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What Would This Year's Playoff Look Like Without Alabama? #DearAndy

In this week's mailbag: What could possibly keep the Crimson Tide from making the College Football Playoff? Why is Michigan getting the benefit of the doubt? And what are the most watchable mismatches on the early-season schedule?

As the College Football Playoff enters its fourth season, it’s more clear than ever how much the format has re-framed the way we discuss the sport. We’re only days away from actual football, and the best questions I’m getting are about playoff scenarios that can’t play out until December...

From Aynov: What team could lose two games and potentially make the playoffs? 

Anyov is a Florida State fan, and this question is not coincidental. Because the Seminoles open with Alabama and play in a division with some other potentially good teams, they would seem like the most likely candidate. This is probably how something like that would work. 

• Florida State loses close—if it’s controversial, even better—to Alabama. 

• Florida State loses another game. Miami would be the likely culprit because it isn’t a division game, and losing one of those might keep the Seminoles from winning their division. A one-loss, non-division winner can make the playoff (hi, 2016 Ohio State), but a two-loss, non-division winner probably can’t.

• Florida State wins the rest of its games—the biggie is at Clemson—and wins the ACC. If the Seminoles lose to Miami, for example, they could reel off 10 consecutive wins. The 10th likely would be a revenge game against Miami, because if Miami is good enough to beat Florida State in Tallahassee, it can win the ACC Coastal.

• It would help the Seminoles’ case even more if Florida wins a third consecutive SEC East title and Florida State dominates the Gators the way it has the past two seasons.

There’s your perfect storm for a two-loss playoff team, but it may not need to be that perfect. Penn State nearly made the playoff over Washington last year with losses to Pittsburgh and Michigan on the résumé.

From Jordan: #DearAndy What does a world in which Alabama doesn't make the playoff look like? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]

From Doug: Oklahoma gets Tulane in Week 3, which seems a lot like Drogon vs The Tarlys. Are there any mismatches you will watch anyway?

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For those who don’t get the Game of Thrones reference, Drogon is a dragon and the Tarlys are two humans—one of them named Dickon. You can imagine how that went. Doug may be expecting me to mention another game, but the one he mentioned could be quite intriguing. Oklahoma will be coming off a game at Ohio State that is huge for the Sooners and the Big 12 as a whole. They’ll return to face an option team in a game that will be a comedown from the previous week no matter what happens in Columbus. Meanwhile, Tulane coach Willie Fritz is entering year two in New Orleans, and he has a history of his teams making big leaps in year two. 

That isn’t the only one, though. Youngstown State at Pittsburgh in Week 1 violates my rule that no Power Five program should ever schedule a good FCS program*. Youngstown State made the FCS national title game last year. That one could be very interesting. Also in week one, Appalachian State visits Georgia. Did you watch Appalachian State push Tennessee to the limit in last year’s season opener? If you did, you’ll absolutely check out this one.

*Good FCS teams usually have veteran-heavy lineups that know how to win, have played in big games and won’t be intimidated by the environment. The Power 5 team probably will treat the game like a warmup, while the experienced, savvy, not-at-all-scared visitor will treat it like the Super Bowl. It’s a recipe for disaster for the Power 5 team.

The Big 12's Existential Crisis Comes Down to One Missing Thing: Talent

From Nate: Which conference is most capable of having a two-loss playoff team? [Answer linked here, and in the video atop this post.]

From @FooJenkins: Any chance of conference contraction once the current media deals expire? No need to keep Rutgers if TV sets don’t count as much?

Schools have been thrown out of conferences before. Temple got booted from the Big East for being terrible at football and then worked its way back by getting much better at football. But I can’t imagine any of the recent conference additions getting jettisoned.

The moment when the number of cable homes in the conference footprint mattered most will wind up only being a short blip on the timeline, but that blip will have a lasting impact. The addition of Rutgers and Maryland did help the Big Ten’s balance sheet and will continue to help for several more years. Cord-cutting may accelerate, but the increased Big Ten Network subscriber fees collected following the addition of those two will continue to enrich the league for a while before the number of people cutting the cord reaches critical mass.

Besides, if the Big Ten or any other Power 5 league ever did consider dropping a school, it would be slapped with a lawsuit immediately. Besides the obvious threat of losing and having to pay a fortune, discovery in such a suit could be miserable for the conference and its members. So Rutgers should get comfortable. It’s not going anywhere for a while.

From Joe: Serious question—why are folks so high on Michigan? They lost so many starters. [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]