Page 3 Of The CFP Survival Guide: Enter the Danger Zone
I wanted to see what would happen with last weekend providing more clarity for the playoffs, and the rankings being released on Tuesday with Louisville at #5. What does it look like now across the nation?
Opening Thoughts on the Poll:
Instead of breaking down the conference outlooks, let’s talk about the opening polls that were released on Tuesday night.
Yes, the rankings were a little surprising to me. Louisville coming in at #7 should be a shock to everyone initially, especially when (A) Louisville blew the breaks off of Florida State, and (B) their only loss is basically by three yards to the #2 team, Clemson. However, upon retrospect, it does make sense. The win over Florida State was gigantic at the time, but FSU has dropped two since then to UNC and Clemson, both at home. A 5-3 team, on paper, really isn’t going to get the committee’s eye. Plus if we look at Louisville’s resume, they are lacking a second strong win. Yes, most of Louisville’s opponents are either 4-4 or 5-3, but they lack another top 25 win. The argument could be made that Louisville’s second strongest win as of now is a 62-28 win at Syracuse, who has beaten Virginia Tech.
As for the other teams, here’s how I’ve seen how Ohio State, A&M and Washington leaped Louisville. Ohio State probably got the benefit of being in the Big Ten, and has two strong road wins at Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Ohio State never had a bad loss to begin with, also, as Penn State road games are usually hard to play at for any team. Washington, by merit of being undefeated in the Pac-12, should be over Louisville for the time being, as they’ve also yet to experience a letdown game like Louisville did against UVA. And A&M, with playing in the SEC, has quality wins against Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee, but how much do they mean now that Arkansas and Tennessee are no longer ranked?
But there should not be much overreaction past that. It’s still a month away before the final polls come out, and anyone in front of Louisville can still lose. Texas A&M still has tilts against Ole Miss and LSU, two games that the Aggies could realistically lose. Washington is entering the brunt of their schedule, with games against Cal, USC and rival Washington State to close the regular season. Ohio State could still lose to Michigan and beat Nebraska, effectively eliminating the Big Ten from having an at-large bid. Unfortunately, with Louisville sitting a 7-1 and needing help to get in, this is the situation that they will have to live with in the final month of the season.
With Clemson escaping from Florida State with a win, it’s now nearly impossible to imagine them dropping two games to teams like Wake Forest or Pittsburgh. Regardless of how you felt about the officiating on Saturday, Clemson showed some grit and came into a hostile road environment to win a game that they needed.
Louisville survived a scare against Virginia, but the other team in the Commonwealth may have tightened its grip on the Coastal. Virginia Tech continues to reel off impressive wins, knocking off Pitt, UNC and Miami to now have a stranglehold on the ACC Coastal. Justin Fuente has turned the Hokies into a contender in the conference, and has them staring down a potential matchup against Clemson in the title game.
Nebraska is the big story of the conference after this week, even though they lost a close overtime game at Wisconsin. The loss validated the Cornhuskers standing in the Big Ten, playing a physical Badgers team to the limit. However, Nebraska’s road only gets harder this week, as they will travel to Columbus to face an Ohio State team still recovering from their loss at Penn State.
And speaking of the Nittany Lions, an even bigger shock than Louisville at #7 was Penn State jumping all the way to 12th in the initial standings. Although the Nittany Lions’ only losses are at Michigan and at Pittsburgh (an underrated team), it’s worth noting that they haven’t necessarily dominated teams the way that Michigan has. But with Penn State ranked so high, the “bad loss” that many thought Ohio State had isn’t so bad anymore.
With both Baylor and West Virginia falling to Texas and Oklahoma State, respectively, it’s going to be very hard, if not impossible, for one of those teams to get into the playoff, especially since the Big 12 does not have a conference championship. It would almost guarantee a two-loss team will win the conference, but a one-loss Baylor or West Virginia could at least be in the mix if they win out. That is tough to imagine though, as both will have to play Oklahoma at some point, and in Baylor and WVU’s case, each other.
Do keep an eye on Oklahoma State though, who has continued to look better every week and only lost at Baylor by 11. The Cowboys could create some intrigue to get the Big 12 championship, if they win out and can steal the season-finale at Oklahoma.
With Washington winning at Utah, now the chase is on to knock the Huskies out of the playoffs. The Huskies will continue to be Louisville’s main obstacle in the playoffs, but now their schedule is going to get harder for them. Washington has a road trip at Cal, where their dynamic offense could challenge the Huskies and Cal did beat Utah on a goal-line stand in mid September.
But let’s not forget that if Washington does run the table in the regular season, they still have one obstacle; the conference championship game. That is where Utah can come into play again, if they run the table in the final three weeks against Arizona State, Oregon and Colorado. Also in play to meet the Huskies at the conference championship game would be Colorado, who also has to face a Washington State team that is now ranked after winning six in a row. USC is also in the mix, as they have looked outstanding since switching quarterbacks.
Nobody of note is necessarily eliminated from the playoffs, especially since A&M opened the CFP polling with the coveted #4 spot. A&M, though, has to play LSU down the road, in addition to Ole Miss, but it’s likely that A&M has the quarterback and personnel to avoid the late season slump that has plagued the Aggies the last couple of seasons.
Auburn and LSU may have been the biggest winners recently, with both Tigers teams notching convincing wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss, respectively. After two close losses to Clemson and A&M, Auburn has rattled off big wins against LSU and Arkansas to claw into the top 15. However, they will have a road trip to Alabama to close the regular season, and that might be a very tall task for Auburn. But if Auburn were to win out and topple Alabama on the road, it could create some massive chaos with a potential two-loss SEC champion and Alabama as an at-large team.
LSU will undoubtedly have their toughest test of the year, hosting Alabama at night this week. The Tigers have always played Alabama very competitively, but Alabama bottled Leonard Fournette’s running game and dominated LSU.
Group of Five:
Now that Houston and Boise State have lost games, the race for the Group of Five bid has tightened immensely. Houston’s recent loss to SMU not only hurts Louisville’s strength of schedule, it also has clouded the conference race and potentially opened the door for an undefeated Western Michigan team to steal the bid. Boise State’s loss at Wyoming was also a shocker, but they might be able to contend with WMU for the other NY6 bid. Western Michigan may have two Power-5 wins against Northwestern and Illinois, but Boise has the better win on their resume with a home win against Washington State.