Playoff contenders have nonconference schedule worries

There are some big-name programs that are currently ranked and have a great shot at the College Football Playoff -- as long as they can overcome nonconference schedules that will raise a red flag with the playoff selection committee. It's important to remember that come December, if the committee is evaluating conference champions with the same record, the nonconference schedule can be the difference in a No. 4 or No. 5 ranking. Here's a look at which playoff contenders have cause for concern, ranked by who has the biggest reason to worry:


Toughest nonconference game: at BYU. It wasn't easy facing former Broncos coach Chris Petersen, but this is the game that could make or break Boise's playoff hopes. The Cougars are coming off a huge upset win on a Hail Mary against Nebraska and will look to continue the momentum at home.

FPI noncon rank: 30

Why the concern: Any team from the Group of 5 has an uphill battle to get into the playoff because of its entire strength of schedule -- a debate that has carried over into the new system. Boise's overall SOS is ranked No. 107 in the country, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. The Broncos have to go undefeated in order to get any serious consideration, and right now, FPI gives them only a 7.3 percent chance of doing that.

What the committee will debate: The value of an undefeated team against the value of strength of schedule. Which matters more could vary among the committee members. It would also depend on what happens in the Power 5 conference races, and how many losses each league champ finishes with. Is any undefeated team better than a two-loss league champ? The answer depends on the scenario.


Toughest nonconference game: Rice, but not by much. ESPN's FPI gives Baylor a 99.6 percent chance of beating Lamar, and a 98.5 percent chance of beating Rice.

FPI noncon rank: 125

Why the concern: Did you miss the No. 125? No Power 5 opponents. Baylor's nonconference schedule has been widely criticized and could be the reason it misses the playoff -- again.

What the committee will debate: Does Baylor have to go undefeated to be a top-four team? A one-loss Bears team wasn't good enough last year, so the precedent suggests it does.

3. TCU

Toughest nonconference game: The season opener at Minnesota. It was a good road win against what appears to be a solid Power 5 team, and that counts -- especially since it's the best nonconference opportunity the Frogs have.

FPI noncon rank: 107

Why the concern: What if Minnesota doesn't have a good season like it did last year, and TCU loses a conference game? Beyond their opener, the Frogs' nonconference lineup isn't any better than Baylor's.

What the committee will debate: If the win over Minnesota merits as much weight as it did last year, and if the overall Big 12 is strong enough to overcome any questions about the nonconference lineup.


Toughest nonconference game: at Virginia Tech. FPI gave the Buckeyes a 79.9 percent chance of winning their season opener in Blacksburg. Ohio State shouldn't have any problem against Hawaii, Northern Illinois or Western Michigan -- three straight home games before opening the Big Ten season at Indiana.

FPI noncon rank: 61

Why the concern: Ohio State passed the eye test in Week 1 and looks like it could be even better than last year, but just because the Buckeyes are the defending national champs doesn't mean they get a hall pass on strength of schedule. Unless the Hokies go on to contend for the ACC title, it's unlikely any of the Buckeyes' nonconference opponents will finish the season ranked. Once again, they'll need a win in the Big Ten title game for another win over a ranked opponent. Ohio State's overall SOS -- No. 53 -- is reflective of an average Big Ten conference. They don't play Wisconsin, and Michigan State could be the only ranked team the Buckeyes face in the regular season.

What the committee will debate: If Ohio State's total body of work -- which would have to again include a conference title -- is impressive enough to overcome an average SOS. An undefeated Ohio State team should be in, but if it loses even one game, the answer isn't so easy -- especially if Notre Dame is on the brink of narrowing the field to just three Power 5 conferences.

5. LSU

Toughest nonconference game: at Syracuse. There shouldn't be any concern about an upset in New York, especially after the Orange just lost their starting quarterback to a season-ending injury. FPI gives LSU a 93.4 percent chance of picking up that road win.

FPI noncon rank: 84

Why the concern: The odds of anyone in the SEC West going undefeated are slim -- especially LSU, which has the No. 1 overall SOS rank in the country, according to FPI. Expect LSU to have at least one loss in the SEC West race -- and no marquee nonconference wins. Alabama just got one over a ranked opponent in Wisconsin. Auburn just got an important one against a decent Louisville team. Texas A&M certainly caught the nation's attention with its win over ranked ASU.

What the committee will debate: What will separate LSU from the rest of the SEC West in the committee's eyes if it has a comparable league résumé? Will the overall strength of the SEC West be enough to overcome a laughable nonconference schedule? What if LSU and Alabama both finish with one loss? Will the Tide's win over Wisconsin be the tiebreaker?