For the first time in the College Football Playoff era, the debut of the weekly rankings by selection committee members will not resonate deeply with TCU fans when they are released Tuesday.
The Horned Frogs (4-4), a playoff contender the past two seasons, stepped out of the CFP spotlight weeks ago. But the drama remains real for fans of No. 7 Texas A&M (7-1) as CFP officials convene Monday in Grapevine to discuss their first placement of playoff contenders for the four-team bracket.
Casual curiosity still exists for fans of No. 13 Baylor (6-1), No. 12 Oklahoma (6-2) and other Big 12 schools as league teams head down the stretch in the conference race. But after an upset-filled Saturday left the Big 12 with no remaining undefeated teams heading into November, you can realistically downgrade the entire league to spectator status in the CFP race.
1 Power 5 conference, the Big 12, without an undefeated team remaining before the College Football Playoff committee’s first playoff rankings, which come out Tuesday.
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Every other Power 5 conference has an undefeated team remaining front and center in the CFP mix and most of those leagues project to have two teams placed ahead of Baylor, OU, No. 14 West Virginia (6-1) and No. 22 Oklahoma State (6-2) when the first rankings by the selection committee are released Tuesday night (6 p.m., ESPN).
As always, you can expect some tweaks to the numbers in Sunday’s Associated Press poll when the CFP folks unveil their digits Tuesday. The most intriguing potential tweak, from both a local and national perspective, involves the placement of A&M.
How close will the Aggies be ranked, coming off a 52-10 rout of New Mexico State, in relation to the final available spot in the four-team bracket? The Aggies, after a 33-14 loss to top-ranked Alabama on Oct. 22, remain one of the nation’s more intriguing “wild card” playoff options because the CFP has yet to reward a school that did not win its conference title.
But if the Aggies finish 11-1 with their lone loss to the top-ranked Tide, that would make for a pretty enticing résumé on Dec. 3 even without an appearance in the SEC Championship Game. A&M already has victories over four teams that have spent multiple weeks in the AP poll (No. 11 Auburn, Tennessee, Arkansas and UCLA) and has remaining November matchups at Kyle Field against Ole Miss and No. 15 LSU.
If the Aggies run the table and receive help on the upset front that eliminates an undefeated Pac-12 champion, it will be fascinating to see how A&M’s 11-1 résumé is weighed by CFP decision-makers. The Big 12’s top contenders already have removed themselves from the undefeated ranks, with the final steps taken in Saturday losses by former top-10 teams from Baylor (to Texas 35-34) and West Virginia (to Oklahoma State 37-20).
Oklahoma, the defending Big 12 champ and current league front-runner, effectively removed itself as a playoff option with double-digit losses to Houston (33-23) and No. 6 Ohio State (45-24) during nonconference play. That means A&M, at 11-1, may be looking better to CFP committee members than champions from other leagues when the bracket is finalized Dec. 4, particularly if Alabama (8-0) finishes as an undefeated SEC champ.
If the Aggies run the table and receive help on the upset front, it will be fascinating to see how Texas A&M’s 11-1 record is weighed.
Lots of season-defining games remain, highlighted by a Nov. 26 showdown between No. 2 Michigan (8-0) and Ohio State (7-1) in Columbus, Ohio. At this point, A&M probably falls behind No. 5 Louisville (7-1) in the minds of CFP officials on the list of playoff candidates no longer in control of their conference title hopes.
But that perception will change on a weekly basis throughout November. And there’s no denying Louisville faces a more challenging nonconference matchup during its stretch run (Nov. 17 at Houston) than A&M (Nov. 19 against UTSA at Kyle Field). So there is opportunity for wiggle room.
As things stand heading into Tuesday’s release of the first CFP rankings, here is a five-step process that might be enough to punch the Aggies’ playoff ticket as an 11-1 “wild card” participant:
A&M wins its remaining games: This is a given. Without an 11-1 record, there is no “wild card” option worth discussing.
Alabama remains undefeated: Every win by the Tide enhances A&M’s body of work in the eyes of committee members.
Louisville loses at Houston: The Cougars (6-2) are capable of getting this done Nov. 17 in Houston.
No. 4 Washington (8-0) loses to No. 25 Washington State (6-2): The teams meet Nov. 25 at Washington State in what projects as a winner-take-all battle to represent the North Division in the Pac-12 title game. For A&M’s purposes, any loss by Washington is essential. This scenario would be most damaging to the Huskies’ playoff hopes.
Michigan downs Ohio State: Having the undefeated Wolverines hand the once-beaten Buckeyes their second loss of the season on Nov. 26 eliminates OSU as a one-loss “wild card” option that could trump A&M’s playoff path.