College Football Playoff Picture: Who Controls Their Own Destiny?
Eight weeks into the season, when it comes to the subject of the 2016 College Football Playoff, we can safely say three things:
1. The field has separated itself into four Power Five undefeated teams that are head and shoulders above everyone else, all of whom, if they win out, will occupy a spot in the four team-playoff — Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and Washington.
2. Even with Michigan, Clemson and Washington (among a handful of other schools) enjoying fine seasons, let's face it, they should rename the College Football Playoff the Nick Saban Invitational this season. Never have the Crimson Tide separated themselves from the field as they have this season, which is saying something, considering how dominant they've been since 2009.
3. The University of Houston not only won't be going to the College Football Playoff, but after they lost by 22 to SMU on Saturday, chances are the Coogs' bowl destination will have a kickoff hovering within a day or two of Christmas, not New Year's. I could write 1,000 words on the deflation-dynamic I feel is in play right now over on Cullen...and maybe I will later this week.
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For now, let's give you the unequivocal guide to teams who still carry playoff hopes, some with admittedly much fainter hopes than others. Here we go...
* CONTROLS THEIR OWN DESTINY:
1. ALABAMA (8-0, 5-0, 1st in SEC West)
11/5 @ No. 19 LSU
11/12 vs. Mississippi State
11/19 vs. Chattanooga
11/26 vs. No. 15 Auburn
Comment: How good is Alabama? They were favored by 18 points over the number six team in the country this past weekend, trailed early in the second half, and still covered the spread. Right now, Alabama's biggest functions in the playoff picture are as a) the odds-on favorite to win it all, and b) the one team left on the schedule for a handful of SEC teams — LSU, Auburn, possibly Florida in a conference title game — that could massively vault them perception-wise, if they pull off the upset.
2. MICHIGAN (7-0, 4-0, 1st in Big Ten East)
10/29 @ Michigan State
11/5 vs. Maryland
11/12 @ Iowa
11/19 vs. Indiana
11/26 @ No. 6 Ohio State
Comment: The Michigan State game looks a lot easier now than it did before the season, and add in the revenge factor for the Spartans' improbable win a season ago on the final play of the game, a botched Wolverine punt. Harbaugh vs. Meyer lost a little juice with Penn State's upset over the Buckeyes on Saturday, but it should still be a monster matchup.
3. CLEMSON (7-0, 4-0, 1st in ACC Atlantic)
10/29 @ No. 12 Florida St
11/5 vs. Syracuse
11/12 vs. Pitt
11/19 @ Wake Forest
11/26 vs. South Carolina
Comment: Clemson is in pole position to win the ACC even WITH a loss to Florida State on Saturday, if it came down that way. The drama in the ACC is whether or not they can get two teams into the playoff — more on Louisville in a second.
4. WASHINGTON (7-0, 4-0, T-1st in Pac-12 North)
10/29 @ No. 17 Utah
11/5 @ Cal
11/12 vs. USC
11/19 vs. Arizona State
11/25 @ Washington State
Comment: Washington has a handful of games the rest of the way in which they should be favored by around ten to 14 points — they're ten-point favorites in Utah this weekend — but they will struggle in at least one of these games, mark it down. Nothing is easy (ask Ohio State). USC has a ton of talent and seems to be playing better, and the Apple Cup against Mike Leach and Company, in the final week of the regular season, should be awesome, if both teams from the state of Washington continue to win games.
6. OHIO STATE (6-1, 3-1, T-2nd in Big Ten East)
10/29 vs. Northwestern
11/5 vs. No. 7 Nebraska
11/12 @ Maryland
11/19 @ Michigan State
11/26 vs. No. 2 Michigan
Comment: I'm putting the Buckeyes on this list, as I think a one-loss Big Ten champion version of Ohio State still gets into the playoffs over an undefeated Big XII champion, and if Oklahoma keeps winning, it likely means that Ohio State has the best out-of-conference win of any one-loss hopefuls. (Ohio State thumped the Sooners in Norman in Week 3.)
7. NEBRASKA (7-0, 4-0, 1st in Big Ten West)
10/29 @ No. 11 Wisconsin
11/5 @ No. 6 Ohio St
11/12 vs. Minnesota
11/19 vs. Maryland
11/25 @ Iowa
Comment: I thought Nebraska would be markedly better this season, mostly because they lost a ton of close games in 2015, but I didn't think they'd be this good. Of course, the next two weeks will go a long way to determining the Huskers' fate, but I like seeing coaches like Mike Riley, who everyone panned as a bad hire because he wasn't a huge name, succeed.
14. FLORIDA (5-1, 3-1, 1st in SEC East)
10/29 vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville)
11/5 @ Arkansas
11/12 vs. South Carolina
11/19 @ No. 19 LSU
11/25 @ No. 12 Florida State
Comment: The final "controller of their own destiny" is the Gators, as winning out would mean wins over archrival Georgia, over Arkansas in Fayetteville, over LSU in Baton Rouge and over Florida State in Tallahassee, and then likely a win over Alabama in the SEC Title Game. A one-loss SEC champ with THAT résumé is getting into the playoff.
* NEEDS REASONABLE HELP:
5. LOUISVILLE (6-1, 4-1, 2nd in ACC Atlantic)
10/29 @ Virginia
11/5 @ Boston College
11/12 vs. Wake Forest
11/17 @ Houston
11/26 vs. Kentucky
Comment: Easily the most compelling of the one-loss teams right now with the likely Heisman winner under center. Also, they might hang 50 on Houston on November 17. (Hell, SMU hung 38 on Houston!) Bobby Petrine's bunch needs some chaos, but the business they control — thumping the remaining teams on their schedule — shouldn't be an issue.
8. BAYLOR (6-0, 3-0, T-2nd in Big XII)
10/29 @ Texas
11/5 vs. TCU
11/12 @ No. 16 Oklahoma
11/19 vs. Kansas St
11/25 vs. Texas Tech (in Arlington)
12/3 @ No. 10 West Virginia
Comment: This whole Big XII thing will work itself out over the next month or so, but Baylor's having to travel to Norman and to Morgantown is problematic for Jim Grobe, who's done an excellent job keeping this ship moving in the right direction.
9. TEXAS A&M (6-1, 4-1, 2nd in SEC West)
10/29 vs. New Mexico State
11/5 @ Miss St
11/12 vs. Ole Miss
11/19 vs. UTSA
11/24 vs. No. 19 LSU
Comment: The Aggies' loss to Alabama was not unexpected, and it hurt, to be sure. But what hurt even more was losing by 19 points. For the most part, Alabama toyed with the Aggies, and if it comes down to one-loss NON-conference champions, I think Louisville's loss at Clemson is going to play better to the selection committee than the Aggies' thrashing at the hands of Bama.
10. WEST VIRGINIA (6-0, 3-0, T-2nd in Big XII)
10/29 @ Oklahoma State
11/5 vs. Kansas
11/12 @ Texas
11/19 vs. No. 16 Oklahoma
11/26 @ Iowa State
12/3 vs. No. 8 Baylor
Comment: I know Baylor is ranked higher, but to me, Dana Holgorsen's team is the better-equipped Big XII team to make noise in a playoff. Contrary to popular "Air Raid" narratives, Holgorsen likes to run the football and has a QB who can make plays in Skyler Howard. Also, his defense is solid and physical. Finally, they get OU and Baylor at home. If one of the "controls their destiny" undefeated teams falters, West Virginia could sneak in there if they stay unbeaten.
11. WISCONSIN (5-2, 2-2, T-4th in Big Ten West)
10/29 vs. No. 7 Nebraska
11/5 @ Northwestern
11/12 vs. Illinois
11/19 @ Purdue
11/26 vs. Minnesota
Comment: Tied for fourth in your half of the Big Ten is nowhere to be after eight weeks, but if Wisconsin wins out and gets some help, they could have wins over LSU and Nebraska and a revenge win over the winner of Ohio State-Michigan in the Big Ten title game. Also, the two losses were one-score losses in winnable games against the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. Don't get me wrong — Wisconsin would need a ton of chaos in the Big XII and Pac-12, and likely for Louisville to lose once, too, but the Badgers should still be paying attention to the playoff picture.
15. AUBURN (5-2, 3-1, T-3rd in SEC West)
10/29 @ Ole Miss
11/5 vs. Vanderbilt
11/12 @ Georgia
11/19 vs. Alabama A&M
11/26 @ No. 1 Alabama
Comment: A month ago, Gus Malzahn was on everyone's "hot seat" list. Now he might be a finalist for the Bear Bryant Award. That's how quick it can change when you have pelts on the wall. The Tigers are the chic "team no one wants to play" right now, and their two losses to Clemson and A&M are not bad losses. They can still win out and win the SEC, which automatically puts them in the conversation, even with two losses.
17. UTAH (7-1, 4-1, T-1st in Pac-12 South)
10/29 vs No. 4 Washington
11/10 @ Oregon State
11/19 vs. Oregon
11/26 @ No. 23 Colorado
Comment: Utah can win out and win the Pac-12, and a one-loss Pac-12 champion will be in the mix for a playoff spot. (Of course, once they get trucked by Washington this weekend, it won't matter.)
19. LSU (5-2, 3-1, T-3rd in SEC West)
11/5 vs. No. 1 Alabama
11/12 @ Arkansas
11/19 vs. No. 14 Florida
11/24 @ No. 9 Texas A&M
Comment: LSU's situation is virtually identical to Auburn's. Just read my comments for Auburn, but do it in Ed Orgeron's voice.
* ON LIFE SUPPORT:
16. OKLAHOMA (5-2, 4-0, 1st in Big XII)
10/29 vs. Kansas
11/3 @ Iowa State
11/12 vs. No. 8 Baylor
11/19 @ No. 10 West Virginia
12/3 vs. Oklahoma State
Comment: Oklahoma is probably done, but I'll keep a team on the radar that is undefeated in conference play with two undefeated top ten teams remaining over the next four weeks.
18. TENNESSEE (5-2, 2-2, 3rd in SEC East)
10/29 @ South Carolina
11/5 vs. Tennessee Tech
11/12 vs. Kentucky
11/19 vs. Missouri
11/26 @ Vanderbilt
Comment: Tennessee's hourglass ran out of sand against the Aggies and then they were taken to the woodshed by Alabama the next week. But what if Florida loses again, and the Vols win out, which they absolutely should do? They should win the rest of their games by three touchdowns apiece, minimum. That would give the Vols a possible rematch with Bama in the SEC Title Game. If they pulled off the miracle, would a 12-2 Vols outfit with a revenge win over Bama be good enough for inclusion? Oddly, one of the keys for Tennessee in that scenario would be Virginia Tech's continuing to win in the ACC, as the Vols knocked off the Hokies at Bristol Motor Speedway back in September.
* NEED A BIGGER PLAYOFF:
14. BOISE STATE (7-0, 3-0, T-1st in Mountain West - Mountain)
20. WESTERN MICHIGAN (8-0, 4-0, 1st in MAC West)
Comment: Neither of these teams has Oklahoma or Louisville in out-of-conference games. Need to have a couple of games like that. (Just don't lose to Navy and SMU.)
TOP 25 TEAMS DECLARED DEAD:
12. FLORIDA STATE (5-2, 2-2, T-3rd in ACC Atlantic)
21. NORTH CAROLINA (6-2, 4-1, 1st in ACC Coastal)
22. NAVY (5-1, 4-0, 1st in AAC West)
23. COLORADO (6-2, 4-1, T-1st in Pac-12 South)
24. PENN STATE (5-2, 3-1, T-2nd in Big Ten East)
25. VIRGINIA TECH (5-2, 3-1, 2nd in ACC Coastal)
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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