College Football Playoff Bubble Watch: Can a Big 12 team make it?
The top five teams in last week’s College Football Playoff rankings all won, but four of the next five lost, which shook up the potential playoff field. No. 6 Baylor, No. 7 Stanford, No. 9 LSU and No. 10 Utah each fell, which significantly cut down the number of legitimate playoff contenders and opened the door for an unlikely team to crash the final four.
Before the Week 11 rankings are released on Tuesday, here’s a look at the cases for and against eight teams in playoff contention, ordered by their likelihood of appearing in the top four.
Strength of schedule (via Sagarin): 34
Last week: Won 37–27 at Syracuse
Next week: vs. Wake Forest
Best wins: vs. No. 4 Notre Dame, vs. No. 16 Florida State
Case for: It wasn’t the prettiest of wins last week at Syracuse, but a conference road win is a conference road win. We’ve already seen how much the committee values Clemson and what Dabo Swinney’s team has been able to do so far this year, and as long as the Tigers keep winning—and they should, as their final two regular-season opponents have a combined 6–14 record—Clemson is a lock for the playoff.
Case against: The teams behind Clemson in the rankings all have huge games coming up to end the season. If those teams win, they will not only boost their respective résumés, but also make impressive closing statements. The Tigers, meanwhile, finish on the lighter side. Clemson will get in if it wins out, but its No. 1 seed certainly could be in jeopardy.
Consensus: In. An undefeated Clemson is a no-brainer for the committee.
Last week: Won 31–6 at No. 17 Mississippi State
Next week: vs. Charleston Southern
Best wins: vs. No. 9 LSU, at No. 17 Mississippi State, vs. No. 25 Wisconsin (in Texas)
Losses: vs. Ole Miss
Case for: Alabama may be the most dangerous team in the country at this point in the season. The Crimson Tide are two months removed from their lone defeat and have convincingly taken down ranked opponents in back-to-back weeks, winning by a combined margin of 61–22. Nick Saban & Co. look poised to make another appearance in the playoff.
Case against: Alabama isn’t in the clear yet. After an easy nonconference game against Charleston Southern this coming week, the Tide visit Jordan Hare Stadium to face Auburn before a potential SEC Championship Game date against No. 11 Florida. Even though Auburn has struggled mightily this year, the Iron Bowl is always anyone’s game (See: Newton, Cam; Six, Kick). Plus, expect Auburn to be playing with an extra amount of pride, knowing that knocking Alabama out of the playoff could be a nice consolation prize to an otherwise disappointing season.
Consensus: In. Alabama continues to strengthen its candidacy for a spot in the top four and doesn’t look to be letting up anytime soon.
OHIO STATE (10–0)
Last week: Won 28–3 at Illinois
Next week: vs. No. 13 Michigan State
Best wins: vs. Penn State
Case for: The wins keep on coming in Columbus and an undefeated Ohio State won’t be missing out on a chance to repeat as national champions. J.T. Barrett is back at quarterback following his one-game suspension, Ezekiel Elliott is still doing Ezekiel Elliott things and the defense has been steady as well.
Case against: This week’s matchup against No. 13 Michigan State is the first time that Ohio State will play a ranked opponent all year. Its nonconference schedule was a joke, and its best win so far was against a Penn State team that is currently in 4th place in the Big Ten East. Three tests await the Buckeyes—vs. No. 13 Michigan State, at No. 14 Michigan and a potential Big Ten Championship Game meeting with either No. 5 Iowa or No. 25 Wisconsin. Ohio State has chances to prove itself but also could suffer a costly loss.
Consensus: In. More difficult opponents are coming, but an unbeaten Ohio State will receive a playoff bid.
NOTRE DAME (9–1)
Last week: Won 28–7 vs. Wake Forest
Next week: at Boston College
Best wins: vs. No. 20 Navy, at No. 22 Temple
Losses: at No. 1 Clemson
Case for: Notre Dame did what it needed to do last week by handling its business against Wake Forest. The Irish shouldn’t move out of the top four this week, and if they beat Boston College at Fenway Park like they should, they’ll get one final chance to impress the committee at No. 7 Stanford.
Case against: Stanford’s loss to Oregon on Saturday hurts the Irish, as a higher-ranked Cardinal team would have registered as a better win for Notre Dame. The Irish also don’t get a conference championship game, which could give other teams behind them an edge on selection day.
Consensus: In. Notre Dame was included in the top four last week, and a three-touchdown win on Saturday keeps it firmly there.
Last week: Won 40–35 vs. Minnesota
Next week: vs. Purdue
Best wins: at No. 18 Northwestern, at No. 25 Wisconsin
Case for: Despite glaring disrespect from college football pundits, Iowa continues its impressive winning streak. The Hawkeyes can wrap up the Big Ten West Saturday with a win over lowly Purdue and secure their spot in the Big Ten title game. Iowa doesn’t play flashy football, but it plays winning football. An undefeated, Big Ten-winning Hawkeyes team would earn a bid to the semifinals.
Case against: While Iowa can claim two top-25 wins, it missed East division crossover games with three of the Big Ten’s best teams, so it’s difficult to gauge just how good the Hawkeyes actually are. Wrapping up the season against 2–8 Purdue and 5–6 Nebraska shouldn’t be difficult, but it also won’t boost Iowa’s résumé. Win the Big Ten West and defeat Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan, and it’ll be a different story. Easier said than done, though.
Consensus: Out. Iowa struggled in its win over Minnesota and wasn’t convincing enough to surpass Notre Dame. The Hawkeyes have not done enough just yet to crack the top four.
OKLAHOMA STATE (10–0)
Last week: Won 35–31 at Iowa State
Next week: vs. No. 6 Baylor
Best wins: vs. No. 15 TCU
Case for: Oklahoma State racked up another win on Saturday and improved its perfect record. The Cowboys’ offense still ranks among the nation’s best, and despite trailing for much of the game against Iowa State, they showed a resiliency that championship-caliber teams typically possess.
Case against: The Cowboys’ defense that was so good against Trevone Boykin and No. 15 TCU two weeks ago struggled on the road against the Cyclones. If not for a 14-point fourth quarter, the Cowboys would have suffered their first loss and effectively ousted themselves from playoff contention. Nevertheless, they survived and advanced with a win in Ames—they fell in overtime there as the No. 2 team in the country in 2011—to stay unbeaten and welcome No. 6 Baylor to Stillwater next week. If a game against Iowa State was tough, a two-game stretch of Baylor and No. 12 Oklahoma to end the season will be much more difficult.
Consensus: Out. Oklahoma State can prove its worth in the coming weeks, but as of now, it’s still on the outside looking in.
Last week: Won 44–34 at No. 6 Baylor
Next week: vs. No. 15 TCU
Best wins: at No. 6 Baylor
Losses: at Texas
Case for: Oklahoma looked like the best team in the Big 12 in its win on the road at No. 6 Baylor on Saturday. Quarterback Baker Mayfield entered the Heisman discussion. Running back Samaje Perine ran with the conviction he showed when he set the FBS single-game rushing record last season. And the Sooners’ defense shut down a prolific Bears offense as well as any team has all season. Losses by Baylor, Stanford, LSU and Utah—all teams ahead of Oklahoma in last week’s rankings—give the Sooners as good a chance as any one-loss team currently on the outside looking in to make a push for the top four.
Case against: Oklahoma’s loss to Texas in the Red River Rivalry may end up costing it a playoff spot. It’s debatable whether even an undefeated Big 12 team would make the top four, let alone one that has lost. With the tendency for the committee to downplay the Big 12, even wins against No. 15 TCU and No. 8 Oklahoma State to end the season may not be enough.
Consensus: Out. The Sooners won the first of their gruesome three-game stretch to end the season and move up accordingly, but they’ll need two more wins to make a run at the playoff.
Last week: Won 24–14 at South Carolina
Next week: vs. Florida Atlantic
Best wins: vs. Georgia
Losses: at No. 9 LSU
Case for: Florida took care of business against South Carolina last week and has what should be an easy game against Florida Atlantic on Saturday. This sets the Gators up for their final two tests of the season and an incredible chance to impress the committee should they win both and get a little help. Florida has a home date against rival No. 16 Florida State on the final day of the regular season before taking on the winner of the SEC West in the conference title game a week later. If the Gators emerge as a one-loss SEC champion with wins over FSU and in all likelihood No. 2 Alabama, they’d have made a strong case for a playoff bid while eliminating the Tide from contention.
Case against: Florida still doesn’t have a top-25 win, and the offense in Gainesville still leaves much to be desired. The Gators’ have looked pedestrian with the football since Treon Harris took over for the suspended Will Grier, and Florida is going to need to find the end zone often against Florida State and in the SEC title game. Florida may not have the offensive firepower to keep up.
Consensus: Out. The opportunity is there for Florida, but it needs to win to capitalize.
The road ahead
No. 13 Michigan State at No. 3 Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Two Big Ten heavyweights clash in a match that has major playoff implications. If Michigan State wins, it would be a win against Penn State in two weeks away from clinching the East and having a shot at making the top four. If Ohio State wins, MSU is out of contention, Ohio State controls its own destiny and it opens the door for Michigan to represent the East if it wins out against Penn State and the Buckeyes to end the season.
No. 6 Baylor at No. 8 Oklahoma State, 7:30 p.m. (FOX)
The Big 12 decided to backload its schedule this year for matchups precisely like this. Oklahoma State is trying to add another quality win to its undefeated season, while Baylor, fresh off a loss to Oklahoma, is looking to redeem itself and knock the Cowboys from the playoff race. Expect points aplenty in a game where the last team with the football will likely come away victorious.
No. 15 TCU at No. 12 Oklahoma, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
In the other marquee matchup in the Big 12, the other two contenders meet up in Norman. Oklahoma is in the middle of a daunting three-game stretch, but has a chance to get its second consecutive win over a ranked opponent. TCU, on the other hand, could derail the Sooners’ shot at a Big 12 title and give itself an outside opportunity of making the top four if it wins out.