJeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports
In what can be described as nothing short of an awful Pac-12, Utah has emerged as the second-best team behind Washington. And considering that they get the Huskies at home in a few weeks, their season could come down to that game. Win, and they’re a rematch with the Huskies in the Pac-12 title game away from making the playoff. Lose, and they’re gone altogether.
Then again, Utah is also the only team on this list with a loss to an unranked opponent. If the Utes are capable of losing to Cal, there’s a pretty good chance that they could get tripped up somewhere else too, even if they beat Washington.
The Cardinals’ most likely path to the playoff isn’t as the ACC champ but as an at-large team if other conference champions struggle. With the way Clemson has played in recent weeks, it seems infeasible that they’d lose two games to win the Atlantic division and get into the ACC title game.
So for Louisville, the rest of the season isn’t just about winning all your games, but hoping others lose too. Cardinals fans will be keeping a close eye on teams like Washington, Baylor and Utah from here on out.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY SportsJamie Rhodes
The Vols are the only team on this list that basically controls their own destiny in the playoff race and it all comes down to this Saturday against Alabama at home. Beat the Crimson Tide and Tennessee should cruise to the SEC title game, where a rematch with ‘Bama or Texas A&M would decide their playoff fate. Lose, and they’re looking at a 10-2 finish and really good bowl game, but not the playoff.
At this point, it’s in the hands of the Vols. And based on what we’ve seen over the last couple weeks, there’s no reason to doubt them.