At least one major conference (two, if Notre Dame wins this weekend) could be left out of the College Football Playoff.
As of right now, the Southeastern Conference is sitting pretty; If Alabama or Florida take care of business on Saturday, then the winner of the SEC championship game will presumably take one of the four Playoff spots.
But, what if the winner has two losses on its resumé when the committee makes its final decision? Could it still make the field?
“I’d have to say no,” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit told SEC Country last week.
Still … there might be a chance.
“Stranger things have happened,” Herbstreit said. “It’s a possibility. But I think if it happens, I think they need a lot of help, and a lot of other teams beating each other up to remain a team you could consider making it.”
Let’s get a couple things clear first:
Among SEC teams, only Alabama and Florida still have a chance to make the Playoff.
If both lose their final regular season games this weekend, it’s highly unlikely either will make the Playoff.
So, knowing those things: Can a two-loss SEC team make it to New Year’s Eve?
Here’s the breakdown if …
… Alabama loses to Auburn and beats Florida
This requires an Ole Miss loss in this Saturday’s Egg Bowl. If the Rebels win, they would take the West title from the two-loss Tide.
If Alabama loses to Auburn, wins the West and then beats Florida for the conference championship, it will need some help to get into the Playoff — but not that much help.
The key results outside of the SEC would probably need to include:
- No. 11 Stanford over No. 4 Notre Dame (Nov. 28) — Stanford already has two losses, and can drag the Irish down with them in Palo Alto, Calif.
- Nebraska over No. 5 Iowa (Nov. 28) — This is probably more likely than Penn State over No. 9 Michigan State in East Lansing. If both Iowa and Michigan State win this weekend, the Big Ten is pretty much assured of a Playoff spot.
- No. 5 Iowa over No. 9 Michigan State (Big Ten Championship) — Sparty is too potent at the moment. If Michigan State wins out, it will make the Playoff, while one-loss Iowa would merely be on the fence.
- No. 18 TCU over No. 10 Baylor (Nov. 27) — This would give both Big 12 teams a pair of losses, and effectively knock them out of the race.
- No. 6 Oklahoma State over No. 7 Oklahoma (Nov. 28) — Oklahoma looks like the Big 12’s best shot at the Playoff. If the Sooners go down, the conference could easily be frozen out again.
- N.C. State over No. 17 North Carolina (Nov. 28) — The ACC needs a couple dominoes to fall to knock it out of the Playoff field. First, UNC needs to fall to its in-state rival, and then the Tar Heels — winners of 10 straight — need to upset No. 1 Clemson in the conference championship game.
Those results would open up plenty of room at the top for two-loss Alabama, with the Playoff field likely featuring ‘Bama (No. 1), Iowa (No. 2), Stanford (No. 3) and Ohio State/Clemson (No. 4).
So, what happens if …
… Florida loses to Florida State and beats Alabama
A two-loss Gators team would be much less attractive than two-loss Alabama. Florida will need all of the above games to break its way, as well as a couple more:
- Pac-12 South champions over No. 11 Stanford (Pac-12 Championship) — Two-loss Stanford would definitely pass two-loss Florida with wins over Notre Dame and UCLA/USC/Utah to end the season. So an upset in the Pac-12 title game would be big.
- No. 12 Michigan over No. 3 Ohio State (Nov. 28) — One-loss Ohio State (with a win over Michigan) poses more of a threat. Two-loss Michigan would not have a championship to its name, but it still might slip by two-loss Florida thanks to pair of impressive losses.
All of these combined results would likely produce the following Playoff field: Iowa (No. 1), Clemson (No. 2), Florida (No. 3) and Michigan/Notre Dame (No. 4).
It’s all hypothetical at this juncture, but there’s still plenty of reason to believe a two-loss SEC team could sneak into the Playoff, given this year’s general lack of dominant teams.