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Breaking Down the Long-Shot Teams in Hunt for College Football Playoff

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterNovember 22, 2015

Nov 21, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) throws the ball as Michigan State Spartans linebacker Riley Bullough (30) chases in the first quarter at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

So, you're telling me there's a chance?

Week 12 of the college football season gave us the single biggest dose of chaos all year. In one day, three undefeated teams—Houston, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two of which were in the College Football Playoff hunt—lost. 

Now, we're left with undefeated Clemson and Iowa, just like we all thought would happen at the beginning of the year. 

All of this guarantees that the four-team playoff will be at least half-full with one-loss teams, and the potential still exists for a two-loss team to sneak in there. That falls in line with the overall theme this season: There are zero dominant teams. 

A lot can still unfold with two weeks left before the playoff selection committee names its final four. Current playoff long shots aren't out of the running yet. Below is a list of one- and two-loss teams that could still crash the playoff under the right circumstances. The following teams are either still in the running for their conference championship or have been guaranteed a spot in their conference championship game. 

Baylor

Rebounding from a loss to Oklahoma by beating an undefeated top-six team (Oklahoma State)...by double digits...on the road...with your third-string quarterback...and backup running back is one way to go about getting respect, Baylor. 

STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 21:  Head coach Art Briles of the Baylor Bears celebrates after the Baylor Bears beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys 45-35 at Boone Pickens Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Nov. 28 Bedlam game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State still reigns as the Big 12's most important game. With a win, the Sooners are the Big 12's best hope for a playoff spot, especially if Notre Dame loses to Stanford. But it will be fascinating to see where the playoff committee places Baylor, which has two games left against TCU and Texas. By dropping the Bears only four spots to No. 10 last week, the committee left the door open for Baylor to make a comeback. 

Baylor needs help, of course. That starts with Oklahoma losing to Oklahoma State. All the Bears can do is keep winning. 

"We tried bellyaching last year and it didn’t seem to work,” said Baylor head coach Art Briles, per Matt Hayes of Sporting News. “We’ll just keep playing.”

Florida

The concept of a playoff without a one-loss SEC team would have been laughed at just a few months ago. But Florida is doing its best to make it happen. 

The Gators needed overtime to beat Florida Atlantic 20-14. This offense, marred by depth problems, is a wreck. Ranked No. 8 in the latest playoff standings, it wouldn't be surprising to see Florida drop a couple of spots when the new Top 25 is revealed Tuesday. And if Florida plays again like it played Saturday, it has two more losses coming against Florida State and, presumably, Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. 

But what if, somehow, Florida wins out? Those would be two huge wins, and the committee would have a dilemma. Does it include a one-loss SEC champion because it's a one-loss SEC champion? Or, as B/R colleague Barrett Sallee notes, would the so-called "eye test" hurt them? That's assuming, of course, Florida doesn't magically turn into the team of the century. 

Chances are the Gators would be able to sneak in. Now they just have to win two tough games. Good luck. 

Michigan

The Wolverines are quietly hovering outside the Top 10 with two losses. For Michigan to so much as think about the playoff, it has to get to the Big Ten Championship Game. That requires beating Ohio State and getting help from Penn State, which would need to beat Michigan State. 

Then, Michigan would have to beat Iowa. The Wolverines don't have many quality wins outside of Northwestern and BYU, but they did lose to Utah and Michigan State—teams that are a combined 18-4—by a total of 11 points. And the loss to the Spartans, as you know, came on a crazy mishandled punt at the end of the game. 

Michigan needs help just to get into a position to seriously be in the playoff hunt. This team has the opposite path of controlling its own destiny. Its best friend is chaos, but if Week 12 taught us anything, it's that chaos does reign supreme. 

North Carolina

With North Carolina's 30-27 win over Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels have locked their place in the ACC Championship Game against Clemson. Looking across the Power Five conferences, this actually should get people more excited than any other conference title game. Here, you have the No. 1 team in the country versus the one-loss team playing as well as anyone. 

But it feels as though North Carolina is playing the role of spoiler more than playoff hopeful. Last Tuesday, committee chair Jeff Long said UNC was hurt by its resume: 

Stewart Mandel @slmandel

Jeff Long on UNC: Two FCS wins, and opening loss to South Carolina "weighing them down."

Would a potential win over the No. 1 team change that? With two weeks left, the Tar Heels have to climb 13 spots, one more than Navy, which isn't even in a power conference. 

Ohio State 

Ohio State's 17-14 loss to Michigan State in and of itself was surprising, if for no other reason than the Buckeyes were a 13-point favorite, according to OddsShark, with uncertainty surrounding injured Spartans quarterback Connor Cook. 

At the same time, Ohio State losing felt like a long time coming. The Buckeyes are talented, but the offense never clicked this season, and many players were likely looking on to bigger and better things

Ohio State can still get to the playoff, though. First, it needs to beat Michigan next Saturday, and Michigan State has to lose to Penn State. Then, it would have to beat Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game. Only then could the Buckeyes even think about a playoff appearance, and that depends largely on what happens elsewhere. 

The committee showed leniency toward Ohio State this year, despite the fact it didn't beat anyone of note and sometimes didn't look great doing it. (Hey, it helps to be the reigning champs.) Perhaps, then, the committee would be more forgiving of Ohio State if it rattled off two big wins and got some help along the way. However, Kyle Rowland of the Toledo Blade believes the Bucks are more likely bound for a New Year's Six spot:

Kyle Rowland @KyleRowland

OSU's bowl destination big unknown now. If Buckeyes beat Michigan and don't make Big Ten title game, I'd think New Year's Six is assured.

Oklahoma State

The Pokes are in a tough spot. Two weeks after getting a huge win over TCU, Oklahoma State lost at home to Baylor, a team that lacked full strength in key spots. That's going to be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. 

Next Saturday, Oklahoma State plays an Oklahoma team that's won six in a row and is as confident as anyone. The Cowboys' playoff prayer could be answered, however, if they knock off the Sooners while the Bears lose to TCU. That scenario is certainly possible. 

But Oklahoma State was ranked sixth before the loss. It never felt like the committee was all-in on the Cowboys. Last week, Long went so far as to say undefeated Iowa was better: 

Jake Trotter @Jake_Trotter

Jeff Long says the committee thinks Iowa is “better” than Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Ha, ok...

Whether the Hawkeyes are better than Oklahoma State doesn't matter anymore. The Cowboys weren't getting the benefit of the doubt before, and they're certainly not going to get it now.  

Stanford

If there's a two-loss team with a legitimate shot at this playoff thing, it's Stanford. The Cardinal are the highest-ranked two-loss team, one spot ahead of Michigan. Unlike the Wolverines, Stanford is also guaranteed to get two more games: one against Notre Dame and the Pac-12 Championship Game versus either UCLA or USC. 

The Pac-12 title is critical for Stanford's playoff hopes as a conference champion, but the Notre Dame game has the overall bigger implications. The Irish are playing for a spot as well and have only one loss (24-22 to Clemson). 

If Stanford does beat Notre Dame,  it'll be a quality victory, of course, but the Irish are banged up; seriously, they're as snakebit as any team in college football. Will the committee qualify that win like it would with, say, Oklahoma over an injury-plagued TCU?

It's something to keep an eye on. 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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