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Playoff Projections and Discussion

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College Football Playoff National Championship - Media Day Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

In the first two years of the college football playoff, no two loss team has made it. This year figures to continue that trend. Last season produced a very easy playoff. Clemson was undefeated, and then three other power five conferences had a one loss champion. 2014 was not so easy, as the Big 12 refused to pick a champion, and Ohio State made it over Baylor and TCU. We also have some new members on the committee. So, a lot could happen. Here are the big questions after three weeks.

Does the Big 12 have any shot?

The Big 12 had an awful non-conference performance. Preseason conference favorite Oklahoma went 1-2. While there is no shame in losing to Houston and Ohio State, Oklahoma looked like the worse team in both games. With two losses, it would take something miraculous for Oklahoma to get back into the playoff, even assuming they could run the table.

Just two undefeated teams- Baylor and West Virginia- remain. But if one of those teams can run the table, they should be in. It’s possible the committee will put a 12-1 Stanford or 12-1 Louisville in the playoff above Baylor or to a lesser degree, West Virginia. I still can’t see them leaving out an undefeated team. The committee bumped Florida State below T.C.U. entering the final weekend of 2014, only to move Florida State back to #3. I can’t believe the committee will actually leave an undefeated power five champion out of the playoff.

Some teams also have a shot at getting in with one loss. 11-1 Texas has what should still be a pretty good Notre Dame win, although probably not what many thought it was after Michigan State handled Notre Dame Saturday. T.C.U. nearly beat Arkansas, and the committee might decide Oklahoma State should be considered the winner after Central Michigan should not have gotten the shot they used to win against the Cowboys.

This all overlooks something : the Big 12 looks like it does not have a team capable of going 9-0 in conference. Since the inception of the round robin in 2011, no team has gone undefeated. And looking at the first several weeks for Big 12 teams, nobody seems as good as Oklahoma State in 2011, KSU in 2012, Baylor in 2013 and 2014, and TCU in 2014. Maybe the league is weak enough- and I think that’s why Baylor has a shot to win this league still- somebody can manage to make the playoff. The Big 12 has not eliminated itself from the playoff with its performance in the first three weeks. But its performance in the first three weeks shows why it probably will eliminate itself.

Will 12-0 Houston make the playoff?

I think the answer is very likely to be yes. The Oklahoma win may certainly become weaker, but if Houston beats Louisville, they will have an excellent win, and what should be two pretty good wins over Oklahoma and Cincinnati.

I cannot imagine there will be four undefeated power five teams. I’d be surprised if we end up with more than two. 12-1 Alabama or 12-1 Ohio State might have a better resume than Houston, but a two loss power five champion will not.

Can a non-divisional champion make the playoff?

Through three weeks, the two best teams in the SEC might be Arkansas and Alabama. If both of those teams end up 11-1, the head-to-head winner would make the SEC title game. The loser might have a better playoff argument than another conference champion. Based on the factors the playoff committee is supposed to consider, barring clear evidence they are better, that team should not get into the playoff. But the world gave us Alabama-LSU as a national championship rematch once. It could happen again.

What happens if a weaker division wins a conference championship game?

The SEC West certainly seems better than the East. But what if Georgia or Tennessee finishes 10-2 and then knocks off undefeated Alabama in the SEC Championship? Would the committee leave 12-1 Alabama out? If Clemson finishes 11-1 and Louisville finishes 11-1, and then the winner of that game loses in the ACC Championship game, would the 11- 1 team who lost the head-to-head make the playoff over the 11-2 who lost the ACC Championship game?

Playoff Field

I’ll do both the playoff if the season ended today, and what I think will end up happening. Once the committee releases rankings, I’ll switch to just projecting the playoff at the end of the season.

Current playoff:

  1. Louisville- They destroyed Florida State. Nobody has a win of that quality. Lamar Jackson is phenomenal, and while they still have to play Clemson and Houston, right now, they deserve this spot.
  2. Ohio State- They crushed Oklahoma and have been dominant in the first three weeks. Urban Meyer continues to win, but Michigan and Michigan State might end up beating them.
  3. Alabama- Their win over USC showed how good they can be, and if I had to bet on one team to win the title, I’d probably still take Alabama. But they got down 24-3 to Ole Miss. The Rebels are a good team, but Louisville and Ohio State have been better.
  4. Houston- They beat Oklahoma and Cincinnati. The schedule gets easier before the November showdown with Louisville. If Houston avoids any slip ups, that game will give them a strong shot at making the playoff.

Playoff projection:

  1. Louisville- Lamar Jackson is too much, and the team looks dominant. Clemson and Houston will present big challenges though.
  2. Alabama- Barring a big upset, they should be in the SEC Championship. After Georgia’s scare against Missouri, and Tennessee looking mediocre against Appalachian State and Ohio, the Crimson Tide continue to dominate.
  3. Ohio State- J.T. Barrett looks like the most consistent guy, and after Colorado looked better than they should against Michigan, they seem like the safer pick right now. Sparty may crash the party.
  4. Stanford- Washington might be for real, but a two loss PAC-12 team could make it, if Houston loses to Louisville and the Big 12 fails to produce a one loss champion.