As an unabashed supporter of a college football playoff I couldn't have been happier with the events of week 6 in college football. Of course it helps when the Irish beat Stanford and remain undefeated. More to the point though, this past weekend was an exploding bomb that will have a lasting impact on the selection of the first 4-team playoff in history.
Would Notre Dame get in with 2 losses? Almost assuredly not. However, the odds increased that a 1-loss Irish team could make it as did the chances of 2-loss conference champion getting a nod.
11 Ranked Team Lost in Week 6: #2 Oregon #3 Bama #4 OU #6 Texas A&M #8 UCLA #14 Stanford #15 LSU #16 USC #17 Wisconsin #18 BYU #19 Nebraska— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) October 7, 2014
One of the changes today--and it may be small but still powerful--is that the FBS under the playoff has really felt like the Power 5 conferences are slowly taking center stage at all times. The BCS era was cool with some mid-majors crashing the party but college football is really about 70 teams and that's it. Today there's no Boise State in the Top 10, TCU is in the Big 12 and forced to play tougher games, and ditto for Utah. BYU was mounting a threat but their bid is all but over after losing to Utah State and having Taysom Hill break his leg. East Carolina is still hanging around as a ranked team but they've already lost and won't have the schedule strength to move up all that much higher.
We're staring down dozens of games between the biggest programs in the country which, all respect to the smaller programs, is what should be happening in the sport.
All of this is to say that the regular season games the rest of the season among the Power 5 teams are going to be insanely important and this is what is going to make the race to the playoff so great.
Let's take a look at the rest of the country.
No team remains in the driver's seat like Florida State. No one has a better chance of remaining undefeated through conference championship games. If they get past the Notre Dame/Louisville in a couple weeks it might be smooth sailing. They also might be able to recover from one loss in those games and still get in but there is a lot of pressure to stay undefeated because the ACC just is not going to offer many marquee games for them from here on out.
Louisville is still hanging around but a visit to Clemson could end their chances this weekend.
Georgia Tech is leading the division at 5-0 (2-0) but are only ranked No. 22 in the AP Poll behind 13 other teams who have already lost one game. They'll need Clemson (second-to-last game) to get back in the rankings and Georgia (last game) to stay strong in addition to likely upsetting FSU in the ACC title game. Yeah, this isn't happening is it?
Everyone else in the Coastal, save Duke who is 0-1 in conference play, has at least 2 losses. The odds of anyone in this division making the playoff is pretty slim.
Big Ten East
It's going to come down to November 8th when Michigan State hosts Ohio State. Both clubs have lost already but neither in conference yet. Should they stay unbeaten their clash could determine who is going to make the playoff from the Big Ten. Week six kind of helped the B1G as it opened the door to either of these teams making it in especially MSU who has a much better loss (on the road at Oregon) than Ohio State (home loss to Va Tech) and also defeated Nebraska, likely the best team from the West, and a team the Buckeyes don't play in the regular season.
Big Ten West
This division feels like the ACC Coastal in that it's likely relegated to the role of spoiler. Nebraska had a shot to stay in the thick of things but their remaining schedule (NW, Rutgers, Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa) leaves a lot to be desired. There might be upwards of 10 teams with 2-losses from across the country with stronger resumes than anyone in the Big Ten West by the end of the season. They'll need to go 11-1 and beat another 1-loss divisional champion from the East.
These conference members have to deal with what Notre Dame has to deal with--no conference title game. The wreckage of week 6 helps the conference members who could get revenge and/or a second chance in a league title game. The Big 12 has no such opportunity and so the pressure mounts to stay undefeated.
Baylor and TCU remain unbeaten and ranked in the top 10 but guess who plays each other this week?
Oklahoma only dropped to No. 11 in the AP Poll and will have plenty of opportunities to regain ground but another loss and they are likely done for good.
It's basically a two-team race right now: Missouri and Georgia. I don't know if a team that lost to Indiana would get in but if they run the table through the SEC Title Game anything is possible. The Dawgs sit at No. 13 and will travel to Mizzou this weekend to sort some things out. They'll have to have a 2012-esque run and win the league title game this time around.
The best division in football is still in good position, even with 3 of its members losing over the weekend. They still have 4 teams in the top 7 and a 5th (Texas A&M) sitting at 14th in the country. If there is a team that makes the playoff with 2 losses it will likely come from this division and that team could be Alabama who may lose over the next 2 or 3 weeks but still defeat Miss State and Auburn late in the season to sneak in without winning the division.
Those Miss State Bulldogs face Auburn this weekend which will knock one of them off the undefeated list. If Auburn wins that game they likely move to No. 1 in the country but their remaining schedule is just brutal: South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia, Samford, and Alabama.
Ole Miss travels to College Station this weekend too. A win by the Rebels and the Aggies are likely cooked with 2 losses but you never know. This division will most definitely beat up on each other but it's just so highly respected that even 2 losses--especially if they are both before November--might bring a better resume than what the rest of the country has to offer.
If there was a conference that was poised to challenge the SEC for supremacy it was the Pac-12 but you could argue that Week 6 did much more damage to the West Coast league than the South. In this division 4 out of the 6 teams have only played 2 league games yet everyone has at least 1 loss in conference already.
Oregon's loss at home to Arizona was bad but they are still in good position as anyone in the Pac-12 for a playoff spot thanks to Notre Dame's defeat of Stanford. The Ducks play at UCLA this weekend which could offer them the chance to end the Bruins' playoff chances while simultaneously jumping right back into the Top 10. Their schedule after this week isn't as brutal (Washington, Stanford, Cal are the highest opponents) as the 1-loss SEC teams, plus they miss ASU and USC in cross-divisional play.
Even if Oregon loses again they might still have a shot at making the playoff with 2 losses because Stanford was likely the only competition for the league title game. Is Cal really going to win the division? Washington? The Cardinal already have 2 losses and still have road games against three currently ranked teams (Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA) plus a home game against ranked Utah. Chances are slim Stanford goes 10-2, I think.
The 10th ranked Arizona Wildcats are in the driver's seat thanks to their upset in Eugene this past Thursday but they still need to take care of business within their division. That starts with a game this weekend hosting USC. Win that one and you've buried the Trojans for good and gave yourself some breathing room to possibly trip up (Week 8 at UCLA?) but remain in 1st place with the chance to get to the league title game coming down to the Duel in the Desert.
Arizona State and UCLA look like the other possibilities right now but neither gives much confidence. The Sun Devils have a tough as nails remaining schedule (Stanford, Washington, Utah, Notre Dame over the next month, plus the Duel in the Desert is on the road) and the odds of their defense keeping their record at 1-loss is slim. The Bruins have a make-or-break game this weekend as mentioned above. Win there and they might have enough Brett Hundley magic to be able to take this division.
What Does Notre Dame Need to Happen Besides Staying Among the Undefeated Teams?
- The winner of the Ohio State-MSU game has to lose a second game. The perfect scenario would be the Spartans beating the Buckeyes, pushing ahead as a Top 5 team, then losing to Nebraska or Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. The committee probably would not be accepting the Big Ten conference champion in this scenario.
- Minor chaos needs to ensue in the Big 12 where there is no conference title game. An undefeated team is not good for the Irish (duh), while everyone having at least one loss makes the odds for Notre Dame much better.
- Florida State has to make the playoff. No matter which way the game in two weeks goes it's probably better for both teams if it's a close, hard fought game. The ACC isn't strong enough to have someone else compete for a playoff spot which means FSU will need a highly ranked Notre Dame for its schedule, and the Irish will need a playoff-bound Seminole club as it's only (possible) loss.
- The Pac-12 needs to walk the tight rope between competing with the SEC for the best conference while still beating up on each other a little bit. Since Stanford, USC, and ASU are on the Irish schedule it would be best if those teams didn't falter and lose more than 3 games apiece.
- The SEC is tricky because no matter what a few teams in the West are going to remain in the conversation. The best-case scenario would be someone like Auburn running the table because they'd be handing out definite second losses to A&M, Georgia, and Alabama. However, I just can't see anyone remaining unbeaten through the regular season and it's too early to tell how SEC West chaos would affect Notre Dame's chances.
Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. We're in for a wild ride this season.