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Projections For Playoff Contenders - Alabama Needs Help

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As we enter the home stretch, Alabama needs help from Lady Luck to get into the playoffs.

There are still at least dozen teams vying for a playoff spot.
There are still at least dozen teams vying for a playoff spot.
Bama Bobblehead

At least a dozen teams are still in the mix for a playoff spot and with Bama's schedule strength--regarded as the toughest in the country in the preseason--taking hits week by week and so many undefeated Power 5 teams, our résumé probably won't be enough to get us in if it doesn't include "SEC Champions".

Utah's loss to USC eliminated one threat, and head-to-head matchups will knock some contenders out, but here are the teams in the mix and how the rest of their season might go.

The SEC

A lot of Bama fans feel like just winning out will punch a ticket to the final four, but that's no guarantee. There are three conference foes that could crash the party.

Let's start with the home team.

#7 Alabama Crimson Tide

Nine of Alabama's opponents have spent at least one week in the AP Top 25, but only three are there today: #4 LSU, #19 Ole Miss and #25 Mississippi State. So the Tide is 0-1 against currently-ranked opponents. And that one loss is to a team that got blown out by Florida and lost to a Group of 5 team.

But Bama is the only team with more than two wins against the Sagarin Top 30. The Tide is 4-1 against those teams who are just outside the AP Top 25 and are poised to make a late-season run:

  • Texas A&M (Sagarin #24) is #26 in the AP and could run off four wins in a row against South Carolina, Auburn, FCS Western Carolina and Vanderbilt before the season finale at LSU. That would be good for a 9-3 season and probably a Top 25 finish.
  • Georgia (Sagarin #21) is #30 in the AP and faces a season-defining matchup against Florida this week. If they lose, it will be hard to claw back into the Top 25 with Kentucky, Auburn, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech on the schedule.
  • Wisconsin (Sagarin #19) is #31 in the AP and has one of the easiest remaining schedules in the Power 5: Rutgers, Maryland, Northwestern and Minnesota. That should leave the Badgers at 10-2 and well inside the Top 25.
  • Tennessee is #22 in the Sagarin ratings and #12 in ESPN's FPI, which projects the Volunteers have a 50.3% chance of winning out. (That's the third-highest Win Out Pct in the country.) They'll face Kentucky, South Carolina, North Texas, Missouri and Vanderbilt and could finish 8-4. They didn't receive any Top 25 votes in either poll this week, and it's tough to say if beating that motley crew would earn much respect from voters.

For the purposes of this post, I'll assume Alabama wins out because nothing else matters if they don't.

Alabama's biggest test is its next. #4 LSU comes to Tuscaloosa on November 7. A win there (59.5% chance according to FPI) would be enough to bump Bama a couple of spots, but undefeated P5 champs would still get the CFP nod ahead of the Tide.

And lest Bama fans look too far ahead, the Tide only has a 0.5% better chance of beating Mississippi State than LSU.

Date Opponent Win %
October 31 bye -
November 7 #4 LSU 59.5%
November 14 at #25 Mississippi State 60.0%
November 21 Charleston Southern 99.4%
November 28 at Auburn 75.5%
December 5
#11 Florida
TBD

Win Out Pct: 18.2%

#4 LSU Tigers

LSU (7-0) is the most obvious roadblock Bama faces. Quarterback Brandon Harris has thrown 9 touchdowns and 0 interceptions on the season and presents just enough of a downfield threat to open up some space for Heisman candidate Leonard Fournette.

The Tigers will probably be the #1 seed if they win out, but ESPN's FPI ranks their remaining schedule the toughest in football and projects losses to Bama and Ole Miss.

Date Opponent Win %
October 31 bye -
November 7 at #7 Alabama
40.5%
November 14 Arkansas 80.1%
November 21 at #19 Ole Miss
42.5%
November 28 Texas A&M
72.5%
December 5
#11 Florida
TBD

Win Out Pct: 6.4%

#11 Florida Gators

Former Bama OC Jim McElwain is off to an incredible start in the Swamp. The Gators are 6-1 with a blowout win over Ole Miss and a 7-point loss at LSU. The SEC East is dreadful, but the Gators can get into the playoffs by winning out.

Date Opponent Win %
October 31 Georgia 54.5%
November 7 Vanderbilt 90.4%
November 14 at South Carolina
79.7%
November 21 Florida Atlantic
98.5%
November 28 #17 FSU 63.0%
December 5
Bama/LSU/Ole Miss
TBD

Win Out Pct: 10.0%

#19 Ole Miss Rebels

Ole Miss isn't in a position to take a playoff spot, but they can certainly keep the Tide from getting one.

Hugh Freeze and Company still control their own destiny in the SEC title race. Win out, and they're the SEC champs. And while the AP Poll might put Bama ahead of Ole Miss, I have a hard time believing that the Selection Committee, which puts a premium on conference championships, would select Bama, who lost to Ole Miss, over SEC Champion Ole Miss. If Ole Miss wins the conference, the SEC might not get a team in the playoff at all.

The Rebels' remaining schedule strength is ranked 4th by FPI, which doesn't project them as underdogs in any remaining regular season games.

Date Opponent Win %
October 31 at Auburn
70.6%
November 7 Arkansas 76.6%
November 14 bye
-
November 21 #4 LSU
57.5%
November 28 at #25 Mississippi State
55.4%
December 5
#11 Florida
TBD

Win Out Pct: 10.0%

An Undefeated Big Ten Champ

The Big Ten still has three undefeated teams: Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa. If any one of them finishes the season undefeated, they'll get a spot in the playoffs.

#1 Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State finally settled on J.T. Barrett as their QB and handed Rutgers a 42-point loss. FPI doesn't foresee any great challenges in their upcoming schedule, and the Buckeyes have the best chance of winning out among all of the teams contending for a playoff spot.

Date Opponent Win %
October 31
bye
-
November 7 Minnesota
96.5%
November 14 at Illinois
87.8%
November 21 #6 Michigan State
79.4%
November 28
at #15 Michigan
62.0%
December 5
#10 Iowa
TBD

Win Out Pct: 33.0%

#6 Michigan State Spartans

The Spartans have sputtered through this season, struggling against inferior opponents. We thought that Week 2 win over Oregon was a big deal until Utah went duck hunting. Michigan State only beat Purdue by 3 and Rutgers by 7, and you know how that Michigan game ended. They have a chance to earn their ranking on November 21.

Date Opponent Win %
October 31 bye -
November 7 at Nebraska
64.5%
November 14 Maryland 92.3%
November 21 at Ohio State
20.6%
November 28 Penn State
80.7%
December 5
#10 Iowa
TBD

Win Out Pct: 5.5%

#10 Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa's road to the Big Ten Championship is smooth as glass: Maryland, at Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and at Nebraska. They beat Wisconsin 10-6, and being the undefeated champ with a win over either Ohio State or Michigan State, though not likely, would get them into the final four.

Date Opponent Win %
October 31 Maryland 91.6%
November 7 at Indiana
77.1%
November 14 Minnesota 86.0%
November 21 Purdue 91.2%
November 28 at Nebraska 51.3%
December 5
#1 Ohio State
TBD

Win Out Pct: 7.7%

An Undefeated Big 12 Champ

There are three undefeated teams in the Big 12, but the round-robin should straighten that situation out.

#2 Baylor Bears

Baylor is the Big 12 favorite, but their remaining schedule is the seventh-toughest in football and they recently lost their starting quarterback. Can a freshman lead them through this gauntlet?

Date Opponent Win %
October 31 bye -
November 5 (Thursday)
at Kansas State
89.4%
November 14 #14 Oklahoma
65.3%
November 21 at #12 Oklahoma State
71.0%
November 27 (Friday)
at #5 TCU
50.2%
December 5
Texas
92.5%

Win Out Pct: 19.3%

#5 TCU Horned Frogs

TCU simply hasn't looked the part of a Top 5 team this season. They started with a 6-point win over Minnesota, only beat Texas Tech by 3 and only beat Kansas State by 7--the same K-State team that lost to Oklahoma 55-0. Voters thought their dismantling of Texas was a sign that the Frogs were for real, but I'm skeptical. So is ESPN's FPI.

Date Opponent Win %
November 7 at #12 Oklahoma State
69.5%
November 14 Kansas
99.6%
November 21 at #14 Oklahoma
45.3%
November 27 (Friday)
#2 Baylor*
54.5%
December 5
bye
-

Win Out Pct: 17.0%**

*TCU's Win % against Baylor jumped from 49.8% to 54.5% after their Week 9 win over West Virginia.

**TCU's Win Out Pct was calculated after their Week 9 win over West Virginia.

#12 Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Pokes are undefeated, sure, and that's tough. But their best win was probably in overtime against unranked West Virginia or 30-27 over Texas. The other teams they've beaten are Central Michigan, FCS Central Arkansas, Texas-San Antonio, K-State, and Kansas.

Their remaining schedule, however, is rated sixth-toughest and they have just a 1.7% chance of winning out. The only thing in the Cowboys' favor is that they host their three ranked opponents.

Date Opponent Win %
October 31
at Texas Tech
60.5%
November 7 #5 TCU
34.7%
November 14 at Iowa State
84.3%
November 21 #2 Baylor
29.0%
November 27 (Friday)
#14 Oklahoma
33.8%
December 5
bye
-

Win Out Pct: 1.7%

An Undefeated ACC Champ

There's only one candidate who can fill this role:

#3 Clemson Tigers

Dabo's Tigers jumped three spots in the latest AP Poll after throttling Miami, but their rain-soaked 2-point win over Notre Dame is their only Top 25 win. They can add to that by beating Florida State.

Their most likely ACC Championship Game opponent is North Carolina. The Heels are #27 in the AP but look to jump into the Top 25 after beating Pitt last night. They face #22 Duke next week and will probably be a Top 25 team on December 5.

Date Opponent Win %
October 31 at NC State
74.2%
November 7 #17 Florida State
72.6%
November 14 at Syracuse
91.5%
November 21 Wake Forest
97.6%
November 28 at South Carolina
85.9%
December 5
North Carolina
TBD

Win Out Pct: 32.8%

A 1-Loss Pac-12 Champ

A loss to unranked USC probably knocked #13 Utah out of the playoff mix, but there's another playoff contender rising in the west...

#8 Stanford Cardinal

Stanford's Week 1 16-6 loss to Northwestern was ugly, but the Cardinal could be Pac-12 champs and on a 12-game win streak when the Selection Committee releases its final poll.

A win over Notre Dame in the final week of the regular season followed by a win in the Pac-12 Championship Game over an 11-1 Top-10 Utah would probably bump Stanford over Bama if the Tide is idle on Championship Saturday.

Date Opponent Win %
October 31 at Washington State
82.4%
November 7 at Colorado
90.4%
November 14 Oregon
82.2%
November 21 Cal
74.6%
November 28 #9 Notre Dame
59.1%
December 5
Utah/UCLA TBD

Win Out Pct: 15.5%

#9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame's only loss is an easily forgivable 24-22 loss at now-#3 Clemson in a Biblical downpour, but I don't know if their remaining games--including a trip to #8 Stanford--are enough to bump the Irish into the Top 4.

Date Opponent Win %
October 31 at #21 Temple
80.5%
November 7 at #23 Pitt
76.3%
November 14 Wake Forest
97.1%
November 21 Boston College
74.6%
November 28 at #8 Stanford
40.9%
December 5
bye -

Win Out Pct: 21.0%

Undefeated American Athletic Conference Champ

Look, there would have to be complete and utter chaos for a Group of 5 team to sniff the playoffs, but it's a possibility.

#16 Memphis Tigers

The Tigers are 7-0 with a win over Ole Miss--who could still win the SEC--and they still have two undefeated Top-25 teams on their schedule. If they finish undefeated with wins over Ole Miss and the team that beat Notre Dame (Temple), they would have a legitimate case to make the playoffs.

Date Opponent Win %
October 31 Tulane
96.3%
November 7 Navy
77.2%
November 14 at #18 Houston
42.5%
November 21 at #21 Temple
47.2%
November 28 SMU
95.5%
December 5
#21 Temple TBD

Win Out Pct: 9.5%

#21 Temple Owls

Temple's good for the first time in a generation or more. They opened the season with a shocking win over Penn State and have rolled over subpar opponents ever since. They're 7-0 for the first time in program history.

They host Notre Dame this weekend. A win would propel them into a very interesting discussion.

Date Opponent Win %
October 31 #9 Notre Dame
19.5%
November 6 (Friday)
at SMU
87.6%
November 14 at USF
67.0%
November 21 #16 Memphis
52.8%
November 28 UConn
90.9%
December 5
#16 Memphis
TBD

Win Out Pct: 2.4%

#18 Houston Cougars

I'm including Houston here because, like Memphis and Temple, they're undefeated in the AAC. But unlike the others, Houston doesn't have a chance to score a big win against a Top-25 Power 5 team.

They beat Louisville (who hasn't?) and get Vandy this week. Maybe if Temple beats Notre Dame and the Cougars beat Memphis and Temple in the AAC Championship game to score transitive wins over Ole Miss, Bama and Notre Dame?

Date Opponent Win %
October 31 Vanderbilt
76.6%
November 7
Cincinnati
76.5%
November 14 #16 Memphis
57.5%
November 21 at UConn
82.9%
November 27 (Friday)
Navy
77.2%
December 5
#21 Temple
TBD

Win Out Pct: 14.6%

Playoff Contenders' Remaining Games

Projected Final Rankings

If things play out the way ESPN's FPI thinks they will, here's how the final CFP rankings* will look:

  1. Ohio State (undefeated Big Ten champ)
  2. Baylor (undefeated Big 12 champ)
  3. Clemson (undefeated ACC champ)
  4. Florida (1-loss SEC champ)
  5. Stanford (1-loss Pac-12 champ)
  6. Alabama (11-1 but did not play in SEC Championship game)

*I think there's a very good possibility that Alabama is in the AP and Coaches Top 4 but not in the College Football Playoff Selection Committee Top 4.