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December 8, 2019
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Second-half scenarios that could create College Football Playoff chaos

Second-half scenarios that could create College Football Playoff chaos
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No. 12 Oregon isn’t out of the College Football Playoff race — but it will be if it can’t beat Washington on Saturday in what is arguably the most impactful game of Week 8. Since a season-opening loss to Auburn, a 27-21 nail-biter, the Ducks have fallen out of the national spotlight, along with the entire Pac-12, but Oregon has quietly gotten better each week. The Ducks are off to their first 3-0 start in league play since 2013. They have the No. 3 scoring defense in the nation. They lead the nation in points off turnovers. Quarterback Justin Herbert has thrown one interception in his past 239 pass attempts.

The preseason expectations were soaring — and then Auburn converted a fourth-and-3, by the nose of the ball — and the entire narrative changed.

“Since that game, as a team, we’ve just learned to close out games the way you’re supposed to close them out,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “They scored on us with nine seconds left in the ballgame. Certainly a tough one to swallow, but guys have understood and appreciated the importance of every single play and the detail, the attention to detail required to be successful each and every play. Some better results.”

If Oregon can keep it up, it has the potential to make things difficult for the 13-member selection committee, but the Ducks aren’t the only ones. Penn State or Michigan can still win the Big Ten. Baylor is still undefeated in the Big 12. The SEC is always capable of adding to the chaos.

As we enter the second half of the season, there are plenty of scenarios — some wilder than others — swirling around the College Football Playoff picture.

What if …

1. Clemson loses to South Carolina. Don’t believe it can happen? Ask Georgia. Nobody thought the Bulldogs would go down at home as 20.5-point favorites last week, either. Clemson ends the regular season on the road against its in-state rival, the most difficult game remaining on the schedule — and ESPN’s FPI still gives Clemson an 80.7% chance to win. If Clemson loses and finishes as a one-loss ACC champ, there’s no guarantee the Tigers finish in the top four. It would all depend on what happens in the other Power 5 conference races. The Tigers’ schedule strength — which now ranks No. 71 from an average top 25 team’s perspective — would have to be better than a possible second SEC team, Notre Dame, the Pac-12 champ and/or the Big Ten runner-up. As of now, Clemson’s only win against a ranked opponent is Texas A&M, and none of the Tigers’ opponents are above .500. They have a combined record of 15-21. The CFP selection committee is not supposed to consider last season, which means Clemson’s title as defending national champ is deemed irrelevant in the room.

2. Ohio State beats Wisconsin during the regular season but loses to the Badgers in the Big Ten title game. This scenario also could be flipped, with Wisconsin pulling the upset Oct. 26 in Columbus but losing to the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game. The biggest question facing Wisconsin’s place in the playoff race is Ohio State, and it has been that way since the 2014 Big Ten title game. If the Badgers are going to take the next step, they have to beat the Buckeyes at least once. What if it’s for the conference title? Don’t dismiss the possibility of two Big Ten teams, but only if one wins the Big Ten and the other’s only loss is to the champion. Wisconsin’s strength of schedule already includes a win against Michigan (the Badgers should be pulling for the Wolverines against Penn State on Saturday), and will only get better with a total of four currently ranked opponents. If Wisconsin loses to Ohio State during the regular season but avenges the loss in the Big Ten title game, it could be exactly what the Badgers need — much like what happened to Big 12 champion Oklahoma last year after losing to Texas during the regular season. The question is if Ohio State could still get in as runner-up. It would depend on what the SEC runner-up looks like, as well as how Ohio State looked in the loss. We’ve already seen what 59-0 can do to a team in the Big Ten.

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