Which team outside the top six has best chance to make Playoff?
We’re back again, trying once more to guess which team will gate-crash the College Football Playoff. As we previously noted, there’s been at least one team outside the top four to end up in the CFP’s Final Four.
In 2014, eventual champion Ohio State was No. 6 in the fourth Playoff poll. Last year playoff participant Michigan State was No. 5 in the equivalent poll.
So anybody in the top six Tuesday night certainly is in play. But does anybody beyond that half-dozen have a chance?
Louisville’s loss to Houston last Thursday was the impetus to start some of the playoff dreamers going into overdrive. So with the last week of the regular season and conference championships still ahead of us, we again look at which outsider of the CFP picture could become an insider.
No. 7 Penn State (9-2, losses at Pitt by 3, at Michigan by 39).
The Nittany Lions bumped up a spot in the rankings, but did get a break with Louisville gagging up superior position. First, Penn State has to beat 3-8 Michigan State, which last week’s close game with Ohio State aside, should be easy enough.
Next, they want Ohio State to beat Michigan — maybe even badly. This looks entirely plausible. At that point, Penn State would head for the Big Ten championship game, likely against CFP No.6 Wisconsin. Of course, winning there would jump the Badgers. Penn State hopes that a two-loss Michigan team also falls below them … which would leave only one spot left to climb.
If Washington or Clemson slip up, State would be in. There’s even a chance that an impressive two loss Penn State team could get the last spot over an unimpressive one loss Washington team. But of the outsiders, PSU is closest to controlling their own destiny.
Likelihood: Not bad at all.
No. 8 Oklahoma (9-2, lost to Houston by 10 and Ohio State by 21).
The Sooners are off this week, and then need to beat CFP No. 10 Oklahoma State next week. There is no Big 12 title game, so no chance to gain ground there. The Sooners would rather see Michigan beat Ohio State, because a two-loss regular season title in the Big 12 likely jumps OU over a two-loss, no-title OSU.
If Penn State were to stumble against Michigan State, it wouldn’t hurt. And Clemson or Washington also need to stumble — maybe even both — to make OU’s CFP dreams more plausible. Honestly, the lack of a Big 12 title game hurts Oklahoma pretty severely.
Likelihood: Unlikely, but not as much as before.
No. 9 Colorado (9-2, lost at Michigan by 17, at USC by 4).
The Buffs first need to beat Utah, which lost some prestige since they lost to Oregon. Next comes the key — Washington State needs to beat Washington to hand the Huskies their second loss.
If Colorado then wins the Pac-12 over WSU, things get interesting. The Louisville loss helps, and Colorado has to hope that the Big Ten bludgeons each other to death, maybe with Wisconsin beating Michigan to give all three teams two losses. The four bids would then go to Alabama, the Big Ten champion, Clemson, and maybe the Buffaloes.
If Clemson were to blow the ACC Championship game, that would be another helpful development. But the Buffs are hoping for a lot of luck.
Likelihood: Long shot.
No. 10 Oklahoma State (9-2, lost to Central Michigan by 3, at Baylor by 11).
See Oklahoma’s path above, and replicate it for Cowboys. They’re likely a pretty big underdog to Oklahoma, but if they win, they pass by OU and win their league. At that point, either Washington and/or Clemson needs to choke in their conference title games, and/or complete chaos needs to happen in the Big Ten.
Basically, it’s Oklahoma’s path, but even harder to pull off, because it requires winning at Oklahoma.
Likelihood: So you’re telling me there’s a chance?
No. 11 Louisville (9-2, lost by 6 at Clemson, by 26 at Houston).
Sure, the Cardinals, as Bobby Petrino told us all, “blew it.” They’re down but not out. Their scenario requires some help from the SEC. The Cardinals need to blast Kentucky, and have South Carolina pull off a shocker against Clemson. Maybe the Tigers could also gag up the ACC title game, which they would still play. Meanwhile, Big Ten chaos is needed, and some Pac-12 chaos — maybe Washington State winning that league. It would further help if the Big 12 was less than impressive — maybe Oklahoma State beats OU in Norman. Even if all that happens, Louisville still may well be left out … but it could get interesting.
Likelihood: Worse than the lottery, but for people wanting to see Lamar Jackson vs. Alabama’s defense, worth dreaming about.
No. 15 Florida (8-2, lost at Tennessee by 10, lost at Arkansas by 21).
The Gators’ path actually is as simple to explain as it will be difficult to execute: They must run the table. But if they’re able to follow last week’s win at LSU with a win Saturday at No. 14 FSU, followed by shocking No. 1 Alabama in the SEC title game, the Gators are going to the Playoff.