Playoff Explanation: This post takes place in an alternate world where Division I-A college football holds a sixteen-team playoff where the eleven conference champions and five at-large bids (chosen by a committee) play in a tournament. The teams are placed in two "regions", seeded 1-8. The at-large teams are chosen on the basis of who they beat more than who they lost to with seeding working in the same way. Home games are held at the higher seed in each round until the championship, which this year is held in New Orleans. Undefeated teams automatically get at least one home game. Any bitching about whether there should be a playoff should go in any other thread, as this is all hypothetical and just for fun.
Well, it looked simple a week ago, but this weekend destroyed all of that. The time of only one-loss teams gaining entry into the tournament are over. It's time to start sorting through the mass of two-loss teams (plus Boise State). But first, where the conference races stand as of right now.
ACC: A simple formula. The winner of Virginia Tech @ Virginia takes on Clemson for the auto-bid.
Big 12: Kansas State has no chance at winning the auto-bid with losses to both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. So, despite both teams losing, it's still a winner-take-all battle in Bedlam on December 3rd.
Big East: This is a complete mess. A five team race which will almost assuredly come down to tiebreakers. Here's how everyone in the Big Five stacks up against the other members:
West Virginia: 2-1
Which means only West Virginia or Pittsburgh is guaranteed a third in-conference loss. Any guess I make here is just that. A guess. The most reasonable and least likely scenario has Louisville, Rutgers, and Cincinnati winning out, meaning it all comes down to Pittsburgh @ West Virginia. A Pitt win hands the title to Rutgers. A West Virginia win gives themselves the auto-bid. Next week should be more coherent. It will at least have scenarios for every possible outcome.
B1G: Michigan State plays the winner of Penn State @ Wisconsin in Indianapolis.
C-USA: The chaos actually started Thursday when Southern Miss fell to UAB, meaning that the Golden Eagles still need to beat Memphis to clinch the East. If they fail to do so, the door opens up for Marshall, who would take the division if they can take out East Carolina. Out West, it all comes down to the two undefeated teams in Conference USA as the winner of Houston @ Tulsa goes to the title game. And no, I don't think a one-loss Houston team has any chance at an at-large bid.
MAC: Ohio has clinched the East. In the West, Toledo needs to win at Ball State while Northern Illinois loses to Eastern Michigan. Otherwise, the Huskies meet the Rockets for the MAC title.
Mountain West: With wins over Boise State and Wyoming in hand, TCU has clinched the autobid.
Pac-12: Stanford needs Oregon to lose the Civil War to win the Pac-12 North. In the South, UCLA advances with either a win over USC or a loss by Utah to Colorado.
SEC: Georgia has clinched the East. The West will either be won by LSU or be thrown into a tiebreaking nightmare if Arkansas pulls the upset. That is if Auburn doesn't upset Alabama as well.
Sun Belt: With a win over Louisiana-Lafayette in hand, Arkansas State has clinched the auto-bid.
WAC: After a win over Nevada, Louisiana Tech is in the driver's seat to win the WAC, needing only a win over New Mexico State to take it.
So, with all of that in mind, here are my conference champs/leaders for this week (clinched bids in bold)
ACC: Virginia Tech
Big 12: Oklahoma State
Big East: West Virginia
MAC: Northern Illinois
Sun Belt: Arkansas State
At-Large: Which means it's time to get into the at-large bids. As of right now, three are completely obvious. Alabama, Arkansas, and Stanford all have just one loss and at least one legitimate marquee win (Alabama has Arkansas and Penn State, Arkansas has South Carolina, Stanford has USC). After that, it's time to start trimming the fat of all the at-large pretenders. Initially included are all two-loss teams from major conferences and one-loss teams from mid-majors. And my choices are based only on what has happened thus far, not what will happen.
Georgia's best win is Auburn, and they had a chance with both Boise State and South Carolina on their schedule. It's SEC title or bust for them.
Michigan's loss to Michigan State keeps them behind the Spartans in the pecking order, and they have no chance of riding wins over Notre Dame and Nebraska to a bid.
Penn State has played exactly two decent teams in Alabama and Nebraska, and they lost both. Their best win is probably over Iowa, which means they have no chance this week.
Kansas State's losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State coupled with their best win being Baylor keep the Wildcats out.
With those four teams out, we're left with five teams holding a marquee win (a win over a team with two losses or fewer) in Oklahoma, Michigan State, Clemson, South Carolina, and Boise State. In fact, one team has two such wins. That team is Michigan State, who is my pick for the fourth at-large bid with wins over Michigan and Wisconsin in their back pocket. The other bid goes to Clemson, despite their loss to North Carolina State last night, the win over Virginia Tech looks better every week, and their second and third best wins are Florida State and Auburn, which are better than any of the other contenders.
Oklahoma's win over Kansas State with wins over Florida State and Texas give them the best argument. Their losses of Texas Tech and Baylor look better than Clemson's losses of NC State and Georgia Tech, but the Virginia Tech win looks a lot better than the Kansas State win right now. South Carolina has a Georgia win with little else. Boise State also has a win over Georgia, but also has a whole lot of nothing as far as further meat on their schedule. They need help to get in.
1: LSU, Alabama (LSU is obvious with wins over Oregon and Alabama and no losses. Alabama's wins over Arkansas and Penn State give them the second top seed.)
2: Oklahoma State, Arkansas (Oklahoma State's wins over Kansas State and Baylor keep them this high. Arkansas has South Carolina and an understandable loss to Alabama.)
3: Stanford, Virginia Tech (Stanford's win over USC looks even better after last night. Virginia Tech has no big wins, but remain the ACC favorite.)
4: Oregon, Houston (Houston is undefeated and should remain so the rest of the way. Oregon has the win over Stanford to buoy two losses to good teams and keep them in the last spot for a home game.)
5: Michigan State, Clemson (The Spartans could argue for a spot in the Top 8 and a home game with their resume. Clemson's nice win over Virginia Tech seeds them ahead of the other teams.)
6: Wisconsin, TCU (Wisconsin's best win is over Nebraska, TCU has a big win over Boise State, but both have nothing else to put them ahead of the other teams.)
7: West Virginia, Arkansas State (Down here, no one has good wins. West Virginia's best is over Maryland. While only Arkansas State's undefeated Sun Belt record keeps them off the bottom line.)
8: Northern Illinois, Louisiana Tech (Auto-bids for those who truly need them.)
Games to Watch:
The Big Ones:
Houston @ Tulsa (Friday) 12:00 PM (De Facto C-USA West Title Game)
Arkansas @ LSU 2:30 PM (Friday) (Could decide SEC West, #1 seed)
Pittsburgh @ West Virginia (Friday) 7:00 PM (ALL BIG EAST GAMES MATTER, ESPECIALLY THIS ONE)
Virginia Tech @ Virginia 3:30 PM (Winner takes the ACC Coastal. Doubtful either team survives a loss)
Penn State @ Wisconsin 3:30 PM (Winner takes the B1G Leaders. Doubtful either team survives a loss)
Clemson @ South Carolina 7:45 PM (Rivalry game, At-large Elimination game)
Eastern Michigan @ Northern Illinois, 11:00 AM (NIU clinches MAC West with victory)
Louisville @ South Florida 12:00 PM (ALL BIG EAST GAMES MATTER)
Toledo @ Ball State 2:00 PM (Only matters if NIU loses)
Colorado @ Utah 3:30 PM (Utah still could win the Pac-12 South)
Iowa State @ Oklahoma 12:00 PM (Oklahoma needs a win to stay in at-large consideration)
Georgia @ Georgia Tech 12:00 PM (Georgia's slim at-large hopes die with a loss to the Yellow Jackets)
Michigan State @ Northwestern 12:00 PM (Michigan State's solid at-large would die with a loss as well)
Ohio State @ Michigan 12:00 PM (See above, but closer to Georgia than the Spartans)
Rutgers @ Connecticut 12:00 PM (ALL BIG EAST GAMES MATTER)
Cincinnati @ Syracuse 12:00 PM (ALL BIG EAST GAMES MATTER)
Wyoming @ Boise State 2:00 PM (Boise still has a chance, but needs help)
Nevada @ Utah State 2:00 PM (Wolfpack loss gives Louisiana Tech WAC title)
Alabama @ Auburn 3:30 PM (Iron Bowl could be to force 3-way tie with Arkansas win. Or it could keep Alabama in line for a #1 seed)
Oregon State @ Oregon 3:30 PM (This game decides whether Oregon or Stanford goes to Pac-12 Title Game. A loss likely eliminates the Ducks)
East Carolina @ Marshall 3:30 PM (Marshall wins C-USA East with win and Southern Miss loss)
Memphis @ Southern Mississippi 4:00 PM (Southern Miss can win the C-USA East with a win)
New Mexico State @ Louisiana Tech 4:00 PM (Louisana Tech wins WAC with a win)
Notre Dame @ Stanford 8:00 PM (Stanford needs a win to keep lock on at-large bid)
UCLA @ USC (The Bruins will know whether they have to knock of the Trojans to take the Pac-12 South's bid in the Pac-12 Championshp Game)
That's twenty-five games that could have major effects on who goes to the playoff. I'll be back next week with championship week and I leave you with a reminder that championship game losses don't destroy a team's at-large chances as the committee has an attitude that a team should not be penalized for winning its division.