Georgia Tech got a miracle to beat Florida State and USC thumped Utah. Still, the biggest Playoff implications moment this week came from an event that wasn’t even a game result. Baylor’s star quarterback Seth Russell fractured a bone in his neck against Iowa State this week. What will the committee do when judging the Bears?
We saw something apparently similar last year, but it really wasn’t the same at all. Ohio State lost JT Barrett to injury before the Big Ten Championship Game, but the committee put the Buckeyes in anyway. Maybe it was because Cardale Jones thumped Wisconsin 59-0. Or maybe it was just because Ohio State’s resume deserved it anyway. But in that case, Barrett was done for the season and everyone knew it. He wasn’t coming back. We have no idea if that’s what is happening here.
If Russell is done for the year, then Baylor will be judged on their resume. If they win out, they’re in anyway. And they will have proved it with Russell’s replacement, so there is really nothing to discuss. All of their difficult games are yet to come and if they run the table without Russell they’ve proven themselves a worthy team.
No, the fascinating conundrum to think about is what happens if Baylor loses a game but then Russell comes back. We know that the committee can “take injuries into account”. If it’s a close game against Kansas State in two weeks but then Baylor wins out after Russell comes back, will the committee essentially give Baylor a pass for that loss without their quarterback? We know that the committee can; it’s explicitly written among the things they should take into account. But will they actually do such a thing? We have no precedent and no way to judge. The only way to find out is to wait and see if the case ever comes up.
Week 8 CFP Implications: Teams Still in College Football Playoff Contention
You might notice that our list of teams still alive here at CFP Implications has more teams than almost anywhere else that provides these lists. That’s because we only eliminate teams when there is no way to see them get into the Playoff. We never want to have to un-eliminate a team. So as long as there is some not-completely-insane scenario where a team could end up in the Top 4, we’re going to keep them alive. So while we won’t assume a scenario where the whole country ends up 8-4, we do still have Northwestern alive, even though that requires Iowa losing two games (more on that later).
There is still a ton of football to be played. That means there are a ton of potential scenarios and we can’t eliminate teams while any of those scenarios has them alive. Even so, after eight weeks in the season we are down to just 30 contenders, with Cal, Arizona, and Auburn being eliminated this week. And, if we’re being honest with ourselves, Toledo never really has a chance anyway.
AAC: Houston, Memphis, Temple
ACC: Florida State, Clemson, Duke, Pitt, North Carolina
Big Ten: Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State, Iowa, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Big XII: TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Mountain West: None
Pac 12: Utah, Stanford, UCLA
SEC: Florida, LSU, Texas A&M, Alabama, Mississippi, Mississippi State
Sun Belt: None
Independents: Notre Dame
An interesting quirk of the way we are eliminating teams is that we can end up finally eliminating teams even if they don’t lose another game. This makes complete sense, even if it’s not the way we’re used to seeing it. We feel like teams shouldn’t be eliminated after a win in college football. We are used to wins meaning the status quo stays the same. But in reality, why should the CFP race be any different than any other race in sports? Teams who win are eliminated from playoffs all the time when teams ahead of them also keep winning. Right now there are tons of possibilities, including lots of top teams losing. As games move on and those top teams don’t lose, the scenarios in which the trailing teams can gain ground become fewer and fewer.
A perfect example of this is Northwestern. Northwestern is a fascinating team for several reasons, most notable for the fact that the polls currently seriously undervalue them. If we are looking at a pure resume standpoint, Northwestern should be ranked pretty high. They have two wins over ranked teams (including one over a consensus Top 10 team) and their losses are also both to teams ranked in the Top 15. That resume should put Northwestern somewhere between 15-20, and definitely ahead of wherever Duke currently is. Northwestern is also a fascinating team because their Playoff hopes aren’t dead yet, even if they are pretty small.
So what is Northwestern’s Playoff hope? First of all, they would need to win the Big Ten. A two-loss team will make the Playoff eventually, even if it doesn’t happen this year. But it will be very hard for a two-loss team that doesn’t win their conference to get in. Even more importantly, though, Northwestern will need the resume boost that a win over top-ranked Ohio State would come with. So Northwestern needs to win the Big Ten. They also need their two huge nonconference wins (Stanford and Duke) to keep on gaining value. So if Duke or Stanford (or both) start losing games, Northwestern’s chances will decrease. Of course, Northwestern would need Iowa to lose three Big Ten games just to get into the Big Ten Championship Game. So as soon as Iowa clinches the Big Ten West, or as soon as Duke starts dropping ACC games, we will eliminate Northwestern, even if the Wildcats run the table from here and finish 10-2. Their resume just won’t be good enough with those two losses unless everything is perfect from here for them.
That is just one example of why a team isn’t eliminated. It wouldn’t be completely insane to see Iowa collapse; teams have collapsed before. It is, however, highly unlikely. And we could write a whole article detailing exactly why each of those teams I have still alive is still alive (believe me, I wish I had the time to do that). Eliminations will really start to speed up around Week 10 as the long-shot scenarios get eliminated. From there, we will have a list of probably 10-12 contenders who are alive in the last few weeks of the season.
Which teams are in the drivers’ seats right now? It’s still too early to tell. Four undefeated power conference champions won’t ever happen, but we can’t yet pinpoint which conference will be the next to fall. Until then, Stanford can’t be completely certain in their safety if they win out. They look like a strong team, though, and will have a tremendous resume when all is said and done. They, along with Alabama, are currently leading the one-loss pack.
Every undefeated power conference team knows that they control their own destiny now. An undefeated power conference team won’t ever be left out, but we can officially say that those remaining can determine their own fate. If there is an upset, though, the ACC is currently in the most precarious position, albeit an interesting one. The Coastal Division currently has three one-loss teams. All three of those only lost games to Power Five non-conference opponents. The committee won’t want to punish teams for playing good non-conference games. On the other hand, none of them have any wins of note and won’t earn any until the ACC Championship Game (aside from Pitt, who has an upcoming game against Notre Dame). If one of those teams were to win the ACC, it would make for a very interesting debate for the committee, especially if we see a few upsets elsewhere.
And we cannot forget about the AAC lurking with their three undefeated teams. Last week, the conference’s slim-to-none Playoff chances hinged on Memphis against Ole Miss, and the Tigers delivered in a big way. Now those just-barely-larger Playoff hopes hang on Temple against Notre Dame and Houston against Vanderbilt (but mostly on Temple). If either of those two games end in losses, the Playoff hopes are done. But if both of those teams win this week, the AAC will stay in the Playoff picture until the season ends.