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Oklahoma's loss opens door for College Football Playoff debate over one-loss teams

UniqueThis 6 Oct 28
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Oct 27, 2019

Multiple oversize flatscreen computer monitors will be directly in front of the 13 College Football Playoff selection committee members seated around the conference table in their meeting room at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas.

When the group begins to meet next week, it will have the ability to compare as many as four teams at a time, side by side, on the screen.

After Oklahoma's shocking loss at Kansas State on Saturday, consider the potential debate over these one-loss teams for that coveted fourth spot on Dec. 8, Selection Day:

Oklahoma. Oregon. The loser of LSU-Alabama. The loser of Penn State-Ohio State.

No, really ... who's in?

When Oklahoma lost on Saturday afternoon, the Pac-12 won. So did the SEC and the Big Ten. And Notre Dame missed out on a major opportunity. This is how it works in the era of the CFP: One loss can create a ripple effect from coast to coast because people, not computers, choose the four best teams, and the more one-loss teams there are, the greater their debate.

Oklahoma just joined the club.

According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, Oklahoma's chances of reaching the semifinals dropped to 17%, but if the Sooners run the table and win the Big 12, the selection committee will still consider them -- along with any other Power 5 conference champion. Of the six Power 5 teams currently with one loss, Oklahoma has the best chance to win out at 33%, followed by Oregon at 29%.

The question now is whether a one-loss OU would get in over the Pac-12 champ, likely Oregon or Utah, or a second team from either the SEC or the Big Ten.

None of them has to worry about Notre Dame.

The Irish didn't look anything like a top-four team Saturday and now have two losses after Michigan ran all over them in Jim Harbaugh's second win against an AP top-10 opponent. It was a double whammy for the Irish, as Oklahoma's loss was exactly what Notre Dame needed to get back into the discussion after its loss to Georgia.

Instead, removing Notre Dame from the equation is a tremendous benefit for the Power 5 conferences, as the Irish would have had the potential to knock out a second league champion. With Notre Dame and Oklahoma losing, it's possible that the committee considers the Big Ten East or SEC West division runner-up. We've already seen Ohio State and Alabama finish in the top four without winning their respective divisions.

The selection committee can poke holes in just about every contender's résumé -- except that of LSU, which is ranked No. 1 in ESPN's Strength of Record metric, and has a strong case for the No. 1 spot when the first ranking is revealed on Nov. 5.

The SEC followed the script on Saturday, with both LSU and Alabama winning, setting up a season-defining game between the two on Nov. 9. The strongest argument for both teams to finish in the top four would be for LSU to lose, with that being the Tigers' only loss, and for Alabama to run the table and win the SEC. LSU can make a better case than Alabama in a loss because its schedule includes wins at Texas and Florida. As long as Texas finishes above .500, it will be considered a respectable win by the committee and remain a nonconference win that can help separate LSU from another contender with a similar record.

If Alabama doesn't beat LSU, its best wins would be at Texas A&M and at Auburn. That might not be enough without a conference title. There's also the chance, though, that the SEC West winner's only loss would be in the SEC championship game.

Then what?

LSU's brutal schedule is why the SEC's chances of getting two teams in appears better than the Big Ten's, which has a similar situation with undefeated Ohio State and Penn State in the East Division. They'll face each other on Nov. 23 in Columbus, and ESPN's FPI gives the Nittany Lions a 19% chance to win.

If they don't?

This is where the selection committee pulls up that four-team comparison, and Penn State could have three wins against ranked opponents -- including the Big Ten West champ, if undefeated Minnesota wins its division. The Nittany Lions are No. 2 right now in Strength of Record. Iowa and Michigan helped both Penn State's and Ohio State's résumés on Saturday.

Oklahoma is not eliminated with one bad loss -- 14 of the past 20 CFP semifinalists had a loss -- but the Sooners need significant help. Oklahoma needs a statement win, it needs to run the table and face a ranked opponent in the Big 12 championship game, and it needs the selection committee to hold the rest of the league in high regard in its top 25.

It didn't help OU or the Big 12 that Texas and Iowa State also lost on the same day. If Oklahoma gets into a résumé battle with another one-loss contender, it might not win.

Oklahoma's nonconference opponents -- Houston, South Dakota and UCLA -- are currently a combined 9-15. To date, Texas is the only Power 5 opponent Oklahoma has defeated that's over .500. Undefeated Baylor could be the only ranked opponent remaining on OU's regular-season schedule. If Baylor were to finish as an undefeated Big 12 champ, the Bears would almost certainly be in, but they still have to face TCU on the road, and play OU and Texas in back-to-back weeks.

Oregon might have a better opportunity than Oklahoma to punctuate its résumé if it beats a highly ranked Utah team in the Pac-12 championship game. If the Utes win, they would also be considered, but ESPN's Football Power Index gives them a 47.1% chance to win at Washington on Saturday -- the last chance to make a first impression before the committee meets.

Utah, Oregon and Oklahoma all have schedule-strength questions. It didn't help Utah or Oregon that No. 24 Arizona State lost to unranked UCLA, a five-loss team.

Oregon's loss to Auburn, though, is looking better than Oklahoma's loss at Kansas State.

"We've been through this road," Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. "Everybody in the world is gonna say we're done. We know how this works. We know what we're capable of. There's everything left out there for us, and we know that. We can't listen to all the noise on the outside. We've got to do a good job of getting ready for the next one and learn from this, and we've always responded well when we've had a tough one like this, and I would fully expect that this team will do the same."

It just might not be enough.