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Playoff Chaos: How These Three One-Loss Teams Can Reach the CFP

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

With the regular season coming to and end, what do these three teams need to happen to reach the CFP?

College football is known for its upsets, underdogs and thrilling finishes. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen just that. Four teams ranked inside the AP top 5 have fallen, along with 16 ranked teams losing in the past three weeks alone. These upsets change the picture of the College Football Playoff, as debate rages over who’s in and who’s out. Several factors come into play when determining the landscape of the College Football Playoff, such as strength of schedule, quality of wins/losses, margin of victory, FPI, the eye test, etc. With just five undefeated teams left standing, let’s analyze the playoff chances for some of the top one-loss teams in the nation and what they need to happen in order to reach the playoff.

Clemson

The Tigers had been ranked at No. 2 for four consecutive weeks before they were shockingly upset by Syracuse early in October. Dabo Swinney’s shutdown defense that was giving up a mere 11.3 points per game up to that point allowed 27 points to the Orange. Also, Clemson had to play the second half without starting quarterback Kelly Bryant, who suffered a concussion in the first half.


Clemson’s recipe to success is their defense. When they are at their best, Clemson is almost unbeatable. The school currently leads the nation in sacks (32), sixth in scoring defense (13.1 points/game), and seventh in total defense (282 yards/game). If the Tigers can get back to smothering opposing offense on a consistent basis, this team has a chance to win back-to-back national titles.

In order to get into the playoff, though, the Tigers’ first step is winning out. Clemson closes out the regular season with just one ranked opponent in 20th-ranked North Carolina State, a team which currently leads the ACC Atlantic division. If Clemson can knock off the Wolfpack this Saturday, they’ll have the inside track to reach the ACC title game.

If Clemson can run the table and finish at 12-1, they will have a solid resume. Clemson would have an ACC title and wins over five ranked opponents, including Auburn, Louisville, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, and the winner of the ACC Coastal division (either Miami or Virginia Tech). Their lone loss came on the road with their starting quarterback missing the second half due to an injury, which the selection committee takes into account when determining the rankings.

Clemson sits at fourth in the initial CFP rankings, but Oklahoma and Ohio State are lurking right behind the Tigers. If Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ohio State all win out, then Clemson’s playoff hopes will be in jeopardy. Also, if both Alabama and Georgia enter the SEC title game undefeated and the game is close, it will be difficult to leave the loser out of the playoff as well. For Swinney’s squad to feel more comfortable about their chances, they’ll need a few of these teams to slip up. If those teams take care of business, Clemson will sit squarely on the bubble, as their playoff hopes will lie in the hands of the selection committee.

Ohio State

Since Ohio State’s home loss to Baker Mayfield and the Sooners, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have reeled off six wins in a row, scoring at least 38 points in each contest. During this stretch, quarterback J.T. Barrett has thrown for 1,668 yards, 22 touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Also, Barrett has rushed for 338 yards and four touchdowns during the six-game winning streak. The Buckeye offense has thrived with Barrett at the helm, as his dual-threat ability and smart decision making have sparked the winning streak.

Last week, Ohio State got the signature win they needed by beating No. 2 Penn State, 39-38, in thrilling fashion, as they overcame a 15-point fourth quarter deficit to knock off the Nittany Lions. The win jumped Ohio State from sixth to third in the AP Poll and they are second in FPI, as they have climbed back into playoff contention since the loss to Oklahoma early in the season. However, the initial CFP rankings have the Buckeyes at sixth, which means they have some work to do.

Ohio State, just like Clemson, needs to run the table in order to have a chance at making the playoff. The Buckeyes conclude the regular season with only one currently ranked opponent, Michigan State. Also, the Buckeyes are scheduled to travel to Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines to wrap up the regular season, and will more than likely square off against Wisconsin in the Big 10 title game. Ohio State needs these three teams to continue winning games, as wins over three ranked teams will give the Buckeyes’ resume a much-needed boost.

If Ohio State wins out, they will potentially have four wins over ranked opponents, including two over top five teams. What separates Ohio State from the Tigers is the eye test and the quality of loss. Ohio State has been dominating teams, as they are third in the nation in margin of victory (28 points/game), while Clemson sits at 13th (19.1 points/game). 

Also, Ohio State’s loss came very early in the season against 5th-ranked Oklahoma, who is currently ranked eighth in the country. Clemson, on the other hand, lost to unranked Syracuse. The Orange are currently 4-4 and are 44th in ESPN’s FPI.

However, the selection committee seems to disagree with this, as they value Clemson’s three wins over ranked opponents and took into consideration Kelly Bryant’s injury in the loss to Syracuse. The Buckeyes currently sit two spots behind Clemson, as they will need to impress the committee down the final stretch of the season and hope for losses from any of the top five teams.

Notre Dame


The Fighting Irish appear to be peaking at the perfect time, as they have won back-to-back games against ranked opponents in dominant fashion behind the rise of dynamic duo Brandon Wimbush and Heisman hopeful Josh Adams. A 35-point win over USC and a 21-point victory over North Carolina State have the Irish surging in the polls, as they jumped to fifth in the most recent AP Poll and are ranked third in the initial CFP rankings.

The one problem for Notre Dame? The Irish don’t have a conference title game to impress the committee before the final rankings come out, leaving an opportunity for teams to leapfrog Notre Dame and leave the Irish on the outside looking in.

So how can they solidify themselves as a playoff team?

First, as all of these one-loss teams must do, the Irish have to win out. That includes two ranked teams in undefeated Miami and the streaking Stanford Cardinal. If they can win their remaining four contests, the Irish will have one of the best resumes in the entire nation. With four wins over ranked opponents and their lone blemish coming against the top-ranked, undefeated Georgia, Notre Dame would be difficult to leave out of the playoff.

Most of the other one-loss teams, such as Ohio State, Oklahoma, Clemson, Washington, etc. will have the opportunity to play in a conference championship game against another talented team. This gives these teams the opportunity to boost their resumes by winning a conference championship, defeating another quality opponent, and impressing the selection committee by their play on the field.

Notre Dame doesn’t have this option, as they could be passed by one-loss teams who win their conference title in the final week. To improve their playoff odds, they’ll have to impress the committee with the opportunities that they do have and root for these teams to slip up at some point.

Final Verdict

Currently, there are nine one-loss teams in the top 13 of the AP Poll, so it will be difficult for the selection committee to select just a couple of these teams. Among the three discussed in this article, I feel as if Notre Dame has the best chance to make the playoff, followed by Ohio State and Clemson.

Notre Dame’s one loss came to undefeated Georgia by just one point, which may be the most “impressive loss” of the season. The Buckeyes have been dominating teams on a weekly basis, and finally got their signature win last week against second-ranked Penn State. Clemson’s loss came against an average 4-4 Syracuse squad, which I think will cost them at season’s end.

My prediction for the playoff is that Alabama will run the table and claim the top spot, followed by one-loss and SEC runner-up Georgia. The Bulldogs take the spot due to their head-to-head victory over the Fighting Irish earlier in the season. The third and fourth spots are up for debate, but I see Notre Dame claiming the third spot followed by Big 10 Champion Ohio State edging out ACC Champion Clemson for the final spot. With plenty of ranked matchups and conference championship games on the horizon, the final few weeks of college football before bowl season will have college football fans glued to their TVs during the next few weeks.


All stats courtesy of espn.com and stats.ncaa.org

Edited by Joe Sparacio.

SQuiz
Who won the 2015 CFP National Championship?
Created 10/31/17
  1. Alabama
  2. Oregon
  3. Florida St.
  4. Ohio St.

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