Survival of the fittest in the sprint to the CFP finish

Survival of the fittest in the sprint to the CFP finish

Pay attention to No. 3 Notre Dame, because how the Irish fare at No. 7 Miami (8 p.m. ET on ABC and ESPN App) will do more to shake up the College Football Playoff race than any other game on Saturday’s loaded Week 11 slate.

The ripple effects of an Irish loss to the Hurricanes would be felt from Washington to Wisconsin, because as long as Notre Dame remains in the selection committee’s top four, at least two Power 5 conferences will be out. However, a Notre Dame loss would open the door. It could be a second ACC team in Miami. It could be the Big 12, either Oklahoma or TCU. It could be Wisconsin, the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten. It would at least give hope that Washington might have a chance should it win out.

One thing is certain: Notre Dame is currently in the way of the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 front-runners, but the Irish are heading into their most difficult and arguably most important game remaining. Notre Dame hasn’t played on the road since Oct. 7 at North Carolina. The Irish still have to play Navy (5-3) and Stanford (6-3), but with no conference title game to play in, this is the best opportunity to impress the selection committee one more time.

“I know our guys are excited about this championship drive they’re on now,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “This part of the season, obviously in November, all of the teams that are in contention are focused on one game at a time. It’s a single elimination for most teams.”

And most teams are waiting for the Irish to be eliminated, or their path to the final four will remain blocked.

If the Irish are to take the place of a Power 5 conference in the playoff, which will it be? Here’s a ranking of each Power 5 conference’s likelihood of having a team in the playoff ranked from best to least, and the Week 11 games that will impact their standing in the next ranking:

1. SEC

CFP ranked teams: 5

With No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama holding steady in the selection committee’s first two rankings, it’s becoming clear the winner of the SEC championship game is all but a lock for the final top four. Even a two-loss Auburn team is still in contention with games against the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide still remaining.

The biggest question facing the SEC right now is if it can get two teams in the top four on Selection Day. Georgia and Alabama are the only two teams to rank in the top five in ESPN’s strength of record and game control. As long as they keep winning, it remains a realistic scenario, especially if the gap between them continues to be as razor-thin in the eyes of the committee as it is now.

Games to watch Week 11

No. 1 Georgia at No. 10 Auburn (3:30 p.m. ET on CBS): The stakes are higher for Auburn. Georgia can afford to lose this game and still win the SEC, having already clinched the East Division. If Auburn loses, it’s eliminated, but a win makes a final push to the top four seem less outlandish.

ESPN’s FPI basically considers this game a coin-toss, giving Auburn a slight edge at 51.4 percent. It feels like a two-game season for the Tigers, who face the Tide in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 25. According to FiveThirtyEight, Auburn has a 9 percent chance to reach the playoff as a two-loss team.

No. 2 Alabama at No. 16 Mississippi State (7 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN App): This is the second straight opponent Alabama will face that is ranked in the committee’s top 25, following last week’s win over No. 24 LSU. Much like Georgia in the East, Alabama can actually afford to lose this game and still win the SEC.

2. ACC

CFP ranked teams: 4

The ACC still has two legitimate CFP contenders, with one-loss Clemson in the Atlantic and undefeated Miami in the Coastal on a collision course for the conference championship game. In spite of the loss to Syracuse, Clemson has a résumé that continues to impress the committee. FPI ranks the Tigers’ schedule strength as second-best in the nation, and they have seven wins against teams ranked in the FPI top 40, which is tops in the nation.

An undefeated Miami — with wins over Clemson and Notre Dame — would most certainly be in the playoff as well. Where it gets tricky is if Miami loses to Notre Dame on Saturday but goes on to win the ACC. Then the ACC’s picture in the playoff isn’t so clear, especially if the Irish win out.

Games to watch Week 11

No. 3 Notre Dame at No. 6 Miami: A Miami win might boost it into the top four of the committee’s third ranking. The Hurricanes haven’t beaten the Irish since 1989 during their national championship run. Miami clinches the ACC Coastal if Virginia loses to Louisville.

Florida State at No. 4 Clemson (3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN App): This was supposed to be, and has been in recent years, the decisive game in the ACC Atlantic. Now it’s simply a trap Clemson must avoid. A win won’t do anything for the Tigers’ résumé, but a loss would knock Clemson out of the top four for good. The Tigers will clinch the ACC Atlantic with a win or an NC State loss.

3. Big 12

CFP ranked teams: 4

No. 5 Oklahoma remains the league’s leading contender, with No. 6 TCU right behind it, which makes Saturday’s game so important. The Sooners are ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency but are allowing 28.2 points per game, lowest among Power 5 teams with one or fewer losses. In fact, when comparing the Sooners’ defense with that of the previous 12 CFP participants, they would rank last in points per game, yards per play, 20-yard plays allowed, points per drive and defensive efficiency at this stage in the season.

TCU, meanwhile, has four wins over teams ranked in the FPI top 40, including West Virginia and No. 15 Oklahoma State. If the Horned Frogs are pitted against other one-loss conference champions, nonconference schedule might hurt their chances, especially since their win over Arkansas (4-5) does not look as strong.

4. Big Ten

CFP ranked teams: 6

Despite a Power 5-leading six teams ranked in the committee’s top 25, including No. 25 Northwestern, the Big Ten’s highest-ranked team, Wisconsin sits at No. 8, behind four one-loss teams and undefeated Miami. When Ohio State and Penn State both lost last week, so did the entire Big Ten. According to FPI, there is a 65 percent chance the Big Ten champion will have multiple losses, the highest of any Power 5 conference.

Games to watch Week 11

No. 20 Iowa at No. 8 Wisconsin (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC and ESPN App): Wisconsin will clinch the Big Ten West with a win and earn its first win against a ranked opponent. FPI ranks the Badgers’ strength of schedule at No. 73, the worst of any Power 5 team.

No. 12 Michigan State at No. 13 Ohio State (noon ET on FOX): The winner will most likely represent the Big Ten East in the conference championship game. This game also impacts other teams. If Ohio State wins, it’s then possible Oklahoma’s résumé could include a win over the Big Ten champs. If Michigan State wins, it helps Notre Dame’s résumé.

5. Pac-12

CFP ranked teams: 3

Washington remains the league’s best hope for the CFP, but with one loss and a weak schedule, it needs to win out and hope that wins over Washington State and, preferably, USC in the conference championship game bolster its schedule strength enough. FPI projects the Pac-12 as having the second-highest chance to produce a two-loss conference champ at 60 percent, second only to the Big Ten’s 65 percent.

Games to watch Week 11

No. 12 Washington at Stanford (Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1): Even though Stanford isn’t ranked, this is a tricky Friday night game for Washington. Cardinal running back Bryce Love had a season-low 69 rushing yards in last week’s loss to Washington State, and the Huskies allow just 91.1 yards per game, sixth-fewest in FBS.

No. 11 USC at Colorado (4 p.m. ET on FOX): USC will clinch the Pac-12 South with a win or losses by both Arizona and Arizona State. Even with a Pac-12 title, though, USC’s CFP hopes are probably already doomed. Not only haven’t the Trojans looked like top-four material this season, they also don’t have any wins against the committee’s current top 25. This game is less about USC being on CFP life support and more about the other contenders it affects. Washington needs USC to win, and so does Notre Dame. It makes the Irish’s 49-14 win on Oct. 21 continue to look good.

Source: http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/page/gamedaykickoff110917/survive-advance-cfp-elimination-games-week-11

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