Skip to main content
Publish date:

Oregon's Loss to Utah Opens Up a Wealth of Playoff Scenarios

One-loss teams like Notre Dame and Oklahoma State are suddenly very much alive. Or, perhaps, is this the year a two-loss team sneaks in?

Chaos fuels college football. It’s the engine that keeps the sport the zany mess we all love so much.

In sports, chaos is thrilling. Chaos is fun. Chaos is wonderful.

Oregon brought chaos to central Ohio and to all of college football in September, storming into the Horseshoe for a 35–28 upset of Ohio State. The Ducks were on the good end of chaos.

There is a bad end, too, and they found that place Saturday night in Salt Lake City, losing to Utah in a result that ushers a wave of chaos into the sport entering the final week of the regular season. Call it November Madness!

The Utes, and their 38–7 victory, further swung open the College Football Playoff door for a host of teams. Sure, Georgia seems like a lock and so does any one-loss Big Ten champion. But what about the other two spots? They suddenly seem up for grabs and, just maybe, for the first time in the playoff era, we could have a two-loss team in football’s final four.

Let’s take a look at those beneficiaries of the Oregon loss:

Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder runs with the ball

Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder

An undefeated Cincinnati

Cincinnati didn’t need Oregon to lose to make the final four, but boy, it sure makes the path smoother. After blowing out SMU, the 11–0 Bearcats are barreling toward an AAC title and an undefeated mark. If that happens, even this CFP selection committee can’t keep them out (or maybe it can? Who knows).

What’s left: at East Carolina; vs. Houston in the AAC championship game.

Argument for: The Bearcats have a case for the best win of the season, a 24–13 victory at Notre Dame, and they’ve won all their other games.

Argument against: They have the worst strength of schedule among any team in consideration (it ranks in the 100s) and they’ve struggled with teams like Navy, Tulane and Tulsa.

One-loss Big 12 champion Oklahoma State

Oh, you thought a loss at Iowa State ruined the Cowboys’ chances? Not this year! Oklahoma State finds itself with a real path into the playoff if it were to win out. The Pokes have dominated as of late, especially defensively. Even CFP committee chair Gary Barta made note of that last week. They punched their ticket to the Big 12 championship game with a 23–0 demolition of Texas Tech.

What’s left: vs. Oklahoma; Big 12 championship game vs. Baylor/Oklahoma

Argument for: Oklahoma State has the best strength of schedule of any team in consideration outside of Notre Dame, and the Pokes have cruised lately, winning their last four games by at least 21 points.

Argument against: As a league, the Big 12 isn’t that strong this season, and the Cowboys' loss (24–21 at 6–5 Iowa State) may be the worst of any team in contention.

SI Recommends

One-loss Big 12 champion Oklahoma

You see now why Bedlam is so significant this season. The winner in Stillwater will keep itself alive in the race for a CFP spot. The Game in Ann Arbor has been billed as a quasi-quarterfinal, but Bedlam is an elimination game as well.

What’s left: at Oklahoma State; (potential) Big 12 championship game vs. Oklahoma State.

Argument for: The Sooners, with a win at Oklahoma State, would qualify for the Big 12 title game, where they’d get a chance to beat the Cowboys again. That’d be two good wins in a span of a week’s time.

Argument against: Oklahoma has failed miserably in the whole “game control” category this season, since the Sooners have failed to control many games at all, including those against Tulane and Kansas.

One-loss Notre Dame

The Irish are back in the playoff talk, whether you like it or not. Since the loss to Cincinnati, Notre Dame has cruised, most recently burying Georgia Tech, 55–0, for a sixth straight victory.

What’s left: at Stanford.

Argument for: If it’s possible for a loss to be “good,” the Irish have the best loss of any of the top teams, and they have the best strength of schedule of any top-10 squad.

Argument against: They don’t play a championship game, missing a critical 13th “data point” in what could be a very tight decision.

Notre Dame's Michael Mayer and Jack Coan celebrate a TD

Irish TE Michael Mayer and QB Jack Coan

Two-loss Big Ten East runner-up

Look, we know you don’t like this. But it is possible that the first two-loss team in the CFP era could be among the hated brands of Michigan, Ohio State and Alabama (see below). Imagine if the Wolverines or Buckeyes played in a tight one next weekend, maybe even an overtime game. A 10–2 Ohio State or 10–2 Michigan could have a real shot at taking the No. 4 seed.

What’s left: Each other!

Argument for: The loser of The Game would have two of the “best” losses of any team this season (Ohio State to Oregon and at Michigan; Michigan at Michigan State and vs. Ohio State). And it would have finished runner-up in the second-best conference in college football this season. In this scenario, the loser of The Game would actually need the winner to take care of business and win the Big Ten in Indianapolis the following week.

Argument against: They didn’t even make their own league championship game! And for the Wolverines, they could be tied with 10–2 Michigan State, a team they lost to.

(Also, does Michigan State have a shot at this spot? Sure, maybe, but the committee has already made its feelings clear on Sparty and Saturday's blowout by Ohio State didn’t help matters)

Two-loss Alabama

I know, I know. Roll your eyes, but this is a possibility. It would take some other teams losing (like Cincinnati, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State and maybe Notre Dame). But what if the Crimson Tide played Georgia close in the SEC championship game? Some might see it as one of the most impressive showings of the season.

What’s left: at Auburn; vs. Georgia in the SEC championship game

Argument for: The Tide have one of the country’s strongest schedules and play in the best conference in the nation.

Argument against: They have two losses, didn’t win their conference and looked ho-hum against Arkansas and LSU.

More College Football Coverage:

• Ohio State Crushes MSU to Roll Into Michigan Week
• Deion Sanders Has Restored JSU to a Prime Level
Even Mullen's Post-Mizzou Presser Was a Disaster