CFP Chase: Assessing contenders after Week 11
Is it possible that, after its loss to LSU, Alabama is both well-positioned to still make the College Football Playoff and needs help to get there?
It seems like a paradox. But believe it or not, yes.
The CFP committee always talks about how it starts with a blank sheet of paper every week to do its rankings. This Saturday’s results mark an interesting chapter indeed.
The committee values which teams you have beaten and which teams beat you. Staying within 5 points of LSU with a severely hobbled quarterback, in a game which the Tigers led by 20 at halftime, is the best boost Alabama’s résumé has had in 2019.
Alabama can make a very, very good argument for being the best 1-loss team in America right now. Barring an odd set of circumstances where undefeated teams claim all 4 Power 5 conference titles — LSU, Clemson, Baylor and either Ohio State or Minnesota — that gives the Crimson Tide a leg up in the chase for one of 4 CFP semifinal berths.
So far so good.
Except: What if even 3 of those teams run the table? Clemson seems extremely likely, Ohio State has a decent chance. Baylor? Who knows, but we will find out a lot this Saturday when the Bears host Oklahoma.
Here is another factor to consider: The CFP committee is supposed to weigh conference championships pretty heavily.
What if the Pac-12 title game comes down to two 11-1 teams in Utah and Oregon? The winner will not only be a conference champion (which Alabama will not be unless LSU collapses) but will own a fantastic win, better than anything Bama has right now. That would be better than a Tide win over Auburn — remember, Auburn still has to play Georgia. Will a Bama win over a Tigers team that winds up 8-4 really be more valuable than a Utah/Oregon win over an 11-1, top-10 team for a conference championship? I would not think so.
And oh, yeah, what about maybe the biggest nightmare scenario for Bama: What if 11-1 Georgia defeats 12-0 LSU for the SEC title? That would be enough to kill Alabama’s chances.
So the Crimson Tide, after just a single loss to an amazing LSU team, finds itself both in great shape and in dire straits. Of course, 3 weeks remain to give this story even more chapters.
This week we are altering hoe we assemble the order below. We were using the Associated Press poll, but now we are taking the first CFP rankings, released last week, and guessing how Saturday’s results will change them. This is our take on how we think the committee will rank these contenders.
With 4 victories over teams ranked in the top 10 at the time they played — 2 away from home — the Tigers have the best Playoff case of any team. LSU will clinch a Playoff berth with 3 more regular-season wins. That’s right, we think they can lose the SEC Championship Game and still go to the CFP.
The Buckeyes were No. 1 in the first CFP poll and did nothing wrong on Saturday. This No. 2 spot is more about how LSU looked. A 73-14 victory over a poor Maryland team won’t move the needle any and Penn State’s loss to Minnesota takes a bit of shine off OSU’s Nov. 23 meeting with the Nittany Lions.
NC State has a habit of pulling off ACC upsets, especially at home in Raleigh. Clemson kicked that habit hard, leading 42-0 at halftime on the way to a 55-10 victory. Did anybody even notice that the Tigers clinched the ACC Atlantic Division title? Only carelessness can beat Clemson now.
It is a tough decision for the No. 4 spot between Georgia and Alabama. The Dawgs still have the worst loss of any CFP contender and that defeat against South Carolina looks worse every week. But Georgia’s win over Florida is far better than any win by Bama to this point, so that’s why UGA is No. 4 here.
So, the Crimson Tide are mortal once in a while, and not just half the time against Clemson. Style points are not supposed to matter, but there’s no denying that margin of victory is at least bubbling below the surface in that CFP meeting room. In other words, Bama must crush Mississippi State and Auburn.
Is an 11-spot rise in the CFP rankings too much after one win over Penn State? Perhaps. The gap between that and everything else on Minnesota’s résumé is enormous. But credit the Golden Gophers for backing up their “We want GameDay” bravado. Two more ranked teams await — Iowa and Wisconsin.
Knocking at the door
A week off inched Oregon closer to the Pac-12 North title with Oregon State’s loss, not that there was ever a question that the Ducks would make the league title game. This is a really intriguing case for the CFP committee. The Ducks need to not just win, but roll.
Another Pac-12 division leader which had the week off, Utah is still lurking in the top 10. The Utes don’t have nearly the name recognition that Oregon does — a notion that is not supposed to matter to the CFP folks, but one has to wonder sometimes if it does.
A victory against Iowa State, in which the Sooners led big then nearly collapsed, won’t convince anybody that this is a 1-loss team with a résumé to compete with Georgia or Alabama. After some solid defensive performances early, Oklahoma’s defense is now starting to resemble the shaky units of the recent past.
Once again, Baylor found a way to win. Once again, the Bears can’t shake the doubters. They needed overtime to topple a TCU team that entered the game with a .500 mark. Baylor will either put on a Minnesota-like “show me” performance and beat Oklahoma, or lose and disappear.
Still hanging on
Why do we still include the Nittany Lions when we dropped fellow Big Ten teams Michigan and Wisconsin from consideration after one loss? Because PSU can get back in the conversation: Just win Nov. 23 at Ohio State and grab the B1G title, probably in a rematch vs. Minnesota. Likely? Not at all.
Dropped out: None