The College Football Playoff committee will release its first top 25 rankings of the 2019 season on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Until then, it’s not entirely clear how much that poll will differ from the AP’s, but for now the order at the top is less important than the contenders in play.
After losing to Kansas State, the Oklahoma Sooners are no longer in control of their own destiny as far as the CFP in concerned, so aside from winning out, what else needs to happen around OU to open up a realistic path to the playoff?
Tier One: Win and You’re In
*bold = playoff contender*
LSU — The Tigers have one of the best resumes in the nation with wins over Texas, Florida and Auburn. In all likelihood, LSU would have to lose two of its last remaining games to be left out of the playoff if it’s chalk for all the other top contenders. Because of this, it might be a bit more beneficial for Oklahoma if LSU beats Alabama in Tuscaloosa given that the Crimson Tide’s resume isn’t nearly as strong as its SEC West counterpart.
Remaining schedule: 11/9 at Alabama, 11/16 at Ole Miss, 11/23 Arkansas, 11/30 Texas A&M
Alabama — If Tua Tagovailoa is unable to play against LSU, that could create a serious problem for Oklahoma should the Crimson Tide lose. In 2017, Clemson’s loss at Syracuse was treated more or less as a mulligan since starter Kelly Bryant was lost for the game after going down in the first half. Also, Alabama doesn’t need to win its division to reach the CFP, as the 2017 season also set precedence for that. Ideally, Tua plays, Bama loses, and if either one of those doesn’t happen, the Sooners may need Auburn to turn up the Iron Bowl magic.
Remaining schedule: 11/9 LSU, 11/16 at Mississippi State, 11/23 Western Carolina, 11/30 at Auburn
Ohio State — Ohio State looks like it passes the eye test more than any other team, but otherwise its resume can be poked. Right now, Oklahoma has a better chance at receiving the nod over a one-loss Penn State rather than a one-loss OSU, which is why the Sooners should want the Buckeyes to beat the Nittany Lions, then lose to Michigan and/or the Big Ten Championship for good measure.
Remaining schedule: 11/9 Maryland, 11/16 at Rutgers, 11/23 Penn State, 11/30 at Michigan
Clemson — Don’t sleep on the Wofford Terriers to shock the nation! Okay, all jokes aside, it’s going to take a huge upset for the Fighting Dabo Swinney’s to lose, even with how average Trevor Lawrence has played. Still, playing at NC State can sometimes be a little tricky, Wake Forest has its best team in some time, and in-state rival South Carolina has already pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season. If Clemson loses anywhere, that would open the door considerably for Oklahoma and others, but for now the Sooners’ CFP hopes don’t hinge entirely on what the Tigers do.
Remaining schedule: 11/2 Wofford, 11/9 at NC State, 11/16 Wake Forest, 11/30 at South Carolina
Penn State — The Sooners need the Nittany Lions to lose in order to at least have an argument for being ranked above them. Road games at Minnesota and Ohio State are the most likely roadblocks, so for now either one should be enough to help Oklahoma’s immediate cause. Of course, losing to the Golden Gophers would be viewed as a worse loss for Penn State, and if such an upset were to happen, an undefeated Minnesota could end up surpassing OU in the rankings down the stretch.
Remaining schedule: 11/9 at Minnesota, 11/16 Indiana, 11/23 at Ohio State, 11/30 Rutgers
Florida — The Gators are in a unique position because even as a one-loss, if they’re somehow able to navigate the rest of their schedule unscathed, they’ll be in the CFP. The perks of being in the SEC means a one-loss conference champion is an unofficial lock for a top-four spot. UF’s resume isn’t bad, either, which is why Oklahoma ideally wants Georgia to win that battle on Nov. 2. If that happens, Georgia will rise, but Florida will be eliminated from the conversation.
Remaining schedule: 11/2 vs. Georgia, 11/9 Vanderbilt, 11/16 at Missouri, 11/30 Florida State
Georgia — Speaking of the Bulldogs, they are in virtually the same position as the Gators, except for not having as strong of a win and a much worse loss. Still, a 12-1 Georgia would easily make the playoff. For OU to have the cleanest path to the playoff, Sooners should want UGA to beat Florida, then lose to anyone else.
Remaining schedule: 11/2 vs. Florida, 11/9 Missouri, 11/16 at Auburn, 11/23 Texas A&M, 11/30 at Georgia Tech
Tier Two: Some Assistance Required
Oregon — On one hand, the Ducks are in a great spot as a one-loss team because their defeat to Auburn happened all the way back in Week 1. On the other hand, being a one-loss team in a conference as calamitous as the Pac-12 in 2019 won’t hold up against most other one-loss Power Five champs at the end of the season. If Oregon loses anywhere else, their CFP hopes are toast, and road trips to Southern California and ASU (as well as a potential CCG matchup with Utah) appear to be the most threatening landmines.
Remaining schedule: 11/2 at USC, 11/16 Arizona, 11/23 at Arizona State, 11/30 Oregon State
Utah — Like Oregon, the Utes can’t afford another loss. Unlike Oregon, Utah hasn’t played a team that’s ranked going into Week 10. This Pac-12 South contender also doesn’t control its destiny in its own division. USC won the head-to-head in September, and if the Trojans win out, that’s it for the Utes. If the Men of Troy do stumble over the next month, Utah will still need to overcome a serious challenge against the Huskies in Seattle, and that’s a game OU fans need to keep their eyes on.
Remaining schedule: 11/2 at Washington, 11/16 UCLA, 11/23 at Arizona, 11/30 Colorado
Oklahoma — Aside from winning out, OU could use a helping of style points down the stretch. Look good, win big, and let the chips fall where they may. And with Baylor being the only unbeaten left in the Big 12, Oklahoma should want things to stay that way in Waco, at least until Nov. 16. In an ideal scenario, both the Sooners and the Bears finish the regular season 11-1, rematch for the conference crown, and the Crimson & Cream leave no doubt.
Remaining schedule: 11/9 Iowa State, 11/16 at Baylor, 11/23 TCU, 11/30 at Oklahoma State
Baylor — As I stated before, Oklahoma needs Baylor to win all of its games except for the one(s) that comes against OU, obviously. The first of such meetings has a chance to be a top 10 matchup if both sides take care of business between now and then, while a potential second meeting would be a mighty fine feather in the cap of the victor.
Remaining schedule: 10/31 West Virginia, 11/9 at TCU, 11/16 Oklahoma, 11/23 Texas, 11/30 at Kansas
Minnesota — Before Ohio State gets its shot to take out Penn State, the Golden Gophers will have their own opportunity. Row the Boat U doesn’t have a rock solid resume currently, but being an undefeated Power Five squad going into November means they at least have a semblance of a path to the playoff.
Remaining schedule: 11/9 Penn State, 11/16 at Iowa, 11/23 at Northwestern, 11/30 Wisconsin
It should be noted that since the CFP’s inception in 2014, no two-loss team has ever qualified for a top-four seeding, so until that happens, I won’t expect it to (that means you Auburn, Michigan, Notre Dame and Wisconsin). I suppose you could consider those teams ‘Tier Three’ (throw Wake Forest into that group as well), but until something drastic takes place ahead of them, those teams are on the outside looking in.
Remember folks, this is college football. An awful lot can happen in five weeks, including the classic upset. I’d say chances are better than decent that another unexpected shake-up is coming down the pipe with a whole month of the season left to unfold.
Now here’s my comprehensive summary of the preferable outcomes that could help pave Oklahoma’s path to the playoff:
- OU runs the table and wins the Big 12 Championship (obviously).
- Kansas State continues to win and rise in the rankings.
- LSU beats Alabama and SEC East winner in CCG.
- Auburn beats Alabama.
- Ohio State beats Penn State, then loses to Michigan and/or in the CCG.
- Clemson loses at least one game.
- Penn State loses at Minnesota and/or at Ohio State.
- Georgia beats Florida, then loses a game.
- Oregon loses a game.
- Utah loses a game, or USC wins out.
- Baylor finishes 11-2 with both losses to OU.
- Minnesota beats Penn State, then loses a game (perhaps to Wisconsin).
Even if only a fraction of the things I laid out come to fruition, it may only take a select few of them to blow this thing wide open. As far as Oklahoma’s history with reaching the semifinals goes, during all three seasons in which the Sooners received a berth to the CFP, none came without an October loss (Texas in ‘15, Iowa State in ‘17, Texas in ‘18). Further, OU checked in at No. 15 in the committee’s initial rankings in 2015, yet rose as high as No. 3 before entering the playoffs as the No. 4 seed.
Yes, the defense needs to play with more discipline, the running backs need to be more involved, and this team can’t take any opponent lightly. There is plenty that can and needs to be improved upon, but while those things are in the Sooners’ control, the rest of the playoff picture is not. At the end of the day, a 12-1 Oklahoma with a Big 12 championship would certainly be worth considering at the very least, and at this point, consideration is all anybody can ask for.
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