At some point during this season, we’ll see things like [TEAM HERE] is a legitimate national championship contender. Some of those teams will likely be the usual suspects: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Florida State; strong 2016 finishers like Penn State and USC; maybe even Michigan.
However, that’s eight teams. Unless my math is wrong, the college football playoff has just four available spots. Somebody is going to lose out on a berth. Chances are, it will be a bad loss to a team not in contention.
If you want examples of last year, think Michigan losing at Iowa or Louisville losing to Houston.
Someone is going to lose a winnable game and it will definitely be a factor for the College Football Playoff committee.
It’s hard to go undefeated in college football, evidenced by there not being an undefeated champion yet in the Playoff era. However, a benchmark seems to be established that two-loss teams won’t get into the playoff.
There’s no guarantee that these contenders will lose, but if they do, it could certainly work against them.
Alabama Crimson Tide
This is a tough one, because even if Alabama loses a conference game, the Crimson Tide will still be hanging around the top-four ranking.
The Crimson Tide are the only team to make an appearance in every Playoff. If the losses to Ole Miss a couple years ago didn’t kill their hopes, it’s hard to imagine what would.
Alabama has four true road games this season: Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn.
Of these four, the two plausible spoilers are Texas A&M and Auburn. Both teams have defeated Alabama in the last five years. I mean, come on; Vanderbilt hasn’t defeated Alabama since 1984. The Commodores likely aren’t snapping the streak this year.
Nevertheless, any of these four teams could knock off Alabama, and the committee would likely overlook the loss.
The committee will overlook an Alabama in sec play, especially, if the Tide defeat Florida State during the opening weekend of the season.
Ohio State Buckeyes
The reality is, the road loss at Penn State last season could’ve torpedoed the Buckeyes chances at the College Football Playoff, much like the Michigan State loss did to them the previous year.
However, the wins against Oklahoma and Michigan did enough to ensure Ohio State got the playoff spot over both the Wolverines and the Nittany Lions. Ohio State’s inclusion is the most controversial yet, since the Buckeyes lost to Big Ten champion Penn State head-to-head and became the first team in the Playoff without winning a conference title.
They get Oklahoma again this season and a win will likely keep them firmly in playoff consideration. That said, there are a few games that should make Ohio State faithful cautious.
The obvious one is against Michigan. Last year was a close one, filled with no shortage of controversy. Plus, the game is in Ann Arbor. It’s possible Jim Harbaugh finally gets that win over Ohio State after losses his first two years.
Another game that comes to mind is Nov. 4 at Iowa. The Hawkeyes knocked off Michigan last year. It’s possible that it can happen to Ohio State this year.
Ohio State hasn’t played at Kinnick Stadium since 2010. A lot has changed. Maybe the midfield logo throws them off.
There’s another game that is a little bit closer that could be an issue for Buckeyes. That’s the road opener at Indiana Aug. 31.
Indiana has had a lot of time to prepare for this game. Of course, Indiana hasn’t defeated Ohio State in nearly 30 years. But hey, CHAOS TEAM!
The defending national champions were upset by Pittsburgh at home last season, continuing the new tradition of Playoff winners carrying at least one loss. The Tigers also had close calls against considerable underdogs Auburn, NC State and Troy (the latter being late in the game).
Clemson secured the wins it needed, however. They had wins over Louisville and Florida State, and won the ACC Championship game over Virginia Tech. The Tigers never dropped further than fifth in the AP poll.
Chances are, Clemson will probably be in the top five for most of the 2017 season, as well. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential losses on the schedule.
The Tigers get Auburn and Louisville in back-to-back weeks. Perhaps they lose one of those games, maybe both. Maybe they stub their toe against Boston College because they looked ahead to Virginia Tech.
Okay, probably not! But Virginia Tech is one they should make them cautious.
Of course, they could just lose the Friday night road game to Syracuse.
The loss last year to Ohio State hurt the Sooners, but not nearly as much as the opener against Houston.
Even with the Sooners winning the Big 12 outright, they were still the odd team out thanks to the non-conference losses.
Ohio State is once again the team’s toughest non-conference opponent. A loss doesn’t help the Sooners, but it might not hurt them like some other dates on the schedule would.
The conference road games are intriguing. Oklahoma has Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State all away from Norman this season.
Bedlam is an obvious spoiler for the Sooners. Oklahoma State last won the rivalry matchup in 2014, and has its best lineup since the last time it beat Oklahoma in Stillwater: 2011.
Kansas State is another possible spoiler. The last two times Oklahoma went to Manhattan, it ended with losses.
The Big 12 title game is another possibility, now that it’s back in play. There’s one more rivalry game, however, that could be a really big spoiler: The only hint needed is it rhymes with the Ted River Rivalry.
The USC Trojans faced a similar situation to Oklahoma. They struggled early in the season, losing three of their first four games. But they pulled it together to win nine straight, including the Rose Bowl over Penn State in a classic.
USC had such an incredible turnaround that it finished No. 3 in the final AP Poll ahead of Washington, Oklahoma and Ohio State.
There were plenty of points late in the season when USC was suggested as a playoff candidate, even with the three losses.
USC’s noteworthy non-conference games on the schedule this season are Western Michigan, Texas and Notre Dame. With Western Michigan, it’s the not same team now that it doesn’t have PJ Fleck on the sidelines. It be fun to see Texas play a possible spoiler; not really sure the Longhorns could pull it off, though. If so, it would only be the second-most impressive Texas win over USC in Los Angeles.
As for Notre Dame, anything is possible. Notre Dame could screw it up for USC; it’s a game in South Bend in late October, after all. The weather probably won’t be as nice there as it will likely be in L.A., and the Fighting Irish claimed the Jeweled Shillelagh each of the last two times it was played under Touchdown Jesus’ watchful eye.
There’s one team…one game that could really be a dangerous one for the Trojans, and that would be the Friday night Pac-12 game at Washington State. Pullman is a pretty weird place. Watch yourself, USC!