This is the second article in a series that we’re running this season that outlines the scenarios necessary for a one loss West Virginia, to make the College Playoff. It is assumed that a quality loss may not eliminate the Mountaineers if it is, for example close and/or on the road. Two losses would likely make things impossible. These scenarios will provide a look at the dominoes that need to fall to eliminate other conferences from playoff contention or deny conferences a second berth. The focus here is on the most likely contenders. As a reminder, the goal isn’t to eliminate every conference, so not all these need to occur. Rather, the goal is to discuss what needs to happen to eliminate at least one other Power 5 conference, the combined Independents/Group of 5 teams, and prevent any conference from securing a second bid.
The Big 12 continues to look like a stronger conference and more competitive this year. The eventual champion could have at least three, maybe four wins over ranked opponents.
Independents and Group of 5
The elimination of the independents still lies in balance as Notre Dame convincingly took care of business last week against Stanford and UCF pummeled Pitt. With only only four playoff slots and five Power 5 conferences, the elimination of independents is crucial.
The Irish travel to Blacksburg this weekend and dare I say it, we need to cheer for the Hokies. Virginia Tech suffered an embarrassing loss to 1-4 Old Dominion by 14 points. This has likely eliminated them from any playoff contention but they can certainly still play spoiler. Lane Stadium can be a very difficult place to play and will be a tough environment for Notre Dame. This is likely the last ranked opponent the Irish will face and by far their toughest road trip.
The Golden Knights took care of Pitt in convincing fashion on Saturday, much to the enjoyment of Mountaineer fans. Despite it being a win over a Power 5 Conference team, it will do little to bolster UCF’s strength of schedule and convince the Playoff Committee of their worthiness. The Panthers are 2-3, are already 0-2 in a weak Coastal Atlantic Division and are not likely to make a bowl game.
The conference has really struggled this season which hurts it’s overall strength of schedule and that of it’s eventual champion. This puts it’s champion in the position of having to either run the table, or have no more than one quality loss. With the overall strength of the ACC down, it is hard to identify opportunities in conference that would qualify as a quality loss. Clemson seems to be the runaway favorite and the only obvious team that could make the playoff. The best option to keep Clemson out of the final four would be for Boston College or NC State to beat Clemson, win the Atlantic division and prevent the Tigers from reaching the ACC title game. Virginia Tech and Miami are the only contenders to win the Coastal Division, both have already suffered losses and have yet to play one another.
The eventual champion, even with two losses, will almost certainly get a bid because of perception of the conference and strength of schedule. The key for WVU having a chance to make it with one loss, is making sure two teams aren’t selected from the SEC. Best case scenario is that the two best candidates for the playoff make the SEC title game and that both have already have suffered a loss. This would prevent last year’s scenario where Alabama was able to make the playoff, despite not reaching the championship game.
Ohio State’s win last week in State College put them in the driver seat for the Big 10 East but not so far ahead that no one can catch them. It is still very possible for Michigan, Michigan State or even Penn State win to the Division. Wisconsin is the far and away favorite to win the West so their loss to BYU at home is important. That means either a loss in the championship game or a loss in conference could eliminate them from playoff contention.
West Virginia fans need to hope for a similar situation to last year where the Big 10 Champion, Ohio State, had a quality loss to Oklahoma and a bad loss at Iowa. The bad loss was enough to keep them out of he playoff and allow Alabama in. A Big 12 Champion, one loss Mountaineer team, should have a strong enough resume to be selected over an SEC or Big 10 team with two losses.
Check back next week as we continue to discuss West Virginia’s road to the playoff.