Despite an embarrassing loss at the hands of Alabama this past Saturday, LSU still has a shot at the national title.
One-loss teams have won the championship in three of the past four seasons. Heck, the Tigers won a title with two losses in 2007. So it can be done with blemishes; there’s no question about that.
We’re here to break down LSU’s path to the College Football Playoff, and it all starts with this:
The Tigers need to win out.
Every scenario we’ll discuss from here on out (except for the very end) will assume that LSU goes 3-0 to finish the year.
Simple enough, right? Win vs. Arkansas. Win at Ole Miss. Win vs. Texas A&M. That would put LSU at 10-1 with a decent chance of taking the SEC West.
For that to happen, the Tigers need some help. They can win the SEC West with one loss, so long as…
Alabama loses at either Mississippi State or Auburn.
This is very much within the realm of possibility. The Crimson Tide are perhaps the country’s best football team, but No. 17 Mississippi State is no pushover, and the Iron Bowl will come with tremendous amounts of fanfare and distractions.
If Alabama falls in either game, the West title is LSU’s. If the Tigers are able to get past Florida in the championship game, then they’ll likely be punching a ticket to the Playoff.
But what if Alabama doesn’t lose either game?
Then things get complicated. LSU would be shut out of the SEC Championship Game, and would need several other schools to fall out of the postseason race.
Here’s a breakdown of every team that could conceivably be ranked ahead of LSU, even if the Tigers win their remaining three games:
- No. 1 Clemson (9-0)
- No. 2 Alabama (8-1)
- No. 3 Ohio State (9-0)
- No. 4 Notre Dame (8-1)
- No. 5 Iowa (9-0)
- No. 6 Baylor (8-0)
- No. 7 Stanford (8-1)
- No. 8 Oklahoma State (9-0)
- No. 10 Utah (8-1)
- No. 11 Florida (8-1)
- No. 12 Oklahoma (8-1)
- No. 13 Michigan State (8-1)
- No. 14 Michigan (7-2)
- No. 15 TCU (8-1)
Besides Michigan —which still has a chance to impress the committee by beating No. 3 Ohio State and No. 5 Iowa — every other team on that list has one or no losses.
What LSU needs is as many conference championship upsets as possible. If a team wins the Big Ten with one loss or fewer (Ohio State, Iowa or Michigan State), that team is probably in before LSU. Ditto for the Pac 12 (Stanford or Utah). This extends to one-loss Notre Dame, which will certainly maintain its Playoff position if it can finish the year with a clean run and a win against Stanford.
The Big 12 does not have a conference championship game, so Baylor and Oklahoma State (both undefeated) will need to lose in the regular season for LSU to get by them.
That’s a lot of teams that need to fall — and it doesn’t even include SEC reps Alabama and Florida, which would both need to lose at least once before the committee’s final rankings (ex. Florida loses to Florida State, then beats Alabama in the SEC Championship Game).
Oh, and No. 1 Clemson, which faces few roadblocks down the stretch (although one loss would effectively remove the ACC from Playoff consideration).
Just for kicks, lets envision a world in which LSU winds up as the country’s No. 1 team — without playing in the SEC Championship Game.
- No. 1 Clemson loses the ACC Championship Game to No. 23 North Carolina on Dec. 5.
- No. 2 Alabama loses to No. 11 Florida in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 5.
- No. 3 Ohio State loses to No. 14 Michigan on Nov. 28.
- No. 4 Notre Dame loses to No. 7 Stanford on Nov. 28.
- No. 5 Iowa loses to No. 3 Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 5.
- No. 6 Baylor loses at No. 15 TCU on Nov. 27.
- No. 7 Stanford loses to No. 10 Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Dec. 5.
- No. 8 Oklahoma State loses to No. 6 Baylor on Nov. 20.
- No. 10 Utah loses to UCLA on Nov. 21.
- No. 11 Florida loses to No. 16 Florida State on Nov. 28.
- No. 12 Oklahoma loses to No. 8 Oklahoma State on Nov. 28.
- No. 13 Michigan State loses to No. 3 Ohio State on Nov. 21.
- No. 14 Michigan loses at Penn State on Nov. 21.
- No. 15 TCU loses at No. 12 Oklahoma on Nov. 21.
Those results would likely make LSU the No. 1 team in the country, with Ohio State (No. 2), Clemson (No. 3) and whoever wins a messy Big 12 tiebreaker (No. 4) joining it in the Playoff field.
The Tigers don’t need all of those things to happen — they just need to be No. 4, not No. 1 — but it gives you a sense of the carnage that needs to befall the nation’s best teams.
We mentioned at the beginning of this post we’d discuss a scenario in which LSU loses again, so…
What if LSU loses again?
If it does, it better lose to Texas A&M.
The Tigers can’t afford to lose tiebreakers to Arkansas and Ole Miss, but if they trip up against the Aggies, there’s still a chance they could slip into the College Football Playoff.
This is where Alabama comes into play again; the Crimson Tide would need to lose both of their remaining SEC games (at Mississippi State and at Auburn), while LSU would need to beat Ole Miss, and then have the Rebels beat Mississippi State when they meet for the Egg Bowl.
That would put LSU all alone at the top of the West with two losses.
Florida has already clinched the East, so LSU fans would want the Gators to be as highly-ranked as possible going in to the SEC Championship Game.
Win that, and the Tigers would have a decent chance at getting into the Playoff field — so long as some of the other conference races break their way (as discussed in the previous section).
LSU is currently five spots out of the Playoff. There are four more rankings yet to be released. Whether the Tigers win out or not, whether they get to the SEC Championship Game or not, fans can rest assured that there will still be an avenue — however slight — to a fourth national title.