Kansas State hosts Auburn tonight in a game that’s not only massive for the outlook of things in Manhattan, Kan. This is a game that carries far-reaching implications in Norman, Okla., Waco, Texas, East Lansing, Mich., and across a large swath of the South.
If K-State pulls off the upset and Aggieville parties long into Friday morning, the Big 12 will get a massive boost as a whole. K-State’s road to the College Football Playoff would all of a sudden open up, even if it’s an unlikely path: The Wildcats’ Big 12 schedule sends them to Oklahoma and Baylor, while there’s a tricky road game at West Virginia in there, too.
It’d be foolish to doubt Bill Snyder, but chances are, K-State won’t make a serious playoff push. But the Wildcats would do Oklahoma or Baylor a huge favor by beating Auburn tonight — they’d give those teams another chance at a solid win over the course of a fairly light Big 12 schedule.
If one spot in the College Football Playoff comes down to a one-loss Big 12 team vs. a one-loss Big Ten team (looking your way, Michigan State), a win over a K-State team that toppled Auburn could go a long way toward the selection committee going with the Big 12 team. Oklahoma will have a win over Baylor or Baylor will have a win over Oklahoma, giving either side a better victory than Michigan State or any other Big Ten team will have this year. But if Oklahoma trips up Saturday at West Virginia or Baylor gets knocked off by Texas in Austin, a win over K-State could help counter-act that defeat.
Or consider this: Would a one-loss Big 12 team get a higher seed or spot in the playoff over a one-loss Florida State? If the ‘Noles fall to Clemson or Notre Dame in Tallhassee or Louisville on the road, would a weak ACC schedule come back to bite them? (Probably not, but it wouldn’t be a slam dunk.)
Those clinging to the hope of a Big Ten team making the College Football Playoff should be rooting for two things: Auburn to win tonight, and then chaos to reign in the SEC West. An Auburn win weakens the Big 12 while boosts a conference that doesn’t really need a boost. The Big Ten has an advantage over the Big 12 in its conference championship game, meaning there’s a good chance a one-loss Michigan State team faces a one-loss Wisconsin side in Indianapolis.
The best-case for the Big Ten would be for Michigan State to run the table, beat that one-loss Wisconsin team and have a resume of “hey, we took care of our business except for a nearly impossible task in Week 2 in Eugene.” That’s not a bad resume, even given the Big Ten’s awful rep.
Would a one-loss ACC or Big 12 team still make the playoff over a one-loss Big Ten team? Probably, but again, it’s not a guarantee.
The worst-case scenario for the SEC is Auburn loses tonight, but navigates its brutal SEC schedule with only one other loss and emerges as conference champions for the second straight year. The selection committee still would likely give Auburn a bid to the College Football Playoff, but it could hinder the conference’s chances of getting two teams in — especially since the East’s two top teams, Georgia and South Carolina, already have one loss.
Tonight in Manhattan will go a long way toward determining the landscape of the first College Football Playoff. Buckle up.