Week 11 playoff takeaways: Three biggest things we learned Saturday
Four teams in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings fell in Week 11, likely ending their quest for a spot in the top four and reshuffling which other teams on the outside might still have a chance at a berth. And now one Power 5 conference might be eliminated entirely. Here are the three biggest takeaways from an upset-filled Saturday.
1. Losses by Stanford and Utah effectively end the Pac-12’s playoff dreams
As the only Power 5 conference without an undefeated team, the Pac-12 entered Saturday already on the outside looking in for a playoff berth. But losses to its top two contenders sent the league’s national championship hopes spiraling down the drain.
The Pac-12’s nightmare Saturday began with No. 7 Stanford’s 38–36 defeat to Oregon, a team with the league’s worst defense that had already lost three games. Later No. 10 Utah fell 37–30 to Arizona in double-overtime. The Wildcats were a measly 5–5 on the season and had lost three straight. Both losses are killers to those teams’ playoff résumés.
Now no team in the Pac-12 has fewer than two losses, which all but ends the league’s shot at playing for the national title. The Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 all boast teams that could end the year undefeated. A handful of one-loss teams in the SEC and Big 12 also remain in playoff contention. Plus, Notre Dame, an independent, has just one loss and sits at No. 4 in the selection committee’s current rankings. So barring a complete collapse by the other Power 5 contenders, the Pac-12 will likely extend its national championship drought, which extends back to 2004.
2. The Big 12’s playoff hopes might rest on Oklahoma State
TCU’s loss to Oklahoma State last week dealt the first major blow to one of the Big 12’s legitimate playoff contenders. But after No. 6 Baylor’s 44–34 defeat to No. 12 Oklahoma on Saturday, the league’s number of viable playoff teams shrunk even further.
Yes, the Bears’ loss came against a Sooners squad that could still win the conference. But in that scenario, the Big 12’s champion would have a terrible loss to Texas, which dropped to 4–6 Saturday. That’s why Big 12 fans shouldn’t root for Oklahoma to win the league. Instead, with TCU and Baylor now saddled with one loss each, No. 8 Oklahoma State is clearly the league’s most viable playoff threat.
Even with its weak nonconference schedule, an undefeated Cowboys squad would have little trouble making the playoff. But Oklahoma State doesn’t have room to stumble, and it has already come close, including Saturday. The Cowboys needed a late touchdown to get past unranked Iowa State 35–31.
The Big 12’s biggest problem for the playoff is its slim margin of error. Because it doesn’t play a conference championship game, one-loss teams must have bodies of work that make up for a missing 13th data point. The Big 12 needs Oklahoma State to beat Baylor and Oklahoma in the next two weeks and finish as an undefeated conference champion. Otherwise, the conference might not play for the national title.
3. The playoff’s top four will likely stay intact, but could Alabama be No. 1?
The top four teams in the country all took care of business Saturday, leaving little doubt that they belong among the selection committee’s best programs at this juncture. No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 Notre Dame each won by at least three touchdowns, and while No. 1 Clemson wasn’t as dominant, it still beat Syracuse by 10 points. Based on those results alone, the committee’s third set of rankings isn’t likely to feature much drama.
The question is whether the top four teams might get reordered amongst themselves. It’s hard to imagine Clemson dropping from No. 1 after avoiding a loss, but the Tigers’ victory over unranked Syracuse wasn’t as impressive as what the other three squads did. Would the committee consider sliding Alabama to No. 1 after its 25-point road win at No. 17 Mississippi State? Probably not, as the Crimson Tide still have a glaring home loss to Ole Miss on their resume and Clemson is 10–0. That’s why the most likely scenario is the status quo remains in next week’s rankings, at least among the top four teams.