This is the third 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.
Independents and Group of 5
The Irish continued their march through the 2018 season as they throttled Virginia Tech 45-23 on Saturday. This week they get a struggling Pitt team at home. The Panthers have had a knack for knocking off highly ranked opponents. Last year they beat Miami and in 2016 they traveled to Death Valley and upset eventual National Champion Clemson. It kills me to say it but we really need Pitt to pull off another big upset. As much as it hurts a Mountaineer to say that, it’s the best case scenario for West Virginia. It would be a devastating loss for the Irish at home and it would all but eliminate them from playoff contention. Notre Dame took down the Major Harris led Gold and Blue in 1988, so let’s see if that dreaded school up north can wipe out the golden domers dream 30 years later.
Wisconsin losing to Michigan would deal the Badgers their second loss and would greatly diminish their ability to make the playoff. Even as the Big 10 Champion, two losses would be enough to keep Wisconsin home from the playoff and likely the East Division team they beat. The Badgers winning the Big 10 with two losses is the best scenario for the conference to be left out of the playoff. If a two loss Wisconsin took the title, the loaded East with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan would become a long shot to get an at large bid.
LSU beating Georgia this weekend would be a huge step toward the SEC placing only one team to the playoff. To limit the SEC to one team, ideally both teams enter the SEC Championship Game with a loss. The second loss in the title game, especially if decisive, should be enough to prevent the loser from making the playoff. Additionally, it is tough to see a non-Alabama getting a bid as a non-division champ. The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs are the only teams still undefeated, so a LSU win this Saturday would go a long way to creating the needed scenario.
This weekend sets up a pivotal two week stretch on the west coast for the race to the playoff. The North will likely be decided this weekend as Washington and Oregon face off. The Huskies are undefeated in conference, while the Ducks lost a heart breaking game to Stanford. If Washington wins it would be very hard for any other team to win the North. An Oregon win would muddy the North and create far more scenarios.
In the South, Colorado has emerged as the front runner after tearing through the 3rd weakest schedule by the ESPN FPI to start 5-0. The Buffalos travel to USC this weekend in a game that may decide the division. Next Saturday they come home for a pivotal match up against the Huskies to prove whether they’re a real contender or just a stepping stone for Washington.
The fate of the Pac 12’s playoff chances will be greatly determined by the end of Saturday next week. The winner of the match up between the Ducks and Huskies is very much in play but the loser will be eliminated. If Colorado wants to continue their magical ride, they have to come out of the Coliseum with a tough road win and then show what they can do against Washington. Any way it goes, there will be a clear leader out west soon.
Tune in next Friday as we discuss the fallout of this weeks games and continue to outline West Virginia’s road to the College Football Playoff.