On a day that saw two of the top three teams lose and one more top 10 team go down in defeat in mid-November, the College Football Playoff race may as well have thrown up the caution flag coming down the final stretch. But how much has really changed in the latest College Football Playoff outlook? Losses in mid-November are not quite as catastrophic as they used to be under previous championship models, but the path to the playoff has clearly become more treacherous for schools like Notre Dame and TCU, while the path has become more clear for schools like Miami and Wisconsin. And there may even be a small handful of two-loss teams to keep a close eye on these next few weeks, beginning with Auburn.
Auburn’s victory over Georgia was the loudest statement made on Saturday. No team has managed to get into the four-team College Football Playoff in the brief history of the system, but Auburn is hoping they can become the first after routing the committee’s top-ranked team the past two weeks. We’ll find out how much stock the committee will put in that blowout win on Tuesday night when the new rankings come out. The committee will have some very interesting decisions to make regarding Auburn. For starters, where will a two-loss Auburn rank compare to an undefeated Wisconsin? The Badgers have struggled to win over the committee so far, but a defensive exhibition of excellence of their own against Iowa on Saturday is not to be overlooked. The committee had the Big Ten’s last undefeated team just two spots ahead of two-loss Auburn last week, and Auburn’s win over Georgia was arguably more impressive than Wisconsin’s. Pay close attention to the gap between those two this week.
What will be uncontested is who will be No. 1. After being ranked No. 2 the past two weeks and getting out of Mississippi State with a win, the committee will more than likely place Alabama atop their ranking this week, setting the stage for a mammoth Iron Bowl in two weeks after the SEC’s cupcake week in Week 12. But how high is Miami about to move up following their win against Notre Dame? Ranked seventh coming into their big showdown with No. 3 Notre Dame, and the Hurricanes annihilated the Fighting Irish. Miami feels like a lock to be added to the top four this week, joining Alabama, Oklahoma, and Clemson in some order.
That leaves out the Big Ten for now, and the Pac-12 is in some trouble as well after Washington was taken down by Stanford Friday night. But the Big Ten and Pac-12 also have some interesting two-loss conference champions scenarios to have fun with. If Ohio State and USC win their conferences with two losses, how close could either come to a playoff spot? And where would each rank against a two-loss Notre Dame?
WHO IS STILL REALISTICALLY IN THE RUNNING?
Alabama – The Crimson Tide are undefeated in the SEC after getting out of Starkville with a gritty win.
Georgia – That was a tough loss to take, but the possibility of a 12-1 season with the SEC championship means Georgia is not down and out by a long shot yet.
Auburn – Auburn will remain in the running until they lose another game. Simple as that.
Miami – The U is back! Heading to their first ACC Championship Game and facing the Clemson Tigers should be fun.
Clemson – Playoff committee has given the defending national champs the upper hand on a bunch of teams, but some argue they should be passed over by some others. Regardless of how you feel, one-loss Tigers are absolutely in the running and a 12-1 ACC champ is hard to reject.
Oklahoma – Your Big 12 team to beat, led by the Heisman Trophy frontrunner. Oklahoma is likely the only Big 12 team with a realistic shot at the playoff at this point.
Wisconsin – Just win, and they’ll very likely be in.
Ohio State – Wins against Penn State and Michigan State help soften the blow of two losses, as bad as those losses were. Take down improving Michigan on the road and unbeaten Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, and Ohio State would have an interesting case to make.
Notre Dame – The Irish picked a rough day to get blown out, with the only other team to beat them also getting clobbered. We’ll see how far the Irish fall. For now, we’ll keep them on the edge of the radar just to be safe, but it does not look promising for the Irish.
USC – Remember the Trojans? Like Ohio State, USC is sort of lingering around on the edge of the playoff radar with two losses, but if the Trojans end the year with two losses they could benefit from a few teams ahead of them going down. Avenging a loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game would help their chances some, but USC would need a decisive blowout to help make the final push with two losses.
WHAT ABOUT UCF?
At No. 18 in the playoff rankings last week, the Knights appear to continue be quite the long shot even if they go 13-0. UCF is still the team to beat for the Group of Five’s New Years Six spot, just as Western Michigan was a year ago. UCF fans shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for the playoff.
BIGGEST WINNER OF THE WEEK
Wisconsin – Say what you will about Auburn, but the Tigers taking down Georgia may have been more beneficial for Wisconsin. If the Badgers manage to go 13-0 with the Big Ten championship, their argument at the end of the season would gain some strength. And the possibility of two SEC teams making the College Football Playoff took a hit (although not entirely eliminated), and Notre Dame taking a second loss could open up a spot in the playoff. If Wisconsin takes care of their business, they’ll stand an excellent chance of getting in.
BIGGEST LOSER OF THE WEEK
Notre Dame – Without a conference championship game to play in, the Irish can go no better than 10-2 this season. Given the heavy competition for four spots, that could be difficult for the Irish to reach the playoff. The best-case scenario for Notre Dame would be to end the season 10-2 and have the fourth spot come down to them or the Pac-12 champion, which could end up being a USC team they trounced in South Bend or a Stanford team they beat at the end of the regular season. They won’t win head-to-head debates with a number of other teams in the mix now.