Futures bettors, don't expect a two-loss team to crack the College Football Playoffs this season. Only Alabama or LSU could possibly warrant the discussion if the situation arises.
The College Football Playoff Selection Committee hasn't had to make many tough or controversial decisions in its first couple of years in operation. But the time will come, and it will be tested. There are several different scenarios that can make its decision tough, and one of those is what to do with a two-loss team potentially worthy of inclusion. They've faced these conditions before, but not with much fire under their feet. Will it happen this year? And is it possible bettors see a two-loss team playing for the national title? Maybe, but only if it's from the SEC. Futures bettors take note as this could be your NCAA football odds guide.
First off, the Committee's guidelines aren't exactly clear-cut, bringing bias and other factors into the equation. They consider the following elements as key to their selection process: conference championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, comparative outcomes of common opponents, and other relevant factors. But how they weigh or determine such parts are vague. Take last year, for example. In its first 2015-16 poll in November, the Committee ranked one-loss Alabama in the top spot ahead of eight undefeated teams, including some representing Power-5 conferences. Most sports fans are accustomed to the team with the best record earning the right to play for a championship.
We also don't know the intentions or motivations for the Committee, and won't speculate as to what they are. But one thing is seemingly clear through its first two years: final decisions tend to come in groupings or sortings, rather than individual marks. Think of last year's Oklahoma Sooners as a one-loss, Big-12 team, rather than their individual achievements, like owning a higher average margin of victory (21.5 points) than Alabama (19.9), Clemson (16.8), or Michigan State (8.1). Perhaps a better example is Ohio State. A one-loss team that failed to play for the conference championship, it was all but written off when one-loss Iowa and Michigan State met in the Big-10 title game. For what it's worth, the Buckeyes kicked off 14-point favorites in their lone loss to the Spartans (17-14), the latter favored by 3.5 points over the Hawkeyes.
Last season, two-loss Stanford romped USC 41-22 in the Pac-12 championship game but missed the playoffs likely because each of the other Power-5 conferences had an undefeated or one-loss team. Should the Cardinal have supplanted the Michigan State as the fourth team? It sure looks like it in hindsight, after they whipped the Hawkeyes 45-16 in the Rose Bowl—a common opponent played in back-to-back weeks on neutral fields. Michigan State struggled to a 16-13 victory against Iowa in the Big-10 championship game. Still, the Cardinal, perhaps the better team, didn't fit the bill categorically, and for that missed out.
This begs the question: will bettors see a two-loss team selected for the playoffs this year? Only if it's from the SEC. The fact of the matter is there is too much imbalance in the other Power-5 conferences—the gap between the best and worst teams too wide. This ultimately affects strength of scheduling, head-to-head comparisons, and allows for shiny records across the board.
Only Alabama, or possibly LSU, could pull it off this season playing in the perennial top conference, but even this seems unlikely. The Big 12, minus a conference-title game, is usually guaranteed to produce a one-loss team or better. The Big 10 is considered weak this season, and the likelihood Michigan and Ohio State clash in the regular-season finale undefeated a real possibility. Moreover, Florida State and Clemson could each come out of the ACC with one blemish apiece, depending on how the stars align.
Alabama's opener against USC and LSU's versus Wisconsin, each favored by 10 points respectively, will ultimately factor into the Committee's final decisions, as both meetings will be weighed in head-to-head comparisons down the road. Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia have a shot to lose just twice, but the Rebels own the toughest out-of-conference test early against the Seminoles. Still, it seems highly unlikely any two-year team will crack the playoffs, and the Crimson Tide and Tigers are possibly the only two from the SEC to carry enough prestige and talent to sway the Committee if needed.