When November rolls up, it's Thanksgiving season for some, it's winter for others, or it's still summer-ish if you live in California like me. For college football fans, it's make or break season. November is when you find out who is a contender and who is a pretender.
Now that we have a playoff, it's when all hell breaks loose as the College Football Playoff selection committee starts to release their rankings. The first rankings of the 2015 were just released on Tuesday and most people freaked out. But remember this: THESE RANKINGS DON'T MATTER!!!!!..... YET.
Alabama was ranked in the top 4 with 1 loss while an undefeated TCU and Iowa sit at 8 and 9. An undefeated Memphis team who nobody heard of before the Ole Miss upset is ranked higher than a Power 5 undefeated team in Oklahoma State. Again, these rankings DON'T MATTER!!!... YET. Stanford escaped last Saturday with a victory at Washington State. That type of victory probably cost them a few spots in the rankings although I doubt many of the selection committee members actually watched the game. So as the rankings were revealed last Tuesday, Stanford found itself just outside of the top 10 at #11. WHO CARES!!!
Stanford needs to look at the only number that matters and that is the one loss. The loss to Northwestern is going to be brought back up every time Stanford is mentioned in the national media so if you haven't got a headache from hearing it, you will soon. Just the term "Northwestern" might turn into something Stanford fans hate to hear as much as "The Play" or "Walt Harris." That loss prevented Stanford from having any hiccups along the way. Stanford cannot afford to lose another game. If Stanford can run the gauntlet the rest of the way, they will be in the College Football Playoff. 12-1 Stanford beating Oregon still looks good on paper, a top-ranked Notre Dame team, and a conference championship regardless of the opponent will be enough resume material that Stanford may get the "you might be overqualified" speech.
But okay, you want the formula that all but guarantees a Stanford playoff berth, so here goes.
Clemson is currently #1 in the playoff rankings. Clemson has a tough rivalry game against #16 Florida State this weekend but it's at home. If Clemson gets by this weekend, the odds of them losing pre-conference championship are slim to none as they play 3 teams with a combined record of 9-16. Now if Clemson loses any game, even the conference championship, they will drop below Stanford. The stat to keep an eye on is Clemson has not gone undefeated in November since 2005. So what happens when Clemson goes undefeated? That leaves only 3 remaining spots.
That brings up the SEC as a whole. #2 LSU plays at #4 Alabama this weekend. If LSU beats Alabama, that gives Alabama 2 losses and they would fall behind Stanford. If Alabama wins, that now puts the SEC in a tough situation as there would no longer be any undefeated SEC teams. If Ole Miss wins out regardless of this weekend's outcome in Tuscaloosa, they go on to the conference championship eliminating Alabama and LSU and Stanford beating Notre Dame and then a conference championship outweighs the SEC champion. For the sake of not having complete chaos, just say that LSU or Alabama wins out, and goes on.
"Now there are only 2 spots left! How can Stanford get in?!"
So in that case, it seems like it's getting tougher for Stanford but remember the talent of the Big 12 has yet to play. Oklahoma, which has 1 loss to a bad Texas team, still plays Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma State. Even if they run that gauntlet, the committee might still like a 1-loss Stanford over a 1-loss Oklahoma. Baylor plays Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU. TCU plays at Baylor, and Oklahoma State plays all 3. You get my drift. The Big 12 still has to find a team that can run undefeated so that in itself will be tough. If you are a Stanford fan, you either hope for Oklahoma to win or complete Royal Rumble and have everyone with a loss. And remember, even an undefeated Big 12 team doesn't guarantee a playoff berth.
"But what about reigning champion Ohio State - who is still undefeated by the way?"
The Big 10 currently has 3 undefeated teams left. Ohio State, along with Michigan State and Iowa. Ohio State plays Michigan State on November 21st so one of those teams will come out with an L and be eliminated. Ohio State still plays a better-than-expected Michigan team in Ann Arbor to end the year so Ohio State isn't out of the woods even with a potential win versus Michigan State. Iowa on the other hand plays nobody. They should run the table but the only possible way for Iowa to even be considered for a playoff berth is beating an undefeated Ohio State or Michigan State team in the conference championship. So once again, let's play a game where either Ohio State or Michigan State goes undefeated.
That brings up the Cinderella in Memphis. Memphis has the best shot to get into the playoff as they were ranked the highest from the AAC in the initial polls at #13. However, due to the strength of the American Athletic Conference as a whole, Stanford would get in with 1-loss over an undefeated Memphis team even with their win over potential SEC champion Ole Miss. Memphis might have the best quarterback nobody has heard of in Paxton Lynch and potentially the next USC coach in Justin Fuente but overall, would not have had as much meat on their plate as Stanford did going undefeated in Pac-12 play.
So when Clemson, LSU or Alabama, Baylor, Ohio State or Michigan State, and even Memphis win out, that would leave Stanford in a tough spot come selection day and would ultimately leave the Pac-12 and Stanford settling for a Rose Bowl bid. BUT... When has college football ever gone according to plan? The formula for Stanford is simple: WIN OUT. The most important game is Colorado this weekend. And the rest will follow.
It's not an A+B=C scenario for Stanford but college football is more like advanced math anyway. Just when you think you understand it, you're wrong.