Are we on course for a repeat of the 2007 madness?
Remember the wackiest year in the BCS era, when a two-loss team made it to the championship game and won the national title? It's only the third weekend of October, but there's a possibility that history might repeat itself in the inaugural year of the College Football Playoff.
While most of the strangeness took place in the final two weeks of the season in 2007, we might not have to wait as long this year. There are only five unbeaten major conference teams (with all due respect to Marshall—which is not much), and at most only three of them may be undefeated at the end of the regular season.
One of the unbeatens is sure to go down Saturday as Notre Dame visits Florida State. The Egg Bowl later in the season will eliminate another potential unbeaten. What this means is that at least one one-loss team will crash the four-team playoff field.
Which brings us to our next question. Might a two-loss team make the playoff field?
The answer is a definite maybe. With two of the five power conferences already without an undefeated team, it's very likely that a two-loss conference champion will be considered by the selection committee. And if the committee sticks to the pledge that conference titles will be of paramount importance, then a two-loss conference winner might be picked ahead of a one-loss at-large team.
So who are the potential two-loss candidates?
|Unbeaten, 1-Loss and 2-Loss Teams|
|SEC||Ole Miss, Miss. State||4||4|
|Notre Dame (independent) is undefeated.|
There are 22 one-loss teams in the power-five conferences, and it's from this group that a two-loss conference champ might emerge. Teams already with two losses are unlikely to remain in the mix as they must run the table from here on out, but there are exceptions as well.
We'll then start our process of elimination. First step: Any two-loss ACC or Big Ten team will not be in the playoff field. Both conferences are ranked significantly below the other three, according to Jeff Sagarin (via USA Today), so even a one-loss team, including Florida State, might have a hard time making the playoff field.
That leaves us with the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12. With plenty of conference games ahead and competitive top-tier teams, it's not beyond question that a two-loss team might emerge as the conference champion. Taking a look at teams already with at least one loss, these are the most likely candidates to make the playoff despite two losses:
1. Georgia - The Bulldogs can incur another conference loss (or a loss to Georgia Tech) and still win the SEC East. And if they shock the West winner and take the SEC title, the committee probably will have to put them in the playoff field either over or in addition to another SEC team.
2. Auburn/Alabama - Both teams are in the same boat, with a loss each to one of the unbeaten Mississippi teams. A second loss probably will not be good enough to win the division, so the most likely path for either team—the one that wins the Iron Bowl—to make the playoff field is to win the SEC West with one loss but lose the SEC title game and still be picked as an at-large team.
3. USC - The Trojans already have two losses, but they have a couple of things going for them: Their remaining conference schedule is relatively benign, and they have a high-profile game against Notre Dame at the end of the regular season. If they can win the Pac-12 South, defeat an unbeaten or one-loss Irish and then take the conference title, they have a shot. It's a long shot, but it can be done.
4. Oregon - The Ducks might be able to win the Pac-12 North with two losses and then take the conference title. But they'll need a lot of help in this scenario to make the playoff field. They'll need Michigan State to win the Big Ten with two losses and all SEC teams except the champion also with multiple losses.
5. Oklahoma - Half of the Big 12 teams have no more than one loss, but OU is the only one with a (slim) chance to make the playoff field with two losses. In that case, the Sooners will have to at least share the conference title and have at least one other power-five conference winner be saddled with two or more losses. Their computer rankings likely will remain high even after incurring another loss.
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