Tuesday’s latest round of the College Football Playoff committee’s weekly rankings shows a clear path to a (relatively) controversy-free final four.
Win out, and No. 1 Alabama, No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 5 Wisconsin are in. So, too, is the winner of No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Miami, assuming both keep rolling before their Dec. 2 meeting in the ACC title game.
But this is college football. Nothing is that easy, which is why we might be headed for the first two-loss team in the Playoff era.
"As you know, every win, every loss is a part of the body of work, the resume that we look at each and every week," committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said on ESPN’s rankings show.
If you need a reminder of the craziness this sport creates, look at last week’s results. Then-No. 1 Georgia suffered its first loss, by 23 points at Auburn. ’Bama needed a fourth-quarter rally to beat Mississippi State. Two other one-loss teams — Notre Dame and Washington — probably saw their Playoff hopes end with defeats at Miami and Stanford.
And look at what happened last year. Three of the committee’s top seven teams at this time last season lost at least one more regular-season game: Michigan, Louisville (which lost twice) and Wisconsin.
History and common sense tell us that more upsets are probably coming, and the schedule for the final three weeks is loaded with potential pitfalls involving the nation’s six Power Five teams with one or no losses.
Start in the Big 12. Oklahoma still has to play tricky West Virginia before getting a rematch in the conference title game, possibly against No. 12 TCU. That means Baker Mayfield and Co. might have to beat coach Gary Patterson twice in four weeks — not an easy task. And wouldn’t it be ironic if the Big 12 added a championship game to try to boost its Playoff odds, only to watch its top team get knocked out because of it in the first year?
No. 6 Auburn hosts ’Bama next week. Win that one — crazier things have happened in the Iron Bowl — and the two-loss Tigers get to play a Georgia team it trounced for the SEC title.
Wisconsin is undefeated thanks to the nation’s No. 63 schedule. If No. 9 Ohio State makes it to the Big Ten title game, the two-loss Buckeyes will be favored.
Add in the fact that No. 11 USC and every other Pac-12 team has at least two defeats, and it’s not a stretch to think the committee could be stuck choosing between several multi-loss teams for the first time in its brief history.
There is, however, another possibility that would be well-received on the I-4 corridor: Put the American Athletic Conference champion in the Playoff, whether it’s undefeated UCF or one-loss USF/Memphis.
But don’t get your hopes up. In three years, no Group of Five team has finished higher than 15th (undefeated Western Michigan last year). The Knights are ranked as high as fifth nationally in some advanced metrics but only 15th by the committee; Memphis (8-1) is six spots lower, and the Bulls aren’t in the top 25 at all.
Barring a reversal of a years-long precedent, the final four still looks as if it’ll be filled with Power Five teams — even if they have two losses.
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.