The College Football Playoff committee is used to parsing the quality of wins when it comes to determining the best teams in the nation, but Oklahoma State might present the 12-person panel a question they didn't think they'd need to answer:
What is a loss?
The Cowboys — ranked No. 11 in the latest college football rankings — control their own destiny in winning the Big 12 title this year and made a firm statement in a 31-6, 334 rushing-yard beatdown of TCU Saturday.
Article continues below ...
The Cowboys still have a rivalry game against Oklahoma on Dec. 3 — a contest that well could be a de-facto Big 12 championship game — but should Oklahoma State win Bedlam and claim the conference title, they could well present that difficult, perhaps even existential question to the committee.
Oklahoma State has two losses in the standings, but have really only lost to Baylor on Sept. 24. The other loss — which came on Sept. 10 — was to Central Michigan on a Hail Mary play that should have never happened.
No one, not even the most optimistic Cowboy fan, could have predicted that play would still loom large in November.
There is a pile-up of two-loss teams in the College Football Playoff rankings, and Oklahoma State, still carrying that second L, is in the middle of it and likely to move up from No. 11 in this upcoming week's rankings, putting them closer to one of the top four seeds heading into their final game of the year.
There's no reason to write off the Cowboys as a playoff team just yet. We know that the College Football Playoff committee prefers to seed conference champions, so what happens if the Pac-12 champion has two, or three losses (Colorado, Utah, or USC) or a loss to an FCS team (Washington State)?
Would the committee favor the Big 12 to the Pac-12 in that circumstance, putting the Big 12 champion into the field with the presumptive field of the SEC, ACC, and Big Ten champions, or would an at-large team — even a two-loss one — slide into the fold?
And when that decision is made, how much would that Oklahoma State “loss” to Central Michigan factor into the decision?
There's still a long way to go — West Virginia could still win the Big 12 should they win out and Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State on Dec. 3 — but the disaster scenario is well in play on Nov. 19.
And with the committee re-calibrating their rankings weekly, there's no reason to believe that the second Oklahoma State loss has been factored into the No. 11 position the Cowboys currently hold — there's been no real reason to truly scrutinize the value of that contest to date.
Oklahoma could win on Dec. 3 and leave the committee a straightforward decision on the Big 12 champion's worth — but that second “loss” is something that should be examined well before that game.
Is the loss column of the standings infallible? Can a team be penalized for losing a game on a blatant and admitted officiating error? And if they can, will that rob Oklahoma State of a chance to play for the National Championship?