When Baylor blew the 28-3 lead to Oklahoma, I left Waco dejected. Despite a fantastic game and season, it seemed that Baylor—even if they pulled things together and won out—wasn’t making the playoff.
College football is wild though. Arizona State knocked off Oregon, and Baylor looked good in their controlled win against Texas.
Baylor was ranked No. 14 in the most recent College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings. Although the Bears gaining 10 spots in two weeks might seem like a ridiculous task, it’s really not. No two loss team has ever made the playoff. 2007 is the only BCS season where a two loss team made the BCS title. That year LSU only jumped 11-1 Kansas. Those Jayhawks didn’t have a top 25 win. They did not win their conference.
If Baylor wins out, they’ll be 12-1. They’d have a Big 12 title. They’d have top 25 wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma (and possibly Oklahoma State if they beat Oklahoma in Bedlam). Baylor would also be able to say they beat every team on their schedule.
We’ll take a look at the other contenders in a scenario where Baylor beats Kansas and Oklahoma.
I also don’t need to hear, “Let’s just focus on Kansas.” I don’t play for Baylor. The Bears responded to the most disheartening loss imaginable against Oklahoma by throttling Texas. I think the team can stay focused with this article on the internet.
Three teams remain alive. Yes, Florida is currently ranked above Baylor. But with two losses and no path to winning the SEC, the Gators aren’t making this without unbelievable chaos. And they’re not making it over a Big 12 Champ with 12 wins.
LSU, assuming they don’t lose their next two games, will make it. They have a host of good wins, and they look like the country’s second best team.
Baylor needs LSU to beat Georgia. The Bulldogs would have two losses. They’d have a terrible loss to South Carolina, and they wouldn’t have a conference title. The Bulldogs have some good wins—Notre Dame, Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M (generous, sure)—but the horrendous South Carolina loss would be a giant deal with two losses. The only time a league has earned two playoff teams was when Alabama was competing against a two loss Ohio State team with a noncompetitive loss. It’s hard to fathom the 2019 Bulldogs getting into this thing with two losses.
Alabama is the wildcard. The Tide currently have zero top 25 wins. They’ll play one real game without Tua. Would one game against Auburn—a team that might not even be ranked if they lose to Alabama—be enough to overwhelm a 12-1 Baylor with a conference title? Baylor would have more top 25 wins. For all the talk of Baylor’s pathetic nonconference schedule, is Alabama getting into the playoff because they played eight SEC games and Duke? Baylor played nine power five regular season games and then Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.
I have no idea what the committee is going to do with Alabama. We need to see how they treat Alabama after the Auburn game.
The best realistic bet is that LSU wins out and Auburn beats Alabama. If that happens, the SEC will be a one bid league. That is a very realistic outcome.
Penn State lost to Ohio State today, which basically eliminates the Nittany Lions. They have two losses and can’t win their league.
Michigan, even with a win over Ohio State, will not win the Big 10. They’ll finish with two losses, and they were noncompetitive against Wisconsin. A 12-1 Baylor with a win over Oklahoma will jump Michigan, even if they win out.
Wisconsin at 11-2 could be an issue. They’d have wins over Minnesota and Ohio State. They’d have a Big 10 title. They have another good win over Michigan. And they currently rank above Baylor. But again, the problem for Wisconsin is that they’d have two losses. Baylor could use a jump this week. Ohio State randomly jumped Baylor in 2014. Or more easily, Minnesota or Ohio State could just end their dreams.
Minnesota at 12-1, with a 12-1 Ohio State, would be a problem. 12-1 Minnesota would have a Big 10 title and wins over Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. They’d also win the Big 10—a league that’s viewed better than the Big 12. The Gophers would get in over Baylor. And then 12-1 Ohio State—the current No. 2 team and most dominant team so far—would have wins over Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Cincinnati. I don’t think Baylor gets in over either Big 10 team there.
So, what’s the dream scenario? It’s easy. Ohio State wins out. The Buckeyes are the best team in this league. If they win out, every non-Ohio State Big 10 team would have two losses. Ohio State would also have the conference title. That would make the Big 10 a one bid league.
Clemson plays South Carolina and then the ACC title game. If Clemson losses either game, they’ll have a weak case. The Orange have zero top 25 wins. As the defending champs, the committee might give them a status boost. But they haven’t so far. They’re ranked below Ohio State and LSU.
Clemson is so much better than their next two opponents. I think they’ll win out, and they’ll make it.
Oregon’s loss to ASU means that Utah is the only remaining threat. I’m assuming they hold on to their 21 point lead against hapless Arizona.
Utah plays Colorado and then Oregon. While Utah is currently ranked No. 7, I’m not sold on them getting the final spot over Baylor. A 12-1 Utah would have a single top 25 win (Oregon). Their USC loss is worse than losing to Oklahoma. We’ll also see how the committee views that league after Oregon went down a level with that loss.
Utah might stay above Baylor though. The Bears have a decent gap to make up (five spots). Even with a good finish, the committee might not make such a leap.
But tell TCU about the committee not making big leaps. The Horned Frogs won their last game in 2014 by 52. They dropped three spots. If Baylor has an incredible final week, they could leap Utah.
The easiest path here: Oregon beats Utah. A two loss Oregon, with one loss to Arizona State, isn’t passing Baylor to make this deal, despite any conspiracy about Rob Mullens being the chair.
So what should I root for:
Barring absolute chaos, the easiest path is for LSU to win out, Ohio State wins out, Auburn beats Alabama and Oregon beats Utah. I think 12-1 Baylor is 100% in with that result. All those results are very possible, but hitting on that many events—even assuming Baylor goes 12-1—is not easy.
If Baylor wins out, and the final spot comes down to Baylor and Alabama, 538 gives Baylor a 56% chance to make it with Alabama only given a 36% chance. Those numbers aren’t 100% because the 538 model leaves some room for the committee making a wild decision like putting two loss Georgia in the field.
We should acknowledge there is a lot of uncertainty with this. The committee now has new members. I don’t know what Ray Odierno, a former architect of the Surge in Iraq along with David Petraeus, thinks about football. He’s one of the members. And opinions can change. Baylor’s bad non-conference might seem disqualifying now. It might not when a team without any top 25 wins is the team competing with Baylor for the final spot.
I’ve predicted the field every season. While I would have selected Ohio State in 2018, Penn State in 2017 and Baylor in 2014, I’ve been able to correctly predict what the committee would do each season heading into their final rankings. It’s not that hard to piece together once you listen to the season’s chair and look at their protocol.
If Baylor can finish 12-1, they have a very good chance to make it. The Bears still need help—LSU needs to not blow it against Georgia and Ohio State needs to beat these other Midwestern kids—but if the favorites win out, the Bears will be a legitimate contender against Alabama and Utah for the final spot. And if they can get a little more luck with those two losing, then the Bears would crash the field two seasons after going 1-11 and losing to Liberty.