The winners of top-10 matchups in September benefit greatly by being put on a fast track to the College Football Playoff with a signature victory. However, the losers aren’t necessarily out.
No. 4 Ohio State defeated No. 9 Penn State in Happy Valley, 27-26, while No. 8 Notre Dame took care of No. 7 Stanford, 38-17, in South Bend, Indiana. While the loss certainly puts the Nittany Lions and Cardinal at a disadvantage of being one of four teams to play for a national championship at the end of the season, there are paths for both teams to get there.
Here’s how Penn State and Stanford can still reach the College Football Playoff, despite a loss on Saturday.
Ohio State is in the driver’s seat to be the Big Ten Championship Game representative from the East Division with its win against Penn State. Now, Ohio State did make the playoff ahead of Penn State in 2016 with a loss to the Nittany Lions, which went on to win the Big Ten championship. And Alabama didn’t make its conference title game last year and still made the playoff, but a conference championship still remains the best path to the playoff.
With that said, Penn State will need to win out in order to have a shot at going to the Big Ten championship as a one-conference-loss team and hope the Buckeyes lose two games because if Ohio State loses just one conference game, it still holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Nittany Lions. If three teams end up tied atop the Big Ten East with one loss, it’s possible Ohio State or Penn State can make the Big Ten title through a series of conference tiebreaker rules.
Penn State still has to play Michigan State next week, along with the Wisconsin Badgers and a game at Michigan, so it’s not improbable to think Penn State could have an at-large bid with impressive wins. Ohio State has a road game against Michigan State left on its schedule and, of course, plays Michigan in its season finale. Another loss would certainly knock the Nittany Lions out for good.
The upside for the Cardinal after its loss to Notre Dame is it is still undefeated in the Pac 12 and conference championships are what puts teams into the playoff. However, a one-loss Notre Dame theoretically would take a spot ahead of Stanford right now, depending on which team the Irish would lose to.
Notre Dame is still undefeated, which puts Stanford behind the Irish currently, but a one-loss conference champion Stanford could be above a one-loss Irish team for we’ve seen the committee puts much emphasis on conference championships.
The Cardinal’s Pac-12 championship game hopes will seemingly come down to its road game against No. 11 Washington on Nov. 3 which should decide the North Division. One thing working against the Cardinal is that no current Pac-12 team in the South Division is ranked, so a boost from a ranked win in the conference title might not be possible. The Cardinal might have to be very impressive from here on out to put the Pac 12 into the committee’s good graces before it selects the four playoff teams.