The bye week, LSU fans, is not just for raking the leaves, cleaning out the garage and whatever else is on your to-do list. It’s your first time at No. 1 during the College Football Playoff era, so realizing this might be unfamiliar territory. Here’s some free advice:
Cheer for Texas on Saturday — and from here on out.
The College Football Playoff, as subjective and ambiguous as it is, boils down to one very important question in the selection committee meeting room: Whom did you beat? Each of the 13 committee members has a binder filled with team sheets that show every FBS team’s schedule, and further break it down by how many victories that team had against Power 5 opponents, against opponents over .500, CFP top-25 teams, and CFP top-10 teams. FCS opponents are in bold type. Common opponents are highlighted in yellow for comparisons.
When the first ranking is released Tuesday, it will be the first glimpse into how the committee regards some of the contenders’ opponents. How valuable is a win against Texas in their eyes? Against Michigan? Notre Dame? Is Oklahoma’s loss at Kansas State as bad as some think? Or does the committee think the Wildcats are a top-25 team, too?
“It’s one piece of information,” committee chair and Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said. “We have a lot of information. We watch all the games, we have all the data we need. That is one piece of information — who did you play, what were the results — and that matters.”
In order for LSU’s victory at Texas to matter, the Longhorns need to keep winning, but it’s not just about LSU. If you can find it within you, deep down beyond your own fight song, mascot and school colors, it’s a good time to raise a foam finger (not that one) for one of your opponents.
Here’s your ultimate rooting interest guide for the rest of the season:
Ohio State fans
Cheer for: Cincinnati
Here’s why: Remember Luke Fickell, your old defensive coordinator? He’s still helping you out. The Cincinnati head coach has the Bearcats leading the American Athletic Conference East division and in contention for a New Year’s Six bowl. Each week, the Buckeyes’ 42-0 win on Sept. 7 is looking better, and without any nonconference wins over Power 5 opponents, Ohio State needs it. Cincinnati could wind up being another CFP top-25 victory for the Buckeyes. Ohio State is off this weekend; Cincy is at East Carolina. What else are you gonna do?
Cheer for: Your worst enemies. Miami and Florida State?! But they’re playing each other Saturday! Pick the lesser of two evils.
Here’s why: Florida’s nonconference schedule includes Miami, Florida State, Towson and UT Martin — two of which are FCS teams, all of which have at least three losses, and none of which is currently over .500. Would wins against Auburn, Georgia and the SEC West winner be enough to offset that? Maybe. Maybe not. The best-case scenario beyond the Gators winning the SEC would be for FSU and Miami to have respectable winning seasons. #arewethereyet?
Cheer for: Texas A&M and — gasp — South Carolina
Here’s why: Juuuust in case you, well, lose. Let’s call it insurance. As of this second, the Tigers have zero wins against top-25 teams. Only two victories have come against teams above .500 — Texas A&M (5-3) and Louisville (5-3). Clemson looks like a top-four team. It should win out. If — if — it doesn’t, though, it could be in trouble if it gets into a résumé comparison with other one-loss teams. What if Clemson loses to South Carolina — a team Alabama beat on the road — and the Tigers and Tide both finish with one loss? If Clemson wins the ACC Atlantic (don’t forget, the Tigers also have to play Wake Forest), it would be guaranteed to face a team with at least two losses in the ACC championship game, which won’t do much to impress the committee on Selection Day.
Cheer for: Utah and Auburn
Here’s why: If Oregon is going to be considered for the playoff as a one-loss Pac-12 champ, the best-case scenario for the Ducks is to beat a top-10 Utah team — not a three-loss USC team — in the conference title game. This week is crucial in the Pac-12, as Oregon travels to USC for what is its most difficult remaining game of the regular season. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Oregon a 63.7% chance to win. If it doesn’t, the Ducks are cooked in the playoff race. If Oregon wins, the loss to Auburn remains important. It was a close game at a neutral site in the season opener — hardly a dagger. If Auburn comes unraveled, though, and for some reason loses to Ole Miss this weekend, it could become a little more meaningful. If the Tigers finish 8-4, ending the regular season with losses to Georgia and Alabama, it’s not enough to keep Oregon out on its own. If the Tigers upset one or both of those two, the Ducks’ early defeat might be viewed as the best loss in the country.
Penn State fans
Cheer for: Pitt and Minnesota (you can wait until Nov. 10)
Here’s why: It would be like playing in the Big Ten title game — without actually getting there, further bolstering the league’s case for two teams in the top four if Penn State beats Minnesota on Nov. 9 but loses at Ohio State on Nov. 23. This is assuming, of course, that Minnesota wins the West division but loses to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. As for Pitt, it’s still mathematically possible the Panthers can win the ACC Coastal, but highly unlikely after their loss to Miami. The more Pitt wins, though, the better the Nittany Lions’ 17-10 victory Sept. 14 will look. If PSU doesn’t win the Big Ten, every aspect of its schedule will be scrutinized. With wins over FCS Idaho (3-5) and Buffalo (4-4), Penn State can use some help.
Cheer for: Kansas State, Baylor and … Texas
Here’s why: If the one-loss Sooners are going to be considered, they need the selection committee to hold the rest of the Big 12 in high regard in its rankings, and they need to beat a highly ranked opponent in the conference championship game. As awful as OU looked for much of the game at K-State last week, the routine heroics of quarterback Jalen Hurts put the Sooners in position to win in spite of it all. Because of that, it’s a different conversation. It’s been very hard for teams to overcome double-digit losses and still finish in the top four, but Oklahoma avoided that. Right now, K-State is only a two-loss team. It’s possible the Wildcats will ranked by the committee Tuesday, but can they stay there? K-State still has to play at Texas, at Texas Tech and against Iowa State — all tricky games.
As hard as it might be for Oklahoma fans to pull for their rival, the Sooners need Texas to get it together. ESPN’s FPI currently projects the Longhorns will come unraveled, giving them less than a 50% chance to beat Iowa State and Baylor. If Texas finishes with five losses, a victory over the Longhorns amounts to a shoulder shrug. If Texas isn’t in the committee’s final top 25, Baylor could wind up as OU’s only ranked win.
If Baylor can stay undefeated, that could be a statement road win for the Sooners on Nov. 16. According to ESPN’s FPI, Oklahoma (84%) and Baylor (82%) have the best chance to reach the Big 12 title game, and they are the most likely matchup at 67%. There’s only a 9% chance the Big 12 championship features OU and Texas.
Cheer for: Oregon
Here’s why: USC can still win the Pac-12 South. Remember, Utah’s only loss so far was on the road to the Trojans. The Utes need to keep it that way — and get some help. Utah travels to Washington on Saturday for its most difficult remaining game of the regular season. ESPN’s FPI gives the Utes a 47.1% chance to win. If they do, and USC loses to Oregon, Utah’s chances to win the South jump to 88%, while USC’s plummet to 10%.
If Utah is going to be taken seriously as a CFP contender, it first has to win the South — and it needs Oregon’s help along the way. It also needs the Ducks to finish as a one-loss North division champ, to present the opportunity for a statement win in the Pac-12 title game. That might be the Utes’ only ranked opponent of the season.
Cheer for: Yourselves.
Here’s why: If Georgia doesn’t beat Florida on Saturday, the win over Notre Dame and everything else becomes a moot point. The Bulldogs’ résumé is stained by a double-overtime loss to 3-5 South Carolina — a defeat that currently looks worse than Oklahoma’s loss at K-State. Georgia also didn’t score until the second half against Kentucky, leaving plenty of doubt about whether it can beat the Gators, let alone win the SEC. If Georgia does win the SEC, it would have enough on its résumé to overcome the South Carolina loss, but cheering for Notre Dame certainly can’t hurt. After what happened at Michigan last week, the Irish could use some good vibes anyway.
Cheer for: An undefeated season.
Here’s why: You’re in! It would be extremely difficult for the selection committee to leave the Bears out if they finished as undefeated Big 12 champs, knocking off Oklahoma in the title game along the way. One loss, though, and the strength of the entire conference as well as Baylor’s weak nonconference schedule (Stephen F. Austin, UTSA and Rice) come into play. ESPN’s FPI projects Baylor to win each of its remaining games except Nov. 16 against Oklahoma (27.6%).
Cheer for: An undefeated season.
Here’s why: You’re in! If Minnesota runs the table and wins the Big Ten, it likely would have defeated four ranked opponents along the way, in Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin and the East division winner in the conference title game. It’s not going to be easy. ESPN’s FPI projects Minnesota to lose three of its final four games, the lone victory coming at Northwestern on Nov. 23.
Cheer for: More upsets.
Here’s why: If the Big Ten and ACC champs have at least one loss — and Baylor doesn’t finish undefeated — it will increase the Crimson Tide’s odds of finishing in the top four with a potential loss to LSU. Alabama, in spite of its reputation and brand name, isn’t immune to schedule scrutiny from selection committee members, and so far, the Tide doesn’t have much to brag about. The two best victories have been at South Carolina and at Texas A&M. Clemson has a chance to beat both of them, too. If the Tigers lose at South Carolina on Nov. 30, though, that could make for an interesting one-loss debate.