College Football Playoff Notebook: Does Washington State Even Have a Chance?November 7, 2018
Washington State needed a last-minute drive to hold off Cal in Week 10, but the Cougars improved to 8-1 and stayed alive in the College Football Playoff chase. The victory offered a simple reminder to the other contenders: We're still here.
Realistically, though, are they?
This discussion goes beyond personal feelings about the team. Even if only for another week, the eighth-ranked Cougs avoided the dreaded two-loss record. LSU, after falling to Alabama, is no longer in CFP consideration because of that second letdown.
Yet it's still ahead of Wazzu at No. 7 in the latest rankings.
During the closing weeks, WSU needs to navigate a trip to Colorado, beat Arizona and topple rival Washington—something the Cougars haven't done since 2012.
There's no guarantee a 12-1, Pac-12 champion Washington State would even receive a Top Four position.
Alabama and Clemson are undoubtedly first and second in the nation. Given their season-long dominance—their average margin of victories are 37.2 and 34.4 points, respectively—it's improbable Wazzu leaps either one.
Unless both powerhouses lose Saturday, they're exceptionally unlikely to finish worse than 12-1. So, if Alabama and Clemson win in Week 11, the Cougs are effectively fighting for one of two spots.
Notre Dame, 9-0, would be an obvious choice at 12-0. But the Fighting Irish could drop a game and compare favorably anyway. Both schools defeated Stanford, and Notre Dame has a chance to beat USC—the only loss for the Cougs to this point. Plus, the Irish have a marquee victory over Michigan.
Washington State, meanwhile, has no major nonconference win, and every other Pac-12 program is 7-3 or worse. That resume, even with a league title, isn't enough to top 11-1 Notre Dame's.
That leaves one final chance, as far as the Cougs are concerned.
Regardless of how the CFP committee weighs Notre Dame against the Big Ten and Big 12, it's clear the group favors top-tier teams from those leagues over Washington State.
Michigan only needs to navigate Rutgers and Indiana to set up a showdown with Ohio State. And if the Buckeyes topple Michigan State and Maryland, both programs will hold 10-1 records. The winner reaches the Big Ten Championship Game.
Washington State isn't matching that victory between the schools.
Additionally, the committee ranked Oklahoma ahead of WSU in the initial CFP poll despite the Sooners' second-best win being, uh, Army? And then West Virginia jumped from No. 13 to No. 9 after edging Texas, just behind the Cougs.
Washington State desperately needs West Virginia to defeat Oklahoma but lose in the Big 12 title (or Oklahoma beating WVU but losing in the Big 12 title game would do the trick).
Otherwise, simply on strength of schedule, a one-loss Big Ten or Big 12 champion is not missing in favor of Mike Leach's team. (And if Georgia winds up 12-1 with a victory over Alabama for the SEC title, the Dawgs are definitely staying ahead of Washington State.)
No, it's not perfectly fair. What more can the Cougs do? They're not responsible for widespread failings in the Pac-12. It is reality, though.
This would only cause more frustration for Leach—a longtime critic of how the Football Bowl Subdivision champion is determined—in his decade-long crusade for expansion.
During a recent appearance on the Les Is More podcast, Leach again voiced his displeasure with the setup.
"I think they need to expand the playoff system. I think the minimum should be 16 teams, but they could easily go with more than that. ... Everybody from rec league softball on down can figure out how to put together a tournament and yet Division I can't."
Look, no system is perfect. If the playoff expands to eight, people will argue why No. 9 should've been included. If the playoff expands to 16, they'll scream about No. 17. You get the idea.
That wouldn't make it any easier on the Cougs if they're 12-1 and left out of the tournament. Upsets can happen anywhere, but Washington State needs a miracle.
Iowa State Still Matters
No, the 5-3 Cyclones aren't a contender for the CFP. However, they're in decent shape to reach the Big 12 title game.
Iowa State hosts Baylor this weekend before closing the regular season at Texas and home to Kansas State. If the Cyclones win out, they'll only need a little bit of help.
West Virginia is 5-1 in conference play but lost to Iowa State in mid-October. If both schools finish 7-2 in league action (which means the Cyclones handed Texas its third Big 12 loss), Iowa State would own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
That second loss could happen to the Mountaineers at Oklahoma State or opposite Oklahoma.
In this scenario, a team that opened the year 1-3 would be OU's challenger for the Big 12 crown. The Sooners knocked off Iowa State 37-27 in September, but quarterback Brock Purdy was still a backup at that point. This would be a different Cyclones offense.
For good reason, most of the attention paid to the Big 12 focuses on Oklahoma and West Virginia. But don't forget about Iowa State just yet.
Little Clarity on Group of Five Teams
During the initial CFP ranking, only UCF and Fresno State were featured. The committee instead loaded up on two-loss ACC and three-loss Big 12 and SEC schools to fill out the Top 25.
Not much changed this week.
UCF and Fresno State are still the only two Group of Five teams ranked despite the fact that six teams that were ranked No. 14 or worse last week lost.
UCF is 8-0 entering Week 11, and each of Utah State, Fresno State, Cincinnati, Buffalo and UAB holds an 8-1 record entering Tuesday. UCF held steady at No. 12, while Fresno State stayed at No. 23. Utah State and Cincinnati seemed to have a chance but didn't join the Top 25.
UCF hosts Cincinnati on Nov. 17. Fresno State and Utah State both have 7-2 Boise State on the slate and also could meet for the Mountain West title. Buffalo boasts five double-digit wins, and UAB's defense has ceded only 12.1 points per game.
If UCF loses a game, it's anyone's guess which Group of Five team will earn the New Year's Six bowl appearance.
Key Games in Week 11
No. 16 Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama: Mississippi State leads all power-conference teams with 12.3 points allowed per game. Why are the Bulldogs only 6-3 this season? They totaled 16 points combined in those three losses. Slowing down Tua Tagovailoa and the Alabama offense is hard enough, but the bigger concern for Mississippi State is putting points on the board.
No. 2 Clemson at No. 17 Boston College: Grace Raynor of The Post & Courier notes Clemson star Trevor Lawrence has never traveled north of Virginia. Boston College's 24th-ranked defense presents a formidable test anyway, but adverse weather conditions could also play a role. So should a boisterous crowd. Despite a seven-game winning streak in the series, this is no cakewalk for the Tigers and their true freshman quarterback. But if they win, they clinch the ACC Atlantic Division.
No. 10 Ohio State at No. 18 Michigan State: The Buckeyes only hold a 4-3 advantage against Michigan State since 2011. Most notably, though, the Spartans have limited Ohio State to 24 points or less five times. Both offenses are struggling right now, and a low-scoring game might be exactly what MSU needs for an upset.
Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.