Playoff Discussions and Eliminations
Each week, we have started with a review of the previous games and have looked ahead to upcoming contests. Until bowl season, we are going to focus on the playoff contenders, those who have fallen out of the graces and some who may have reached redemption.
Alabama – It won’t get easier. Alabama has had a cakewalk for their first 8 games. If you read my previous article, you will understand the logic. The Tide go on to play three or their toughest games over the next 5 weeks. They earned their bye week with an 8-0 record but have yet to play anyone with a pulse. They start with LSU, then travel to Mississippi State. After an easy week against Mercer, they will head to the plains to take on Auburn. Alabama has played one mobile quarterback so far and Texas A&M gave them a good show. Mississippi State has a much better team than A&M despite their record and Saban has never been able to put together a game plan that stops a guy like Fitzgerald. Even if the Tide do escape this four-game stretch, they will have Georgia waiting for them in the SEC Championship Game. Alabama will lose one of these 5 games and I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost 2 or three of them. They Tide are good but are they that good? Regular Season Record: 11-1
Penn State – We are about to find out what the Nittany Lions are made of. Anyone who thought their beatdown of Michigan was a surprise is either from Ann Arbor or has a man crush on Mr. Khaki Pants. Michigan has been terrible in almost every phase of the game. Penn State has done what it had to in every game except Iowa. The players, coaches and fans know they got away with one there. Even if they lose to Ohio State, there’s a backwards chance they could get into the playoffs. Just look back at last year’s game and who made the playoffs. What would work against PSU is that the committee already has seen the err of their ways. Since the Buckeyes are undefeated in Conference play, this is a must-win for both teams. Penn State will have to travel to Michigan State the following week but if the Lions can come away with two wins, they are set. This would bring up an intriguing matchup with Wisconsin who is playing well but against bad competition. I don’t think that will happen. I’ve been on the fence about this one for the last couple of weeks and I believe they will trip up against OSU and miss the B1G Championship. Regular Season Record: 11-1
Georgia – Like Alabama, things are going to get a bit tougher. The difference between the two is that UGA has played MSST already and won handedly. The Dawgs also own a win over the Irish in Notre Dame. Both teams travel to Auburn and that game could be one that trips up them both. UGA has been lights out on defense thus far (unless you watched the first half of the Missouri game) and the only teams left that have found an offensive identity are Auburn and GT. USC and Florida both field capable defenses but neither is great against the rush. The Gamecocks rank 43rd against the run and the Gators 47th. The Bulldogs are currently sitting at 10th in the nation in rushing yards per game. For UGA, wins against Florida and South Carolina, would cement their trip to play the winner of the SEC West. It looks to be Alabama but I wouldn’t count on it. Georgia is one of the few teams who can afford a loss this late and still survive. The Dawgs may have peaked early but they have a ton of bite left in them. Regular Season Record: 11-1
TCU – The Horned Frogs are one of the most intriguing teams we weren’t talking about at the beginning of the season. In the Big12, it was Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. After TCU dismantled the Cowboys, everything changed. Then the Sooners lost to Iowa State and the fate of the Big12 fell squarely into the lap of the Horned Frogs. TCU has already played a meaningful game against a highly ranked opponent. That is more than we can say for anyone above them in the rankings. One might argue that Bama played FSU or Penn State played Michigan and Iowa but in all honesty, none of those three are challengers to the playoff system. TCU has two tough games left from a defensive perspective. Oklahoma and TTU can air the ball out with the best of them. The Horned Frogs also have Texas on their schedule. While the Longhorns offense isn’t great, they have an equally tough defense and will make things tough for TCU. While I believe TCU is a very good team, Oklahoma has the best chance to win the Big12 according to the FPI. For once, I agree with an FPI projection. I think TCU falls twice in their remaining schedule to Oklahoma and Texas. If that happens and they meet the Sooners in the Big12 Championship, the Big12 might be left out of the playoffs. Regular Season Record: 10-2
Wisconsin – The Badgers are rolling. They have won all but two games but double digit points this season (Northwestern and Purdue). The problem for Wisconsin is that they haven’t played a schedule worthy of a top 5 ranking. The Badgers schedule thus far, has included only one Top50 opponent (Northwestern #39) and three of their opponents rank 76th or worse. Early on, I had Wisconsin to go undefeated in the regular season but their struggles against the Boilermakers and the Wildcats make me question what they have going. In the last five games, the Badgers will face three Top50 teams. Of those three, Michigan and Iowa, thanks to their defenses, could eliminate Wisconsin from the playoff picture. Indiana and Maryland could also provide resistance and if Wisconsin loses one of these, their season is all but over. There is still hope of a B1G Championship Game but they would be relegated to the spoiler role. At this point in the season, Wisconsin has done just enough but now it’s time to put up or shut up. Regular Season Record: 10-2
Ohio State – What happens when you lose to Oklahoma at home? You step up and beat your next 5 opponents 266-56. What are we seeing though? This happened last year and the competition has been a bit easier thus far. The Buckeyes are getting a wakeup call this Saturday in Penn State. The winner is in the driver seat. For Ohio State though, they still must navigate a tricky ending. Following their revenge game with the Nittany Lions, OSU has Iowa, Michigan State and Michigan. The Wolverines and Spartans rank 5th and 4th respectively in Total Defense. The best defense they have face so far, Indiana. Currently ranked 29th, the Hoosiers will surely fall out of the Top50 over the next 5 games. Ohio State has the best offense in the Big Ten but they also have the most inconsistent offense when facing a playoff caliber team. Last season, the Buckeyes dominated mediocre opponents, lost to Penn State and should’ve lost to Michigan. Then they got destroyed in the playoffs. So, are we seeing OSU finally emerge as a team that can make noise in the playoffs or are we just seeing a copy of last season’s team? Regular Season Record: 10-2
Miami – The team that benefits the most from Clemson’s loss to Syracuse, is also the favorite in the opposing division of the ACC. The Hurricanes were able to bury the Orange late in the game last Saturday. Other than the Orange, Miami hasn’t faced a balanced team from an offensive/defensive perspective. They will get their tests very soon. After an easy game at 1-7 UNC this week, Miami gets Notre Dame and Virginia Tech at home. Notre Dame whipped USC this past week and if that’s any indication of what will happen in South Beach, the Canes could be reeling. Virginia Tech lost to Clemson and it wasn’t close. Syracuse beat Clemson. Miami beat Syracuse. So, Miami should beat VT as well. If things were only that simple. These two games they face will be the undoing of the ACC. Notre Dame is #5 in the FPI and VT is 15th. Syracuse, #43. Regular Season Record: 9-2 (lost a game due to Hurricane Irma)
Notre Dame – In the offseason, Kelly admitted the failures of last year’s team were firmly on his shoulders. I am not sure if he made a deal with a Leprechaun before the season started but the Irish are playing extremely well. The only blemish for the Irish is a one-point loss to #3 ranked Georgia. After their dismantling of USC, I am convinced. The schedule left for Notre Dame will only bolster what they have accomplished thus far, if they can remain a one-loss team. The Irish have one of the toughest remaining schedules. Only UGA, TCU and Stanford have a tougher slate remaining of the teams in the Top15 of the RPI. If they play like they did Saturday, no one will stop the them. I’m a believer at this point and I don’t see a team on their schedule who is playing at the level they are but, things can always get crazy. Regular Season Record: 11-1
Oklahoma – The FPI doesn’t much care for the strength of the Big 12. The Sooners still have contests against TCU, OKST and WVU. All three of those teams are ranked in the Top25. Even with those three games, their remaining SOS ranks 34th. That doesn’t bode well for the Sooners. With the loss to Iowa State and a panic button win against Texas, I don’t know how much we can trust the Sooners. TTU will be an interesting challenge for them this weekend as well. Unfortunately, Kansas plays in the Big12 too, so that will damage anyone’s SOS. After all the hoopla about QBs around football, I still believe Mayfield is the best College QB playing right now but it isn’t enough. I’ve said it once and I will say it again, “the Big12 is self-destructing.” The Title Game pitting the best two teams against each other regardless of division will doom them again. While the decision is honorable, you can’t expect TCU, OU, and OKST to beat the other twice. If it comes down to TCU and Oklahoma, they will meet 3 weeks after their regular season battle. The Big12 won’t survive this. Regular Season Record: 10-2
Oklahoma State – Speaking of tough schedules, the Cowboys still have to face three Top25 teams in a row. I don’t have access to the database to properly assess the odds but it doesn’t look pretty. I’d say OKST has about a 5% chance to escape the 3-game set undefeated. They travel to Morgantown for a couch burning session, get the Sooners at home, and then travel to Iowa State who are surprisingly playing well. One more loss will eliminate the Cowboys from contention and unfortunately for them, it’s coming soon. It may come in troves. Giving them only a 5% chance to come away undefeated, I’d venture to say that they also have a 40% chance of losing two of three. What looked to be a promising season is now looking to be filled with, what ifs and regret. Regular Season Record: 9-3
Washington – This is where things start to get dicey. Washington didn’t just lose to ASU, they lost in an embarrassing fashion. They didn’t get blown out by the Devils like Washington State did against Cal but they lost to a team that ranks 88th in total defense and 72nd in total offense. This is a blemish that the Huskies cannot overcome easily. The Pac12 is in worse shape than the ACC and Washington would need to win out to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs, even with one loss. With Notre Dame sporting a tougher schedule and better loss, I can’t imagine the Irish out. The winner of UGA and Bama is in. Maybe even the loser. Then you have Penn State and Ohio State in front of them as well. Things look bleak for Washington and anyone else behind them. The committee also got to see Washington last year and this team resembles a shell of its former self. Regular Season Record: 10-2
Other Teams with a TINY Shot at the Playoffs
Virginia Tech- The Hokies would have to run the table and win the ACC. They would also need NCST or Clemson to play in the ACCCG with a record of 11-1. Then the Hokies would need to pray that the committee finds them intriguing enough. The Hokies have a legitimate shot at beating Miami and finishing with the lone loss to Clemson. But could they beat either the Wolfpack or the Tigers?
NCST- Like the Hokies, they need a lot of help. However, if the Wolfpack can beat the Irish and the Tigers in consecutive weeks, the pollsters would jump the Wolfpack into a position where they can make some noise. They would need to beat the Coastal Champion decisively as well. The Wolfpack will be eliminated this week.
Washington State – After their loss to Cal, almost all hope is gone. They have two ranked opponents and going undefeated the rest of the way isn’t an option. There are too many teams ahead of them to falter. It won’t happen. Washington State will be eliminated in the next two weeks.
Michigan State – Sparty lost to Notre Dame in convincing fashion. They also beat Michigan at the Big House. If by some miracle, they can take down both Penn State and Ohio State, they would be in the conversation. If I were a betting man (and I am), I’d put my money elsewhere. They play NW this weekend and may find themselves eliminated here. If not, Penn State will put them away.
UCF & USF – They are bundled together because they depend on each other. Both would need to remain undefeated heading into their final game. USF has the better schedule and UCF had to cancel maybe the most important game of the year (Georgia Tech). Either team needs to go undefeated and win the conference. Then the debate can start. Can either of the teams beat some of the 2-loss teams out there? The answer is sure, but not Auburn, USC, Stanford, LSU, or West Virginia. So how could they beat a one loss team like Notre Dame, Bama or Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State or Oklahoma. Sorry but you’re both out of the playoff race. Schedule somebody!
My Playoff Teams as of 10/27/17
Georgia, Notre Dame, Alabama and Penn State
New Year’s 6 as of 10/27/17
Washington vs USF
Clemson vs TCU
Oklahoma vs Auburn
Ohio State vs Virginia Tech
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