Skip to main content

Handicapping the race of one-loss teams

horse race

We are in a new era that truly has no precedent, so anyone that tells you they know what's happening in this College Football Playoff era is lying to you. That said, we do have a pretty good idea of how this season shaking out. With eight weeks now in the books, we can begin to handicap the race for the Playoff with more than educated guesses and conjecture.

Three Power Five undefeated teams remain, and two will play each other on Thanksgiving Saturday. Even if you assume undefeated Florida State and both participants in an 11-0 Ole Miss vs. 11-0 Mississippi State clash will receive golden tickets - and that's a big assumption - we're guaranteed to have one of these 16 clubs join them.

So let's rank 'em.

"Win out and you've got nothing to worry about."

Auburn (5-1 record, No. 6 in latest AP poll)
The case for:
Thursday night win at Kansas State is arguably the most impressive non-conference win in the nation, and certainly in the SEC. Still has more chances to impress than anyone in college football with games against Ole Miss, Alabama and Georgia, plus South Carolina and Texas A&M.
The case against:Will fall behind Mississippi State in the event of a loss by the Bulldogs. Other than that, not much of one. Must travel to Georgia and Alabama.

Alabama (6-1, No. 7)
The case for: With games against No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 6 Auburn waiting (plus LSU) Alabama has more chances to impress than the rest of their competition, save for Auburn. And both must come to Tuscaloosa, where they've racked up 1,247 yards and 101 points in their last two games. A 10-point neutral site win over West Virginia looks much more impressive now than it did at the time.
The case against:Good as the Tide looked against Florida and Texas A&M, West Virginia is the only thing Alabama has resembling a quality win at this point.

Oregon (6-1, No. 9)
The case for: Has a strong argument for best non-conference win in college football with 19-point win over otherwise-undefeated Michigan State. Blew out UCLA and Washington. Still has games with Stanford and Utah left, plus likely bowl teams in California and Oregon State. When it's all said and done, Ducks could have wins over five teams that were ranked at the time. Loss to Arizona could fall under injury considerations along with Ohio State.
The case against: Lost at home, unlike other one-loss front-runners Auburn, Alabama, and TCU.

Ohio State (5-1, No. 13)
The case for:
This team has looked every bit like a top four team since loss to Virginia Tech, beating likely bowl teams Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers by nearly 30 points per game. Chance to earn impressive road win at Michigan State. Play of J.T. Barrett since Virginia Tech loss creates a discussion point for the committee.
The case against: That Virginia Tech loss has aged like a carton of milk on a Las Vegas sidewalk in the middle of July.

Notre Dame (6-1, No. 5)
The case for: Walked into the house of the defending national champions and more than held their own. Earned a hard-fought win over Stanford. Challenging remaining schedule (at No. 17 Arizona State, vs. Louisville, at No. 22 USC) leaves plenty of opportunities to impress the committee.
The case against: Best win so far is actually a loss. First-half schedule did pan out as planned with Michigan and North Carolina going belly up. Has not won a true road game this season.

Georgia (6-1, No. 10)
The case for:
Odds on favorite to win SEC East, placing them 60 minutes away from an SEC championship. Win over Clemson gets more impressive by the week. Still has chance to earn major win over Auburn, and a quality win over Georgia Tech. Nov. 8 trip to Kentucky is the only true road game left on the schedule.
The case against: Win over Clemson was before Deshaun Watson took control of the Tigers' offense. Loss at South Carolina looks less forgivable now than it seemed at the time.

Michigan State (5-1, No. 8)
The case for: Should earn major brownie points from the committee for traveling to Oregon. Held a two-score lead in every game this season. Gets Ohio State at home, plus possible Big Ten championship berth.
The case against: Most, and only, impressive win so far is five-point defeat of Nebraska at home. Oregon loss means only chance for impressive win in an opponent's stadium is at Maryland.

Kansas State (5-1, No. 14)
The case for: K-State is alone in first place in the Big 12, the only team in the conference still with a chance to run the table. The list of teams to win in Norman during the Stoops tenure is short, and Kansas State has now done it in two straight trips. Still has games with Oklahoma State, West Virginia, TCU and Baylor remaining, the latter three on the road. The loss to Auburn will play better during selection committee discussions than it would in the BCS era.
The case against: Loss to Auburn means Kansas State's only non-conference wins are Stephen F. Austin and UTEP. With the tumultuous state of the Big 12, it's highly possible the Wildcats drop another game, and equally possible every other Big 12 team still has a loss or two ahead of them.

TCU (5-1, No. 12)
The case for: A 30-7 thumping of Minnesota represents the Big 12's most impressive non-conference win, and the Gophers' only loss this season. Frogs looked extremely impressive for the entirety of wins over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and three quarters of the loss to Baylor. Gets Kansas State at home.
The case against: Baylor loss means TCU's only chance for an impressive road victory is at West Virginia. Light closing schedule (at Kansas, at Texas, vs. Iowa State) doesn't leave opportunity to impress after mid-November. That said, I really think the committee will like this team.

Utah (5-1, No. 20)
The case for: Three wins over Power Five opponents, all of which came on the road. Has games with No. 22 USC, No. 17 Arizona State, No. 9 Oregon, No. 23 Stanford and No. 16 Arizona coming consecutively.
The case against: Three road Power Five wins are against Michigan, UCLA and Oregon State. Loss to Washington State, in which Utes held 21-0 lead and lost 28-27, won't look good in front of the committee.

Arizona State (5-1, No. 17)
The case for: Out-Stanforded Stanford in 26-10 win, giving the Sun Devils two wins over currently ranked teams. Still has home games with Utah and Notre Dame, plus trips to Washington and Arizona and a potential date with Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship.
The case against: 62-27 home loss to UCLA was the very definition of ugly at the time, and looks worse now. So bad was that loss that Arizona State, playing without starting quarterback Taylor Kelly that night, can not use the injury consideration asterisk that Oregon and Ohio State will make their proverbial cases with.

"You're going to need some help."

Arizona (5-1, No. 16)
The case for: Beat Oregon in Eugene. Only loss came on a missed field goal in crunch time. Beat Oregon in Eugene. Still has chances for impressive wins at UCLA (although the value is falling here), vs. Washington, at Utah and vs. Arizona State. Beat Oregon in Eugene.
The case against: The non-conference slate is severely lacking compared to the rest of the Pac-12 contenders, which makes Arizona the most vulnerable to the Pac-12's cannibalistic tendencies.

Baylor (6-1, No. 4)
The case for: Improbable as it was, this is still the team that beat TCU. Still has games with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State ahead, the latter two in Waco.
The case against: Non-conference schedule of SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo is essentially begging for a slap on the wrist from the committee.

"We're glad you're here, now go ahead and take a seat at the back of the room."

Nebraska (6-1, No. 19)
The case for: Favorite for Big Ten West championship, one upset away from becoming Big Ten champion.
The case against: Loss to Michigan State means Huskers may not beat a ranked team until Big Ten championship. Best non-conference win was Miami. Needed Heisman-worthy play by Ameer Abdullah to avoid overtime with McNeese State.

Minnesota (6-1, unranked)
The case for: Simple act of playing TCU is more impressive than anything Nebraska did in non-conference. Has games with Ohio State and Nebraska still on schedule. If they can win out, and beat a one-loss Michigan State for the Big Ten title....
The case against: Most impressive win to date is Michigan. Needed second-half rally to beat Purdue at home. Is Minnesota.

Duke (6-1, unranked)
The case for: If they can win out and beat an undefeated Florida State in the ACC championship....
The case against: Will likely finish regular season with zero wins over ranked teams. Played Elon, Troy, Kansas and Tulane in non-conference. Even if they win the ACC Coastal, it's still the ACC Coastal. Is Duke.

In all seriousness, congrats are in order to Duke and Minnesota for simply being bowl eligible by Oct. 18.