Berry’s college football buffet: OU’s schedule still paying off in playoff race

Berry’s college football buffet: OU’s schedule still paying off in playoff race

Berry Tramel: Only 20 Power Five teams remain with fewer than two losses, and that’s the ticket to the College Football Playoff.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Oct 19, 2023, 12:00pm CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Oct 19, 2023, 12:00pm CDT

Nine four-team College Football Playoffs have been staged. That’s 36 teams selected.

None had more than one loss.

Will that change in 2023? Seems unlikely. 

So far this season, nine Power Five Conference teams remain unbeaten, and 11 have just one loss. Seven weeks of games remain; to trim at least 17 squadrons from that list, about 2½ per week will have to be eliminated, and those 17 would include 23 defeats. 

Of course, nothing says the CFP selection committee can’t take a two-loss team, but the committee consistently has shown its most treasured metric is losses. The fewer the better, most famously in 2016, when fourth-seeded Alabama, 11-1, got in ahead of 11-2 Southern Cal, when the Trojans played a much  more difficult schedule. Not only was USC bypassed, the Trojans were ranked seventh by the committee.

So sure, league titles matter, and strength of schedule matters, but the most important number is the defeats. Get to the finish line with less than two defeats.

Through seven weeks, 2023 isn’t too out of step with previous years, in terms of contenders. The eight unbeatens settle smack dab between the nine of 2022 and the seven of 2021. But the 12 one-loss Power Five teams is more than 2022 (nine) or 2021 (11).

Here are the 20 teams still in the running for the playoff, ranked by likelihood they will finish with fewer than two losses:

1. Oklahoma 6-0

We said it before the season, we’re saying it now. The Sooners were blessed with an easy schedule. It means OU will lose most committee decisions with a team of the same number of losses, but it means the Sooners have the easiest path to get to 13-0 or 12-1.

Best win: Texas in Dallas

Toughest remaining games: at Kansas, at OSU, likely Big 12 Championship Game

AllState Playoff predictor chances: 69%

2. Florida State 6-0

The Atlantic Coast Conference has been good so far, but Duke might be the Seminoles’ toughest game remaining.

Best wins: LSU in Orlando, at Clemson

Toughest remaining games: Duke, Miami, at Florida, likely Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

AllState Playoff predictor chances: 44%

3. Ohio State 6-0

Why do the Buckeyes have the best chance of reaching the mark? They have the best chance of going 11-1 and not playing in the Big Ten Championship Game, which is not a guaranteed victory, even if it feels like it.

Best wins: at Notre Dame, Maryland

Toughest remaining games: Penn State, at Michigan, possible Big Ten Championship Game

AllState Playoff predictor: 56%

4. Michigan 7-0

Same scenario as Ohio State.

Best wins: Nevada-Las Vegas? At Minnesota? The question was best, not good.

Toughest remaining games: at Penn State, at Maryland, Ohio State.

AllState playoff predictor: 32%

5. Georgia 6-0

The Bulldogs’ remaining schedule appears a little tougher than we thought.

Best wins: at Auburn, Kentucky

Toughest remaining games: Florida in Jacksonville, Missouri, Ole Miss, at Tennessee, likely Southeastern Conference title game

AllState playoff predictor: 30%

6. North Carolina 6-0

The Tar Heels won’t see Florida State until at least the ACC Championship Game.

Best wins: Syracuse, Miami

Toughest remaining games: Duke, at Clemson, like ACC Championship Game

AllState playoff predictor: 10%

7. Penn State 6-0

There’s not a dime’s worth of difference in the remaining schedule for the Big Ten beats, but the nickel’s worth is Maryland, which hosts Penn State and Michigan.

Best wins: West Virginia, Iowa

Toughest remaining games: at Ohio State, at Maryland, Michigan

AllState playoff predictor: 35%

8. Washington 6-0

There is no rest for the weary in the Pac-12. Lots of tough games.

Best wins: at Arizona, Oregon

Toughest remaining games: at Southern Cal, Utah, at Oregon State, Washington State

AllState playoff predictor: 40%

9. Texas 5-1

The one-loss teams have no room for stumble. But the Longhorns have the least likelihood of stumbling, among one-loss teams.

Best wins: at Alabama, Kansas

Loss: Oklahoma in Dallas

Toughest remaining games: Kansas State, at Iowa State, likely Big 12 title game

AllState playoff predictor: 27%

10. Iowa 6-1

Don’t laugh. The Hawkeyes don’t have a tough opponent remaining in the regular season. It’s far easier to pull one big upset than beat three or four really good teams.

Best wins: Iowa State, at Wisconsin

Loss: at Penn State

Toughest remaining games: Big Ten Championship Game

AllState playoff predictor: less than 2%

11. Oregon State 6-1

Yes, Oregon State has to go to Oregon. But the Beavers otherwise have a far easier schedule than do the Ducks.

Best: Utah, UCLA

Loss: at Washington State

Toughest remaining games: Washington, at Oregon, Pac-12 Championship Game

AllState playoff predictor: less than 2%

12. Oregon 5-1

Same script as Washington, except the Ducks now have that loss.

Best wins: Florida, UCLA

Loss: at Washington

Toughest remaining games: Washington State, at Utah, Southern Cal, Oregon State, likely Pac-12 title game

AllState playoff predictor: 19%

13. Alabama 6-1

Rough road for Bama. It’s never winning the Iron Bowl in Auburn.

Best wins: Ole Miss, at Texas A&M

Loss: Texas

Toughest remaining games: Tennessee, Louisiana State, at Kentucky, at Auburn, SEC Championship Game

AllState playoff predictor: 26%

14. Louisville 6-1

Part of this ranking for Louisville is not just the schedule, but the Cardinals’ unlikelihood of beating even mediocre teams. Like last week at Pitt.

Loss: at Pittsburgh

Toughest remaining games: Duke, at Miami, Kentucky

AllState playoff predictor: less than 2%

15. Duke 5-1

The second loss is coming. Probably soon.

Best win: Clemson

Loss: Notre Dame

Toughest remaining games: at Florida State, at Louisville, at North Carolina, ACC title game

AllState playoff predictor: less than 2%

16. Missouri 6-1

Winning Georgia is a huge longshot. But otherwise, the biggest impediment is that it’s Mizzou.

Best win: Kansas State, at Kentucky

Loss: LSU

Toughest remaining games: at Georgia, Tennessee, SEC Championship Game

AllState playoff predictor: less than 2%

17. Tennessee 5-1

Beat Godzilla and King Kong, then win the SEC Championship Game. That’s the Vols’ mission.

Best win: Texas A&M

Loss: at Florida

Toughest remaining games: at Alabama, at Kentucky, at Missouri, Georgia, SEC Championship Game

AllState playoff predictor: less than 2%

18. Southern Cal 5-1

USC’s problem is not the schedule, though that’s an issue. USC’s problem is USC.

Best wins: Colorado, Arizona

Loss: at Notre Dame

Toughest remaining games: Utah, Washington, at Oregon, UCLA, likely Pac-12 title game

AllState playoff predictor: 2%

19. Ole Miss 5-1

The Rebels might have to beat Georgia twice to remain a one-loss team. Once in Athens, once in Atlanta. Good luck with that.

Best win: at Tulane, LSU

Loss: at Alabama

Toughest remaining games: at Auburn, at Georgia, at Mississippi State, possible SEC Championship Game

AllState playoff predictor: 4%

20. Utah 5-1

The Utes’ have the toughest finishing stretch in college football.

Best wins: Florida, UCLA

Loss: at Oregon State

Toughest remaining games: at Southern Cal, Oregon, at Washington, at Arizona, likely Pac-12 title game

AllState playoff predictor: less than 2%

Big 12 rankings: Who’s No. 3

While OU and Texas are pulling mounting playoff charges, much of the rest of the Big 12 is chanting “We’re No. 3!” In truth, a variety of Big 12 teams can still upend an OU-Texas rematch in Arlington, but the league is searching for its true third-best team.

Here’s how we rank the teams going into Week 8:

  1. Oklahoma (6-0, 3-0): Sooners have solved their losing-close-games-problem of last season. Don’t play so many.
  2. Texas (5-1, 2-1): The Longhorns should have no hangover from losing to OU. They had last week off; now they get back-to-back games against newcomers Houston and Brigham Young.
  3. West Virginia (4-2, 2-1): How messed up is Big 12 football below the top two? The Mountaineers lost last week to Houston, and WVU doesn’t even fall in my rankings.
  4. Iowa State (4-3, 3-1): If the Cyclones win out, they are in Arlington for the Big 12 Championship Game.
  5. Oklahoma State (4-2, 2-1): Same goes for Cowboys; win out, and it’s Arlington-bound for OSU.
  6. Kansas (5-2, 2-2): KU has played the league’s toughest schedule so far — road games at Austin and Stillwater.
  7. Kansas State (4-2, 2-1): Wildcats say they will play two quarterbacks against Texas Christian. What, can’t interest you in three?
  8. TCU (4-3, 2-2): Horned Frogs and Brigham Young are the lone teams that still play both OU and Texas this season.
  9. Texas Tech (3-4, 2-2): Red Raiders have just two home games remaining — TCU and Central Florida.
  10. Brigham Young (4-2, 1-2): Man, it feels like the Cougars have lost more than twice.
  11. Houston (3-3, 1-2): Dana Holgorsen beat his old employer, West Virginia.
  12. Baylor (2-4, 1-2): The Bears would vote to fast forward to 2024.
  13. Central Florida (3-3, 0-3): The collapse against Baylor — losing 36-35 after leading 35-10 in the fourth quarter — will haunt the Knights all season.
  14. Cincinnati (2-4, 0-3): The Bearcats could be looking at a winless Big 12 slate.

College football rankings: Who wins a Big Ten tiebreaker?

The first of the Big Ten’s three major showdowns in the back half of the season arrives Saturday with Penn State at Ohio State, soon followed by Michigan at Penn State on Nov. 11 and Ohio State at Michigan on Nov. 25.

All three are ranked in the top 10 and unbeaten. So what happens if there’s a three-way tie among teams 8-1 in the Big Ten and 11-1 overall? The cumulative conference record of their cross-divisional opponents will be the determinant.

Michigan and Ohio State both play Minnesota and Purdue. Ohio State also plays Wisconsin, while Michigan plays Nebraska. So advantage Buckeyes, since Wisconsin figures to finish ahead of Nebraska.

Penn State plays Iowa, Illinois and Northwestern.

Right now, Ohio State’s three cross-division foes are 4-5. Michigan’s are 3-6. Penn State’s are 5-6.

Penn State will be helped by Iowa, which might finish 8-1. But Northwestern might finish 1-8.

Michigan and Ohio State play early on Nov. 25. But the teams could walk off the field not knowing who will represent the East Division in the Big Ten Championship Game. They could be having to wait on the results of Northwestern at Illinois, Wisconsin at Minnesota or Indiana at Purdue.

Here’s how my national top 10 shakes out this week, and remember, this is not a prediction. These rankings are based on who you played, where you played and how you did.

  1. Florida State 6-0: The Seminoles likely will fall out of the top spot, even if they keep winning, if Washington keeps winning, too. 
  2. Washington 6-0: Lots of marquee games left for the Huskies, though not this week, with Arizona State on the slate.
  3. Ohio State 6-0: Too bad for the Buckeyes that non-conference prowess doesn’t count in potential tiebreakers. Winning at Notre Dame ought to count for something.
  4. Oklahoma 6-0: Before the Big 12 Championship Game, the Sooners don’t have another marquee opponent, unless OSU keeps winning and makes Bedlam an event.
  5. Texas 5-1: UT actually has a better win than do the Sooners, having won at Alabama.
  6. Georgia 7-0: Starting Nov. 4, the Bulldogs play three straight games against teams that currently have one loss — Missouri, Ole Miss, at Tennessee.
  7. North Carolina 6-0: Still piling up wins, without playing many weak links. Miami was the most recent victim.
  8. Penn State 6-0: Win in the Horseshoe on Saturday, and safe to say the Nittany Lions will be No. 1 next week.
  9. Alabama 6-1: Back-to-back huge home games, against Tennessee and LSU.
  10. Oregon 5-1: Excruciating loss at Washington has the Ducks scratching to stay in the playoff race.

Coaches on the hot seat

My coach-on-the-hot-seat selections typically mean a coach who is in danger of losing his job. But not always. Bill Snyder was once on my hot seat. So was Lincoln Riley. And Gary Patterson. None had any chance of being fired. Until Patterson was, of course, by TCU. So you never know.

Big 12: BYU’s Kelani Sitake

Kelani Sitake is beloved by BYU fans. Not just a beloved coach, but a beloved man. His character, his demeanor, his humble spirit resonates with Cougar Nation regardless of football results.

It helps, of course, that Sitake has won. He’s third all-time among BYU coaches in winning percentage, his .625 behind only the legendary Lavell Edwards (.716) and Bronco Mendenhall (.695), Sitake’s predecessor.

And BYU is winning still. Just ask Arkansas, which lost at home to the Cougars 38-31 on Sept. 16. 

But the Cougars are like all the newcomers to the Big 12. Adjustment has been difficult. BYU beat Cincinnati 35-27. But the Cougars lost 38-27 at Kansas, and last week BYU was a total no-show in losing 44-11 at TCU.

Saturday, the Cougars host Texas Tech, which has underperformed and fallen to 3-4. With a win, Tech can right its season and get to 3-2 in the conference. But conversely, BYU can right its season, get within a victory of bowl eligibility and remind fans that their beloved Sitake can coach a little, too.

National: Indiana’s Tom Allen

Coaching the Hoosiers is tough. Basketball coaches often don’t win enough. Football coaches don’t often win much at all.

The last Indiana football coach to leave his post with a winning record was Bo McMillin, who went 63-48-11 from 1937-47. IU’s career victories leader is Bill Mallory, who went 68-78-3 from 1984-96.

But Tom Allen, a veteran of Indiana high school coaching, took over as head coach after Kevin Wilson resigned under pressure after the 2016 regular season. Wilson had just coached IU to a 6-6 record and a bowl game.

Allen kept things going well. IU went 5-7 in both 2017 and 2018, then 8-5 in 2019 and was one of best handlers of the pandemic. His Hoosiers went 6-2, beat Penn State and almost beat Ohio State (losing 42-35) before losing to Ole Miss 26-20 in the Outback Bowl.

But IU has struggled since. The Hoosiers are 8-22 the last 2½ seasons, including 2-4 this season. And now Rutgers comes to Bloomington, with a chance to secure a bowl berth itself. If the Scarlet Knights win, it’s a reminder to IU fans that basketball season has arrived and it might be time for the Hoosiers to get back in the business of changing football coaches.

Upset special

National: Penn State over Ohio State

Strange situation in the Penn State-Ohio State showdown Saturday in Ohio Stadium: the Buckeyes might not have the better quarterback.

The Buckeyes have unleashed a string of great QBs since the 2010s arrived: C.J. Stroud, Justin Fields, Dwayne Haskins, J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller. It’s been quite a run.

And junior Kyle McCord might soon join them.

But Penn State might have the edge Saturday. Sophomore Drew Allar has been stellar for the Nittany Lions. He’s from Cleveland and chose the Nittanys over the Buckeyes, in part because he was a late addition to the class, graduating high school early, and Ohio State already had a commitment from now-Longhorn Quinn Ewers.

The statistics of McCord and Allar are tight: Allar has completed 65.2%, McCord 64.1. Allar’s touchdown-to-interception ratio is 12/0; McCord’s is 11/1. McCord’s quarterback rating is 165.9; Allar’s is 145.3, so there’s some separation. But no interceptions through six games is impressive.

Ohio State has won 10 of the last 11 in the series, and the Buckeyes are 4½-point favorites. But let’s go with Allar and Penn State in the upset.

National upset special record: 3-4.

Big 12: TCU over Kansas State

TCU is not the same caliber of team that beat Michigan in the national semifinals last December and handed the Big 12 its most glorious moment since the Texas-Southern Cal national title game of almost 18 years ago.

Kansas State is not the same caliber of team that upset TCU in a rousing Big 12 Championship Game 10½ months ago.

Heck, TCU and K-State aren’t even the same teams that opened the season seven weeks ago. Both are in quarterback-change mode.

The Horned Frogs turned to Josh Hoover last week after Chandler Morris missed the game with injury, and TCU whacked BYU 44-11. K-State turned to true freshman Avery Johnson after Will Howard struggled at Texas Tech, and Johnson rushed for five touchdowns in a 38-21 victory.

KSU, at least, has only one Big 12 loss and still controls most of its destiny in returning to Arlington. Playing at home, the Wildcats are 6½-point favorites. But something about Hoover seemed special. Let’s go with the Frogs in the upset.

Big 12 upset special record: 4-3

Ranking the Big 12 games

  1. Oklahoma State at West Virginia, 2:30 p.m., ESPN: Believe it or not, OSU-WVU is the only Big 12 game Saturday matching teams with winning conference records.
  2. Texas Christian at Kansas State, 6 p.m. ESPN2: Believe it or not, TCU-KSU is the only other Big 12 game with neither team below .500 in conference.
  3. Texas Tech at Brigham Young, 6 p.m., Fox Sports1: This could be a season-crusher for the Red Raiders, who already are 3-4 overall and without a quality win.
  4. Texas at Houston, 3 p.m., Fox: Expect more Longhorn fans than Houston fans in TDECU Stadium. There are some advantages to being in the Big 12, Longhorns.
  5. Central Florida at Oklahoma, 11 a.m., ABC: The Dillon Gabriel connection — emerging star at UCF, now an emerging superstar at OU — might be the only drama.
  6. Baylor at Cincinnati, 11 a.m., Big 12 Plus: Loser could be staring at finishing last in the Big 12.

Ranking the top 10 national games

I don’t have to tell you which game ranks No. 1 on this list:

  1. Penn State at Ohio State, 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox: This is the kind of matchup that makes Fox think it can win the war with ESPN and the kind of matchup that caused Fox to push for an expanded Big Ten. More games like this.
  2. Utah State at Southern Cal, 7 p.m. Saturday,  Fox: A playoff elimination game and a likely elimination game for the Pac-12 Championship Game, too.
  3. Washington State at Oregon, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC: Same thing in Eugene as at the LA Coliseum. A battle of one-loss teams.
  4. Tennessee at Alabama, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS: Volunteers haven’t won at Bryant-Denny Stadium since 2003.
  5. Duke at Florida State, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC: Blue Devils coach Mike Elko hinted that quarterback Riley Leonard will play, after missing several weeks with an ankle sprain. Seems unlikely.
  6. Clemson at Miami, 7 p.m. Saturday, ACC Network: Bigger for can’t-avert-the-eyes-from-a-car-wreck reasons. Each team is 4-2 overall; at least the Tigers have two conference victories. Miami has none.
  7. James Madison at Marshall, 7 p.m. Thursday, ESPN: I keep telling you, James Madison might run the Sun Belt and make the Peach Bowl. This is your chance to focus on the Dukes against a good mid-major.
  8. Ole Miss at Auburn, 6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN, : These SEC West rivals might seem like naturals, but they played just 14 times before 1990. In the old days of the SEC, conference games and rivalries were more of a suggestion than a mandate.
  9. Air Force at Navy, 11 a.m. Saturday, CBS: Falcons 28-9. Can Air Force stay unbeaten? The Academy has won four of five from Navy and leads the series 33-22.
  10. Minnesota at Iowa, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN: Big game for Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s future. While the 6-1 Hawkeyes are in command to win the Big Ten West, Ferentz’s offense has sputtered. He needs Iowa to average 25 points a game this season, but the Hawkeyes are averaging just 30.8 points a game. If Iowa checks in under 25 — including the Big Ten Championship, when Hawkeye points would be hard to find — then Ferentz’s contract terminates.

 

Share with your crowd
Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; The Oklahoma City Thunder bench watch the final minute of their game against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Does OKC need more Aaron Wiggins?

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder fans cheer as their team scores against the Dallas Mavericks during the second quarter of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Thunder-Mavericks: Why these playoffs might spawn a new OKC rival

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket beside Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    OKC fans chanted ‘Luka sucks,’ but Doncic’s play said otherwise

  • Tailgating on The Grove on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Ms., on Saturday September 15, 2018.

Pre309

    OU’s move to the SEC: Listing the things to look foward to

  • Ireland travelblog: Farewell to the Emerald Isle, which keep Americans coming

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; The Oklahoma City Thunder bench watch the final minute of their game against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Does OKC need more Aaron Wiggins?

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder fans cheer as their team scores against the Dallas Mavericks during the second quarter of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Thunder-Mavericks: Why these playoffs might spawn a new OKC rival

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket beside Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    OKC fans chanted ‘Luka sucks,’ but Doncic’s play said otherwise

  • Tailgating on The Grove on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Ms., on Saturday September 15, 2018.

Pre309

    OU’s move to the SEC: Listing the things to look foward to

  • Ireland travelblog: Farewell to the Emerald Isle, which keep Americans coming