College Football Playoff Path: Who’s In After Week 3

    All of a sudden, everything has been shaken up with Alabama and USC losing conference home games and with Ohio State looking awful. Who'd be in the playoff right now? What happened this week that mattered?

    September 21, 2015

    Path To The College Football Playoff: Week 3

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    Are Alabama and USC dead?

    Not only did the Crimson Tide and Trojans lose, they lost at home in their conference openers. Being a two-loss conference champ might still be enough to get either one of the two superpowers into the playoff, but, realistically, there’s no more margin for error after what happened last weekend.

    With USC still having to go on the road to face Arizona State, Notre Dame, Cal and Oregon – fine, and Colorado, too – along with home games against Washington, Utah, Arizona and UCLA, there’s no real breather whatsoever. Good luck going 11-1 if the team is anywhere near as soft as it was in the loss to Stanford.

    Alabama knows what it did wrong, giving the ball away five times in the loss to Ole Miss, but now there are more quarterback question marks than before. The schedule has more layups on it than USC’s brutal slate, but the Crimson Tide still have to go to Georgia, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn, along with home games against Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU.

    Even if both teams make it through to 11-1, they still have to face a conference championship game. Bama would likely have to deal with Georgia, while USC would have to get past Oregon, or even Stanford in a rematch.

    On the plus side, these two are probably better than everyone else on their respective schedules. Even so, there a lot of pressure to be perfect for ten weeks straight.

    Here’s what else we learned from Week Three on the Path to the Playoff.

    Does Ohio State deserve to be in the top four?

    Work with me here.

    I know Ohio State is the most talented team in college football. You know Ohio State is the most talented team in college football. We all know Ohio State is going to show it’s the most talented team in college football when the lights go on. However, if the sports world as we know it were to end right now and the College Football Playoff committee had to pick the four best teams based solely on what has happened on the field, the Buckeyes don’t get in.

    And neither does Coaches Poll No. 2 and AP No. 3 TCU, and neither does Coaches Poll No. 4 and AP No. 5 Baylor.

    At the immediate moment, Ole Miss would have to be one of the four, scoring close to 200 points in three games highlighted by best win of the season last weekend against Alabama.

    Michigan State would be one of the four with its win over Oregon as the signature moment, and a second SEC team – LSU – would probably deserve the nod after beating Mississippi State on the road and blowing out Auburn (the Tigers are still ranked in the Coaches Poll).

    If it’s not LSU, based on the way it’s currently playing, then Oklahoma would have to get in for its win at Tennessee. And if you’re really going to do this, as crazy as this might sound, Northwestern has to get a look as the team that beat the team – Stanford – that beat USC.

    Based on resumes, you could make a case for Notre Dame, Texas A&M and UCLA, too.

    But for right now, if this was Penn State or Nebraska or Wisconsin with Ohio State’s first three performance splayed the exact same way with the exact same outcomes, there’s no chance any one of them would be No. 1.

    Ohio State was sloppy against Hawaii, even in a 38-0 win. It was sluggish for a stretch against Virginia Tech until Adolphus Washington applied an atomic full body squish on Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer. And then came last week, when the offense couldn’t do a thing against a plucky Northern Illinois.

    So should a team with this much talent that’s facing this mediocre a schedule and is still 104th in the nation in passing, 75th in total offense, and not playing up to its billing be automatically kept at No. 1 based on what it did last year?

    No, and that could be a big talking point going forward.

    Bret Bielema really was right – this schedule just isn’t that hard. It won’t matter as long as the Buckeyes win the Big Ten title at 12-1, at worst, and last year it took a little while to warm up, too. But as long as the team keeps playing as poorly as it has – at least offensively; the defense has been lights out – it might not deserve the benefit of the doubt if it finishes 11-1 and that one loss is …

    For the second week in a row: Really, Michigan State vs. Ohio State is set up to become a really big deal

    After weeks and weeks of buildup, Michigan and Ohio State – both unbeaten – met to end the 2006 regular season in the biggest and best game in the history of the rivalry.

    In 2005 it was Vince Young’s Texas and Reggie Bush/Matt Leinart’s USC dominating all year long on the way to the epic Rose Bowl.

    2015 Ohio State vs. Michigan State won’t be in that same class as the games roll on – partly because there’s a chance it won’t mean that much if both get into the playoff – but in terms of media attention and hype, it might not be that far off.

    I mentioned this exact same thing last week about the possible importance of the Big Ten Game of the Year after Michigan State beat Oregon, but now, with the Alabama loss to Ole Miss, and the Spartans moving up to No. 2 in the AP Poll – I know, I know, the CFP types don’t even acknowledge that other polls exist, and rightly so – there really is all-time greatness potential on November 21st.

    It would be nice if Ohio State started playing college football like it’s supposed to, but that’ll come after ripping through Western Michigan, at Indiana, Maryland, Penn State, at Rutgers – sweet fancy Moses was Bielema on to something – Minnesota, and at Illinois. And then, if OSU is 11-0, the year-ender at Michigan will take on a life of its own.

    Michigan State has to go to Michigan on October 17th, and going to Nebraska on November 7th might be interesting, but if all goes according to plan, getting through those two games, along with Central Michigan, Purdue, at Rutgers, Indiana and Maryland, shouldn’t be a problem.

    The key will be for both teams to come into the game roaring. Do that, and the loser has a great chance of getting in.

    The SEC is no longer a lock

    Forgetting what happened during bowl season, last year the SEC West came up with the greatest non-division/non-conference season in the history of college football. The league had so much juice that had Missouri beaten Alabama in the SEC title game, even with a blowout loss to Georgia and a loss to Indiana, it would’ve been almost impossible to keep the SEC champ out of the playoff.

    This year, it might not be a problem.

    With Arkansas losing to Texas Tech and Toledo, and with Tennessee’s loss to Oklahoma, and with Auburn stinking against Jacksonville State, and with Missouri looking awful despite its 3-0 start, and with Florida looking mediocre despite its 3-0 start, and with Kentucky losing to that mediocre-looking Florida team, and with South Carolina playing awful despite the win over North Carolina, and with Vanderbilt losing to WKU, and with Mississippi State already with one conference home loss, now this doesn’t seem like the be-all-end-all conference it’s assumed to be.

    It’s still the most talented league by far, and Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, Georgia and Texas A&M are all killers who’d be in the hunt for any other conference title chase, but now it’s no longer a mortal lock that a two-loss champ gets in because the cannibalization theory. The SEC champion had better be unbeaten or have just one loss.

    The BYU loss was just good enough.

    We all had a few laughs, and we all enjoyed ourselves, but now it’s over for BYU.

    Or is it?

    The loss to UCLA means BYU is probably on to the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl vs. the Pac-12 or the Hawaii Bowl vs. the American Athletic. However, the 24-23 loss was just respectable enough to make this week’s showdown at Michigan this week mean something. Win that with some panache, roll through Connecticut, East Carolina, Cincinnati, Wagner, and at San Jose State, and things might set up nicely to make the date with Missouri in Kansas City on November 14th meaningful – especially if UCLA has a huge year to give the one loss a little something extra. Beat Fresno State and Utah State to close things out, and 11-1 might be an attractive option depending on what happens in the conference championships.

    Based On What Happened So Far, RIGHT NOW, The CFP Would Be …

    1. Ohio State. There would be a debate for the No. 1 spot, and the Buckeyes wouldn’t deserve it, but the general belief that this is still the top team wouldn’t go away.

    2. Ole Miss. The win in Alabama and the 149 points scores in the first two games would make the Rebels a lock.

    3. Michigan State. Beating Oregon will carry more and more weight as the year goes on.

    4. Oklahoma. TCU and Baylor would be talked about here, but neither one has a win as good as OU’s victory over Tennessee.

    At The End Of The Fun, The CFP Will Be

    1. Ohio State/Michigan State winner. Michigan could be the X factor, getting both rivals at home.
    2. Ole Miss. The four remaining road games are at Florida, Memphis, Auburn and Mississippi State. Split against Texas A&M and LSU at home, and the Rebels are in the SEC title game.
    3. Oklahoma. There will be a loss along the way in an improved Big 12, but the team is going to get better as the year goes on.
    4. UCLA. Want … to jump off of … my preseason pick … but can’t … bring myself … to do it.

    WATCH: Ole Miss’ Denzel Nkemdiche Delivers Monster Hit

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