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Ranking the best losses of the playoff contenders

After the beautiful chaos that emerged from what was supposed to be a ho-hum Week 11, this is how it's going to be? An undefeated Alabama followed by a wad of one-loss teams. If that's how it indeed plays out (and at this point assuming anything is as ill-advised as holding up a "We want Bama" sign on College GameDay), then how will the men and women in that hotel conference room in Grapevine, Texas, sift through that pile of one-blemish résumés? Will they compare the best moments of each team's "W" column? Or will they stack up the low points over on the right side of the season-dividing dash?

For now, let's assume they're going with that common solo digit, the shared "1" in the loss column. Not all L's are created equal. So, who owns the most impressive defeat? Here's how we rank them.

1. Louisville Loss: Oct. 1 at No. 5 Clemson, 42-36

Perhaps the biggest advantage that the College Football Playoff selection committee holds over the analytics of the BCS era is the gift of context. Real humans who watched games and closely follow the season understand what a game really was at the time it was played. No game this season has been played with more hype or pressure or within a more insane atmosphere than Lamar Jackson's visit to Death Valley in Week 5. That committee also knows that the Cardinals came within a few yards of being in position to tie the score or win the game via a PAT in the closing ticks. No other team on this list suffered a loss to a ranked team on the road, let alone came within a couple of plays of defeating a top-five team in one of the game's most vicious stadiums.

2. Ohio State Loss: Oct. 22 at unranked Penn State, 24-21

In the playoff era, your enemies are also your friends. The Buckeyes legitimized Penn State's rebound season and have continually benefited from doing so as the Nittany Lions have climbed the charts in the weeks since, reaching the AP top 10 on Sunday afternoon ... though now OSU needs PSU to lose one more so the Buckeyes can make a Big Ten title run. Again, context matters, and anyone who watched Ohio State's emotional slobberknocker of an OT win at Wisconsin the week before knows the Buckeyes were the walking wounded when they arrived at Happy Valley yet still carried a lead into the final five minutes of the game.

3. West Virginia Loss: Oct 29 at unranked Oklahoma State, 37-20

The committee is clearly not impressed with the Mountaineers or the Big 12 overall, but a visit to Stillwater is never easy and hindsight tells us this victory is now part of a six-game winning streak for the Cowboys, during which they have rocketed from unranked to 13th in the AP poll. The final score is also not indicative of a game in which WVU trailed by only one TD with less than nine minutes remaining, though its offense was exposed with an untimely clunkiness.

4. Michigan Loss: Nov. 12 at unranked Iowa, 14-13

Losing to a four-loss team is never good, but a one-point loss on the road in a hostile environment against a brand-name program that came within seconds of being in last year's playoff? There's not a lot of disgrace to be found there. Except, you know, for the unranked, four-loss stuff.

5. Washington Loss: Nov. 12 vs. No. 20 USC, 26-13

Again, a room of football watchers understands that USC isn't your average three-loss team and is also light-years beyond the Trojans team that started the season 1-3. But losing at home is bad. And losing a game at home in which you spent most of the fourth quarter down two scores is really bad, especially when your remaining games -- whether it be two or three -- will be against teams with two or more losses.

6. Clemson Loss: Nov. 12 vs. unranked Pitt, 43-42

The Tigers still hold the steering wheel on their playoff road, but this loss was a bad one any way you carve it. It takes all the worst parts of the defeats we've already listed and combines them into one nasty afternoon -- losing at home, against an unranked four-loss team, committing a turnover that allowed that team back into the game, and also being exposed on defense. All of this while the ACC Coastal can't decide whom to send to Orlando to presumably face Clemson in the relocated conference title game.

If you've ever read this column before, first off, thanks. Second, then you know I have a soft spot for non-power Gang of 5 schools. Still, we're not including Troy, Boise State and San Diego State on this list. But of those three, I'd rank them in that order. Troy's only defeat was like Louisville's, a six-point loss at Clemson that came down to an onside kick. Meanwhile, Boise lost to a resurgent but still shaky Wyoming team on the road, and San Diego State inexplicably fell at South Alabama, the same team that lost to Troy two weeks later.

Speaking of San Diego State, it's time to get on with Flipping the Field and we start, as always, with my Aztecs man crush.

Donnel Pumphrey Watch. The San Diego State Aztecs set a school record for single-game rushing with 474 against Nevada's next-to-worst-in-FBS run defense. During the 46-16 win, Pumphrey rushed for 198 yards, becoming only the fifth player to crack the 6,000-yard mark. He reached 6,051, moving past DeAngelo Williams into fourth on the FBS career rushing list. He's now only 31 yards behind Tony Dorsett for third and would have passed him if not for the erasing of a second half 40-yard run because of a holding penalty. With four games remaining, he needs 347 yards to pass Ron Dayne atop the legendary list.

Jabrill Peppers Watch. The Human Swiss Army Knife lined up at four defensive positions and two offensive positions in Saturday night's loss at Iowa. He also returned one kickoff and one punt, though his offensive contribution was minimal at 11 total yards.

From the Ridonculous Stats Department: According to my numerical brothers and sisters in ESPN Stats & Info: Against Mississippi State, freshman QB Jalen Hurts tied the Alabama record for TDs responsible for with five and became the first player in Crimson Tide history to rush for 100 yards while throwing for 300. Clemson's Deshaun Watson set the single-game ACC passing record with 580, in a loss. In fact, the 10 passers who topped 350 yards Saturday were 4-6. UNLV defeated Wyoming 69-66 in three overtimes, coming one point shy of the FBS OT record for combined points scored.

"We're going streaking!" Alabama has won 64 straight against unranked teams. USC has won six in a row, marking its longest win streak since the Pete Carroll era ended in 2009. Washington State has won eight straight in a single season for the first time since 1930. Notre Dame won its 15th straight over Army. Oklahoma's 14th consecutive conference win is the longest Big 12 streak since Texas won 20 straight in 2004-06. Speaking of Texas, running back D'Onta Foreman posted his 11th straight 100-plus yard rushing game, tying Earl Campbell's school record.

"Get in the car, Frank..." Washington's second-longest FBS win streak was ended at 12. Oregon hit seven losses for the first time since 1991, giving up 540 yards by Stanford, the sixth time the Ducks have surrendered 500-plus yards in a game, tied for most in FBS. Kentucky's record against Tennessee since 1985 is now 1-31. The Wildcats lost Saturday despite rushing for 443 yards. Entering Saturday, teams that rushed for 400 yards were 30-0 this season. Now they are 30-1. Auburn matched its lowest single-game point total of the Gus Malzahn era, mustering only seven in a loss to Georgia. The last time the Tigers were held to seven points was in 2014 ... in a loss to Georgia.

R.I.P., greatest streak ever? Division III Mount Union had its 112-regular season winning streak ended by a 31-28 loss to John Carroll. But dang, y'all, 112 wins in a row?! The Purple Raiders' regular-season record since 1994 now stands at 222-2. Looking over their media guide, the oldest handful of players on their roster was born in fall '94. Over that span, the team has won 11 national championships (12 if you go back one more year to '93), and Saturday's loss ended a quarter-century run of conference titles.

Remember Heroes, Part 1. Dozens of teams around the nation took the field this weekend sporting red, white and blue helmet logos. Near the top of the list were these lids worn by the East Carolina Pirates, a scheme that was also used in the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium end zones and along the sidelines.

Remember Heroes, Part 2. SMU joined ECU among the Veterans Day salute elite, and in the same game. We shouldn't be surprised that the coolest tributes were in the American conference, should we?

Remembering Heroes, Part 3. Marshall also honored heroes Saturday, though it wasn't for Veterans Day. On Nov. 14, 1970, nearly every member of the Thundering Herd football team died in a plane crash outside of Huntington, West Virginia. On Saturday, the 2016 team and staff wore uniforms that paid tribute to the '70 team as well as the '71 squad that saved the program.

Tommy West Coach's News Conference of the Week: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia. Holgorsen, who enjoys news conferences about as much as he enjoys a root canal, was in the middle of ripping himself for not having his offense ready to go during the Mountaineers' 24-20 win over Texas when he was thrown a question about the pop in the leg of kicker Mike Molina. He laughed, smiled and growled, "How would I know? You think I sit there and study the kickers all day long?" After a swig of water, he reiterated his confidence in the 5-foot-9, 150-pound redshirt junior and said they did try to save his leg by limiting his practice reps because "it's a long season and he looks like a second-grader." Speaking of looking like a second-grader, did you see Holgo's interactions with the officials during the game?

Danny Ford Scientific Rocket Quote of the Week: Luke Falk, QB, Washington State. Falk is only 21 years old but sounded wise beyond his years when he spoke to our Chris Low the day after the presidential election, with words every side of the fence should listen to. "One of the best things about playing football is that you've got guys from different cultures, different races, different parts of the country and guys that see the world differently. But if you don't put those differences aside, come together as a team and sacrifice for each other, you're not going to be successful. I hope our country can learn that same lesson."

Weston Steelhammer Name of the Week: Chris Blewitt, Pittsburgh. A kicker who missed a PAT and had a field goal attempt blocked managed to bounce back and boot the winning field goal that knocked off the nation's second-ranked team ... and he's named Blew-itt?! College football is the best. Thankfully Pitt color commentator Bill Osborn didn't blow out his vocal cords as the kick went through.

Frank Reich Backup QB of the Week Award: Shea Patterson, QB, Ole Miss. You can question Hugh Freeze's decision to yank Patterson's redshirt with only three games left in his freshman season, but you can't dispute the results. Stepping in for injured Chad Kelly, the 19-year-old threw for 338 yards and a pair of TDs as the 4-5 Rebels upset Texas A&M, which was in the College Football Playoff top four only two weeks ago. He outdueled another recent off-the-bencher, Jake Hubenak.

Comeback of the Week Award, also named for Frank Reich: Penn State 45, Indiana 31. The Nittany Lions trailed the Hoosiers by 10 in the third quarter and by three with 11 minutes remaining, but rallied for their third double-digit second-half comeback of the season, keeping the playoff hopes of Happy Valley alive. Honorable Mention: Louisville trailed Wake Forest 12-0 and 12-10 entering the fourth quarter before outscoring the Deacons 34-0 in that final quarter.

Comeback of Last Week Award, yes, also named for Frank Reich: Eastern Michigan 48, Ball State 41. My former Bottom 10 friends down at The Factory overcame a 21-point deficit on the road to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1995 and on the cusp of their first bowl invite since '87. The game was essentially won via a crazy scrambling shoulda-been-sacked 34-yard pass by Brogan Roback to the 1-foot line. It was a Week 10 game but happened nearly a week ago via the early week #MACtion schedule. I don't care. This turnaround by the Eagles deserves all the attention it can get.

The Guy You Should Know About But Probably Don't: Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina. Jones hauled in a dozen catches in the Pirates' loss to SMU but has now moved to within eight catches of setting the NCAA career receptions record of 387. That mark is held by his former teammate and current Atlanta Falcon, Justin Hardy. He's catching balls so fast our tweets can't keep up with the stats.

The Team You Should Know About But Probably Don't: Old Dominion. Less than a decade ago, the ODU football program didn't exist. It was only three seasons ago when Bobby Wilder's team made the jump to FBS and Conference USA. Now the Monarchs are 7-3, bowl eligible and, though it's not likely, still in contention for the C-USA East title.

The Game You Should Be Psyched For But Probably Aren't: USF at SMU, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET. Just two seasons ago, the SMU Mustangs won one game and the Bottom 10 title. Last year they won twice. Now they are 5-5 and on the cusp of their first bowl berth since 2012 and just their fifth postseason trip since the 1984 death penalty handed down by the NCAA. Meanwhile, the Bulls, who won two games four years ago, are 8-2 but walking a thin sheet of American conference ice. They need to win out and hope that Temple, the team that handed them their only conference loss, stumbles against Tulane and/or ECU so they can win the American East and a title game date, likely against Navy. Are there playoff implications? No. But are there big implications for a pair of programs clawing their way back to the good old days? Absolutely. By the way, not to brag, but last week in this space I told you to keep an eye on Pitt at Clemson ... OK, yeah, I'm totally bragging.

Extra Point: Speaking of death penalties, my colleague and friend Paul Finebaum was on College GameDay Saturday morning and spoke some very strong words about the ongoing situation at Baylor. As a father or, heck, just as a compassionate human being, you can disagree with the punishment that Paul suggested, but you can't disagree with the passion behind it. See it for yourself here.