What's the worst possible scenario for the College Football Playoff? Every Power 5 Conference champion finishing the 2015 regular season unbeaten. Second-worst scenario? Have to pick a two-loss team over a one-loss club. Might it happen?
Committee Was Correct In 2014
The College Football Playoff selection committee was largely spared any controversy last season. The only team to run the table in the regular season was ACC champion (and 2013 national champion) Florida State, so the Seminoles were locks to make the four-team playoff -- although they were only No. 3 in the final rankings.
The other three teams all had one loss: SEC champion Alabama, Pac-12 champion Oregon and Big Ten champion Ohio State. The only semi-problem was that Ohio State jumped from No. 5 in the poll before the Big Ten title game to No. 4 after whipping Wisconsin. TCU dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 and didn't get to play a Big 12 Championship Game. Ditto Baylor, which shared the Big 12 regular-season title and beat TCU head-to-head. The Bears were No. 5 in the final rankings. But after watching what transpired in the playoff, the committee clearly got it right with Ohio State.
Since the BCS era began, six of the nine national champions had at least one loss. The only one to do so with two defeats was LSU in 2007. The Tigers were beneficiaries of some really wild results, including upsets of No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia late in the season. The highest-rated two-loss teams last year in the final rankings were No. 7 Mississippi State and No. 8 Michigan State. The Bulldogs were dominated Orange Bowl by ACC runner-up Georgia Tech and Sparty staged a huge rally to beat Baylor in the Cotton Bowl.
What Teams Could Make It With 2 Losses?
Clearly the committee takes strength of schedule and perceived strength of conference heavily into play. The Big Ten was considered the weakest conference of the Power 5 last year. The Buckeyes, who lost at home to unranked Virginia Tech in Week 2, played only two ranked teams in the regular season in Michigan State and Minnesota. It took that 59-0 thumping of No. 13 Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game for OSU to finally jump into the Top 4 of the rankings. The SEC, meanwhile, had four teams in the Top 6 in the first rankings.
So what are the two best conferences, perception-wise, heading into 2015? Clearly the SEC and Pac-12. The former has eight teams in the USA Today Preseason Coaches' Poll. The only two from the SEC West that aren't are Mississippi State and Texas A&M and they were the highest two schools among the "others receiving votes." The Pac-12 has six teams in the preseason Top 25. The Big Ten has three. Ditto the Big 12 and ACC. The other two are Notre Dame and Boise State.
So by that logic, only an SEC or Pac-12 champion has a shot at getting into the playoff with two losses. What if East Division champion Georgia were to lose at Auburn and at Georgia Tech during the season but beat Alabama or Auburn (West Division champion) in the SEC title game? You can't deny the SEC champion. What if USC were to lose at Notre Dame and at Oregon but then beat the Ducks in the Pac-12 title game? By comparison, Ohio State has zero shot of getting there with two losses because of the weakness of the Big Ten. Same with Baylor or TCU in the Big 12, or Clemson or Florida State in the ACC.
Finally, could Notre Dame get in with two losses? Now that's interesting as the Irish again have a very tough schedule but obviously no conference title game as an independent. If the Irish lost close at, say, Clemson and home to USC, could they still get in if they get help from the Tigers and Trojans by winning their respective conference title games? Not impossible.
I think one thing is a lock this season: no conference will get two in. That's the -475 favorite at 5Dimes with one doing so at +325.
College Football Free Pick: One two-loss conference champion gets to the playoff. Either Alabama/Auburn/Georgia or USC/Oregon.