Entering Week 11, the College Football Playoff looked pretty straight forward. But then chaos happened.
No. 2 Clemson lost 43-42 to Pittsburgh.
No. 3 Michigan lost 14-13 to Iowa.
No. 4 Washington lost 26-13 to USC.
No. 8 Texas A&M lost 29-28 to Mississippi.
No. 9 Auburn lost 13-7 to Georgia.
All of a sudden, a clear four-team playoff of undefeated teams is gone and three of the four spots are seemingly up in the air.
With only two weeks to go in the regular season, here is a look at who's in, who controls their own destiny, and who still needs help, while at the same time acknowledging that 8-9 teams have a legitimate claim to one of the four playoff spots (ranking entering the weekend in parentheses).
Teams that are in the playoff:
Alabama (10-0, No. 1) — The Tide are the lone unbeaten team and if they win their remaining games against Chattanooga, Auburn, and presumably Florida in the SEC title game, they are in. In fact, even if Alabama lost their regular-season finale against Auburn or lost to Florida in the SEC championship game, Alabama will still be in the playoff with one loss.
Teams that control their own destiny:
Michigan (9-1, No. 3) — Despite the last-second loss to Iowa, Michigan will still be in the playoff if they win their remaining games. That includes a game at home against Indiana, the all-important game on the road against Ohio State, and the Big Ten Championship game, against presumably Wisconsin.
Ohio State (9-1, No. 5) — Ohio State is sitting pretty as they will presumably jump up to No. 2 in the playoff ranking this week. But things are also tricky moving forward. Even if Ohio State beats Michigan State on the road and Michigan at home, they will likely not play in the Big Ten championship game as Penn State would get the tie-breaker in the East division based on their win over the Buckeyes. What Ohio State has going for them is that the Big Ten is seemingly the conference that is most likely to get two bids.
Louisville (9-1, No. 6) — The big debate is going to be Louisville versus Clemson. Entering the weekend, many thought Louisville was the second-best team in the country and many of those same people thought the Cardinals had no chance to get into the playoff without a miracle. Well, that miracle happened on Saturday. Even though Clemson is still going to play in the ACC championship game based on the tie-breaker over Louisville, it is Louisville's resume that looks so much better. Clemson did beat Louisville head-to-head. But Clemson has also had a number of close calls this season, and an ugly loss at home to an unranked team. Meanwhile, Louisville's one loss was a nail-biter on the road against a top-5 team and they have a number of impressive wins, including 63-20 over Florida State.
Wisconsin (8-2, No. 7) — Despite two losses, Wisconsin will almost certainly leap-frog other one-loss teams if they win their remaining games. They finish the regular season on the road against Purdue and at home against Minnesota. But the key is winning the Big Ten Championship game against Michigan, Ohio State, or Penn State. The Badgers do have two losses, but both were tough, one-touchdown losses to Michigan and Ohio State. If Wisconsin wins out, they will also be the all-valuable champions of arguably one of the two best conferences, something the committee values highly.
Teams that need help:
Clemson (9-1, No. 2) — The final spot at this point would appear to be between Clemson and Louisville. Despite the loss to Pitt, Clemson will still play in the ACC championship game, presumably against Virginia Tech. But Clemson not only has the ugly loss at home, they also have had close calls against Auburn, Troy, and North Carolina State. In fact, Clemson has five wins this season by seven points or fewer. It is also hard to imagine the committee will put two ACC teams in the playoff. If Louisville is in, Clemson is going to need some other one-loss teams to lose along the way to make the two-ACC-team scenario unavoidable. But at the same time, it is still possible the committee picks Clemson over Louisville.
Washington (9-1, No. 4) — Most agreed before the blood bath this weekend that Washington was only going to be in the playoff if they finished the season undefeated. Well, they lost and they are still alive, barely. Right now it looks like the four spots will go to Alabama, two Big Ten teams, and either Louisville or Clemson. The problem is the Pac-12 conference, which as a whole is now 4-30 against teams currently in the AP top 25 and one of those wins was USC's over Washington. The Huskies' best hope is that they get in as champions of a lesser conference over a non-champion from the better Big Ten. That is certainly possible and something that will be debated heavily by the committee.
Penn State (8-2, No. 10) — Penn State is the most interesting team on this list. They need help, but of the teams in this category, they may need the least amount. If Penn State beats Rutgers and Michigan State (at home) to finish the regular season and if Ohio State beats Michigan, the Nittany Lions will go to the Big Ten championship game to most likely face Wisconsin. If Penn State wins the Big Ten championship game, the committee will almost certainly put them in the playoff. This would also almost guarantee two spots for the Big Ten as Ohio State would be in also.
Oklahoma (8-2, No. 11) — It looked like Big 12 was going to be shut out of the playoff since the conference does not have a championship game and it was without any undefeated or one-loss teams. But the Sooners' can now make a strong case that their resume is as good as several of the one-loss teams. Their loss to Houston looks even worse now that Houston has since lost to Navy and SMU. But the other loss was to Ohio State and Oklahoma has now rattled off seven wins in a row, are undefeated in the conference, and have games remaining against two top-20 teams (No. 13 Oklahoma State and No. 16 West Virginia). If the Sooners win out, that Big 12 title will start to carry more weight. But the Sooners may still need Washington and Clemson to lose and for the committee to vote against two Big Ten teams in the playoff. So we're sayin' they've got a chance! (just not a good one.)
Teams that are on life support:
There are several teams that are seemingly still alive for the playoff but they not only need a lot of help, they also need the playoff committee to start looking at them in a more favorable light. This list includes No. 13 Oklahoma State (8-2, can tie for the Big 12 championship with a win over Oklahoma), No. 16 West Virginia (8-1, can tie for the Big 12 championship with a win over Oklahoma), and No. 19 Nebraska (8-2, can play in the Big Ten championship game if Wisconsin loses one of their final two regular-season games). There are also other teams that still have shots at winning the Pac-12 or the ACC (e.g. No. 12 Colorado, No. 14 Virginia Tech, No. 17 North Carolina), but the committee is more likely to leave those conferences out of the playoff than to give a spot to one of those teams.
Ranking the best college football programs of all time
Ranking the best college football programs of all time
Total wins: 878 National championships: 16* Conference titles: 25 Heisman Trophy winners: 3
In our eyes, the University of Alabama is home to the greatest program in college football history. The Tide have had massively successful runs (including their ongoing dynasty) under arguably the two greatest coaches in college football history in Bear Bryant (1958–82) and Nick Saban (2007 to the present). They have won a record 16 national titles (some people will argue that it’s only 14, though), 25 conference titles, 878 total games, and had three Heisman Trophy winners. And with the way things are shaping up, there is a good chance that the Tide will win another national championship in 2016.
Total wins: 815 National championships: 11 Conference titles: n/a Heisman Trophy winners: 7
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have never been affiliated with a specific conference, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming one of the most storied college football programs of all time. Everything from their helmets, to their stadium, to their never-ending list of All-Americans and College Football Hall of Famers, to “Touchdown Jesus” looking over their home field (see above photo) makes Notre Dame iconic. The Fighting Irish have won 815 total games, 11 national championships, and have had seven Heisman Trophy winners.
Total wins: 729 National championships: 11 Conference titles: 37 Heisman Trophy winners: 7*
The USC Trojans have been a college football powerhouse since the early ’20s. They have had three different head coaches win 100 or more games, and a fourth coach, Pete Carroll, won 97 games. During the Trojans’ run to 729 wins, 11 national titles, and 37 conference titles, they became known as “Tailback U” and served as the main football attraction in the major media market of Los Angeles from 1995–2016 while the city was without a team in the National Football League. USC is currently fighting to get back into national title contention, and with the type of talent they bring in on a yearly basis, it shouldn’t be long before we see the Trojans competing in the College Football Playoff.
*Includes the Heisman Trophy won by Reggie Bush which has since been vacated.
Total wins: 899 National championships: 11 Conference titles: 42 Heisman Trophy winners: 3
The University of Michigan is home to one of the proudest and most tradition-rich college football programs in the country. The Wolverines have won more games than any other team in the Football Bowl Subdivision; they almost always lead the nation in home game attendance figures; they have won a whopping 11 national titles and 42 conference titles; and they have 39 former coaches and players who have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Michigan is currently in the midst of a program revival under new head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has built the Wolverines into legitimate national title contenders in just his second year on the job.
Total wins: 767 National championships: 8 Conference titles: 36 Heisman Trophy winners: 7
Ohio State University is home to one of the greatest college football programs of all time. The Buckeyes have won eight national titles, 36 conference titles (34 came in the Big Ten), and 767 total games. Their seven Heisman Trophy winners ties them for the most by a single program in college football history. Few other schools can boast attendance figures that rival Ohio State’s, and Ohio Stadium (nicknamed “The Horseshoe”) is one of the most recognizable sporting venues in the country.
With head coach Urban Meyer at the helm, the Buckeyes are in the midst of yet another dominant run and should be among the top contenders to win the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in 2016.
Total wins: 808 National championships: 7 Conference titles: 44 Heisman Trophy winners: 5
The Oklahoma Sooners are one of a handful of college football programs that have withstood the test of time. They are the only program in major college football history to have four coaches each win 100 or more games during their time in Norman, Okla.. Over the last decade they have won 10 or more games in a season eight times (they have also accomplished the feat 25 times in the last 50 years); they have had five Heisman Trophy winners; and they have won 808 total games, 44 conference titles, and seven national titles. With a loaded squad that includes a serious Heisman contender in quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Sooners will likely contend for their program’s eighth national championship in 2016.
Total wins: 845 National championships: 5 Conference titles: 43 Heisman Trophy winners: 3
Ever since Bob Devaney took over as their head coach in 1962, the University of Nebraska football team has been a force to be reckoned with. Devaney’s eventual replacement, Tom Osborne, was one of the greatest football coaches (at any level) in the history of the sport and the ’99 College Football Hall of Fame inductee led the Huskers program to new heights. From 1973–97, Nebraska had 15 10-win seasons, won three national titles, and had two Heisman Trophy winners. Perhaps the greatest indication of how great this program truly is, is the fact that anything less than a 10-win season typically results in their head coaches landing in the hot seat.
Total wins: 835 National championships: 4 Conference titles: 30 Heisman Trophy winners: 2
No matter the level, football is king in Texas. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that the Texas Longhorns are among the greatest college football programs of all time. Their dominance has been somewhat forgotten as of late given their recent struggles, but when it comes down to it, 835 wins, 53 bowl game appearances, 30 conference titles, and four national titles is nothing to scoff at.
Total wins: 555 National championships: 5 Conference titles: 9 Heisman Trophy winners: 2
In the early ’80s, the Miami Hurricanes went from being one of the biggest laughingstocks in all of college football to being one of the best programs in the history of the sport. In the process of becoming “The U,” Miami went on two dynasty-esque runs. The first was from 1983–1994 under head coaches Howard Schnellenberger, and the second came during the 2000–05 seasons with Butch Jones and Larry Coker at the helm. On top of it all, there may not be a better school in the country when it comes to producing NFL talent.
Total wins: 486* National championships: 3 Conference titles: 15 Heisman Trophy winners: 3
The fact that the Florida State football program has had just two head coaches since 1974 should tell you everything you need to know about how successful the Seminoles have been throughout the years. Former FSU head coach Bobby Bowden, who coached the Noles from 1976–2009, can be credited for the program’s rise into national prominence. Current head coach Jimbo Fisher has carried on the tradition of excellence in Tallahassee. On top of churning out countless All-Americans, Florida State has also become a haven for future NFL draft picks.
Total wins: 674 National championships: 3 Conference titles: 9 Heisman Trophy winners: 3
Over the last 25 years, the Florida Gators have been one of the most dominant college football programs in the country. During that stretch of time, they have posted 14 double-digit win seasons, won eight SEC titles and three national titles, and had two Heisman Trophy winners (quarterbacks Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow).
The University of Florida football program has always been strong, but they truly became a national power in the mid-’90s when Steve Spurrier took over as the team’s head coach. They also later enjoyed an immense run of success under Urban Meyer, and despite a rough four-year run from 2011–14 under former head coach Will Muschamp, the future again looks bright in Gainesville, Fla. with new head coach Jim McElwain leading the way.