College Football Playoff Path: Who's in after Week 2
While the world spent Week Two focusing on the high-profile gaffe (Arkansas), the close-calls (Auburn, Notre Dame), and the statements (Michigan State, Oklahoma), lurking in the playoff weeds are a slew of really interesting, really hot 2014 TCU-like possibilities on the verge of taking center stage.
Coming up with a large first week is nice, but do it two weeks in a row, and then it's time to start paying attention.
It's easy to put up massive numbers and look impressive when playing Paycheck State, but soon the pretenders are going to be separated from the contenders.
Along with deepest regrets and sincerest apologies for making the world a dumber place by using horrendous clichés, and before diving into the key parts of the playoff puzzle from this past weekend, here are the five – plus one - teams that you didn't pay any attention to in the offseason, but are one splashy win this week away from becoming a big flipping deal.
There can only be one, considering they play at the end of the regular season.
Illinois might have the most interesting story of the college football season if this really all works. Team deals with scandal, team loses coach, team plays out of its mind.
The success has come against Kent State and Western Illinois, but while other teams are sputtering and struggling to hit their two-foot putts, Illinois has started the season winning 96-3 with absolutely no hiccups at any point. Beat North Carolina on the road, and with Middle Tennessee to follow, the national attention will come for the home game against Nebraska.
Meanwhile, Northwestern's defensive gem pitched against Stanford still resonates. The D is third in the nation allowing just 378 yards and six points so far, but it's more than that. Both lines are popping, Justin Jackson is grinding up yards, and this has looked like Pat Fitzgerald's toughest team yet. Up next is Duke on the road, followed up by Ball State and Michigan at home. There's no Ohio State and no Michigan State on the slate – the schedule works out nicely.
Forgetting that the team is two 78%-dumb-luck passes away from being an 0-2 afterthought, it did beat Nebraska on the road and managed to stop Boise State. There's no ground game and there's no pass defense, but if the Cougars can beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl this week, then it's on to Michigan with the spotlight on. Win that, and it's smooth sailing until mid-November against Missouri.
3. West Virginia
Really, really quietly, the Mountaineers have been razor-sharp. Liberty is a real, live FCS playoff team the Mountaineers demolished, and the 44-0 win over a Georgia Southern squad that just destroyed Western Michigan is better than you think – or would think if you gave that game some thought. Maryland is up next, and then comes the murderer's row with three road games in four against Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU. At the very least, the Mountaineers will get their at-bats.
2. Ole Miss
76-3 over UT Martin. Yawn. 73-21 over Fresno State. Interesting. Trip to Alabama this weekend? Win this game two years in a row, and with Texas A&M, Arkansas and LSU in Oxford, look out.
1. Georgia Tech
Baylor would've gotten in, but had Georgia Tech pulled off the upset over unbeaten Florida State in the 2014 ACC Championship, instead of losing 37-35, even at 11-2, it would've had an interesting playoff case. This time around, the Yellow Jackets had to replace most of their top backs along with a slew of their great receivers, and it hasn't mattered beating Alcorn and Tulane by a combined score of 134-16 with 947 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in the first two games. Four teams didn't run for that many yards all of last year, and 26 didn't run for that many touchdowns. You want attention? Beat Notre Dame in South Bend this week.
Here's what else we learned from Week Two on the Path to the Playoff.
Now Michigan State vs. Ohio State really is a big deal
Had Michigan State hung on to beat Oregon in Eugene last season, and if everything else played out as it did, Baylor would've made the playoff. This time around, with the win over the Ducks in East Lansing Saturday night, the potential is there for a nasty top five – possibly No. 1 vs. 2 – showdown in November when MSU goes to Columbus. Because Michigan State got the big street cred non-conference win – and don't blow off Ohio State's whacking of Virginia Tech, too – now the potential is there for the loser of the Big Ten showdown to be in the playoff, too. Theoretically, if the winner of that game is unbeaten and ranked No. 1, the loser – if the only loss is in that game – might be No. 2. If Oregon rolls from here and wins the Pac-12 title, then a one-loss Spartan-Buckeye loser stock will stay through the roof.
Everyone hates the SEC
The SEC went 6-2 in non-conference games this weekend for an 18-3 start to the season – by far the best among the Power 5 conferences. However, one Missouri struggle against an Arkansas State team that got throttled by USC, one bad Arkansas loss to a Toledo team that's probably going to win the MAC, one Tennessee tough overtime loss to Big 12 title contender Oklahoma, and one close Auburn call against Jacksonville State have all of a sudden provided a crack of hope for those outside of the SEC who care about the My Conference Is Better debate.
Public perception won't matter to the playoff committee – at least it shouldn't – but if there are more SEC non-conference problems, it could be a tough PR fight if and when a two-loss champion SEC champion is selected over a one-loss champion from another Power Five conference. There's no question a one-loss SEC champion will get in, but weekends like this are exactly what fans outside of the SEC are looking to pounce on.
This is why ...
Oklahoma had to beat Tennessee
With Texas looking lousy against Notre Dame, TCU struggling against Minnesota, and most of the other conference teams not exactly extending themselves in the first two weekends with just four total games against Power Five/Notre Dame teams – and going 1-2 before kickoff in Knoxville – the pressure was on Oklahoma to come away from Tennessee with a statement. Give or take a spot here or there, Tennessee is probably the fourth-best team in the SEC, at worst about eighth, but it's not Alabama. Meanwhile, Oklahoma is right there at the top of its conference food chain this season along with TCU and Baylor – the Big 12 needed a feather for its playoff cap.
The Big 12 didn't need Bret Bielema chirping about schedules.
With it getting late and the Vols up 17-3, it was starting to look like a deathblow for Big 12 backers who know just how much stronger the conference is this season. It might not be fair to base an entire conference on one game, but now, it sure will help Baylor or TCU if one of them beats the team that beat Tennessee in Knoxville.
Based On What Happened So Far, The CFP Would Be ...
1. Ohio State. The team gets to spend the next several weeks tinkering. It's performance art at this point.
2. Alabama. Ole Miss is playing out of its mind over the first two weeks. The Crimson Tide could make the argument for No. 1 with a good win along with the Wisconsin victor on the resume.
3. Michigan State. The win over Oregon is the best by anyone so far.
4. Oklahoma. It might not have been gorgeous, but beating Tennessee is going to look better and better as the year goes on.
At The End Of The Fun, The CFP Will Be ...
1. Ohio State/Michigan State winner. The stage is set.
2. Alabama. All of a sudden, the rest of the West doesn't seem so daunting.
3. Oklahoma. Hardly a perfect team, but 11-1 will get it done.
4. UCLA. Too many picks against UNLV, but the talent is just too good.
MORE FROM CAMPUS INSIDERS:
Pac-12 conference roundup