Roundtable: Which Power Five league will get shut out of the playoff?
The College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first rankings in less than a week (Nov. 3). There are plenty of games to be played before the final field of four is revealed, and teams that look like top contenders now may fall out of the race.
That said, some conferences seem better positioned than others to produce one or more playoff squads. That latter group is the focus of this week’s roundtable. Of the Power Five leagues (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC), which is most likely to get shut out of the playoff? SI.com’s college football writers weigh in.
Brian Hamilton: Big Ten
I'm torn between sticking to my picks from last week's Midseason crystal ball or being wildly inconsistent. Because I'm not so sure anymore about Seth Russell-less Baylor or anyone surviving the Pac-12 meat grinder with fewer than two losses. But I will stay the course despite all evidence to the contrary, as any smart person does, and say Michigan State will lose to Ohio State and Ohio State will then lose to Michigan and the rest conspires to shut the Big Ten out of the playoff.
Check out this week's #DearAndy for my answer.
Lindsay Schnell: Pac-12
I'm starting to get concerned about the Pac-12. On the weekly coaches' call, Oregon's Mark Helfrich made a sarcastic remark about how tough the Pac-12 is when he said, "In our conference, parity is weakness." Because the Pac-12 hasn't produce a national champion in the past decade, I think the conference fights the "less than" perception. Stanford looks like the cream of the crop, but what if someone rises up from the South and beat the Cardinal in the league championship game? And what if that someone is not Utah? Yikes. Also, just for clarity's sake, East Coast bias is absolutely real. So if I'm Larry Scott, I'm stressing.
Zac Ellis: Pac-12
This was my pick even before Utah lost to USC last weekend. If Stanford runs the table and wins the conference—which looks very possible—its head-scratching loss to Northwestern from Week 1 will hurt its playoff case. If the Utes emerge as league champs, the committee isn't likely to overlook that blowout loss to the Trojans. Right now, those two squads are the Pac-12's best hope.
Ben Estes: Pac-12
With Utah losing, there’s no undefeated team to carry the conference’s banner, and the manner in which the Utes lost suggests they won’t make it through their schedule with just one defeat. Stanford looks like an elite team, but its loss to Northwestern could be a decisive factor against it when its résumé is compared to a potential one-loss champion from another league. And given the number of playoff candidates that currently have zero or one losses, it’s too difficult to envision a two-loss Pac-12 winner getting a bid. Add it all up, and the conference could get shut out despite being arguably the deepest in the country.
Joan Niesen: Pac-12
My views on this question have evolved over the past week. That's another way to say: Some of my midseason predictions look a little ill-informed after last weekend. If you'd asked me this question a week ago, I'd have said the ACC without hesitation, but after Utah was pretty much trounced by USC on Saturday, I'm leaning toward the Pac-12. (And I can also see a scenario where the ACC is left out.) My prediction: Stanford ends up winning the conference championship, but with a loss to Northwestern and a potential loss to Notre Dame looming, it won't make it into the playoff, and in this scenario, neither will Utah.
Ben Glicksman: Pac-12
As of now, I think this has to be the answer. While each of the other Power Five conferences has at least one remaining unbeaten, Utah’s 42–24 loss at USC ensured every Pac-12 program has a blemish. Both Utah and Stanford would boast incredibly strong playoff résumés as one-loss league champions, but they’d need some help to crack the top four. The Pac-12 could benefit as the top contenders from the Big 12 and Big Ten beat up on one another late, but it has no margin for error. If Stanford slips—like on Nov. 14 against Oregon or Nov. 28 against Notre Dame—it could spell the end of the West Coast’s best hope.
Colin Becht: Big 12
With no conference title game and generally weak nonconference schedules, a Big 12 team likely has to go undefeated to make the playoff barring massive chaos in other Power Five conferences. I thought Baylor was capable of doing that, but I'm no longer confident after Seth Russell's injury. Jarrett Stidham is talented, but it'd be asking too much of the true freshman to expect him to guide the Bears through a three-week stretch of Oklahoma and trips to Oklahoma State and TCU. With the top four teams in the Big 12 all playing each other in November, the conference will cannibalize itself out of a playoff berth for the second straight year.
Chris Johnson: Pac-12
Stanford is the conference’s best bet to earn a playoff berth. The Cardinal have dominated their opponents since that shocking loss to Northwestern in the season-opener, and their remaining schedule is manageable. But if Stanford doesn’t win out—and it still must face No. 9 Notre Dame at home before a possible date with the South division champion in the Pac-12 title game—it’s not clear that the conference will produce another team that could get in. One possible candidate, No. 13 Utah, just got blown out by USC. Don’t be surprised if, come selection day, one or more two-loss Pac-12 squads are left on the outside looking in.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: ACC
I maintain that the loser of Florida State-Clemson would have to win out in order to reach the playoff, but with Florida State out of the picture, any Clemson loss could be catastrophic to its chances. Unless Clemson is undefeated at season’s end, the ACC should be omitted. That said, the Big 12 could feasibly cannibalize itself in November due to its odd decision to place every meaningful conference game at the end of the season.