Sports take: Playoff picture

The Associated Press National Championship Trophy is the trophy awarded annually by the Associated Press to the team who finishes the season at the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll and signifies that team being selected as national champions of college football for that season. Photo credit: Associated Press

We are just about to enter the halfway point of the college football season. For college football fans, including myself, that was a tough sentence to write. Although the conference season is young, it is never too early to begin thinking about the college football playoff and which four teams will have an opportunity to play for the national championship. There may be a lot of questions that run through our minds when the committee makes its selections. Will a two-loss champion make the playoff this season? Will the committee choose two schools from the same conference? For example, if Alabama wins the SEC, and Texas A&M finishes with one loss at Alabama. Will the committee choose a non-Power Five conference team? Will the committee insert a non-conference champ over a conference champ because of issues like strength of schedule or because they feel that one team is still superior to the other? All these questions and more flood the hearts and minds of college football fans, so let me walk you through the playoff picture thus far, including where Baylor stands and what needs to happen for its to make it to the final four.

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The Associated Press National Championship Trophy is the trophy awarded annually by the Associated Press to the team who finishes the season at the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll and signifies that team being selected as national champions of college football for that season. Photo credit: Associated Press

First, there are a lot of teams that still have hopes and a fighting chance of playing for the college football championship. For instance, there are 11 still-undefeated teams, including Baylor. There are also eight teams with one loss that still have a chance and “about two” two-loss teams that may still have an outside shot. So let’s quickly address the undefeated teams.

Western Michigan. Unfortunately for the Broncos, even though they have two wins on the road at Big Ten schools, Northwestern and Illinois, the playoff committee is not going to take an undefeated MAC school over a Power Five conference champion.

Boise State. These Broncos fall victim to the same problem as Western Michigan does. Their best win is against Washington State, and even if they did finish undefeated, the committee would likely surpass them in likes for a two-loss team or the next best one-loss Power Five conference team.

West Virginia. They currently sit at 4-0 and 1-0 in Big 12 play, but they still have road contests at Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas. They still have to play Oklahoma and Baylor at home. It is hard to see them finishing undefeated, which is what I think it will take for them to have a chance at the final four.

At the top of the list remains the teams that control their own destiny: Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Michigan, Washington, Texas A&M and Nebraska.

First, look at the Cornhuskers. They still have road trips to Madison, Columbus and Iowa City on their schedule. Despite all of the improvements, Nebraska seems unlikely to make it. However, if they did win the Big 10 West, they would most likely get either Ohio State again or Michigan in the Big Ten championship, and with a win, would have to be given some serious consideration.

The Aggies will have an interesting case. If they can beat both LSU and Mississippi at Kyle Field and give Alabama a competitive game in Tuscaloosa, they would finish the season 11-1 but would not win the SEC because of Alabama. Best-case scenario for the Aggies is to beat Alabama and take care of business at home.

Ohio State and head coach Urban Meyer have their work cut out for them. They face upcoming road tests at Wisconsin on Saturday, at Penn State the following weekend in typical Happy Valley White-Out fashion, at Michigan State the end of November, as well as 10th-ranked Nebraska and No.4 ranked Michigan at home to conclude their season, plus probably either Nebraska or Wisconsin again in the Big Ten championship. Despite being extremely talented and having one of the best football coaches, let’s hold off on the Buckeyes for now.

Michigan, under second-year head coach and media magnet Jim Harbaugh, have looked impressive thus far, despite having only one noteworthy win, a 14-7 defensive struggle against Wisconsin on Oct. 1. The schedule is quite favorable for the Wolverines with just two road trips ahead against the Spartans and Hawkeyes, who are both having down years, before their true test comes in a Nov. 26 showdown against Ohio State in Columbus. If Michigan can run the table in the Big Ten East and add a win over either Nebraska or a second win against Wisconsin, odds are Harbaugh and his Wolverines will make the Promised Land.

Washington, after overcoming its annual stumbling block in the Oregon Ducks last week, sits in very good position. They have road trips to Utah and California, which could potentially be tricky, but they should be favored in both. They have three other opponents at home in Oregon State, Arizona State and USC — all winnable games. They finish the season with a trip to Pullman to take on the Washington State Cougars. Needless to say, Washington looks good enough to finish the PAC-12 season undefeated. The only thing that could hurt them, other than a bad loss in the next few weeks, is if the committee views the PAC-12 as the weakest of the Power Five conferences and passes up on its champion.

Clemson has picked up their play since a slow start against Auburn and Troy to begin the season. They have already knocked off Heisman front runner Lamar Jackson. The Tigers have a favorable schedule looking forward. They have an Oct. 29 date with the Seminoles in Tallahassee, but if they win that game, Clemson should be favored to finish the regular season undefeated. A win against Virginia Tech, if they continue to play well, will only help their playoff chances.

The Alabama Crimson Tide and head coach Nick Saban seem destined to return to the college football playoff and be the only team to appear in the four-team playoff all three years of its existence. They already have wins on the road at Mississippi and Arkansas to go along with a win against USC at AT&T Stadium. They still have games against three ranked opponents, two of which are at home in Auburn. Even if the Tide can win two of three of these and win the SEC championship, it seems unlikely that the Tide would be left out. The best chance of a playoff-less Tide is if Alabama loses this weekend in Knoxville against the Volunteers and then loses to Texas A&M, who then finishes undefeated. Fingers crossed.

There are a number of other one-loss teams that still have a fighting chance. These teams include Louisville, Houston, Miami, Virginia Tech, Florida and Utah. Mississippi and Florida State, with two losses, have very low, outside chances but could benefit from chaos in the last couple of weeks of the season that could bolster their resumes. Unfortunately for the Running Rebels, Florida State already beat them and would certainly get the tiebreaker if such chaos occurred.

After all this analysis, where does this leave Baylor? What are the chances Baylor can make school history and make the college football final four?

Firstly and most importantly, Baylor needs to continue to take care of business. They’re 5-0 overall and 2-0 in Big 12 play. They need to continue to make plays and win.

Secondly, they need to win impressively. Style points only seem to matter when a team underachieves at what is expected of them, but Baylor can avoid this by simply beating the teams they will be highly favored over. The first step is with Kansas on Saturday. TCU and Kansas State, who will also make the trip to McLane Stadium, need to be beaten handily by Baylor.

Thirdly, Baylor needs to look good on the road. They have wins against Rice and Iowa State away from home thus far, and neither of those performances were eye-opening in a good way. They only brought up questions regarding whether Baylor can get it done on the road. Baylor has three big opportunities coming up to make a statement away from home. The first is against a reeling Texas team on Oct. 29. The Longhorns spoiled the Bears’ Senior Day a year ago in a game where personal fouls were numerous, including a benches-clearing quarrel. The following game is against Oklahoma, who appears to be figuring some things out after early-season stumbles against Houston and Ohio State. Next is a Dec. 3 trip to Morgantown to take on the Mountaineers. If these two teams continue to win and Baylor beats all of them, Baylor will certainly have an argument.

However, one thing that is going to hurt a potentially undefeated Baylor team against a one-loss conference champion or four undefeated conference champions is Baylor’s strength of schedule. It hasn’t helped them that Oklahoma stumbled on the biggest stage twice this year and that TCU lost a home non-conference game to Arkansas. Baylor’s non-conference schedule has been weak. It has been weak for years, and that is not the fault of Grobe or the players. These games were scheduled months, if not years, in advance. There are definitely factors that go into scheduling non-conference opponents, but Baylor has not done the best job in scheduling. Starting in 2018, the Bears will begin a home and home matchup with Duke of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), and they have been working on better tentative schedules for the future, including the University of Mississippi in 2020 and Utah in 2023-2024. As hard as Baylor may be working to up the difficulty in the future, if Baylor finishes undefeated and is evaluated against a one-loss Louisville team or a one-loss Ohio State or Michigan team, the Bears might find themselves on the outside looking in.

Baylor, with all of the talent that they have in Seth Russell, Shock Linwood and KD Canon, as well as a much-improved defense, is good enough to compete with the top teams in the country. In order to get there, they will definitely need help from those teams that are still ahead of them. Some of obstacles will take care of themselves, but Baylor can only worry about Baylor. The first step towards worrying about Baylor is to go up and look good in beating Kansas tomorrow. A big win over the Jayhawks won’t go a long way in the committee’s eyes for now, but it is what needs to happen for the Bears.

There still remains a lot of questions in the college football world, and we will have to continue to wait for answers as the season rages on. The college football playoff committee will unveil their first group of four teams at 6 p.m Nov. 1. The committee’s decision will be aired on ESPN.

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