We sit here on November 17th, on the precipice of one of the most important games of the regular season that will impact the shaping of the College Football Playoff. Louisville, ranked 5th in the CFP Poll and one of the great stories in college football this season, travels to early-season darling Houston, who started with a win over Oklahoma but sputtered with two losses in the second half of the season.
The Penn State Nittany Lions, sitting with 2 losses but with an entirely realistic path to the Big Ten Championship Game, are one of the teams most vested in the result of this game and several other games in the next three weekends with major CFP implications.
Penn State will need Ohio State to beat Michigan on the final weekend of the season, which will push the Wolverines to 2 conference losses, and maintain Ohio State’s single conference loss (at Penn State). Penn State lost only once in conference as well, to Michigan, and the first tiebreak between Ohio State and Penn State is head to head, which the Nittany Lions would win out because of THIS.
Assuming then the Nittany Lions win out through the Big Ten title game, Penn State would need three of the following five results to fall in their favor over the next three weekends to have a realistic claim to the College Football Playoff. The Nittany Lions would need all five to guarantee themselves a spot in the College Football Playoff:
- Thurs, Nov 17: Houston over #5 Louisville
- Championship Week: VT/NC over #4 Clemson
- Fri, Nov 25: #22 Washington St over #6 Washington OR, Championship Week: #10 Colorado/ #13 USC over #6 Washington
- IF #9 Oklahoma beats #14 West Virginia this weekend, #11 Oklahoma State over #9 Oklahoma Sat Dec 3
- IF #14 West Virginia beats #9 Oklahoma this weekend, Baylor over #14 West Virginia Sat Dec 3
Penn State fans may disagree, but Ohio State will get into the CFP over Penn State if the Buckeyes win the final two regular season games, and it is a no-brainer, no matter what the conference title and head-to-head may say. Plain and simple, Ohio State lost one less game than Penn State in the same conference…with a more difficult strength of schedule both in-conference and outside of the conference.
Some say the Conference Championship means everything, and that can be understood, but this is an unprecedented potential situation in the short history of the College Football Playoff. The Committee has never had to choose between a 1) conference champion or 2) a higher ranked conference foe that did not win the conference, but had at least one LESS loss than the conference champion. Imagine the team that would lose 3 games out of conference and then go unbeaten to win a major conference, should that team make the CFP regardless?
The Buckeyes are in with two more regular season wins, it is a lock.
The West Virginia and Oklahoma Factors: Why would Oklahoma and West Virginia matter to Penn State if the Nittany Lions win out and earn a conference championship? Aren’t the Sooners and the Mountaineers ranked lower than Penn State now?
Well, yes, they are, but only for right now. Just ask 2014 TCU about being ranked above teams and then getting passed over on the final weekend. Oklahoma is a program that challenged itself out of conference, lost twice, to Houston, and Ohio State. Then, if it were to go unbeaten through the Big XII regular season, would be the elusive “One True Champion” in the Big XII, a moniker that cost TCU in 2014 when it ended the season with an equal conference record to Baylor. One-loss Ohio State jumped the one-loss Horned Frogs (and the Bears) in the final week of the rankings.
Note: In the year 2015, the Big XII changed the conference champion awarding procedure – no longer would there be co-champions in the case of an equal record, but instead tiebreakers would be used to decide a “One True Champion.” The term “One True Champion is used because the Big XII does not play a separate conference championship game, meaning that the regular season champion and conference champion, unlike other conferences, is always the same team.
If Oklahoma were to defeat West Virginia, followed by a win over Oklahoma State, not only would it be the “One True Champion,” but it would be one more quality win for the Sooners, a team that doesn’t have a loss like Pittsburgh on the resume, and a team that represented the Big XII in the College Football Playoff last year. It wouldn’t be a lock for Oklahoma to jump Penn State, but trust me, one wouldn’t want to spend the final Tuesday night of the rankings waiting to find out, and I would ballpark the odds at significantly greater than 50-50.
West Virginia is a team that doesn’t have the quality wins of some of the other top 10 teams, which is why at just one loss it finds itself at #14 right now. However, a win over Oklahoma would be a big one for the Mountaineers, and if Oklahoma State were to then lose to Oklahoma in Bedlam in the final weekend of the regular season, West Virginia would be tied with Oklahoma in conference record, and win the Big XII due to the tiebreaker over OU, the head-to-head win. A one-loss One True Champion out of the Big XII? Would be easy to see why the Mountaineers could jump Big Ten Champion two-loss Penn State.
One team not mentioned is Oklahoma State. If West Virginia beats Oklahoma and then Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State would actually be the One True Champion out of the Big XII, because Oklahoma State and West Virginia would both have only one conference loss, and Oklahoma State beat West Virginia. That opens up an entirely new can of worms due to Oklahoma State’s controversial non-conference loss HERE.
In the situation where Houston defeats Louisville, and the Big XII results fall in a way that enhances Penn State’s chances, the CFP would likely include: Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, and Clemson in the above scenario.
There is a lot of football to be played; however, and it starts tonight.