Starting 11: Oklahoma’s Playoff Hopes Vanish Edition

Three straight weeks, three straight 21+ underdog losses in college football. First came South Carolina at Georgia, then Illinois vs. Wisconsin and now Kansas State vs. Oklahoma.

A reminder, if you needed any at all, that there are no sure things in college football, even when one team looks far better than the other on paper.

The impact of Oklahoma’s loss will be seismic, likely ending any playoff hope for the Big 12. (Unless Baylor wins out, which we will discuss below).

Oklahoma’s loss also sets up the SEC particularly well for two teams to make the playoff, opening up a clear path for the loser of LSU at Alabama to slide into the playoff at 11-1, particularly if that loser is LSU.

It also opens up the possibility of two Big Ten teams in the playoff as well.

I’ll break this down more below, but for now here we go:

1. Will the SEC get two teams in the playoff?

Yes, I think they will.

How will that happen?

The most likely route to the playoff for two SEC teams is the Alabama/LSU winner goes 13-0 and the Alabama/LSU loser goes 11-1.

If that exact scenario happens, I think there’s nearly a 100% chance the SEC would get two playoff teams.

If you look at the schedules remaining, it’s hard to believe LSU will lose any game other than the Alabama. (LSU finishes at Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. I know we’ve seen three straight weeks of monumental upsets, but it’s really hard to see the Bayou Bengals dropping one of these games.)

Meanwhile Alabama finishes at Mississippi State, Western Carolina and at Auburn. The game at Auburn is the clear wild card here, but if Bama beats LSU even a loss at Auburn wouldn’t impact the Tide’s playoff hopes much. The Tide would still be in the playoff at 12-1.

So that’s scenario one — both Alabama and LSU advance to the playoff if Alabama goes 13-0 and LSU goes 11-1. (The second scenario here would be 13-0 LSU and 11-1 Alabama. I still think both teams teams get in here, but LSU has the stronger overall resume right now than Alabama does, which is why I have LSU ranked number one overall in my Outkick rankings.)

The other major scenario at play here is either Georgia or Florida wins out to finish 11-1 and then pulls off the upset against undefeated Alabama or LSU. Then Georgia or Florida would get in at 12-1 and the loser of the SEC title game, Alabama or LSU, would likely get in at 12-1.

There’s also a third scenario at play here, where the SEC could actually get three teams in the playoff.

How in the world could that happen? Either Clemson loses or the Big Ten champ ends up being a two loss team.

Then you could have a 12-1 Georgia/Florida SEC champ, a 12-1 Alabama or LSU SEC West champ losing in the SEC title game, and an 11-1 LSU or Alabama, which didn’t make the SEC title game, as the second best remaining one loss team.

Unlikely, sure.

Possible?

Definitely.

Regardless, the chances of the SEC getting two teams in the playoff skyrocketed with the Oklahoma loss and I think it’s now the most likely playoff outcome that the SEC will get two teams.

2. Okay, but is Oklahoma really done for the playoff?

Barring major upsets among the SEC’s top contenders, yes.

Oklahoma is unlikely to get a chance to avenge its loss against Kansas State because KSU isn’t really in the mix to make the playoff.

The only Big 12 team, honestly, that still is in solid control of its playoff future is Baylor, and that’s only if you think the Bears are going to go 13-0.

Right now Baylor is 7-0 and finishes with these five games: West Virginia, at TCU, Oklahoma, Texas, and at Kansas. I love the job Matt Rhule has done here — he or Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck probably deserves national coach of the year honors — but there’s no way Baylor is winning out against this schedule. And even if the Bears won these final five games they’d then have a Big 12 title game to win as well.

Okay, well, could Oklahoma get back in the playoff mix? Here’s the Sooner final four games: Iowa State, at Baylor, TCU, and at Oklahoma State. Then you’d get a rematch in the Big 12 title game, but unfortunately it’s highly unlikely to be a rematch with Kansas State.

So what are the wins here that are going to give OU a better resume than a one-loss LSU or Alabama or a one loss Oregon even?

I just don’t see it.

I think the Big 12 is finished for the playoff unless, as I said above, Baylor wins out.

3. What about Clemson?

The Tigers continue to play the weakest playoff contender schedule in big five conference history.

The ACC is absolutely atrocious.

It’s not just that everyone in the ACC has lost, it’s that everyone in the ACC has at least three losses already except for Clemson, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech.

Again, as I predicted a while back, there’s a strong chance Clemson is going to go 13-0 without a single game against a top 25 opponent in the college football playoff rankings.

That’s never happened before.

Hell, it hasn’t even come close to happening before.

That’s why Clemson has no mulligan, if the Tigers lose, I think their playoff hopes die.

4. What’s going to happen in the Big Ten?

There are three undefeated teams alive for a playoff berth: Ohio State, Penn State, and Minnesota.

Everyone else has at least two losses and is now out of the playoff mix.

All three of these undefeated teams play against each other in November.

First up is Penn State traveling to Minnesota for the biggest Golden Gopher football game since the 1930’s. (I’m not even sure this is hyperbole).

So how’s this all going to shake out?

Ohio State, I think it’s fair to say, has been the class of the Big Ten so far. They haven’t just won every game, they have won every game by 24 or more. The Buckeyes finish with this quad: Maryland, at Rutgers, Penn State and at Michigan. Leaving aside the first two games here — how many points would you need to bet on Maryland or Rutgers in these games? 50+? — Ohio State will enter the final two weeks of the season 10-0, interestingly, with far more at stake vs. Penn State than against Michigan.

How so?

The Penn State game will be for the Big Ten East title. If Ohio State beats Penn State then loses to Michigan it won’t really matter that much, a 12-1 Ohio State that wins the Big Ten title would still be in the playoff even with a loss at Michigan.

So for Ohio State it’s all about Penn State.

But even a loss to Penn State wouldn’t totally close the door for the Buckeyes. Since a 13-0 Penn State and an 11-1 Ohio State could both make the playoff as well depending on how things played out elsewhere.

Okay, what about for Penn State?

The Nittany Lions are 8-0 and close at Minnesota, Indiana, at Ohio State and Rutgers.

Presuming that Penn State can beat Indiana and Rutgers in Happy Valley, which seems highly likely, the road game against Minnesota doesn’t even matter that much for them. Why? Because even if you lose to Minnesota if you beat Ohio State (and Indiana and Rutgers) then you win the Big Ten East and would (probably in this scenario) get a Big Ten title game rematch against Minnesota.

So for Penn State everything comes down to Ohio State.

Now, another caveat, there’s a possibility that 11-1 Penn State could also get in the playoff if Ohio State went 13-0 and they played a tight game in Columbus.

So in many respects the SEC and the Big Ten are mirroring each other at the top of the conference, both conferences are likely locks to get one team in and have a good shot to get a second team in.

Okay, finally, what about Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers finish with these four: Penn State, at Iowa, at Northwestern, and Wisconsin.

Given that Iowa and Wisconsin already have two conference losses each — and they still play in November, which will knock one of these teams down to three losses — the road to the Big Ten title game is wide open for Minnesota.

Having said all of this, is it very likely at all that Minnesota could make its way into the playoff? No. It might take 13-0 as I’m not sure 12-1, even with a Big Ten title, would be a guarantee.

This is really a two horse playoff race between Penn State and Ohio State.

5. What about the Pac 12?

Oregon survived late last night against Washington State, leaving two teams with one loss in the conference: Oregon and Utah.

These two teams could theoretically play in the Pac 12 title game seeking to get to 12-1, but the boulder on Oregon’s playoff head is the Auburn loss.

How so?

Let me explain.

Auburn is likely to finish 8-4 at best, 4-4 in the SEC. (This presumes losses to Georgia and Alabama to join the losses the Tigers already have to Florida and LSU). There’s no way Oregon can rise above the best SEC team in the playoff race, but how can Oregon even rise above the second or third best one loss SEC team in the playoff race if those teams both beat Auburn?

They can’t.

As for Utah, they are hamstrung by an early season loss to USC that has them potentially losing out on a tiebreak there in the Pac 12 South.

Do I think Clay Helton and USC are going to run the table? No way. But even if Utah wins out to finish 12-1 I just don’t see them being able to cut through the noise and jump into the playoff mix either.

The Pac 12 needs for absolute chaos to rain down upon college football in order to get in the playoff.

6. How about Michigan’s win over Notre Dame?

Congrats to Jim Harbaugh.

I predicted this win and bet on the Wolverines to get it done here based on their performance in the second half at Penn State. Even in defeat, they played really well.

But the biggest post-season significance here is this win knocked Notre Dame completely out of the playoff race.

As for Michigan, it opens up the possibility of the Wolverines finishing 10-2 and beating Ohio State.

Do I think that’s likely?

No.

Is it painful that in year five the best Michigan can do is play spoiler for Ohio State’s (potential) perfect season? Yes.

But that’s where the Wolverines are right now.

7. Let’s rank the four second year SEC head coaches.

Clearly Dan Mullen is the best, as his Florida program is contending for a conference title in year two.

But things have certainly reshuffled a ton over the past month if you rank the other three coaches. Jeremy Pruitt, with a twenty point Tennessee win over South Carolina, on the same weekend Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead and Arkansas’s Chad Morris were blown out, has now opened up a substantial lead over the other two coaches in the status of the program sweepstakes.

I know Tennessee’s only 3-5, but UAB, at Kentucky, at Missouri, and Vanderbilt all look like winnable games. Win three out of four of those games and Tennessee will be in a bowl and Pruitt will have improved on his first year record.

It’s still probably only 50-50 that Tennessee makes a bowl, but that’s a whale of a different conversation than anyone expected to be having when the Vols were 0-2 and Pruitt and his Tennessee team were the laughingstock of college football.

At that point in time it seemed downright probable the Vols would finish with an awful record, now it doesn’t at all.

So Pruitt is a clear second, Moorhead is third, and Arkansas’s Chad Morris is in a disastrous fourth place.

In fact, how in the world does Arkansas keep Chad Morris if he starts off 0-16 in the SEC? Going back to the last year of Bret Bielema that would make Arkansas 1-23 in its last 24 SEC games.

I mean, that’s almost inconceivably bad; I feel awful for Razorback fans having to watch this happen. Ever since Bobby Petrino wrecked his motorcycle the entire program has pretty much been a disaster.

Next week Mississippi State travels to Arkansas. The Razorbacks have no chance to make a bowl game, the Bulldogs have a pretty good chance to fight their way to 6-6.

But neither program can be very optimistic with where they are right now.

And that game next week in Fayetteville is going to be incredibly ugly. But not as ugly as the attendance is likely to be.

Speaking of ugly in the SEC: what the hell has happened to Missouri?

Two weeks ago I thought Mizzou was a dark horse contender to win the SEC East. Then came back-to-back losses on the road at Vanderbilt and at Kentucky.

That’s not just bad, that awful.

Mizzou is now 0-3 on the road this season with losses at Wyoming, Vanderbilt and Kentucky and the next game is at Georgia in two weeks.

Gulp.

Then comes Florida and Tennessee in Columbia and a final Friday game at Arkansas to end the season.

I thought Mizzou might win nine or ten games coming into the season, now I think they’re likely to go 7-5 at best.

8. We have to figure something out when it comes to college football officiating. 

Regardless of what team or conference you root for, it has been absolutely abysmal this year.

I know these refs are trying their best, but what happens when your best still sucks?

We need a national examination of this awfulness and an attempt to make it better.

Because the number of people putting magnifying glasses on college football officiating is going to expand substantially as sports gambling becomes more and more popular across the country. Right now the only saving grace for college football is how many games aren’t close. That means blown calls tend to be less significant. But when you think about the number of point spreads and over/unders which are going to be in play, even if the games themselves aren’t. this could get really ugly.

The situation in Knoxville was combustible this weekend as officials blew call after call a week after blowing call after call against both Tennessee and South Carolina. Meanwhile in Ann Arbor, I saw one of the worst defensive pass interference calls I’ve ever seen as well.

I know officiating isn’t easy, but is it time to start paying officials way more to ref college games? In other words, when you look at the money being brought into the sport, what if you had million dollar officials? Would the quality of officiating improve?

Right now most people do it as a side gig, but my thought is there are likely a ton of really, really talented people who simply don’t consider officiating because it isn’t worth their time given what the job pays.

In most of sports we signal how important jobs are based on what we pay people to do them. The more important the job, the higher the pay.

Given how much they influence the outcome of the game don’t officials deserve far more than what they are making now?

I think so.

So what if we increased the pay substantially? It seems like more talented people might be interested in taking up the whistle then. Granted this has to start down at the high school level, but we can’t keep putting up with this level of incompetence in our games.

9. My Heisman Top Four:

1. Joe Burrow

2. Tua

3. Justin Fields

4. Jalen Hurts

10. Outkick’s National Top Ten

1. LSU

2. Ohio State

3. Alabama

4. Penn State

5. Clemson

6. Florida

7. Georgia

8. Oklahoma

9. Auburn

10. Oregon

11. SEC power rankings 1-14

This gets really tough after the top five. In particular, what do you do with Missouri? Yes, they’re 5-3, but they just lost in back-to-back weeks to Vanderbilt and Kentucky. So how in the world do you rank them accurately? And how do you handle Tennessee, who is clearly not the team that lost to Georgia State to begin the season?

What’s more the biggest ranking mess here is with Missouri, Kentucky, and South Carolina. It’s impossible to rank these teams accurately because Mizzou beat South Carolina handily, but lost to Kentucky badly. Then South Carolina beat Kentucky handily, but lost to Mizzou handily. The entire trio is an absolute mess. Ultimately I ranked South Carolina as the highest of these three because they have the best SEC win — Georgia — and I ranked Mizzou as the lowest of the three because they have the worst SEC loss — Vanderbilt.

So here’s my best guess as to where we are in the SEC power rankings as we enter November:

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Florida

4. Georgia

5. Auburn

6. Texas A&M

7. Tennessee

8. South Carolina

9. Kentucky

10. Missouri

11. Ole Miss

12. Mississippi State

13. Vanderbilt

14. Arkansas

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