A crowded knot of potential College Football Playoff participants began untangling itself this weekend, with No. 6 Baylor and No. 14 Oklahoma State remaining undefeated and leading the Big 12’s crop of postseason candidates.
Baylor (8-0) held off Kansas State 31-24 in Manhattan, Kan., to punctuate an impressive starting debut for freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Oklahoma State (9-0) stunned No. 8 TCU 49-29 in Stillwater, Okla., to hand the Horned Frogs (8-1) their first loss and replace them on the list of primary playoff candidates going forward.
The first set of games with obvious CFP implications saw five of 11 undefeated teams in last week’s rankings suffer their first losses (TCU, No. 2 LSU, No. 7 Michigan State, No. 13 Memphis, No. 24 Toledo). That drops to five the list of undefeated teams that can expect to earn CFP berths if they simply win their remaining games: Baylor, Oklahoma State, No. 1 Clemson (9-0), No. 3 Ohio State (9-0) and No. 9 Iowa (9-0).
Our team is a team of survivors. We have a team of tough guys that have been through a lot.
Baylor coach Art Briles
In addition, one of eight teams that took the field Saturday with one-loss résumés fell for the second time (Florida State). That makes six high-profile teams headed in reverse during the November playoff push.
5 Previously undefeated teams in CFP rankings that suffered their first setbacks, including No. 8 TCU
It will not be known until Tuesday how much the latest evidence registers with members of the CFP selection committee, who begin a fresh set of deliberations Monday in Grapevine. But this much is clear, on a team-by-team basis, regarding local teams and their realistic playoff hopes:
Baylor: The Bears’ playoff chances will not be hindered by having Stidham, who played last season at Stephenville High School, in the starting lineup. As a pure passer, Stidham is an upgrade over former starter Seth Russell, who sustained a season-ending neck injury in a 45-27 victory over Iowa State on Oct. 24. Stidham lacks Russell’s speed and veteran savvy but he’s got enough moxie, combined with an NFL-ready right arm, to keep this offense humming during the final month of the season.
Baylor’s primary playoff nitpick, once again, centers around whether the defense can stop opposing rushers well enough to protect leads provided by its point-per-minute offense. Kansas State (3-5, 0-5 Big 12) rushed for 258 yards in Thursday’s contest, including 153 by quarterback Joe Hubener, who never will be confused for dual-threat counterparts from TCU (Trevone Boykin) or Oklahoma (Baker Mayfield). Baylor must limit the quarterback run game of upcoming opponents if it wants a CFP playoff berth.
But the Bears have the right mindset heading into Saturday’s matchup in Waco against No. 15 Oklahoma (7 p.m., WFAA/Ch. 8). After reaching the 8-0 mark, coach Art Briles said: “Our team is a team of survivors. We have a team of tough guys that have been through a lot … We are going to fight and we are going to find a way to win.”
Playoff outlook: Four more wins and Baylor is in.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys climbed to No. 5 in Sunday’s Associated Press poll, which should foreshadow a significant move in Tuesday’s updated CFP rankings. OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer leaned on a fresh, 3-4 alignment against TCU, and the Cowboys collected four interceptions in support of a deep-strike passing game by quarterback Mason Rudolph (352 yards, five TDs). The triumph validated the Cowboys as playoff contenders, with upcoming home games against fellow CFP hopefuls Baylor (Nov. 21) and Oklahoma (Nov. 28) to close the regular-season slate.
One word of caution: OSU plays Saturday at Iowa State, the same venue where the Cowboys’ undefeated record and national title hopes disappeared in 2011. The Cyclones (3-6, 2-4 Big 12), 3-2 at home this season, have enough playmakers to take down an overconfident, distracted visitor in Jack Trice Stadium (right, Texas?). Saturday’s matchup screams “trap game” for OSU. If the Cowboys overlook the Cyclones, upcoming games against Baylor and OU will not carry the playoff implications they should.
Playoff outlook: Three more wins and OSU is in.
TCU: The Horned Frogs are going to need help, and lots of it, from other teams to get back in the playoff mix. Victories over Oklahoma and Baylor remain possible in efforts to post an 11-1 record. But it’s hard to imagine a playoff candidate surviving a 20-point loss in November and emerging Dec. 6 with a spot in the CFP’s four-team bracket.
Playoff outlook: Cloudy.
Oklahoma: The Sooners, unlike TCU, suffered a loss early enough in the season (Oct. 10) to bury it with a long winning streak before final CFP deliberations. If OU can run the table and finish 11-1, it will have rebounded from a 24-17 loss to Texas with a seven-game winning streak highlighted by victories over three playoff hopefuls (Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma State). That could launch the Sooners into a playoff berth. But OU is out of wiggle room for anything less.
Playoff outlook: Unlikely but improving each week.
Houston: The Cougars (9-0), who opened at No. 25 in the CFP rankings, are the nation’s only remaining undefeated team with no realistic shot at reaching the playoffs. Houston, which plays No. 13 Memphis (8-1) in a significant Saturday matchup of American Athletic Conference contenders, can fortify its résumé with a victory over the Tigers and a Nov. 27 triumph over Navy, the team that just handed Memphis a 45-20 loss. But the Cougars’ strength-of-schedule rating as a team playing outside of a Power 5 conference will not be strong enough in December to elicit a berth from CFP committee members.
Playoff outlook: Not happening.
KEY GAMES THIS WEEK
No. 15 Oklahoma at No. 6 Baylor: The Big 12’s highest-ranked team meets the league’s most resurgent team in a significant Saturday showdown.
Oregon at No. 11 Stanford: The Ducks’ explosive offense could damage the CFP pedigree of the Pac-12’s highest-ranked playoff candidate.
No. 4 Alabama at No. 20 Mississippi State: Alabama receives more CFP love than any one-loss playoff candidate but a second loss on Saturday changes that.
Saturday’s Big 12 game times
Game times have been set for the Saturday, Nov. 14 games:
▪ Kansas at TCU, 11 a.m., FS1
▪ Texas at West Virginia, 11 a.m., ESPNU
▪ Kansas State at Texas Tech, 2:30 p.m., FS1
▪ Oklahoma State at Iowa State, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
▪ Oklahoma at Baylor, 7 p.m., WFAA/8 (ABC)