Did you really think figuring out the 2017 College Football Playoff field was going to be straightforward?
Thanks to No. 1 Alabama losing to No. 6 Auburn on Saturday and No. 2 Miami’s upset loss at Pitt on Friday, there’s still a lot to play for during championship week. Will the Crimson Tide make it in to the playoff despite not winning its own division in the SEC? Will Wisconsin move to 13-0 with a win over Ohio State? Will the Big 12 have a team make the playoff for the second time in four years?
Here are the three playoff scenarios that are the most likely to happen after next week’s games. Don’t discount the possibility of none of these scenarios happening either. This season has been anything but predictable.
(Scenarios are ranked from most to least likely. Teams are not listed in order of projected seeding.)
Team 1: ACC championship game winner (Clemson or Miami)
Team 2: Oklahoma
Team 3: Wisconsin
Team 4: SEC championship game winner (Auburn or Georgia)
This is the most straightforward of the College Football Playoff scenarios. The winner of Clemson-Miami will have one loss and a conference title. The Hurricanes’ undefeated season disappeared on Friday at Pitt, while Clemson beat rival South Carolina handily on Saturday to move to 11-1.
While Miami has the most recent loss, the Hurricanes will still be in great shape with a win over the defending national champions.
The Tigers, who started the week at No. 3, are the prohibitive favorite to move to No. 1 in Tuesday’s rankings.
Oklahoma would be at 12-1 with a Big 12 title with a win over TCU in the Big 12 championship game. The Sooners, who rolled over West Virginia on Saturday, would have two wins over the Horned Frogs, a win over Oklahoma State and a win over Ohio State on the resume. Oklahoma is win-and-in, just like the ACC winner. And the Sooners should be No. 2 on Tuesday.
Wisconsin would be in even better shape as the only undefeated Power Five team in college football. The Badgers won at Minnesota on Saturday to move to 12-0. It’s the program’s first undefeated regular season since 1912.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 25, 2017
The Badgers have been hanging around outside the top four in the playoff rankings because of a weak strength of schedule. Michigan, at 8-4, is the best team Wisconsin has beaten. But that will change this week as the Badgers should take advantage of Alabama and Miami’s losses. Wisconsin will be No. 3 on Tuesday.
A win over Ohio State in the Big Ten title game will only bolster Wisconsin’s profile. A Power Five team at 13-0 with a conference title will never miss the College Football Playoff. The Badgers would be in.
The final spot is less of a guarantee, especially if Auburn beats Georgia. If the Bulldogs exact revenge on the Tigers for a shellacking two weeks ago, Georgia would be at 12-1. That’s good enough for the playoff because the Pac-12 champion (either USC or Stanford) would have no fewer than two losses. And Alabama, at 11-1, has a resume that doesn’t compare to Georgia’s.
If Auburn wins the SEC title game, the Tigers would move to 11-2. That’s one more loss than the 11-1 Crimson Tide. But the Tigers have improved as the season has gone on and beat Alabama 26-14 on Saturday. There’s no way the committee can put Alabama in the playoff above an SEC champion Auburn. None.
Team 1: Clemson or Miami
Team 2: Oklahoma
Team 3: Georgia or Auburn
Team 4: Alabama
In this scenario, the ACC champion is still in, Oklahoma still beats TCU and the winner of the SEC title game is still in. But Wisconsin loses to Ohio State.
That would knock the Badgers to 12-1 and it would be hard to see how Wisconsin could get into the playoff after losing in its conference title game. No team has ever lost a conference title game and made the College Football Playoff.
A Wisconsin loss would open the door for Alabama, who could get into the playoff much like the Buckeyes did a year ago. Ohio State made it to the final four with an 11-1 record despite not appearing in the Big Ten title game thanks to a loss to Penn State (who won the Big Ten and missed the playoff). Alabama’s schedule wasn’t the toughest thanks to underwhelming seasons by Florida State and LSU, but the Tide would get in ahead of a two-loss Ohio State if the Buckeyes beat the Badgers.
Team 1: Clemson or Miami
Team 2: Georgia or Auburn
Team 3: Alabama
Team 4: Ohio State
Here’s where it gets even more implausible. But not impossible. In this scenario, both Wisconsin and Oklahoma lose, giving us a two-loss Big 12 champion in TCU and a two-loss Big Ten champion in Ohio State.
Auburn could be a two-loss SEC champion as well, but thanks to two wins over Georgia and a win over Alabama, the Tigers’ case for the playoff is solid. And, as we’ve said before, the winner of the ACC will have one loss. Those conference winners are both locks.
We like Alabama as the third team here because of the Tide’s 11-1 record and because Alabama has the best loss. TCU lost to Iowa State — which finished the season 7-5 — and Ohio State got blown out by 7-5 Iowa on the road. There must be something about that corn-producing state.
And there’s something about Oklahoma too. Both TCU and Ohio State’s other losses would be to the Sooners. Who gets the edge?
We like Ohio State, unless the Buckeyes eke out a win against Wisconsin and TCU blows out Oklahoma. A win over an undefeated top-four team would look better than one to a team who had a loss. Yeah, that’s pretty simple — probably too simple. But expect Ohio State to be ahead of TCU in Tuesday’s playoff rankings. And if both teams win similarly, how could the committee vault the Horned Frogs over the Buckeyes?
Here are this week’s winners and losers.
Quinton Flowers: South Florida may have lost to rival Central Florida in a thriller on Friday, but the performance of QB Quinton Flowers is worth acknowledging. The senior put up an insane 605 yards of offense — 503 passing and 102 rushing — along with five total touchdowns in the 49-42 defeat. Flowers threw touchdowns of 47, 20 and 21 yards in the first half before scoring on a 24-yard run and finding Darnell Salomon behind the defense for a game-tying 83-yard touchdown with 1:41 remaining. Unfortunately for Flowers, UCF returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Middle Tennessee: MTSU got its second crack at becoming bowl eligible and did so emphatically. Last week, the Blue Raiders dropped a heartbreaker to Western Kentucky in double-overtime. Against Old Dominion on Saturday, they left no doubt, winning 41-10. MTSU jumped out to a big lead and put up 586 yards of offense in the win in a game where a bowl trip was on the line for both teams. MTSU started the season 3-5 but won three of its last four to sneak into a bowl for the third year in a row.
Duke: The Blue Devils went on the road and scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to come from behind and beat a hot Wake Forest team. With the win, the Blue Devils will return to a bowl game, even after enduring a six-game losing streak this season. Duke started the year 4-0 before dropping six straight. To reach the postseason, the Blue Devils needed consecutive wins over Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. They did just that and are going to a bowl for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
Purdue: The Boilermakers won seven games in four seasons under Darrell Hazell. In its first season with Jeff Brohm as head coach, Purdue now has the chance to match that total. Behind 217 rushing yards from Markell Jones (who entered the season with 263 yards), the Boilermakers picked up win No. 6 on the year with a 31-24 decision over rival Indiana. The win marked two occasions: Purdue’s first win over IU since 2012 and its first bowl berth since 2012. Many wondered if the Boilermakers would win a single Big Ten game this season, now they’re going to a bowl.
Ed Oliver: Houston has had a quiet season in Year 1 under Major Applewhite, but UH closed out the regular season with a solid 24-14 win over Navy. In the win, UH’s seventh on the year, star defensive lineman Ed Oliver was all over the field. The sophomore finished the game with 14 tackles, two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss going against Navy’s vaunted option offense. Those numbers from the defensive tackle position are something you don’t often see. Oliver is a special player.
Jordan Lasley: For a second straight week, UCLA WR Jordan Lasley had more than 200 yards receiving. His effort on Friday night — 12 catches for 227 yards and a touchdown in a 30-27 win over Cal — helped the Bruins clinch bowl eligibility. Despite missing four games, Lasley has 61 catches for 1,138 yards and eight touchdowns.
Toledo: For the first time since 2004, Toledo will play in the MAC title game. Despite the strange Friday morning start, the Rockets came out strong and knocked off Western Michigan 37-10 to win the MAC West. Logan Woodside threw for 300 yards in the win, which gave Toledo a 10-2 record heading into next week’s championship game in Detroit, where it will face MAC East champion Akron.
Vanderbilt: Entering Saturday night’s game in Knoxville, rivals Vanderbilt and Tennessee were both 0-7 in SEC play, so something had to give. Vanderbilt made sure it was not going to finish the season with a goose egg in conference play, so it put a beatdown on the Vols in a 42-24 win. Vandy held a 21-17 lead entering the fourth quarter, but pulled away with touchdowns on three straight drives, including a 20-yard score by senior RB Ralph Webb. Webb finished with 163 yards and two scores. He was proud to put the cap on a terrible season for Tennessee.
Ralph Webb after Vandy beat Tennessee 42-24: "It was an honor to give Tennesee their first 8-loss season"
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) November 26, 2017
D.J. Ward: The Oklahoma defensive end proposed to his girlfriend Taylor on Senior Day. She said yes!
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) November 25, 2017
Lincoln Riley was probably relieved:
Lincoln Riley said DJ Ward asked him two weeks ago about proposing on senior day. Riley gave him his blessing to do so, but then began wondering what might happened if she said no. Fortunately for the Sooners, she said yes.
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) November 26, 2017
Temple: After starting the season 3-5, Temple won three of its final four games to clinch a bowl in Geoff Collins’ first season. Putting junior Frank Nutile into the starting lineup at QB has been a big part of the turnaround. Nutile threw for 262 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday’s 43-22 win over Tulsa. Thanks to the Owls, there will be no 5-7 teams in bowl games this season.
Temple's win means there will be at least 78 teams to reach 6 wins and bowl eligibility.
— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) November 26, 2017
New Mexico State: After beating Idaho 17-10 at home on Saturday, NMSU is now one win away from potentially playing in its first bowl game since 1960. Now 5-6, the Aggies host South Alabama next weekend in a game that will mark the end of the Joey Jones era at USA. If NMSU wins, the school will be hoping for a friendly bowl site because a long trip may prove too costly. NMSU would love to play in the Arizona Bowl. If, of course, it beats South Alabama.
UNLV: UNLV had a chance to play in a bowl game for just the fifth time in program history, but the Rebels lost to rival Nevada, 23-16. Nevada entered the day with just two wins on the season, but the Wolf Pack put up 411 yards on offense and came back from a 16-9 deficit in the second half to pull off the upset. That season-opening loss to FCS Howard really stings now with the Rebels finishing 5-7.
Nevada celebrated accordingly:
Connecticut: UConn lost in a brutal way at Cincinnati. Down 22-15, UConn got an untimed down at the Cincy 2-yard line after a pass interference penalty. Quarterback David Pindell found wide receiver Hergy Mayala for a touchdown. Initially, coach Randy Edsall wanted to go for two and the win, but Mayala was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for standing over a Cincy defender after catching the touchdown.
The flag pushed UConn back 15 yards, so the kicking unit came out to try a long extra point that would sent the game to overtime. Michael Tarbutt pulled the kick left and UConn lost 22-21.
East Carolina: ECU’s miserable season came to a fitting end. The team’s defense was so bad early in the year that the defensive coordinator was let go. After allowing 70 points and 635 yards in a 70-13 loss to No. 20 Memphis, it might be time to get that defensive coordinator search underway. ECU finished the year 3-9.
Todd Graham: Arizona State beat rival Arizona 42-30 in the Territorial Cup to finish the regular season 7-5. It might not be enough for head coach Todd Graham to keep his job. Entering the weekend, our Pete Thamel reported that there was “increasing speculation” the ASU job would open. This won’t help the speculation:
Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson would not comment on Coach Todd Graham’s future after the game: “No comment” was all he said.
— Craig Morgan (@craigsmorgan) November 26, 2017
UTEP: UTEP completed its winless season, dropping a 28-7 decision to UAB on Saturday. The Miners were the only FBS team not to win a game in 2017. Sean Kugler resigned as head coach in October. Whoever the new coach ends up being is in for a big challenge.
Louisiana-Lafayette: ULL had a chance to clinch bowl eligibility on Saturday but lost to Georgia Southern, a team that was winless entering last week. At 5-6, The Ragin’ Cajuns now need to beat Sun Belt co-leaders Appalachian State to reach a bowl game. App State will be after a conference title, so it won’t be an easy task. ULL could end up missing out on the postseason for the second time in three seasons.
Rutgers: Not only did the toilets in Rutgers’ stadium stop working during the 40-7 loss to Michigan State in which the Scarlet Knights had the ball for just 12 minutes (for real), the team’s punter fell while getting his leg warmed up:
That prompted this look from a Rutgers assistant:
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) November 25, 2017
Texas: After the Longhorns hired Houston coach Tom Herman, many UT fans had dreams of a nine or 10-win season. How about 6-6? Texas lost to Texas Tech at home on Friday night to finish the regular season at .500. Tech scored a touchdown with less than two minutes left to get a 27-23 lead.
The comeback happened thanks to quarterback Nic Shimonek, the team’s starter for most of the season. Shimonek was benched to start Friday’s game in favor of freshman McLane Carter, but came in and saved the day for the Red Raiders. Tech’s also going bowling too. The win moves Tech to 6-6.
Boise State: The Broncos’ game vs. Fresno State didn’t mean anything for the Mountain West, right?. The two teams are locked into the title game and will play each other next week. And Boise State’s hopes of a New Year’s Six bowl are gone.
Fresno State won the game 28-17 to give Boise its third loss of the season. That third loss means the winner of the American title game between Central Florida and Memphis will undoubtedly be the Group of Five representative in the New Year’s Six bowl games.
And Boise may not get to host the title game either. This could really be a costly loss.
By virtue of @FresnoStateFB's 28-17 victory over @BroncoSportsFB, the host of the 2017 #MWFB Championship Game between the Bulldogs and Broncos will be determined by composite computer rankings. The @MountainWest will announce the host on Sunday at 10 a.m. MT/9 a.m. PT.
— Mountain West (@MountainWest) November 26, 2017
Wyoming: The Cowboys’ star QB Josh Allen didn’t play on Saturday. But is that an excuse for losing to previously 1-10 San Jose State?
The Spartans entered the game on a 10-game losing streak but got a third-straight win over the Cowboys thanks to a 44-yard touchdown by DeJon Packer with 2:09 left in the game. It’s the first MWC win of the season for San Jose State and the first in the career of SJSU coach Brent Brennan.