football-fbs flag | September 23, 2014

Head-to-Head: Dark horse for CFP?

  ECU became the first team outside of the power five conferences or independents to be ranked this season.

East Carolina has become the flavor of the month for its wins against two Atlantic Coast Conference teams -- Virginia Tech and North Carolina. ECU became the only team (besides independent Notre Dame) in the AP Top 25 to represent a conference outside of the “Power Five,” and the Pirates have defeated two ACC teams many thought were on the rise. 


Florida State still has a lot to prove. Even though it has only one true test the remainder of the regular season, the Noles are bound to have one of these stumbles.


Considering the perceived strength of the ACC, the No. 1 team in the country will have to go undefeated in order to even be considered for the College Football Playoff. FSU is the ACC’s only playoff hope at this point -- but the ACC is not alone in that category.


Oregon and Nebraska represent their conference’s only hope. So in case of emergency, break tradition.


But once one of these teams (Florida State, Oregon or Nebraska) inevitably loses a game, there will be a team outside of the power five conferences (outside of all conferences, actually) that will be one of the four teams playing in the playoff.


The Southeastern Conference will be represented in the playoff by Auburn, Alabama or Texas A&M, and when Oklahoma and Baylor are done punching each other out on Nov. 8, the winner will be the Big 12’s representative.


That leaves Notre Dame. The independents are an interesting case in the strength of schedule argument and it’s not that ND is actually one of the best teams in the country, it’s that they could actually get away with losing a game and still make it into the playoff.


Take a look at the schedules of BYU and Notre Dame (the two independents). BYU can win every game for the rest of the season by 30 and won’t even be considered because of the degree of difficulty that comes with its schedule. If Notre Dame runs the table, it not only will qualify for the CFP but the Irish should be the top-ranked team in the country.


It’s actually interesting to think that they are helped by both the difficulty of their schedule and the fact that they don’t have to play a conference championship game, something that will no doubt sort out the SEC’s CFP representative.



-- Gerard Gilberto,


There are only four spots in the College Football Playoff. That won’t be enough for a team outside the power five conferences to work its way in. There may be some undefeated teams at the end of the year, but when the semifinals kick off on Jan. 1, it will be limited to conference champions or one-loss teams from the big five.


Let’s get this one out of the way first -- Notre Dame. If Notre Dame goes undefeated, it has a legitimate shot at getting in. 


But I don’t see any way that happens. With road trips to Florida State, Arizona State and Southern California and a home date with Stanford, I don’t think the Irish come out unscathed at the end of the season. So let’s count them out for the purposes of this discussion.


BYU is another independent that could run the table, but the schedule simply isn’t strong enough. Without a team in the current AP Top 25 on BYU’s slate, I can’t see the committee putting it in while leaving out a power five conference champion, or even a one-loss team that didn’t have a chance to play for a conference title, like several Southeastern Conference teams could possibly end up as.


Moving on to the smaller conferences, I don’t see any team that could possibly have a win good enough to warrant sincere consideration for the playoff. Cincinnati or East Carolina could end up at least deserving a mention in the discussion if they finish out the rest of the season unbeaten, but the Pirates already have a loss (33-23 to South Carolina in Week 2), and the Bearcats’ best potential win is Ohio State. Those two could be very good teams, but there isn’t enough there to show the committee that they deserve a spot against a power five team.


It’s the same deal with Marshall, which probably has a better chance than any other team to finish with a zero as the second half of its record. The Thundering Herd could very well cruise through their schedule that includes the likes of FIU, Southern Miss and Western Kentucky, but that’s not nearly enough. This year’s Marshall is no Boise State of recent times.


The SEC and Pac-12 will almost certainly occupy half of the playoff. If Florida State and Oklahoma each win the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12, respectively, that should fill the rest of the spots. If not, other SEC and Pac-12 teams or the Big Ten champ will be waiting in the wings for a chance. There won’t be room for another conference.


-- Eric Vander Voort,

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